Interview with Pat Kirkham

What brought you to the BGC?

My connection goes back to the BGC’s formation when I was part of a team of British academics and curators consulted by Susan Weber. The idea of a specialist center for the study of the history of the decorative arts intrigued me and I agreed to serve on the Advisory Board of Studies in the Decorative Arts, writing book reviews and keeping in touch that way.

I came here at Dr. Weber’s invitation when she was first planning the PhD program and needed experienced faculty, especially ones with experience of PhD supervision in this relatively new field. Ken Ames was appointed at the same time. I felt happy knowing that he shared my interest in material culture studies. I left my position as Professor of Design History and Cultural Studies at De Montfort University and joined the BGC in August 1996.

What are your areas of interest?

Over the last thirty years my research interests have moved somewhat, mainly from the 18th century to the 19th and 20th and from European to American and European. My current research interests include American Modernism, especially interiors, products, films and graphics, interior design history, design in film, the gendering of objects and the intersection of issues of gender and class, the impact of Japanese culture on the USA in the post World War II period, and the visual and material culture of suffrage.

How does your work fit in the BGC mission?

In my research and teaching I have a strongly interdisciplinary approach (my BA and PhD are in history and as an undergraduate I also studied sociology), drawing on what I think are some of the most fruitful aspects of the disciplines/fields of cultural studies, film and media studies, sociology, history, material cultures studies, design history (which in Britain is close to material culture studies, as can be seen by the mission of the Journal of Design History). I have undertaken teaching and research projects not only with other historians but also sociologists, ethnographers, feminist theorists, film and television studies specialists and art historians.

What do you hope to pass on to your students?

I would like to think that I pass on to my students a love of, and enthusiasm for, history, objects, and documents and the complex relationships between them as well as a passion for challenging orthodoxies, engaging in debate, and breaking down disciplinary barriers.

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