Dr Claire I R O'Mahony

Profile details


Having joined the Department for Continuing Education in 2006, I set up the MSt in the History of Design Programme for which I am Course Director. I served as Director of Graduate Studies for the Department for Continuing Education (2013-16). I am also an Associate of the History Faculty. I was a Governing Body Fellow of Kellogg College (2006-19) and served as Admissions Tutor (2011-3).

Whilst researching my doctorate under the supervision of Professor John House at the Courtauld Institute, Municipality and the Mural: Townhall Decoration in Third Republic France, I began my teaching career at the Courtauld, Birkbeck College, Reading and Thames Valley. My other roles have included of Director of History of Art Lifelong Learning at the University of Bristol (2002-7), Curator for 'Brunel and the Art of Invention' exhibition Bristol City Art Gallery (Brunel 200 project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund) 2006, Education Officer for Community and Secondary School groups at the Courtauld Gallery and Exhibition researcher at the Richard Green Galleries London, founding Assistant Editor of Art on the Line, member of the Centre for the Study of Visual and Literary Cultures in France, University of Bristol (2002-7).

My service as Chair of the Design History Society commenced in January 2020; I am therefore also a trustee of the charity and an ex officio member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Design History. I previously served as Research Grant Coordinator (2004-2008) for the DHS.



My teaching addresses the history of art and design (1848-1968). I am Course Director of the Master of Studies programme in the History of Design, taught part-time over two years. This vodcast 'Design not Words: Five Suffragette Objects' gives a glimpse of the research into the material cultures of the Suffragette cause undertaken by MSt in the History of Design students since 2011. Over 60 MSt dissertations have been successfully completed by my supervisees.

Doctoral Supervision

At present I am helping to supervise a doctoral project in looking at nineteenth-century building materials (Lily Crowther with Professor William Whyte in the History Faculty). My supervisee Emma Anderson completed her DPhil in Architectural History on turn-of-the century luxury hotels in London in 2020. I welcome proposals from prospective doctoral candidates seeking to research visual and material cultures and design produced in Europe between 1870 and 1968.

Research interests

My research centres on the history of decoration in Europe particularly between 1870 and 1968; Third and Fourth Republic France are my primary focus. The relationships between design writing, materiality and the communication of private and public identity led me to a particular interest in the dialogue between Republican politics, aesthetic writing, decorative objects and interiors. Civic mural painting projects, glass, furniture, jewellery, tapestry, exhibition and theatre scenography have been the core case studies of my research. These sites and objects capture my engagement with debates about regional identity and leftist politics with particular acuity. The ways in which 'decoration' has been formulated as a gendered practice and ideological construct informs my investigations into the moral and pragmatic dilemmas between industrial processes and handicraft. 

My next project will explore how weaving articulated Republican political engagement in twentieth-century France and beyond. The interdisciplinary methodology of the project seeks to capture how design education, weaving practices, exhibitions, critical discourse and diplomatic commissions engaged with both a transnational ideal of the Republic and the marketplace. Decoration as a collective craft practice emanating out of the traditions of Aubusson and the National Manufactures embodied and navigated contested geo-political and aesthetic borders within and beyond both the 'hexagon' and design history.

Select Publications


  • 'On the Borders: Microhistory and Decoration at the 1925 Exposition' chapter in collected volume edited by Professor Marc Crinson and Dr Charlotte Ashby (Bloomsbury 2021).
  • 'Introduction' and 'Chapter 7 Exhibitions and Display' in A Cultural History of Furniture (six-volume series) editor of modern period volume (Bloomsbury Press, 2020); co authors: Professor Anja Baumhoff (Hannover); Dr Antony Buxton; Dr Helena Chance (Buckingham); Professor Emeritus Clive Edwards; Professor Marjan Groot (Amsterdam); Professor Trevor Keeble (Portsmouth); Professor Penny Sparke (Kingston); Professor Emeritus Gregory Votolato.

 Books, Chapters and Articles:

Public Engagement

Chair of the Design History Society (elected at 2019 AGM)

Histories of Design for Disability (Oxford Online Reading List): ORLO

An open-access digital teaching and learning resource I created for 2019 Disability History Month.

Recent Conference Papers

  • 'Decoration’s Objects: Building a borderland microcosm amidst the 1925 Exposition' for Building-Object/Design-Architecture: Exploring Interconnections Conference 6 - 8th June 2019 Design History Society, the European Architectural History Network, and the Architecture, Space and Society Centre (Birkbeck).

  • ‘Furnishing Modern Cultural Histories’ Modern Interiors Research Centre Kinston University 30 January 2019

Filmed Public Lectures


Grant Funding

  • Pasold Fund Research Activity Grant in support of research into tapestry design for public buildings and ocean liners in Le Havre, Aubusson and Paris (2017).

  • Women in the Humanities Research Grant in support research trip to France exploring women's role in the modern tapestry revival (2015).

  • John Fell Fund grant in support of 'Design for War and Peace' 2014 Design History Society Conference and ensuing publication (2014).

  • Design History Society Research Conference Grants to support 'Revisiting the Rite' conference 2013 and Mid-Century Modernism conference 2012 both held at Kellogg College.  



See above