Dr Claire I R O'Mahony


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 am an  Associate of the History Faculty and was a Fellow of Kellogg College (2006-19) serving as Admissions Tutor (2011-3) as well as Director of Graduate Studies for the Department for Continuing Education (2013-16).

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 2019; 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. The programme is described in this vodcast, as well as this talk 'Why Design History?' 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.

Doctoral Supervision

At present I am supervising three doctoral projects in Architectural History looking at turn-of-the century luxury hotels in London (Emma Anderson), newsreel cinema design in interwar Britain (Kay Carson) and nineteenth-century building materials (Lily Crowther with Professor William Whyte) . 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 and tapestry; exhibition and theatre scenography have been the core case studies of my research. These sites and objects capture debates about regional identity and leftist politics with particular acuity. Fin-de-siècle decoration also affords insight into the sympathies and tensions between pantheistic organicism and natural science. 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 decoration as a manifestation of regionalist political engagement since 1870. The argument focuses on the local creative industries of three borderland environments: glass produced during the annexation and post-1918 recuperation of Alsace-Lorraine; tapestry woven in Aubusson in the central region of the Creuse which became the border between zones during the 1940-4 Occupation and interior design for the international border spaces of transport design and high office in the 1960s. The methodology of the project is to provide an interdisciplinary cultural history of modern France examining how designed objects and environments embodied the Republic through its regions and the contested geo-political and aesthetic borders they represented.

Select Publications


  • 'Introduction' and 'Chapter 7 Exhibitions and Display' in A Cultural History of Furniture (six-volume series) editor of modern period volume (Bloomsbury Press, 2020)

 Books, Chapters and Articles:

Public Engagement

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.

Academic Convenor and Invited Talks:

  • '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

  • Bletchley, Cultural History and Creative Industry Symposium 9 June 2017 Kellogg College

  • Design History Society Annual Conference 'Design for War and Peace' 4-6 September 2014 held in the epartment for Continuing Education (see Virtual Proceedings - films of 3 keynote lectures and 37 podcasts of academic papers)

  • Revisiting the Rite conference 2013 held at Kellogg College  

  • Mid-Century Modernism conference 2012 held at Kellogg College  

Films 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