Opening Up Art History: 50 Years At Birkbeck | 2017-2018

Birkbeck’s History of Art department, which accepted its first students in September 1967, celebrates its 50th anniversary during the academic year 2017-18.

The theme of the celebrations, ‘Opening up Art History’, unites the department’s legacy and its future. Since its inception in the liberal atmosphere of 1960s London, the department has offered life-changing, eye-opening access to the study of a subject long considered an elitist enclave.  The definition of what an art history student could be was transformed by Birkbeck’s entry into the academic landscape. The department is known as a centre of cutting edge research in all periods and in areas throughout and beyond Europe.  This research has consistently opened up the field to other disciplines, to other media, and to myriad social and political contexts.

The anniversary will be used as an opportunity to generate other openings, including new approaches to ensuring open access to art historical research, via publishing innovations and interventions in the current museum, archive and heritage fields. Full details of events can be found here.



Dr Gabriele Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery, London

Thursday 30 November 2017, 6pm, Lecture Theatre, Clore Building

How to form a national collection. The Prado Museum and the National Gallery, London

The Peter Murray Memorial Lecture is supported by the Murray Bequest, established in honour of Peter Murray. Peter Murray was a founding member of Birkbeck’s Department of History of Art, where he was Professor until 1980.

Book a place here.

22 February 2018, 6pm, Clore Lecture Theatre BIRKBECK HISTORY OF ART ANNIVERSARY LECTURE

Dr Tristram Hunt, Director of the V&A

Dr Tristram Hunt will be giving a lecture entitled ‘Design for a Nation: The Victoria and Albert Museum in the 21st Century’. There will be refreshments afterwards. This event is free, but please reserve your place here.

Kindly supported by the School of Arts.


In four public workshops, Birkbeck’s academics are joined by experts from the worlds of museums, media and publishing to put our collective finger on the pulse of the discipline and of the museum world we all engage with as academics. Each workshop focuses on an area of crisis and transformation, asking where we are now, what’s next, and why. The workshops are kindly supported by the Murray Bequest.

Friday 23 February 2018, Cinema, School of Arts, 43 Gordon Square

10-12.30 The Future of Studying Old Art

Reserve your free space for The Future of Studying Old Art here. 

2-4.30 Futures for Publishing in Art History

Reserve your place for Futures for Publishing in Art History here.

Saturday 24 February 2018, Cinema, School of Arts, 43 Gordon Square

10-12.30 Making a Difference: Do Museums Matter in a Changing World?

Since their establishment, museums have played a significant, and often contested, social, political and national role. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries they frequently became sites where the cultural memory of nations was constructed and imperial identities, policies and aspirations were promoted. The last thirty years has witnessed a boom in museums especially those focussing on post-conflict contexts. This symposium addresses the question of whether museums can make a difference in an increasingly conflictual and segregated world.

Reserve your free space for Making a Difference: Do Museums Matter in a Changing World?

2-4.30 The Future of Museums in a Time of Austerity

Museum closures are a matter for concern. The austerity measures introduced under the current government have resulted in local authorities reducing funding for museums and some have been forced to close. In this workshop we examine the landscape of closure within the UK. How do rates of closure compare with previous decades and also with rates of new museums opening? What’s lost when a museum closes? And is closure always a problem? Is it really necessary to have so many museums keeping their collections for posterity?

Reserve your free space for the Future of museums in a time of austerity workshop here.

Friday 9 March 2018 – EXHIBITION OPENING

Photography, Politics, Collaborations: an exhibition of new materials from the Jo Spence Memorial Library at Birkbeck

This exhibition showcases important archival materials related to the late Jo Spence, British photographer, writer, artist and self-defined ‘cultural sniper’, recently donated to the History and Theory of Photography Research Centre in the School of Arts at Birkbeck. Curated by Patrizia Di Bello with Birkbeck History of Art Students. The exhibition runs until 28 April 2018.