School of Arts

Professor Louise Tythacott

Key information

Roles
Department of History of Art and Archaeology Professor of Curating and Museology Centre of South East Asian Studies Academic Staff China Institute Academic Staff Centre of Buddhist Studies Member
Department
School of Arts
Qualifications
BA (Kent), DipLang (University of Westminster), PhD (Manchester), SFHEA, FRHistS, FRAI
Building
Russell Square: College Buildings
Office
505
Email address
lt15@soas.ac.uk
Telephone number
+44 (0)20 7898 4159
Support hours
On research leave from September 2022-June 2023

Biography

I returned to SOAS in 2021 as Professor of Curating and Museology in the School of Arts. I was previously the Woon Tai Jee Professor of Asian Art at Northumbria University, where, amongst other things, I was responsible for leading a team of lecturers and researchers involved with the International Research Centre for the History and Culture of Nanzhao and Dali Kingdoms. Prior to this I was employed at SOAS, initially as Pratapaditya Pal Senior Lecturer in Asian Art (2014-19), then as Pratapaditya Pal Professor in Curating and Museology of Asian Art (2019-2020). I also taught Museology in the highly rated Art Gallery & Museum Studies MA programme at the University of Manchester between 2003 and 2014, as well as modules on ‘Critical Museology and Non-Western Art’ in the School of Asian and African Studies at the University of Sussex.  

Before moving into academia, I worked for over a decade in various museums in the UK, latterly as a Curator, then Head of Department, at National Museums Liverpool (1996-2003). Here I was lead project curator for the World Cultures Gallery, with specific responsibilities for the Asia and Buddhism displays. Earlier in my career, I worked as the Curator of a private Burmese textile collection, an Exhibitions Officer at the Royal Pavilion, Art Gallery & Museums, Brighton, and a Managing Editor of the key, peer-reviewed journal, Museum and Society. I continue to be actively involved in the museum sector in the UK and internationally, as a curator, consultant and museum trustee.  

In terms of teaching at SOAS, since 2014 I have been responsible for initiating and creating a portfolio of new museology and curating modules, many of which have been highly subscribed and, as a result, are now taught by various colleagues: 

I have also convened and taught the following modules:  

I regularly contribute to other modules in the School of Arts: 

I have supervised 150 or so MA dissertations over the past 20 years, as well as 21 PhD theses, and have examined 13 PhDs at various universities around the world. In recognition of my leadership in the field of teaching and learning, I was awarded Senior Fellowship of the HEA in 2021. 

At SOAS I have served on the University-wide Collections & Galleries Advisory Panel and Brunei Gallery Management Strategy Group. I am a member of the European Association of Chinese Studies, European Association for Asian Art and Archaeology, Association of Critical Heritage Studies, British Association for Chinese Studies, Museum Ethnographers Group, amongst other professional bodies, and am an elected Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, the Royal Asiatic Society and the Royal Anthropological Institute. 

ORCID - 0000-0001-5625-6468 

Research interests

My first degree was in Social Anthropology with Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Kent at Canterbury, and my post-graduate research was based at the University of Hong Kong where I undertook fieldwork on Chinese folk deity imagery and temple iconography. I studied Mandarin and Cantonese at the University of Westminster and was awarded my PhD in Museology from the University of Manchester.  

Over the past 25 years, I have written or edited 7 academic books, numerous articles, book chapters and reviews, as well as publishing a range of more popular, educational monographs. My most notable publication, in my view, is The Lives of Chinese Objects: Buddhism, Imperialism and Display (Berghahn, 2011). Partly funded by the AHRC, it drew upon over five years research - fieldwork in different parts of China, interviews in the UK and China, research in archives and a reflexive analysis of my work as Curator of Asian Collections at National Museums Liverpool.  

For the past decade or so, I have also been researching the biographies of objects looted from the Yuanmingyuan or old ‘Summer Palace’ in Beijing. I visited and documented 11 military museums in the UK, in order to write a journal article (‘Trophies of War’). In 2013, I organised a two-day international conference on the topic at the University of Manchester, which included contributions from leading specialists - art historians, historians, architects, journalists and curators - and which resulted in an edited book, Collecting and Displaying China’s ‘Summer Palace’ objects in the West: The Yuanmingyuan in Britain and France. In 2017, I was fortunate to secure a major philanthropic donation to undertake further research on ‘Summer Palace’ objects. With the help of a research assistant, I visited 29 museums, libraries and archives in the UK, Dublin and Paris in order to analyse objects, historic documents, museum displays and interview curators. I was fortunate also to be awarded a Leverhulme Research Fellowship in 2022 to complete a monograph based on this research.  

Over recent years, I have worked closely with my colleague, Christian Luczanits, on a project to document and display Tibetan Buddhist Monastery Collections in Ladakh and northern Nepal. We were awarded a grant of £356,759 from the AHRC in 2016 (Christian was the Principal Investigator, I was the Co-Investigator) and, over a three-year period, travelled to, and worked in, a range of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in order to help develop museum displays. We organised a workshop at SOAS on the topic in 2018, along with Chiara Bellini (post-doctoral researcher), and we have since co-edited a book from the proceedings – Tibetan Monastery Collections and Museums: Traditional Practices and Contemporary Issues (Vajra, 2023).     

I also have an increasing interest in the restitution of cultural heritage, having organised a key international conference on the subject in 2010 with my colleague Kostas Arvanitis in Manchester. This was attended by museum professionals, policy makers, politicians, consultants and academics from around the world, and resulted in a co-edited volume - Museums and Restitution: New Practices, New Approaches (Routledge, 2014). As a result of my developing interests, I recently created a new MA module at SOAS, Loot, Collecting and Restitution – and look forward to exploring ideas in more depth when I’m back in 2023.

PhD Supervision

Name Title
Ms Arjmand Aziz Ahmad Exhibiting Australian Aboriginal Contemporary art in Britain: the case of two galleries in London
Miranda Bruce-Mitford From Natural History to Wayang: The Collections and Collecting Practices of Thomas Stamford Raffles
Ivy Chan Collecting Chinese Art in Hong Kong during the 20th Century: Appropriation and Location
Ayesha Fuentes On the use of human remains in Tibetan ritual objects
Helen Glaister Collecting in Public and Private: The Ionides Collection of Chinese Export Porcelain, 1920-1970
Elizabeth Reid An investigation into the meaning and significance of the exhibitions of Chinese art at the Whitechapel Art Gallery between 1901 and 1934

Publications

Contact Louise