Colin Sterling

The Role of Photography in the Social Construction of Heritage Sites

My research seeks to critically examine the relationship between cultural heritage and photography. I focus on site and archive specific collections to help explore wider issues around the contemporaneous development of photography and heritage as a means of relating to past-worlds. My point of departure for my thesis is the photographic archive of Victorian explorer John Thomson, held by The Wellcome Collection in London. This includes images from Thomson’s time in China, Singapore and Hong Kong, although I will be focusing on his photographs of Cambodia and Cyprus. The sites documented by Thomson (including Angkor and Famagusta) represent some of the earliest photographic records of these locations. I will question what role such images have played in the subsequent construction of the sites as heritage, asking how photography impacts on the management, conservation and interpretation of sites, what power asymmetries are revealed or subverted through these processes, and how the collecting, archiving, digitisation and distribution of such imagery contributes to a sense of the past as heritage. In recognition of the continuing power of photographs to help define what we value as heritage, my research will involve interrogating recent photographic work surrounding the sites, namely the Our Place World Heritage Project, and community archives related to the diaspora group The Famagusta Association of Great Britain.

Funding organisation

  • ESRC


Research Directory

Educational background

  • BA, Ancient History and Archaeology, University of Manchester, 2006
  • MA, Cultural Heritage Studies, UCL, 2008
  • Angkor Wat. Flickr member Pigalle. Used under Creative Commons Licence.
  • Capturing Stonehenge. Photograph Copyright C. Sterling
  • Island Temple on the River Min Near Foochow. Photograph by John Thomson from Flickr member Ralph Repo. Used under Creative Commons Licence.

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