Jim Harris

Research Fellow

Jim Harris is the Teaching Curator at the Ashmolean Museum, and an art historian specialising in late-medieval and early-Renaissance sculpture.

At the Ashmolean, he is responsible for exploring the use of the Museum’s collections in the university curriculum, devising and delivering classes and courses across a wide range of disciplines and training faculty and early-career researchers to deploy objects and images in developing their own teaching practice.

He has been an Academic Visitor at Somerville since 2017 and a member of the Somerville Medieval Research Group, building a number of long-standing teaching partnerships with members of the college.  He has taught the college’s English undergraduates alongside Dr Annie Sutherland every year since 2012.

Jim trained as an actor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and later, after over a decade in theatre and television, as an art historian at the Courtauld Institute. He wrote his PhD thesis on the polychrome sculpture of Donatello, and held the Courtauld’s Andrew W Mellon Research Forum Postdoctoral Fellowship and the Caroline Villers Research Fellowship in Conservation before coming to Oxford.

“My research has been focused on the materials and techniques of sculpture, and especially in the question of how three-dimensional surfaces are transformed by polychromy, the addition of paint, gold and inlays, and by the subsequent, successive alterations, deliberate or by chance, that they undergo during their lifetimes.

“However, since arriving at the Ashmolean, working with museum collections as tools in university teaching, I have begun to explore the ways that the object-focused classroom offers a democratic, inclusive and equitable alternative to more traditionally hierarchical, text-centred spaces for teaching and learning. It’s a grand claim; but in the face of the basic question, ‘What do you see?’, no member of a group carries more privilege than another: experiencing an object collectively and building a shared understanding of it is a work of knowledge creation in which the contribution of every student is valued. In a culturally and socially diverse student body, therefore, the Museum represents an equally and uniquely diverse resource for enabling otherwise disregarded or less-audible voices to speak and be heard.”


2023 ‘Donatello and the Making of a Florentine Annunciation’, in I. Assimakopoulou and E. Mavromichalis (eds.) Thomas Puttfarken Workshops I and II: Proceedings (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens/University Studio Press, Thessaloniki), pp.133-166

2022 ‘Why Didn’t Sculptors Draw?’ in M Cole, A Debenedetti and P Motture (eds.), Creating Sculpture: Renaissance Drawings and Models (V&A Publishing: London), pp.50-61

2021 Building a House for Repentance: the monochrome Passion cycle of San Nicolò del Boschetto in A Suerbaum and A Sutherland (eds.), Medieval Temporalities: the Experience of Time in Medieval Europe (DS Brewer: Cambridge), pp.203-227

2018 ‘A Comparison of Change Blindness and the Visual Perception of Museum Artefacts in Real-World and On-Screen Scenarios’, with Jonathan Attwood, Christopher Kennard and Chrystalina Antoniades, in Zoi Kapoula et. al. (eds), Exploring Transdisciplinarity in Art and Sciences, (Springer: Cham), pp.213-233; previously published in Frontiers in Psychology, 2018, 00151

2017 ‘Agile Objects’, with Senta German, Journal of Museum Education, vol.42, no.3, pp.248-257

2017 ‘Lorenzo Ghiberti and the Language of Praise’, Sculpture Journal, vol.26, no.1, pp.107-118

2016 ‘Exploring Psychiatry through Images and Objects’, with Charlotte Allan, Maria Turri, Kate Stein and Felipe da Silva, Medical Humanities, vol.42, pp.205-6

As Editor
2011 ‘Una insalata di più erbe…’: A Festschrift for Patricia Rubin, with S. Nethersole and P. Rumberg, (London)

2009 immediations Conference Papers 1: Art and Nature – Studies in Medieval Art and Architecture, with L. Cleaver and K. Gerry, (London)

Where Next?