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Dr Sean Robert Willcock

Leverhulme Early Career Fellow

Contact details:


Mailing address:

Department of History of Art 
School of Arts 
Birkbeck, University of London
43 Gordon Square
London WC1H 0PD


Research interests

– Nineteenth-century British art

– Early photography

– Visual cultures of empire



I joined Birkbeck as a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in 2018, having previously taught at SCAD Hong Kong, the Yale-in-London programme at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, and the University of York.

My research examines the visual cultures of politics during the nineteenth century, with an emphasis on the role of photography and painting within episodes of colonial crisis.  I have published in Art History, History of Photography, and British Art Studies, and am currently working on my first book, ‘The Aesthetics of Geopolitics: Visual Culture and Political Crisis in South Asia’, based on research funded by the AHRC, the INTACH UK Trust, the Yale Center for British Art, and the Paul Mellon Centre.

My current Leverhulme-funded research project at Birkbeck is concerned with the aesthetics of violence under modernity. The nineteenth century witnessed a major transformation in attitudes concerning the relationship of art and violence, in particular geopolitical violence, but the scope and significance of this shift have remained largely unexplored.  My research maps the feedback loops that developed between images and violence, tracking how such loops structured interactions both within and across boundaries of nation, race, class, gender, and – with the emergence of animal rights – species.  It seeks to asses the agency of aesthetic practices in shaping modern political and ethical consciousness.