Professor Victoria Kelley

Professor Victoria Kelley

Director of Research & Education: Professor of the History of Design & Material Culture

  • Academic
  • Research
Professor Victoria Kelley

Victoria Kelley leads UCA’s Research and Education teams, supporting staff and student research and important areas of educational development and enhancement that underpin UCA’s teaching excellence.

Professor Victoria Kelley


Victoria is a historian by discipline, with a subject expertise that spans the boundaries between design history, material culture and social history. Her interest in understanding the past through its material culture dates back to early passions for both history and design.

She studied for her BA in Modern History at Trinity College, Oxford, and MA in the History of Design at the Royal College of Art / Victoria and Albert Museum. She returned to the RCA / V&A to study for her doctorate.

Victoria started her academic career at UCA in 1996, teaching Critical and Historical Studies with BA fashion, textiles and interiors students. She delivered interdisciplinary teaching to MA students from 2005, leading research methods units.

Alongside this long career at UCA, Victoria has also held academic positions at other art and design institutions, including the RCA (2009-2012) and Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, where she was Stage Leader in Cultural Studies for Fashion, Jewellery and Textiles from 2012-2018.

Victoria supervises Ph.D students and led UCA’s Graduate Forum from 2015-2018.

Research statement

Victoria Kelley is a historian whose research encompasses a range of subjects grouped under the heading ‘relationships between people and things’. Her 2010 book, Soap and Water: cleanliness, dirt and the working classes in Victorian and Edwardian Britain is a study of how material culture is formed in practice by ideologies and values: it examines the complex meanings of clean and dirty bodies, clothes, and homes. Her recent work on this subject includes a chapter titled ‘Home and Work’ for the Bloomsbury Cultural History of the Home series (forthcoming).

In 2013 Victoria published Surface Tensions: surface, finish and the meaning of objects (co-edited with Dr Glenn Adamson, V&A) an investigation of the surfaces of objects as the site of material interactions and processes. Her other work on surfaces includes journal articles and book chapters investigating surface and maintenance in textiles, ‘surface anxiety’ and ‘surface delight’ in the Victorian home, and contemporary issues of surface and taste.

Victoria’s current research is on London’s street markets from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. Street markets are an overlooked site of urban modernity and the most vigorous outgrowth of the informal economy that flourishes below and beyond the recognised institutions of the consumer city. This research results in a new interpretation of London’s urban geographies, moving beyond the accepted view of the West End as the consumer city and the East as the city of poverty, and demonstrating that the informality of the street markets has been a powerful force in shaping representations of London and its people. Victoria’s book on this subject was published by Manchester University Press in September 2019, and she is currently working on a proposal for a series of events and pop-up exhibitions for the London Festival of Architecture in summer 2020 that explore street markets as a type of informal architecture that transforms and encloses places without constructing buildings.

Research supervision

Victoria is interested in hearing from research degree applicants whose proposals lie in any of her areas of research interest. 

Research degree students (completed):

  • Andrew Jackson, Understanding the experience of the amateur maker: what are the intrinsic rewards associated with non-professional designing and making? (UCA, 2011)??
  • Michelle Jones, Less Than Art, Greater Than Trade: English couture and the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers in the 1930s and 1940s (RCA, 2015)
  • Carol Quarini, The Domestic Veil: exploring the net curtain through the uncanny and the gothic (UCA, 2015)
  • Beverly Ayling Smith, The space between mourning and melancholia: the use of cloth in contemporary art practice to materialise the work of mourning (UCA, 2016)
  • Jennie Jewitt-Harris, Anything but the Eyes: an investigation through drawing into the common reluctance to donate corneas after death (UCA, 2019)


Research degree students (current):

  • Cassie Davies-Strodder, Wardrobes: the challenge and opportunity of personal collections of clothing in fashion studies and art and design museums (Central Saint Martins / V&A: AHRC CDP studentship)
  • Ollie Gapper, The Photobook as a Space of Unification, Fracture and Failure (UCA)
  • Denise Jones, Embroidering and the Body Under Threat: suffragette cloths in Britain 1905-1914 (UCA)
  • Ezinma Mbonu, The Ageing Body: dress, dementia and identity (UCA)

Professional Membership, Affiliation and Consultancy

Victoria has peer reviewed for a range of academic journals and publishers, including the Journal of Design HistoryHome Cultures, the Economic History ReviewJournal of Modern Craft and Theory, Culture and Society, Palgrave Macmillan and Bloomsbury.

Victoria has research degree examination experience at RCA, UCL, Royal Holloway University of London, Norwich University of the Arts, Kingston University and the University of Brighton.

  • 2017 Hosking Houses Trust residency for March/April 2017 to work on her book on London’s street markets.
    Previous recipients include Joan Bakewell, Timberlake Wertenbaker and Wendy Cope.
  • 2015: Research sabbatical award, Central Saint Martins, UAL.
  • 2014: Research sabbatical award, UCA.
  • 2013: Communities of Practice award to support symposium at Central Saint Martins, Radical Gestures: protest, resistance and refusal.
  • 2009-2010: Funding from the Royal College of Art, the V&A Museum and the Design History Society towards research network events.
  • 2007: Award from the British Academy.


Recent commissions for curatorial essays:

  • ‘Finding and Making’, exhibition essay for ‘Second Hand First Hand’, exhibition of the work of Caroline Broadhead and Maria Militsi, Marsden Woo Gallery, London, 2015 ?
  • ‘Locus of the Dress’, essay for textile artist Shelly Goldsmith’s Crafts Council Funded project, 2016