Department of Cultural, Media and Visual Studies



Image of Isobel Elstob

Isobel Elstob

Assistant Professor in Art History, Faculty of Arts



Prior to joining the University's Department of Cultural, Media, and Visual Studies as an Assistant Professor in 2018, I held roles as Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Visual Culture and Associate Research Fellow at Birkbeck College, University of London, and Teaching Fellow in Art History and Theory at the Slade School of Fine Art, UCL. In addition to my academic appointments, I have worked with commercial galleries in London and directed contemporary art engagement events in the UK.

Expertise Summary

I specialise in modern and contemporary art history and theory in Britain and America. I am particularly interested in how the historical past has been visualized by artists working in the 1980s and beyond. My research also often applies analytic models derived from historiography, narratology, and literary theory to its study of the visual arts.

Research interests:

Neo-Victorian studies, with a particular interest in the visual arts

Connections between literary and art theory

Histories of how art and science interact

Contemporary art and memory studies

Modern and contemporary Black art histories

Histories of display

Current PhD supervisions:

Lu Zhang, 'The Exotic Fashion of Chinese Art in British Displays'

Ridwa Horreh, 'Share, Like and Repost: A qualitative study exploring Black female social media influencers view on the Black female sexuality and sexual identity'

Matthew Hamblin, 'Corporeal Soundings in 20th Century Art and Protest'

Memberships and Board positions:

Editorial Advisory Board Journal of Historical Fictions

Academic Advisory Board Languages, Texts and Society

Advisory Board PoCo Page, Presses universitaires de la Méditerranée

Trustee, BACKLIT Gallery, Nottingham

Teaching Summary

My teaching considers how visual artists respond to various socio-political context(s) in the modern and contemporary period. Several of my research interests inform my teaching approach, including… read more

Research Summary

My research explores how contemporary artists engage with marginalized, obscure or traumatic histories. Concerned with artists' formal approaches towards representing the past, my work applies… read more

My teaching considers how visual artists respond to various socio-political context(s) in the modern and contemporary period. Several of my research interests inform my teaching approach, including the interrogation of established forms of narrative, creative appropriations of methods from other disciplines - such as anthropology, physics and ethnography - histories of display, visual approaches to the construction (reconstruction and deconstruction) of race and histories of epistemology and science.

Courses and modules that I've taught include:

Science in Art: 1900 to the present (BA)

Black Art in a White Context: display, critique, and 'the Other' (BA)

Institutional Critique and the Critique of Institutions (BA)

Art and Science: from the Renaissance to the contemporary (BA)

The Power of Display (BA)

Visualizing Conflict (MA)

Visualizing the Victorians (MA)

Criticism and Display (MA)

Image and Identity (MA)

I am also involved in anti-racism and EDI work at the University through my role as EDI lead for the Department of Cultural, Media, and Visual Studies, School EDI Committee member, Race Equality Charter working group member, and coordinator of several initiatives that aim to help improve a sense of inclusivity for our Black, Asian, and other ethnically diverse student body. These include the introduction of a department-level Cultural Inclusivity Student Council and School-level Inclusivity Ambassadors, as well as their associated staff-student forums. I've also initiated student-led projects, such as a MyProfile platform, and partnered with BACKLIT Gallery, Nottingham, to create a student-led podcast focused on discussions of race, heritage, and the lived experiences of its participants in 2021 and the OUTCOME exhibition project in 2022.

Current Research

My research explores how contemporary artists engage with marginalized, obscure or traumatic histories. Concerned with artists' formal approaches towards representing the past, my work applies literary and historiographic models, such as intertextuality, metafiction and narratology, to the study of a broad range of visual media including installation, performance, painting and photography.

This research originated in my PhD thesis, which produced three articles, and is currently being developed into the forthcoming monograph Reimag(in)ing the Victorians in Contemporary Art: Britain and Beyond (Palgrave Macmillian), which considers the work of artists including Mat Collishaw, Polly Morgan, Ingrid Pollard, Tessa Farmer, Mark Dion, Yinka Shonibare and Dorothy Cross. The book examines contemporary visual responses to and revivals of nineteenth-century technologies, crafts, collections and historical narratives. Particular areas of interest include: contemporary uses of Victorian visual technologies, such as magic lanterns; the recent emergence of taxidermy as a contemporary medium; appropriations of historical forms of collecting, preservation and display; and visual re-presentations of marginalized and colonial histories. I am also currently developing this research into an exhibition.

I am also interested in how histories of enslavement have been visualized by artists in the last two decades. For this strand of my research I have produced a volume chapter on the work of Glenn Ligon, Carrie Mae Weems and Lorna Simpson in relation to narratology (Routledge, 2019) and am currently completing a study of how Kara Walker's collages from the early 2000's perform an historiography of American story-making.

Publications and Projects:

Exhibition: Reimag(in)ing the Victorians in Contemporary Art, Djanogly Art Gallery, Lakeside Arts, Nottingham (September 2023 - January 2024).

Elstob, I. (Forthcoming: 2023) Reimag(in)ing the Victorians in Contemporary Art: Britain and Beyond (Palgrave Macmillan).

Elstob, I. (2020) '"The Spinster" and her Jellyfish: Dorothy Cross's 'Medusae' and historiographical storytelling', Visual Studies. DOI: 10.1080/1472586X.2020.1803125.

Elstob, I. (2019). '"The End is the Beginning and Lies Far Ahead":Time and Textuality in African American Visualizations of the Historical Past, 1990-2000'. In L. Aje, & N. Gachon (Eds.), Traces and Memories of Slavery in the Atlantic World. Routledge.

Elstob, I (2018). 'Visual Metafictions: Mark Fairnington's Mantidae and Victorian Representations of the 'Real', Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies.

Elstob, I. (2017). 'The Artist-Historian': Victorian Natural History in the Work of Mark Dion, Journal of Victorian Culture. DOI: 10.1080/13555502.2017.1359657.

Selected conference, panel contributions, and gallery talks:

2022. Keynote. 'Remagining the Victorians: Visualizing the 19th Century in Contemporary Art', Revisioning the Past: The Artist/Designer as Historian, University of Portsmouth and University of Bristol

2022. Panel Discussion. Ghost Empire: British Colonial Laws and LGBTQ+ Rights, University of Nottingham

2021. Keynote. 'Visualizing the Past: Us, Them, Now, Then', Annual Postgraduate Symposium, The Courtauld

2021. 'Phantasmagoria in the Work of Mat Collishaw', Theatre and Visual Culture in the Long Nineteenth Century, University of Exeter

2020. 'Seeing is Believing: Victorian visual technologies in contemporary art', Illumination: Perspectives on the Way of Light, Birkbeck College, London

2019. 'Mapping the Historical Past: time, place, and trauma in Ingrid Pollard's Oceans Apart, 1989', International Conference for (Neo-)Victorian Studies, Birkbeck College, London

2017. 'Material Histories: Collage as medium in Kara Walker's picture series, 2001-2005', Bluecoat 300: Slavery and Philanthropy, Liverpool

2017. Panel Discussion. Recovering Nineteenth-Century Women in the Digital Context, Birkbeck Arts Week

2016. ''Intertemporal Intertexts in African American Visual Arts, 1990-2000', Traces and Memories of Slavery in the Atlantic World, Montpellier University, Montpellier

2015. 'The Historical Impulse: The Representation of History in Recent Visual Art', Nottingham, Visual Cultures Research Seminar, University of Nottingham

2014. 'Representations of Sublime Nature: The Ocean in the Work of Dorothy Cross', British Waters and Beyond, Royal West of England Academy, Bristol

2013. 'The Plain and Leafy Fact: The Artistic Practice of Mark Fairnington', Neo-Victorian Cultures, Liverpool John Moores, Liverpool

2013. 'Astronomy and Geology, those terrible Muses! Michelle's Stuart's and the Natural Sciences', Djanogly Art Gallery, Nottingham

Department of Cultural, Media and Visual Studies

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Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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