German Historical Institute London

17 Bloomsbury Square
London WC1A 2NJ
United Kingdom

Phone: Tel. +44-(0)20-7309 2050



Dr Mirjam Brusius

Colonial and Global History

+44 020 7309 2028 ORCID-ID

Mirjam S. Brusius is a cultural historian with a PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge and an MA from the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. In 2023/24 she teaches as a Visiting Professor at École Normale Supérieure in Paris.

I joined the GHIL in 2017, having held posts at the University of Oxford, Harvard University, and two Max Planck Institutes. I work on the movement of visual and material culture between Europe, Asia, and Africa: from ancient artefacts entering Western museums, to photography moving into the Islamicate world. At stake are material biographies of empire and the questions they raise about the contemporary world. My research was funded by the British Academy, the Fulbright Commission, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. In 2022 I won the prestigious Dan David Prize, the proceeds of which I intend to use for collaborative work with scholars in the Global South.

My first books on the photography pioneer W. H. F. Talbot (De Gruyter, 2015; Yale University Press, 2013) will shortly be published in a revised form focusing on Talbot and Empire by the University of Chicago Press. My current interest in archaeological finds in transit informs my book Objects without Status (under contract with Oxford University Press). I am also writing a popular book on the overlooked fact that the majority of museum collections are held out of sight, a follow-up to Museum Storage and Meaning: Tales from the Crypt (2018). I recently edited a volume on the future of German memory culture and co-authored an article on how photographic archives help shape ideas of ‘heritage’.

I am also a public historian, curator, and heritage consultant. In 2021 I was involved in a repatriation case at the University of Ghana as Principal Investigator. Recent fellowships have taken me to the University of Sydney, CARMAH Berlin, and Columbia University. I am also the initiator of the award-winning project 100 Histories of 100 Worlds in 1 Object, which foregrounds Global South voices to achieve a more balanced understanding of museum objects, and I am a regular contributor to media such as the BBC, the Guardian, and major German newspapers and radio stations. You can listen to my latest programmes here (in English), and here (in German).


Research Project

Empire, Heritage, and the Decolonization Debate

A group of seven workmen at Palmyra moving a massive capital on a wooden sledge by pulling it over wooden poles by means of a rope wrapped around the capital.

This project gives a transregional perspective on museums, collecting, and fieldwork as an imperial enterprise incorporating the British Empire, France, and Prussia. I show how emerging survey methods and disciplines such as archaeology were instrumentalized for political, orientalist, and racial discourse in the increasingly contested landscape of the Ottoman Empire. This project aims to develop directions for further debate that recognize cultural differences in order to pay attention to the manifold non-elite, bottom-up, and indigenous engagements with the material past. At stake are material biographies of empire and the questions they raise not only about historical experiences, but also about race, heritage, and the politics of knowledge-making in the contemporary world.

Research Project

The Spaces of Photography

Image of a room of the centenary photography exhibition, held at Lacock Abbey, 1934, which depicts several tables and wall covered with a selection of Fox Talbot's photographs

This project explores not only the actual photographs, but also their detachment from their original archival context, their circulation on the art market, and their display across different types of museums and institutions in order to determine the disciplinary framework for studying early photographic specimens, whether scientific, industrial, or colonial. The project also intends to help shift the centre of gravity in the history of photography – traditionally a Eurocentric field – eastwards by researching photographic centres such as Tehran and Istanbul in the 19th century and their impact on the Middle East and Europe.

Further projects

Mirjam Brusius is also one of the initiators of the project ‘100 Histories of 100 Worlds in One Object’.


Responsibilities at the GHIL

  • Research Fellow in Colonial and Global History
  • Member of the GHIL PR team

Research Interests

  • History of museums, collecting, archaeology and fieldwork in imperial contexts
  • Cultural heritage and preservation practices
  • History of photography
  • History of colonial science
  • Memory culture

Education and Academic Background

2014–2017 A. W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Oxford
2013–2014 Postdoctoral Fellow, Mahindra Humanities Center, Harvard University (funded by the Fulbright Commission and Volkswagen Foundation)
2012–2013 Postdoctoral Fellow, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
2012 Postdoctoral Fellow, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut
2011 DAAD-Fellow, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
2007–2011 Ph.D. in History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge (as part of an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award in conjunction with the British Library)
2002–2007 M.A. in Art History, Cultural Studies and Musicology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (exchange at Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 2004)

Fellowships, Grants, and Scholarships

2019 The Italian Academy of Advanced Studies in America, Columbia University, Weinberg Fellow
2017 Berlin School of Muslim Cultures and Societies and TOPOI Berlin, Visiting Fellow
2017 Centre for Anthropological Research on Museums and Heritage Berlin, Visiting Fellow
2016 University of Melbourne, Dyason Fellow
2016 Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science, Visiting Fellow
2013 Fulbright Foundation, Postdoctoral Grant for Harvard University
2013 Fellowship, Aga Khan Program for Islamic Art and Architecture (MIT and Harvard University)
2011 Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, Research Grant
2011 Yale Center for British Art and Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, Visiting Fellow
2010 British Academy, Small Research Grant
2008 Gerda Henkel Foundation, Doctoral grant
2007 AHRC Doctoral Award

Honours and Distinctions

2022 Dan David Prize (currently the largest history prize in the world)
2018 Jacob Bronowski Award Lecture for Science and the Arts, British Science Association
2018 Maurice Daumas Prize of the International Committee for the History of Technology for best article on the History of Technology 2018: ‘Photography’s Fits and Starts’, History of Photography, 40/3 (2016)
2016 Aby Warburg Prize for Early Career Researchers



Monographs and Edited Volumes

(ed.), Memory Cultures 2.0. From ‘Opferkonkurrenz’ to Solidarity, Special Issue, German Historical Institute London Bulletin 2022/2 [forthcoming, Nov. 2022]

The Absence of Photography. William Henry Fox Talbot, Empire, Science, and the Antique [final revisions after second peer review, The University of Chicago Press]

Fotografie und museales Wissen: William Henry Fox Talbot, das Altertum und die Absenz der Fotografie (Berlin, 2015)

(ed.), Living Through the Wende. Housing and the Home c. 1989, Special Issue, German Historical Institute London Bulletin, 43/1 (2021).

with K. Singh (eds), Museum Storage and Meaning: Tales from the Crypt (London, 2018)

(ed.), What is Preservation? Diversifying Engagement with the Middle East’s material Past, Round Table, Review of Middle East Studies, 51/2 (2017)

with T. Dunkelgrün (eds), Photography, Antiquity, Scholarship, Special Issue, History of Photography, 40/3 (2016)

with K. Dean and C. Ramalingam (eds), William Henry Fox Talbot: Beyond Photography (New Haven/London, 2013)

Articles and Chapters


‘Repatriating Histories. The Subaltern Voices of Museum Objects’, Proceedings of the 35th CIHA World Congress. Motion: Migrations. São Paulo 2022 [in press].

‘Repatriation is changing but colonial dynamics remain’ Museums Journal (5. Mai 2023) (Read here)

‘Decolonize the Museum Island! Museum Narratives, Race Theory, and Opportunities in a Much Too Quiet Debate’, in Epple, Angelika/Sandkühler, Thomas/Zimmerer, Jürgen (eds.), Historical Culture by Restitution? A Debate on Art, Museums, and Justice (Köln 2023), 139–158

With Rico, Trinidad, ‘Counter-Archives as Heritage Justice: Photography, Invisible Labor, and Peopled Ruins’, Journal of Visual Culture, 22/1 (2023),  64–92

‘William Henry Fox Talbot’, in Phillip Prodger (ed.), An Alternative History of Photography (London 2022), 26

‘Dekolonisiert die Museumsinsel. Museumsnarrative, Rassentheorie und radikale Chancen einer zu stillen Debatte’, in A. Epple, T. Sandkühler, J. Zimmerer (eds), Geschichtskultur durch Restitution? Ein Kunst-Historikerstreit (Köln 2021), 125-44

‘On Connecting the Ancient and the Modern Middle East in Museums and Public Space’, in Sharon McDonald, Katarzyna Puzon and Mirjam Shatanawi (eds.), Islam and Heritage in Europe (London, 2021), 183–201

‘Hitting two Birds with One Stone: An Afterword on Archeology and the History of Science’, History of Science, 55/3 (2017), 383–91

‘Introduction: What is Preservation?’, Review of Middle East Studies, 51/2 (2017), 177–82

‘The Field in the Museum: Puzzling out Babylon in Berlin’, Osiris, 32 (2017), 264–85

‘Photography’s Fits and Starts: The Search for Antiquity and its Image in Victorian Britain’, History of Photography, 40/3 (2016), 250–66

‘Towards a History of Preservation Practices: Archaeology, Heritage and the History of Science’, Round Table on ‘Science Studies’, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 47/3 (2015), 574–9

Reviews and Miscellaneous Publications

Journalism and Outreach

Regular contributor to the German Historical Institute London Podcast, 2023- (See individual episodes here)

with Tiffany N. Florvil, ‘Passing on the Microphone’, German Historical Institute London Instagram Live Event on the present and future of German history, 17 October 2023 (Read more)

mit Lorenz Rollhäuser, Auf Sumpf gebaut. Imperial Träume auf der Berliner Museumsinsel’, SWR2, 30 December 2022 (Listen here)

Higher Education and me’ (Interview), Times Higher Education, 31 March 2022 (Read here)

La préservation implique toujours une part de destruction’, AOC, 1 July 2022 (Read here)

mit Lorenz Rollhäuser, Auf Sumpf gebaut. Imperial Träume auf der Berliner Museumsinsel’, Deutschlandfunk Kultur, 28 June 2022 (Listen here)

 ‘Global Stories of Museum Artefacts’, BBC History Extra Podcast, 15 June 2022 (Listen here)

Warum Holocaust und Kolonialismus Teil deutscher Vergessenskultur sind’, Berliner Zeitung am Wochenende, 4/5 September 2021

‘Vielsagender Sturz einer Sklavenhändler-Statue: In Bristol beginnt der Prozess gegen Black-Lives-Matter-Demonstrant*innen’, 8 February 2021, SWR2 am Morgen (Listen here)

‘Hand in Hand. Antikensammlungen waren mit der Rassetheorie eng verwoben. Die Museen sollten sich dieser Geschichte stellen. Das betrifft auch die Personalpolitik: Glaubwürdig sind Museen erst, wenn sie Forschungsstellen mit Zuwanderern besetzen’, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 21, 26 January 2020, 9 (Read here)

‘Das Humboldtforum ist nur der Anfang. Imperialistische Zerstörung und museale Konservierung waren schon immer Komplizen. Doch wie viel kritische Sammlungsgeschichte ertragen Museen, ohne sich abzuschaffen?’, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 6, 27 September 2017, 12 (Read here)

‘The Middle East Heritage Debate is becoming Worryingly Colonial’, The Conversation, 25 April 2016 (Read here)

‘The many Inventions of Photography’, The Guardian, 22 December 2014 (Read here)


Conference review of 100 Histories of 100 Worlds in One Object. University of the West Indies, Mona, Kingston, Jamaica (9–13 Dec. 2019), Bulletin of the German Historical Institute London, 42/1 (2020)

Conference review of Ruins of Preservation. German Historical Institute London (11–12 July 2019), Bulletin of the German Historical Institute London, 42/1 (2020) (Read here)

Review of S. Sheehi, The Arab Imago: A Social History of Portrait Photography, Critical Inquiry, 45/2 (2018), 545–6 (Read here)

Review of A. Behdad, Camera Orientalis: Reflections on Photography of the Middle East, Burlington Magazine, 160 (Aug., 2018), 705

Review of ‘Salt&Silver: Early Photography 1840-1860’, Tate Britain, Fotogeschichte, 35/137 (2015), 59–60

with C. Ramalingam, Conference review of William Henry Fox Talbot: Beyond photography, University of Cambridge (24–26 June 2010), H-Soz-u-Kult, 11 May 2011 (Read here)

Review of H. Bredekamp, B. Schneider and V. Dünkel (eds.), Das Technische Bild: Kompendium zu einer Stilgeschichte wissenschaftlicher Bilder, British Journal of the History of Science, 42 (2009), 611–2

‘Noch einmal von vorne: Drei neue Publikationen zur frühen Fotografie’, Reviews of G. Batchen, William Henry Fox Talbot; K. Jacobson, Odalisques & Arabesques: Orientalist Photography 1839-1925; and R. Taylor, Impressed by Light: British Photography from Paper Negatives, 1840–1860, Rundbrief Fotografie Neue Folge Heft 61 (March 2009), 19–23

‘Kunst, Nicht-Kunst’, Review of the exhibition catalogue, P.H. Emerson, National Media Museum, Bradford, Fotogeschichte, 27/104 (2007), 73–74


For a full publication list, see