Frances Varley

PhD candidate; Associate Lecturer

Collecting, Identity, and the Region in Manchester and Philadelphia, c.1870-1914

Supervised by Professor David Peters Corbett (Centre for American Art)

My research focuses on the ways in which collections were used as tools in the negotiation of identities Britain and the United States in the years between 1870 and 1914. By highlighting comparative case studies in Manchester and Philadelphia, I interrogate how civic concerns of cultural, economic, and geographic peripherality intersected and impacted individual attempts at self-presentation through collections and their display. In doing so, my research explores the extent to which the individuals were regional actors and the ways in which facets of the self coalesced in conjunction with concerns of local stability, community, and identity. Through its focus on the interconnected histories of museums and collecting in Britain and the United States throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this project considers the social and ideological functions of art. It considers collections, museums, and bequests as vital means of negotiating identity, self-representation, and ideology.


  • PhD: The 鶹Ƶ Institute of Art
  • MA History of Art: The 鶹Ƶ Institute of Art. Special Option: New York – London – Paris, 1880-1940
  • BA (Hons) History: Somerville College, University of Oxford

Conferences, Events, and Invited Talks

  • Speaker – ‘Making Meaning in Rossetti’s The Blessed Damozel at the Manchester Art Museum’, The Rossettis: In Relation, organised by Tate Britain, the University of York, and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art (2023)
  • Speaker – ‘Spaces of Identity: Enriqueta Rylands and the John Rylands Library’, Global New Voices: Art, Identity, and the Body, organised by the Association for Art History’s Doctoral and Early Career Researcher Network (2022)
  • Guest Lecturer – ‘Winslow Homer: An American in Paris’, Winslow Homer: North America, Europe, and the Caribbean World’, The National Gallery (2022)
  • Organiser – Digital Approaches to Histories of Nineteenth-Century American Art, organised by The 鶹Ƶ Centre for American Art (2022)
  • Panel Chair – ‘Transmission’, American Art and the Political Imagination, organised by The 鶹Ƶ Centre for American Art (2022)
  • Speaker – “Not of the Ordinary Type” – Thomas Coglan Horsfall and the Manchester Art Museum’, Radical Victorians: Race, Labor, Identity, organised by The Frick Pittsburgh, Yale University, and Carnegie Mellon University (2022)


  • 2023-2024: Associate Lecturer, The 鶹Ƶ Institute of Art: ‘Body Politics: Art, Gender, Class, and Race in the Victorian Metropolis’ (BA3) and ‘American Art and American Landscape, 1800-1920’ (BA2)
  • 2022-2023: Associate Lecturer, The 鶹Ƶ Institute of Art: ‘The Pre-Raphaelites’ (BA1)
  • 2021-2022: Teaching Assistant, The 鶹Ƶ Institute of Art: Frameworks (BA2)
  • 2021-2024: Teaching Assistant, The 鶹Ƶ Institute of Art: Summer University and Widening Participation Seminar Series (introduction to Art History for Year 12 students from non-selective state schools)

Awards, Grants, and Fellowships

  • British Association for Victorian Studies Research Funding Award (2022)
  • Association for Art History Scholarly Research Grant (2021)
  • Terra Foundation Research Travel Grant (2021)
  • 鶹Ƶ Scholarship (2020 – 2023)
  • Alice Horsman Award, Somerville College (2018)

Research Interests

  • British and American art, c.1850-1920
  • Regionalism and place
  • Centre/periphery relations
  • Identity and self-definition
  • Collecting and collectors
  • Social and public functions of art
  • Digital art histories
  • Transnational methodologies

Other Activities

  • Reviews Editor – (2021-2022)
  • Interview – (2021)