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Emma Bryning


Research Project

Making marks, changing values: the contemporary significance of graffiti at historic sites

Supervisors: John Schofield (University of York, Archaeology) and Megan Leyland (English Heritage)

Funding: AHRC through the Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP)

This collaborative research project with the University of York and English Heritage seeks to understand why historic graffiti matters and to whom, and whether under- standing graffiti creation today can help to better understand historic mark making in the past. The PhD will critically assess how graffiti at historic sites and more contem- porary examples are evaluated and interpreted, both within the heritage sector and by the wider public.

The project will look at historic graffiti at a range of English Heritage sites, predomin- antly across the north of England, whilst also exploring contemporary graffiti across the region. The aim of this is to create a better understanding of these marks as an historic resource and to then use this information to explore the impact that historic and contemporary graffiti have upon the values and perceptions of visitors and herit- age practitioners. A further aim of the project is to build a dialogue with contemporary graffiti artists to engage with historic sites and mark-making. This research hopes to bring innovative new angles to heritage interpretation, to share practice between artists and heritage practitioners, and engage new audiences through accessible heritage interpretation.



I completed a BA (Int.) in History of Art at the University of Leeds in 2013, including a year studying at the University of California Irvine between 2011-2012. I then went on to complete my MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies at the University of Leeds in 2014. My undergraduate dissertation focused on the career and work of perform- ance artist Marina Abramović and my Masters dissertation examined the purpose and impact of contemporary art collections within heritage settings, focusing on the contemporary art collection at Chatsworth House.

After completing my MA, I went on to work in a variety of roles in events, including as a Student Engagement Assistant at the University of Reading and as a Volunteer Events Assistant for the Sir John Soane’s Museum. In 2016, I was employed as a Learning and Community Officer for the Monastery Manchester on a Heritage Lottery Funded Project and after the project’s completion was promoted to the position of Visitor Experience Manager. In 2019, the site was short-listed for the Best Perform- ance Award for a collaborative community event and The Manchester People’s Cul- tural Award at the Manchester Culture Awards (2019). I have also worked in a variety of of front of house roles in museums across the north west of England and recently started working as an External Evaluation Consultant for the Pinnacle Club Centen- ary project.

Alongside my current research, my academic interests include community engage- ment and public participation with heritage; the interpretation and presentation of heritage and historic sites; feminist art history; performance art, and the intersection of contemporary art and heritage.



Teaching: 2020-2021

  • Graduate Teaching Assistant - Artefacts and Materials (2020). University of York (Archaeology)
  • Graduate Teaching Assistant - Archaeological Theory (2021). University of York (Archaeology)
  • Graduate Teaching Assistant - Framing the Contemporary (2020). University of York (Centre for Modern Studies)

 Outreach and Impact:

  • ‘Graffiti through the ages’, short-film for York Festival of Ideas (2020)
  • ‘Graffiti: What does mark-making tell us?', interactive activity for YorNight (2020)
  • ‘A (Digital) Walk in the Footsteps of the Franciscans: An Online Tour of Gorton Monastery’ (2020)
  • Learning & Community Officer (2016-2018), Visitor Experience Manager(2018-2019) and Heritage & Social Impact Manager (2019-2020) at the Monastery Manchester
  • Responsible for placement students at the Monastery Manchester: University of Manchester’s Student Experience Internship (SEI) (2019), Manchester Metropolit- an University’s Professional Heritage and Practice module (2019-2020) and Wright Robinson College (2018-2019)


 Publications, Papers and Awards


• ‘Imagined realities: how truthful is the presentation of pandemic graffiti in cinema?’, Pandemic, Crisis, and Modern Studies Twitter Conference (June 2020)
• ‘Life under lockdown: how have street artists and communities artistically respon- ded to life during the coronavirus pandemic?’, Global Concerns in Storytelling: Postgraduate Virtual symposium (2020)
• ‘’I was here’: Tourist Marks to Tagging, a Consideration of Graffiti Practices as a Way to Express Personal Identity’, New Directions in 18th- and 19th-Century Art digital seminar series, season three


• Bryning, E, ‘Reading Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble in 2018', Ad Alta: The Birm- ingham Journal of Literature, 9 (2018), 17–22.


• 2nd prize, Twitter Conference Pandemic, Crisis, and Modern Studies (2020)
• Award for Meritorious Achievement as an EAP Art History Major (2012) from the University of California, Irvine, History of Art Department

Emma Bryning

Contact details

Emma Bryning
Department of Archaeology
University of York
The King's Manor