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Dr Josephine Kane


  • Josephine Kane is a Tutor on the V&A/RCA History of Design programme at the Royal College of Art.  Her special interest is the relationship between the experience of pleasure, modernity and the built environment, from the nineteenth century to the present day. 

  • Biography

  • Josephine’s work examines historical relationships between people, buildings and spaces, with a particular focus on shared experiences of the designed environment.  Her interests range from the pleasure gardens of the early 1800s to modernist leisure architecture in the twentieth century, and the ‘Urban Explorer’ phenomenon in contemporary urban culture.  

    The Architecture of Pleasure (2013), a book based largely on Josephine’s doctoral research, examines early British amusement parks – and the mechanical thrill rides they contained – as a key component in the lived experience of urban modernity.  

    Josephine’s postdoctoral research looks more broadly at how the experience of mass pleasure in Britain is defined by the built environment. Focusing on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, she examines the architectural constituents of Britain’s ‘pleasurescape’ (such as exhibition sites, towers, entertainment complexes, theatres and cinemas, holiday camps and theme parks), exploring the debates which have surrounded them and the individuals who shaped them.

    Recently, she has applied these interests to the contemporary pleasurescape, thinking about the proliferation of urban novelties, such as London Eye and the ArcelorMittal Orbit, in London and other cities. This has led to an interdisciplinary collaboration with Dr. Davide Deriu (University of Westminster) investigating how the concept of Vertigo – with its associations of thrill and anxiety, and complex cultural and biomedical definitions – might offer insights into the ongoing transformation of the urban experience. Read more about Vertigo in the City 

    Before joining the RCA, Josephine was British Academy Post Doctoral Fellow in the Department of Architecture, University of Westminster (2009–2015), and Lecturer in Contextual and Theoretical Studies at the University of the Arts London (London College of Communication, 2015­–2016).  She is a founding editor of Architectural Histories Journal and web editor for the European Architectural History Network

    Josephine has a BA in Modern History from the University of Oxford, a Masters in History of Design and Material Culture (RCA/V&A, 2002) and gained her PhD from The Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL, 2007).

    Outside academia, Josephine has worked as a Live Interpreter for Historic Royal Palaces, specialising in the material culture of the Tudor and Stuart eras, and teaching at heritage sites and schools across the UK.
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  • Practice

  • Interdisciplinarity is central to Josephine’s research practice. As a design historian based in schools of Design and Architecture for the last ten years, her approach to scholarship is very much informed by these creative and practice-based contexts. 

    Outside academia, Josephine has worked with curators, performing arts specialists and education professionals to deliver live interpretation at heritage sites across the country.  This experience of diverse working styles, experimentation and risk-taking continues to influence Josephine’s current work.  

    Vertigo in the City, for example, is a collaborative project (led by Dr Davide Deriu, University of Westminster) involving psychologists, artists, engineers and dance practitioners, and Josephine is keen to develop further inter-disciplinary projects, which synthesize ideas and perspectives across knowledge fields.   

    With this in mind, she is developing a new research direction exploring the city as a site of complex social, spatial, biological and aural interactions between people, birds and architecture. 

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  • External collaborations

  • Josephine is a General Editor of Architectural Histories, an international, blind peer-reviewed scholarly journal, publishing historically-focused research about architecture and the built environment across disciplines, cultures and regions.

    She is also Web Editor of the European Architectural Histories Network, an international association of academics, architects and professionals concerned with the history of the built environment.
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  • Publications, exhibitions and other outcomes

  • Kane, J. and Deriu, D. (eds) (Forthcoming) Vertigo in the City, Special Issue of Emotion, Space and Society 

    Kane, J. (2015) ‘Dream City: London’s Pleasurescapes’, LA+: Interdisciplinary Journal of Landscape Architecture 2 (Fall 2015) 

    Kane, J. and Deriu, D. (eds) (2015) Vertigo in the City: Conversations between the Humanities, Arts and Sciences, London: University of Westminster

    Kane, J. (2013) The Architecture of Pleasure: British Amusement Parks 1900–1939, Farnham: Ashgate

    Kane, J. (2012) ‘The Pleasure Garden Reborn?  The Edwardian Amusement Park’ in: J. Conlin (ed) The Pleasure Garden from Vauxhall to Coney Island, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 217–245

    Kane, J. (2009) ‘The Construction of a Modern Pleasure Palace: Dreamland Cinema, Margate, 1935’, in: C. Frayling, E. King and H. Atkinson (eds) Design and Popular Entertainment, Manchester: MUP, 57–78

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  • Awards and Grants

  • Vertigo in the City (Co-Investigator), Wellcome Trust Medical Humanities Small Grant, 2015

    British Academy Post Doctoral Fellowship, 2009–2015

Selected work


Research interests

Focusing on the public realm, Josephine’s research interests span a broad range of spatial and architectural constructions – from interiors and buildings to urban landscapes and geographical regions – which are considered unique to the modern world. Through the study of shared spatial experiences – from pleasure gardens and great exhibitions, to amusement parks and shopping malls – Josephine’s projects are driven by the question: what does ‘being modern’ feel like?  

Her work moves away from traditional architectural histories in two ways.  First, by focusing on the consumption and appropriation of the built environment – in addition to the role of the architect, design methods and production processes – she explores alternative ways of thinking and writing about buildings and spaces.  Second, by side stepping questions of style and form, Josephine’s research highlights peripheral – and often ephemeral – structures and landscapes. 

Current and recent research

Vertigo in the City: Conversations between the Humanities, Arts and Sciences

Josephine is co-investigator (with Dr Davide Deriu, University of Westminster) on an interdisciplinary project supported by a Wellcome Trust Small Grant, which brings together artists, clinicians, architects and scholars from varied disciplines to explore experiences of – and approaches to – dizziness and disorientation in the urban environment. She is currently co-editing, a special issue of Emotion, Space and Society on this theme (due late 2016). Visit the Vertigo in the City website

The Architecture British Amusement Parks 1900–1939 (2013)

This book is the first attempt to define, document, and offer an interpretation of amusement park landscapes in Britain. Taking the designed environment as its starting point the book is deliberately broad in its scope, including discussions of Britishness, class and gender identity, the body and machine, modernist ideologies, attitudes to risk-taking, kinaesthetic experience and modes of perception. 

In particular, it engages with trans-disciplinary critical debates about the experience of modernity and the concept of pleasure itself. These range from the work of the Italian Futurists and pioneering sociologist Georg Simmel, to more recent theoretical work on modernist modes of perception and aesthetics by scholars such as Jeffrey T. Schnapp and David Nye. In so doing, the book contributes to a developing cross-disciplinary field which explores the lived experience of British modernity in all its complexity.