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Student Showcase Archive

Dorothy Armstrong

PhD Work

PhD work

Re-making, Re-purposing, Re-imagining: Some impacts of the encounter between Europe and North America and ‘Oriental’ Carpets from 1840

Left: John Lewis Pakistan Bokhara Handmade Rug, Red, £100 - £700
Handwoven woolen ‘Bokhara’ carpet, Pakistan, probably Lahore area c2017.

Right: Handwoven woolen carpet, Tekke tribe, Turkman Confederation, Central Asia, early 19th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

My thesis looks at the ‘oriental’ carpet, a term it regards as contested, as an example of transgeographical and transcultural hybridization of style, materials, production methods and meaning. It suggests that such hybridization is intimately connected with identity-formation, across individuals, communities, states and territories.

The thesis makes transparent a European and North American orthodoxy of such carpets, and challenges assumptions about better and worse, more and less beautiful or accomplished, viewing such ideas as an expression of culturally-conditioned beliefs about taste, rather than a set of incontestable truths about the quality of a carpet.  Instead it connects the orthodoxy of the ‘oriental’ carpet with social, political, economic and ethical ideologies of Europe and America during their period of hegemonic power from 1840.

It reclaims two populations of carpets which have been excluded from the canon by the Euro-American definition of what an ‘oriental’ carpet should be, machine-made patterned pile ‘oriental’ carpets, and copies and versions, hand-made or machine-made, in locations distinct from their areas of original production. By excluding these carpets from the canon, the Euro-American orthodoxy has also excluded some of the most common experiences of ‘oriental’ carpets, by makers and consumers.

The thesis seeks to create a new intellectual apparatus with which to analyse such carpets. It explores alternative systems for understanding and engaging with them, rather than accepting ideas created by the metropolitan centre, the market, the museum or the academy. It restores marginalized practices, products and regions of production to the discourse. It acknowledges the significance of replicas, versions and fakes in our experience of ‘oriental’ carpets.

It asserts the value of a cosmopolitan process of continuous hybridization, rather than an orientalist freeze-framing of the carpets of Islamic West, South and Central Asia as an example of a pre-industrial, pre-lapsarian, exotic Other.

MA work

MA work

Unravelling the Carpet: Oriental Carpets in The International Exhibition of Persian Art, 1931, The World of Islam Festival, 1976 and Turks, 2005



  • Dorothy Armstrong
  • PhD


    School of Arts & Humanities


    History of Design, 2016–2019

  • MA Degree


    School of Humanities


    MA History of Design, 2014

  • I am a design historian, with a particular interest in the textiles of West, Central and South Asia. My current research focus is on so-called oriental carpets, and their ideological use during 19th and 20th centuries in Europe and America.

    I situate my work within global design history, with its focus on transgeographical and transcultural movements of objects, materials, ideas, techniques, and people. The theoretical approaches I use include orientalist and post-colonial analysis, and thinking on discourse, agency and cultural capital by, for example, Said, Bhabha, Foucault, Latour and Bourdieu.

    My interest in carpets long predates my thesis, and my current work began as an attempt to understand why many of the accounts I read of carpets as an enthusiast were constrained and unilluminating.

    I teach on the V&A/ RCA MA History of Design course, where I aim to bring together the making strange that is possible in an art college, with the making known that is the focus of a museum.
  • Degrees

  • BA English Literature, University of Cambridge, 1977; Diploma in Islamic Art, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 2011, Distinction; MA, History of Design, Royal College of Art and Victoria and Albert Museum, 2014, Distinction
  • Experience

  • Visiting lecturer and teaching assistant, 2016-2018, History of Design MA, RCA/V&A, Material Histories of Asia, Theory Methods and Skills in Design History, Key Concepts in Design History
  • Awards

  • Abdullah al Mubarak al Sabah/ British Institute for Middle Eastern Studies Scholar, 2017,
  • Conferences

  • 'The introduction of synthetic dyes into 19th century Persian carpets', Oxford Asian Textiles Group, October 2013; 'Dyes, Carpets, Class and Taste', Fashion and Textile Design, University of Brighton, June 2013; 'The Afterlives of the Ardabil Carpet in the West', Symposia Iranica, Pembroke College, Cambridge, May 2017 and European Association for Asian Art, Olomuc, 2014; 'The Templeton Archive: University of Glasgow', Unpacking the Archive Study Day, Brighton University and RCA, March 2017; 'Repossessing the 'oriental ' carpet imaginary', Transpositions Summer School: Sensible Objects, Material Engagement, Skilled Expertise, Universities of Bern, Lucerne, Utrecht, and ERC Artechne; 'A transgeographical and transcultural loop: Pakistan's repossession of the 'oriental' carpet and its imaginary', British Institute of Middle Eastern Studies Conference, King's College London, June 2018,
  • Publications

  • 'Synthetic Dyes in Persian Carpets of the 19th Century', Oxford Asian Textiles Journal, November, 2013; 'Disney at the Ashmolean', Prova, RCA Arts and Humanities Research Journal,2018-2019, 62-67; Advisor to and participant in film 'The Persian Carpet in Britain', London Iranian Association and UK Lottery Heritage Fund.; 'Turkish Rugs and Carpets' Encyclopedia of Asian Design, Berg/ Bloomsbury (Online publication forthcoming)