Joan Liversidge was born in London, England. Her father was killed in World War I and she was raised by her mother and educated privately. She attended the University of Cambridge, where she originally planned a career as a musician. However, she switched to archaeology and graduated in 1938. She took a diploma in Prehistoric Archaeology in 1942, and conducted a survey of Roman British villas for which she was awarded an M.Litt. degree in 1949. This became the basis for her specialty, the study of interior decoration and domestic arrangements in Roman British secular buildings, particularly wall paintings. She worked at Cambridge throughout her career, first as a Research Fellow at her alma mater Newnham College from 1955 to 1958; she was later named a Newnham Associate. She became a Lecturer in Archaeology in 1973. She was Honorary Keeper of the Roman Collections at the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (later the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology) from 1951 until her death. She wrote extensively on Roman Britain for general audiences as well as for professionals. Her books included Britain in the Roman Empire (1968) and Everyday Life in the Roman Empire (1976). She was a Founding Fellow of Lucy Cavendish College and served 20 years on the governing body. There she was a College Lecturer and Director of Studies in Archaeology, and a member of the Education and Fellowship Committees. She was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1951 and served as Honorary Secretary of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society from 1955 to 1981.