As with many humanists of my generation, my approach to scholarship is guided by the late-twentieth-century shift from qualitative to ideological concerns. My research explores the roles played by the visual field in identity formation, convinced that the significant questions to ask of art are political. To date my scholarship has addressed the interrelationship among gender, race, and visuality, making use of an eclectic assortment of artifacts—paintings, photographs, architecture, novels, utilitarian objects, and early motion pictures—produced from the 1790s to the 1970s.
My most recent work offers more nuanced ways of understanding photography and race. Many Americans take for granted the legibility of both photographs and race, confident that they can read and interpret photographic narratives and racial physiognomies with ease. In a recent book and exhibition catalogue, I analyzed photographs of the black civil rights struggle to explore how whites and blacks saw different narratives in and took different meanings from identical photographs and events. Racially conditioned ways of seeing not only led each group to view and interpret images in distinctive ways, but to diagnose different social ills, and prescribe varied legislative and legal solutions. My research suggests how continuing debates over the need for racial and social reforms today stem not merely from “political disagreements,” but also from the legacy of how whites and blacks have been conditioned to see.
I am currently at work on a new book project, tentatively titled Inventing Stereotype: Race, Art, and 1920s America. The book analyzes the art and ideologies of the 1920s when the modern concept of the stereotype first emerged. It aims to account for the power of racial stereotype in American culture and to explain what debates over the existence of stereotypes in artworks can teach about the process of racial formation in the early twentieth century.
University of California at Santa Cruz
Academic Personnel Office
1156 High Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95064
- Freedom Now! Forgotten Photographs of the Civil Rights Struggle (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2013).
- Seeing through Race: A Reinterpretation of Civil Rights Photography (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2011).
- Sight Unseen: Whiteness and American Visual Culture (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2005).
- Man Made: Thomas Eakins and the Construction of Gilded Age Manhood (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2000).
I teach a range of thematic courses on U.S. and European art and culture, which loosely mirror my research interests. Particular courses examine the construction of gender, race, class, sexuality, consumer culture and nationalism. Little concerned with students mastering a particular canon of art, I work instead to provide them with new conceptual frameworks for understanding the links between representation and social power.
*Please note that I'm not currently accepting new graduate students.
Archie K. Davis Fellow, National Humanities Center, 2015-16
Lecturer, Sackler Institute of Advanced Studies, Tel Aviv University, December 2015
Lecturer, Terra Foundation Summer Residency, Giverny, France, June 2010
Fellow, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Fall 2009
Marta Sutton Weeks Fellow, Stanford Humanities Center, 2008-09
John C. Cawelti Award for the outstanding book in American Culture Studies, 2006
Excellence in Teaching Award, Academic Senate, UC Santa Cruz, 2006
Fellow, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2002-03