Reflections on HECAA at 25: A Roundtable Discussion

Jeffrey Collins
Elisabeth Fraser
Elizabeth Mansfield
Amelia Rauser
Kristel Smentek & Wendy Bellion
Paris Spies-Gans
Nancy Um
Amy Freund

Art and Architecture in the Long Eighteenth Century: HECAA at 25” was a conference held at Southern Methodist University, Dallas TX, November 1-4, 2018. This is a ‘roundtable’ of reflections from conference participants.

Fig. 1. Francisca Efigenia Meléndez y Durazzo, Portrait of a Girl, c. 1795. Tempera on ivory, 5 x 5 cm. Meadows Museum, SMU, Dallas. Museum Purchase with funds from The Meadows Foundation, MM.08.01.20. Photography by Michael Bodycomb.

Cultural Geographies, Geographical Cultures

Jeffrey Collins

Where was the eighteenth century, in terms of art and architecture? Judging from the papers presented at “HECAA at 25,” it took place mainly in France, secondarily in England, the United States, and the Ottoman Empire (partly in dialogue with the West), and episodically in the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Mexico, India, and Korea. Outlying zones, including Poland, Portugal, Scotland, Scandinavia, Ireland, and the German lands remained untouched or at least unrepresented in this arguably unrepresentative sample. Such a crude survey does not do justice to papers and discussions that crossed frontiers and oceans or used localized case studies to raise broader issues. Nor can one conference encapsulate a field. But in its outlines, this map mirrors that generated by the visually-themed papers at the 50th annual meeting of ASECS in Denver in March 2019, where France again predominated, followed closely by Britain, with Italy, Spain, and British North America a distant third and the rest of the world all but absent.

To the extent such distributions reflect current research, they reveal the tenacity of orthodoxies one might assume had been superseded. As the survey books used to tell it, the story of eighteenth-century art saw the Baroque expire in Germany while modernity blossomed in France, northerners discovered the antique in Italy, and social critique, empirical science, and exploration of the psyche fueled the arts in Britain. Image selection followed this paradigm, with France and Britain, the acknowledged centers of aesthetic progress, granted a consistent 71% of illustrations in both my old Gardner and my Janson. What surprises is how enduring this geography has proved even as the field has embraced new questions and perspectives from social and economic history, visual and material culture studies, gender theory, and digital humanities, to name just a few of the discourses engaged by conference contributors. As Amelia Rauser notes, the expanding “what” of art history has not always widened the “where,” as the spotlight continues to track the relatively restricted set of places in which eighteenth-century art is understood to have happened. As a delegate from the provinces, albeit one as central as Rome, I thus found the view from Dallas somewhat short-sighted: rich in fascinating new questions and methods but comparatively poor in the places from which those insights were coming and to which they were applied.

One solution is to embrace the global, prioritizing the movement of people, objects, and ideas across an ever more connected world. The transformative potentials, logistical challenges, and possible pitfalls of this approach are cogently addressed by this forum’s other contributors, who highlight the power of attention to cross-cultural encounter, exchange, and exploitation to recenter and rebalance an artificially lopsided globe. If responsibly pursued, such work will necessarily extend the map at both micro and macro scales, since both humans and things have a way of wandering beyond predictable paths. Our period is poised for such analysis for all the historical and conceptual reasons compellingly elucidated in Dallas.

To make the most of the eighteenth century’s global moment, however, it seems just as important to do justice to the considerable swath of European and (Ibero-) American territory that currently occupies the status of flyover country. Dominant as they were, the standard sites and institutions of eighteenth-century art don’t tell the whole story, any more than the continents’ great cities marched in lockstep towards shared political or aesthetic goals. As Stacey Sloboda and Michael Yonan stress in arguing for the plurality of eighteenth-century art worlds, it’s precisely the regional inflections of superficially similar phenomena that reveal how developments long seen as normative or universal in fact depend on situational specifics that don’t travel as far as we imagined.[1] This lesson hit home during my own collaborative investigation with Meredith Martin of the spread of ship-shaped silver incense boats during the age of European expansion, which showed the need to attend both to the surprising similarity of forms across wide geographical expanses and to the ways that specific examples of a global koine functioned within highly localized conditions and cultures, not all well studied or well known.[2]

A wish for a simultaneously more balanced and granular attention to Europe and its outposts is not to prioritize the local over the global or to mourn old hierarchies; to the contrary, the project to decenter the West can be advanced by dethroning Paris, London, Philadelphia, and New York as the primary foci of eighteenth-century art-historical scholarship even among those who remain in the Euro-American orbit. Thriving cities like Saint-Malo and Stockholm, Palermo and St. Petersburg, Arequipa and Zacatecas, each with deep links to worldwide commercial and artistic networks, have much to reveal about the richness of eighteenth-century aesthetic culture and could serve to test prevailing interpretive frameworks, not to mention understandings of style, formed for other zones. They could also help to challenge dubious equivalencies—Paris for France, France for Europe—that blind rather than illuminate. I wonder, for instance, if the absence of Brazil from Dallas, Denver, and most similar gatherings (despite its importance to eighteenth-century economies and its singular aesthetic achievements) is exacerbated by unfamiliarity with Portuguese artistic traditions, just as a lack of awareness of the eighteenth-century Netherlands makes it harder to approach the complex visual and material cultures of Dutch Africa, Indonesia, and South America. Even in studies of New Spain, better known but still at the edges of “eighteenth-century art” as generally defined, it is emerging that art forms long interpreted as quintessentially American—cornstalk-paste Christ figures, or búcaros de Indias—in fact combine indigenous and imported traditions and technologies in ways that have been unknown or overlooked.[3]

If we want these and other under-represented regions to have a home in HECAA as well as in other disciplinary fora, it may help to recalibrate our definition of Europe at the same time we expand our vision of the world. Elizabeth Mansfield challenges us to do something similar in reconsidering why we’re doing eighteenth-century art history in the first place, probing the ways that very category reflects entrenched habits and prejudices. Nancy Um calls for abandoning comforting national and geographic categories in the face of the destabilizing, “even dizzying” trajectories of people and objects, much as Elisabeth Fraser downplays maps based on modern nation-states in favor of charts highlighting merchant diasporas and trading empires. My own view is that in order to be effective ambassadors in the wider world, historians of eighteenth-century art, architecture, and material culture also need to range more widely and probe more deeply in the regions the discipline has traditionally called home, even at the expense of sidelining received aesthetic hierarchies and questioning perceived historical trajectories.

How to do so? Restoring the topography of eighteenth-century art history will require significant spade work as well as some rethinking of inherited geographical cultures. At the level of research, it means learning unfamiliar languages even as English expands its spread in the academy, all while locating new archives and exploring new personal and institutional connections. At the level of hiring and publishing, it means asking committees and editors to prioritize questions and conclusions over the places in which they are posed. At the level of graduate training, it will require instructors to broaden syllabi and curricula and advisors to consider replacing the assumption that students specialize in a single artistic culture with an expectation of competence in multiple, meaningfully related regions. This should in fact be easier in a period characterized by stylistic diversity, robust collaboration, and the relative lack of a suffocating canon, at least in comparison with neighboring periods and fields. How many eighteenth-century artists and architects are actually household names? If Barbara Stafford is right that the eighteenth century is the Belgium of art history, difficult to define, existing somewhere between the great powers and continually subject to incursion, then perhaps that liminal status can help us not just to put our material on the map but to revise the entire atlas of eighteenth-century creativity.[4] In sum, before HECAA at 30 let’s all take a leap, even a hop, into new territory, which may be closer than we think. Let’s embrace the curiosity that drew us here in the first place, without being afraid to think outside the boîte.

Jeffrey Collins is Professor of Art History and Material Culture at Bard Graduate Center in New York City, NY


Notes on the Global

Elisabeth Fraser

A persistent issue was raised during the productive and stimulating days in Dallas: the concept of the “global” and whether it is meaningful or useful. The issue came up, at first tentatively, as a question and point of irritation, and, then, as these things do, the objection snowballed, becoming a full-fledged subtheme of the conference. By the final day of the event, those who used the term apologized self-consciously and quickly corrected themselves.

Salient responses appeared to be: some fatigue with the term by those who have been thinking about global history for a while, and perhaps some resentment of it by those who may feel excluded by it. I should say here that I don’t actually tend to use the term “global” to define my own work—focused these days on Ottoman-European interactions and shared cultural knowledge—but instead describe my research interests as “Mediterranean” or “transcultural” or “transimperial.” Nonetheless I was struck by how quickly a casually voiced objection made the term toxic, while it remained largely unexplored in open discussion.

On the face of it, there is a risk that “global” might serve as a kind of shorthand for another (more problematic) term: non-western.  Think “ethnic food” and “world music,” notions which practically scream “Other,” and which take European and (North-)American cultures as both normative and fundamentally divided against the ROW (Rest-of-the-World). In practice, however, global history tends to deal in interactions, movements, connectedness or misunderstandings across assumed cultural divides, and therefore tangles with disciplinary histories, as well as more broadly shared views of geographical and cultural boundaries. To my mind it is a misperception that global histories have naively foregrounded friendly cohesions and entente: global history is full of stories of conflict, exploitation, and power asymmetries, within which nonetheless knowledge is exchanged and artifacts emerge.[5] (On this point I disagree with Nancy Um’s take in her contribution to this roundtable discussion.) Likewise, some scholars of the global have resisted a homogenizing, unifying approach to cultural flows, identifying the diversity of global adaptations as inflected by local practices and concerns and the difficulties of transmission in specific circumstances.[6]

I tend to think that “global” is a temporary and transitional usage, a broad and vague term that fits a moment of interdisciplinary change, a sign of growing pains. Though the term is certainly not new. One thinks of Felicity Nussbaum’s Global Eighteenth Century published in 2003. The World History Association was founded as early as 1982. But it does seem that scholarship on the global, at least as it concerns visual and material culture, is achieving a new kind of critical mass.[7] I’m teaching a new seminar on Global Material Culture this semester and almost all of the readings have been published within the last five years or less. Interdisciplinary anthologies dealing with global material culture are sprouting up all over the place.

Scholars concerned with the global do seem to share at least two very clear missions: the desire to push beyond the modern nation-state as an (unquestioned) underpinning of disciplinary formations and a pressing opposition to Eurocentrism and Eurocenteredness (concepts which are not exactly synonymous).[8] Both of these goals still seem urgent and worth getting behind.  Certainly the “HECAA at 25” meeting suggested as much: the vast majority of papers were focused on a very small slice of western Europe. Art history has a particular burden in relation to the geographic definition of fields and subfields: looking at art from within national and civilizational traditions is deeply ingrained in our field, both in the museum and the academy. The fixing of objects in relation to both geographic and temporal origins, as Elizabeth Rodini has energetically argued, imposes many as yet unexamined limitations on our research.[9]

I welcome the open-endedness of the “global,” with its utopian possibilities of reconfiguring art history and its main explanatory tools. As global art history looks beyond traditional frameworks like the nation-state, it has also turned away from static notions of the work of art as rooted in time and space. Along with these fundamental shifts, global art history has enthusiastically embraced material culture. The study of mobile material culture—the object in motion—has the potential to radically redefine the nature of art history, overturning canons, divisions between disciplines and between disciplinary subfields, cultural boundaries, rigid style categories, and hierarchies defined by medium.[10]

The legitimate concern that “global” is simply too vast a term to describe most scholarship or to productively define art-historical research emerged in Dallas. But is the scholar of “French art” really an expert on the art of all of France?  More likely she focuses on (some) art produced and consumed in (parts of) Paris in a circumscribed period of time. We call scholars “Europeanists” who may well teach French and/or English art, with perhaps a smattering of Spanish or Italian and a smidgen of Swedish or German material in the mix.  (Some will remember the understandable outcry against the Franco-English dominance in eighteenth-century studies from scholars who work on other European lands after the final session at Dallas. And what of the Americanists?) An important point to make is that an embrace of global approaches does not mean abandoning European or even national histories: I think of Julia Landweber’s work on French coffee culture, in which she reflects on the intersections of national and global histories through an exploration of cross-cultural trading.[11] The point is to show that what one assumes to be a national history and culture is something much more.

What are some of the problems practically speaking?  My seminar students and I are sometimes overwhelmed by the diversity of geographies, polities, sovereigns, trading companies, merchants and merchant diasporas, ports, sea and land routes we must master, not to mention types of objects and materials—though I admit to a certain thrill in this confusion and the confusion has been, at least for me, very productive.  (I think it is harder on the students, but so far they have been game, aided by many Powerpoint slideshows filled copiously with historical maps.)  Instead of progressively building a body of knowledge around a period and national or regional history, we rip down these parameters week by week; the continuity is formed by methods, critical inquiry, approaches, and the continuity of change (strange phrase), the repetition of movement. Certainly a few key players (states and territories) tend to come up a lot: China, India, and the Ottoman Empire, and a clear sequence of European global trading empires (Portugal and Spain, Holland and England) dominate. Global history has its own canon, I guess.

I also worry that the breadth of global scholarship may lead to a predominance of histories “from above”: with its broad reach, global scholarship often focuses on acts of sovereigns and states, trading partners, diplomacy, wars and treaties. What of micro-history and “art history from below”: how might these intersect with the global?  Pamela Smith gives a brilliant example of what that might look like in her discussion of the global transmission of artisanal knowledge in the making of vermillion; her heady analysis, an alternative to a history of science defined by “great men” and their discoveries, crisscrosses millennia and what she calls the Afro-Eurasian ecumene.[12] John-Paul Ghobrial is also tackling this issue head-on: after Whispers of Cities (2014), his discussion of communication flows between Istanbul, London, and Paris, he recently edited a special issue of Past and Present dedicated to “Global History and Microhistory.”[13]

There is much to debate and discuss and many objections to raise. That is part and parcel of the great potential of the “global” and, to my mind, what makes it worthwhile. I am happy if global scholarship puts pressure on normative constructions of history and makes us look at them more self-consciously and perhaps with a bit of discomfort. For that reason I would like to resist the desire to circumscribe its practice with a list of prescriptions. (To wit, the urge to stipulate how many geographic sites must be included for a study to call itself “truly” global.) It seems to me that the open-ended, experimental phase of global thinking in art history is very much in its infancy and I would like to hold onto this ridiculously vast, ambitiously messy, and terribly confusing notion a while longer.

Elisabeth Fraser is Professor of Art History at the University of South Florida in Tampa, FL


Art History / Enlightenment

Elizabeth Mansfield

What is at stake when we study, profess, interpret, and display eighteenth-century art and architecture? While we didn’t ask this question of ourselves directly at the 2018 HECAA conference, there were several moments when the scope and nature of our shared endeavor became the focus of discussion. Most of these moments, as one might expect at an event marking the 25th anniversary of a scholarly society, were celebratory. Historians of eighteenth-century art are not exactly thick on the ground in the U.S., and achievements in research, public engagement, and pedagogy relevant to the field merit acknowledgement. But there were also moments of frank criticism of the state of eighteenth-century art history in the U.S. and debate about the best course for HECAA’s future. Perhaps most emphatic were worries that the field remains hidebound in its uneven engagement with postcolonial and decolonial theories; its belated response to the Global Turn; its ongoing emphasis on francophone and anglophone culture; and its continuing attachment to canonical works and artists. Some of these concerns were pronounced at the closing roundtable. And with insufficient time to delve deeply into any one of them, the final session may best be seen as a preliminary agenda for HECAA’s next conference.

Perhaps the next convening of HECAA could take as one of its keynotes the query posed above. And while the question may be directed at HECAA’s membership, its importance is disciplinary. So maybe a better way of putting it is, “What, from the perspective of eighteenth-century studies, are the stakes of Art History today?” This question highlights the current status of our field, but it also bears on a larger disciplinary historiography. The historiography of eighteenth-century art history is uniquely resonant because the values and assumptions that produced eighteenth-century visual and material culture also produced the discipline of art history. They’re mutually reinforcing. In consequence, attempts to dismantle longstanding scholarly habits or institutional prejudices about eighteenth-century art are stymied, diverted, or subsumed by a disciplinary economy that needs stable terms by which to operate.

An example of the exercise of this economy is the institutional history of Visual Culture, or Visual Studies, which forthrightly confronts Enlightenment values still enforced by the discipline of Art History.[14] Among the Enlightenment values sustaining Art History, to no small extent, are those generated by liberalism and capitalism. Liberalism lends itself to an emphasis on individual artists as the primary agents of cultural production, just as free-market capitalism encourages a widespread appreciation of luxury commodities; the attendant eurocentric, colonialist, and racist beliefs that accompany these values have been just as constitutive of the discipline. Visual Culture promised an overdue interrogation of these beliefs. Chief among the assumptions exposed by Visual Culture are those inhering in the terms “Art” and “History” themselves. By subjecting the terms by which cultural, political, economic, and individual power—not to mention violence—are exercised (or suppressed) through the seemingly disinterested study of the progress through time (History) of certain forms of cultural production (Art), Visual Culture undercut Art History’s disciplinary claims to objectivity and authority.

It is not without relevance to the questions posed above that some of the most persuasive accounts of Visual Culture as a distinct methodology were developed by scholars of eighteenth-century art (Norman Bryson, Nicolas Mirzoeff, and Jill Casid, to name just a few). Yet, increasingly apparent is the waning institutional status of Visual Culture, which may have crested at the turn of the 21st century. Even as scholars tend now to use the term “visual culture” interchangeably with “art”—when they don’t eschew the latter altogether—universities nonetheless seek to appoint Art Historians to their faculties, and academic presses market their books under the categories Art History or Art & Architectural History rather than Visual Culture.[15] Likewise, methodologies that enlist science or technology in the service of visual arts analysis continue to identify with Art History rather than Visual Culture (Digital Art History, Technical Art History, Neuroarthistory).[16] Whether or not such institutional and commercial resistance to Visual Culture is a sign of Art History’s retrenchment is an open question. Certainly, most art museums, galleries, auction houses, and commercially-supported arts journals and publishers were never going to relinquish the transcendent value of Art as a universal cultural category. And with the humanities under pressure generally to prove their value in STEM-based educational and research economies, the mystifying cachet of Art holds understandable appeal as a wishful bulwark against the instrumentalizing logic of STEM.

Concomitant with the waning institutional momentum of Visual Culture as a distinct discipline or methodology is a resurgence of Art History’s cosmopolitanism. Though not originally an eighteenth-century idea, cosmopolitanism comports so neatly with Enlightenment values that its renewed currency for art history—especially for eighteenth-century art history—warrants our attention if not also our skepticism. In an age of resurgent nationalism and cultural chauvinism, cosmopolitanism offers art historians an appealing alternative in its emphasis on global consciousness and cultural diversity. Cosmopolitanism’s historic compatibility with the Enlightenment might even provide useful leverage for a critique from within the field of eighteenth-century studies. Yet, the global consciousness promoted by cosmopolitanism hinges on the presumption that all humans share certain experiences, inclinations, or capacities. Shared qualities are not necessarily universal qualities… but it’s possible for cosmopolitanism to lean in that direction and to require of cultural production an ability to transcend social, geographic, and temporal differences. In other words, cosmopolitanism may need Art even if it doesn’t need History. Cosmopolitan approaches to art history have gained ground since the turn of the millennium and include such methodologies as Comparativism, Bildwissenschaft, and World Art History. What these approaches have in common is a laudable commitment to engaging in non-hierarchical, non-nationalist, and, above all, empathetic encounters between scholars and cultural artifacts. Whether these approaches are charting a new path for art history or instead simply affirming the discipline’s Enlightenment commitments remains uncertain.

Elizabeth Mansfield is Professor and Head of the Department of Art History at the Pennsylvania State University in University Park, PA


New Objects, New Contexts

Amelia Rauser

It wasn’t so long ago that graduate students in art history were warned away from studying ephemeral, “low,” or “bad” art. Only my own cluelessness and obstinacy allowed me to pull off an art history dissertation on eighteenth-century political satires, and that only because it was partially redeemed by centering on prestigious intellectual concepts of the Enlightenment, such as liberty and representation. But today’s emerging scholars of eighteenth-century art are lavishing attention without apology on veneer, porcelain, fonts, costume albums, and other fascinating items. At “HECAA at 25,” I learned about so many objects I had never seen before, and it was exhilarating. The institutional embrace of Visual Culture may be on the wane, as Elizabeth Mansfield points out in this roundtable, but as a critical paradigm within art history, visual culture has entirely triumphed. Its insights and approaches have changed the way we approach all aesthetic objects, not only those formerly ignored items it taught us to notice, but also the canonical masterworks, whose centrality is no longer assumed and whose meanings must now be understood in context and dialogue.

Yet the expanded universe of objects under scholarly scrutiny today is not only due to postmodern critiques of authorship and the canon, but also more specifically to our field’s intensified attention to eighteenth-century global networks, materiality, gender, and consumption. Global art history has forced us to reckon with both interconnectedness and inequity, destabilizing assumptions about quality and value. As we have focused on the material truth of all types of objects—how they were made, traded, exhibited, altered, and used—we have come to a greater understanding of the economic and human exploitation that underlay their production and consumption: not only the cone of plantation-raised sugar, but also the Wedgwood sugar bowl it was served in and the neoclassical paintings in the room where it was served. Feminist scholarship has drawn attention to women’s aesthetic work and the importance of their cultural interventions, not only in traditionally high-art mediums but also in formerly dismissed ones such as embroidery, paper-cutting, and collage. All this has had a leveling effect, demystifying the most prestigious art forms, while simultaneously imbuing all items with fraught cultural meaning deserving to be unpacked. In addition, scholarly attention to luxury, consumerism, and consumption has shed new light on the sheer power of objects in the eighteenth century. More people than ever had more stuff than ever, and all that stuff was doing important cultural work.

Jeffrey Collins and Elisabeth Fraser rightly point out that our reach toward global art history currently exceeds our grasp; as a whole, our papers in Dallas were still heavily weighted toward France and other centers of traditional dominance. I wonder, then, if our scholarly focus on new kinds of objects has emerged partly as a way to address the yawning need for a more equitable approach while still remaining within the comfortable terra cognita of Europe and North America, allowing us to study novel objects within a global context while still using the Eurocentric archives, languages, and literatures many of us know. If so, we should be thinking about how such studies can be a bridge to a truly global and decentralized—to use Paris Spies-Gans’ term—art history, and not a shelter from the hard work of new learning.

One interesting effect of these developments is that the nature of our scholarly conversation has also changed. We are no longer a group of highly informed insiders discussing new interpretations of well-known masterworks. Instead, in our essays and at our conferences we introduce new objects, processes, and makers to one another. Surprise and discovery dominate, and it is increasingly clear how much neglected material is out there awaiting scholarly attention. Those of us whose scholarly inclination is toward webs of interconnection and the historical, economic, intellectual, and aesthetic truths that can be yielded by exploring them are excited by these developments. But one could argue that this shift makes for a broader and shallower engagement with art and ideas, rather than a narrower but deeper one. Discourse and contestation over the interpretation of a single masterwork—or even a passage of brushwork, elision, or marginal mark within one—have enabled methodological and theoretical breakthroughs in the history of our discipline. As our terrain of objects becomes enriched, are we in danger of the insights yielded from them becoming impoverished?

As a field, we have turned to a richer array of aesthetic artifacts to speak the truths of the past. As we learn from them, we must not neglect to push ourselves into more diverse artistic, national, and linguistic contexts. And we should situate even the most humble objects in profoundly meaningful interpretative contexts. The best new eighteenth-century art history today not only uncovers and explicates forgotten or ignored items of cultural production and their makers, but also foregrounds their enmeshment in networks of exchange, their materiality, and their use by diverse humans with ideas, beliefs, and emotions.

Amelia Rauser is incoming Associate Dean of the Faculty at Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, PA, and outgoing President of HECAA


Talking about Things

Kristel Smentek & Wendy Bellion

For HECAA at 25, Kristel Smentek and Wendy Bellion co-chaired a research session called “Things Change.”

1. “Things Change.” What does this phrase mean? Why focus on things? On change?

WB:  We entitled our HECAA at 25 session “Things Change” because it communicated the expansiveness of the dialogues we aimed to generate. “Things Change” states the point matter-of-factly: objects transform over time. Material change occurs without regard for aesthetic hierarchies; “fine art” is as susceptible to transformation as vernacular objects. And things change for innumerable reasons. They get broken, lost, found, remade, and revalued as the cultures they inform also shift. Our panelists explored these questions of reinvention, relocation, and reuse by surveying the capacious terrain of material culture, from sculptures in Italy to wood veneers in New England. We’re developing a forthcoming volume of collected essays that will further investigate conditions of material change at work in the long eighteenth century.

KS: With “Things Change” we wanted to blur disciplinary distinctions between material culture and the “fine” and “decorative” arts while signaling our interest in temporality. Our panelists showed how much is gained from nonhierarchical and nonhistoricist approaches to material objects (by nonhistoricist I mean analyses of objects that don’t presume meanings are fixed by time and place of manufacture). Moreover, the speakers illuminated the rewards of attending to nonrepresentational aspects of humanly-made things: their physicality, surfaces, materials, ornament, and processes of fabrication and manipulation. Each paper highlighted the reality that all things inhabit multiple temporalities; objects incorporate the moment of their manufacture, traces of their histories of reception, and the present wherein we encounter them.

2. How has the field shifted to embrace material culture studies and/or material things historically on the peripheries of eighteenth-century art history?

KS: Over the last two decades, material objects ranging from clay vessels to case furniture have moved from the discipline’s margins closer to its center. As art historians engage with objects that trouble the discipline’s historical divisions between artistic and utilitarian, they simultaneously dismantle art history’s hierarchies of value and Euro-American focus. There is more work to do, as the contributors to this roundtable show, but the rewards have been rich. Scholars have examined how European textiles and furniture evidence the disavowal of Caribbean slavery; investigated the entanglements of furniture, commerce, and comportment in Yemen; analyzed local appropriations of Asian ceramics in New Spain and on the Swahili coast; and assessed the mediating role of diplomatic gifts across geographical and cultural distances.[17] Such analyses show how just how closely the discipline’s turn towards the global is intertwined with its embrace of material culture studies.

WB: Kristel, your points about globalism and transnationalism are spot on. In North American art history, innovative scholarship has considered geographical peripheries as well as historiographical ones. I think back to the material objects featured in a 2008 University of Delaware symposium that I co-organized with Mónica Domínguez Torres—objects that complicate efforts to draw hard distinctions between “decorative” and “material” cultures: for example, Mexico City biombos representing Spanish colonial history on the form of folding screens derived from Japan, and Indian madras cloth prized by enslaved people of African descent in French Louisiana. The symposium’s international nature helped reveal the complexity of worlds knit together by collecting, slavery, and knowledge-production. Equally exciting work has been done on the Spanish and Portuguese Americas, exploring matters of creolization, hybridity, and mobility.[18]

3. What are some promising directions for future work?

WB: I hope we’ll see the Pacific littoral emerge more prominently as an area of study, building on work by JoAnne Mancini and others that demonstrates how material culture produces the global systems emphasized in other essays of this Journal18 issue. Similarly, studies that offer renewed emphasis on the local exemplify a way to complicate the recent “global turn.” Emerging scholarship on the material cultures of enslaved and indigenous peoples is pointing to fresh ways of understanding material agency as well as problems of absence in the archive. And—as a fan of installations that mingle contemporary and historical objects—we can continue looking to artists such as Titus Kaphar, Yinka Shonibare, and Kara Walker to understand how eighteenth-century art never really stands still but continually reshapes the present.[19]

KS: Another direction we’re both excited about is the study of material things from an ecocritical perspective. Art historians have recently foregrounded the socioecological impacts of such familiar objects as mahogany chests and silver sugar urns. I hope we’ll see more work that radically defamiliarizes material objects by exposing the environmental and social conditions that shaped their production.[20]

Wendy Bellion holds the Biggs Chair in American Art and co-directs the Center for Material Culture Studies at the University of Delaware, Newark, DE

Kristel Smentek is Associate Professor of Art History and director of the History, Theory + Criticism program in the Department of Architecture at MIT, Cambridge, MA


Towards a Historically Representative Canon: Integrating Gender and Data for a Revised Model of the Past

Paris Spies-Gans

Can, and should, art historical accuracy play a role in canon formation? If so, who’s history, and how might we define accuracy? When HECAA met in November 2018, I was struck by the diversity of approaches, the continuous excitement about unfamiliar objects and unexplored artists, and the friction over models old and new, most of all the global. As these exchanges unfolded over the course of the conference, one recurring theme emerged as particularly promising—an emphasis on decentralization. Decentralizing the eighteenth-century art Academy with its attendant hierarchies of genres and materials. Decentralizing France within Europe and Eurocentrism within the field. And decentralizing our long-cultivated emphases on select artistic personas, personalities, and even autonomies. Each of these shifts in focus implicitly calls for what I hope will take shape as a decentralization of the canon itself, one that will open pathways for studying a group that remains ever marginalized: women artists.[21]

This is not an argument for dilution. Rather, I want to suggest that as we shift and expand our future foci away from longstanding, often hierarchical narratives, we also reconsider traditionally recognized narratives, spaces, and valuations, putting aside the heavy influence of past scholarship to approach the question of women artists with a fresh gaze. To integrate women as professional artists into the discipline’s most fundamental conversations and pursuits alongside their male peers requires a recourse to traditional art historical methods, paired with a thoughtful branching out. New attention to the data and language of artistic production, as well as a willingness to examine women artists’ actuality and activity on both aesthetic and historical terms, has the potential to qualitatively and quantitatively alter foundational narratives of the field.

The integration of women artists into the study of the past has important implications across disciplines, and here art history can provide a uniquely compelling model. Beginning with the publication of Linda Nochlin’s canonical call-to-arms in 1971, and especially since HECAA’s founding, scholarship and exhibitions have gradually but forcefully shown that the eighteenth-century art world was a colorful cultural sphere shaped by women and men.[22] (This is not to reinforce gender binaries, but to use terms of identity as they were wielded by artists at the time.) After initially shedding light on a select group of female Academicians and, mostly, Académiciennes—women whose names were long known, even though their oeuvres had been little explored—art historians are now looking to many of these women’s even lesser-known peers, from painters, sculptors, draftspersons, and printmakers to embroiderers and wax modelers. This attention is long overdue, and I hope it inspires much scholarship in the next five, let alone twenty-five, years. It is not, however, an end in itself. It is an overdue step towards an integrated academic narrative, one that is more gender-inclusive and gender-aware, and extends far beyond France and Britain. This new narrative must respectfully look beyond, while still remembering and utilizing, Nochlin’s pioneering model—acknowledging both that premodern women undoubtedly faced structural obstacles to artistic production and recognition and, at the same time, that it is increasingly clear that these were hurdles, not firm barriers.

What about the layers just below the surface? Throughout the eighteenth century, in both London and Paris, ever-growing numbers of women became practicing artists in many of the public and private spaces that have conventionally anchored the art historical canon. Rarely working in gendered isolation, these women paved public, commercial paths as professionals—in their terms and those of their peers—and their visual choices reflected their own distinctive cultural norms, rather than collective gender proscriptions. While of course we should not prioritize art production in any one city or nation, here the deep historiography on France and Britain provides an incredibly effective platform: the fact that women’s public presence and success as artists can be documented in two of the most analytically vetted artistic spheres has powerful implications for the promise of studying women and gender elsewhere. Moving away from the most traditional art historical measures is a vital step, and already well underway. But it should not be at the expense of probing traditional spaces to newly recognize the layers of gendered production that have, it seems quite likely, always been there.  Melissa Hyde’s keynote address at the HECAA conference brought this to life.[23] Her talk demonstrated the demand for deep analyses of female artists’ methods and working processes, of exchanges between artists within and across gender lines, and of mutual as well as commercial influences—and for these concepts to become part of the fabric, rather than a temporary emphasis, of a more complete history of art.

As disciplinary boundaries continue to blur at this pivotal period in the humanities and the study of gender, one way to excavate these stories is to apply broader historical methods, such as the questions wielded by historians of gender. Another is through data. The fact that we are at a transitional moment in the field of digital humanities came up throughout the Dallas conference. Although interactive databases and animated maps have proven incredibly useful for visualizing data, and innovative digital centers continue to accrue funding, we are increasingly aware of the promise of digital work, and of the application of data science to the humanities, without always knowing where to take it. As scholars ask questions of massive quantities of data that would be inconceivable through manual research, they are revealing as-yet unseen dynamics of the eighteenth-century world, helping us to learn about how artists of both sexes worked to navigate an array of gender, class, race, institutional, aesthetic, national, material, and colonial restrictions and dynamics.[24] Given effective platforms and adequate resources, this research will be transformative for work on artists who have received little attention or for whom minimal information survives.

These disciplinary, digital, and conceptual crossovers allow us to pose critical questions for the study of marginalized groups, and to advocate for their integration into the canon based on the notion of historical accuracy itself—the idea that a canon is flawed when it fails to truthfully represent the period it aims to embody. There is no single, normative story for women artists, just as there is no one narrative for their male contemporaries. In her piece in this forum, Elizabeth Mansfield proposes that we ask ourselves, “What, from the perspective of eighteenth-century studies, are the stakes of Art History today?” What, indeed, if not the project of more deeply understanding both the present and past—and, in the process, the historical biases, conscious and not, that have long shaped canon formation? This requires that we make room for the types of art that were produced, recognized, commended, and valued in their own times (as other essays in this roundtable likewise suggest), as well as for the under-acknowledged role of women who were influential cultural figures and often pioneers for members of their sex. After all, we have long recognized men who were forerunners in their own places and times. This does not entail a departure from long-valued considerations of the aesthetic. It should go without saying that an understanding of women artists’ lives, careers, and roles in their societies would be incomplete without an equally rigorous study of the art they made, and the visual movements in which they partook. Rather, by incorporating and interrogating this evidence of artistic existence and, with it, production, new narratives can emerge. Publications and syllabi must begin to embed these artists and their works not as token inclusions, nor as examples of exceptionality or even feminist art history, but as regular figures in the art world, who worked in fruitful and often reciprocal coexistence with their male and female peers. Only then will their activity become a fixed part of a revised canon, one that integrates female artistic activity not as a woman’s story, but instead as an unavoidable part of our continued project to excavate the unique virtues and pervasive foibles that ground the story of eighteenth-century art.

Paris A. Spies-Gans is a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows, Cambridge, MA


A New Agenda for a Global Eighteenth-Century Art History

Nancy Um

Today, art historians see the early modern world through a series of connections that extend over a vast geography, as regions linked across perceived territorial boundaries and sprawling bodies of water. Recent research that is cast under the broad umbrella of global art history places emphasis on interconnection, exchange, and mobility, rather than being driven by more parochial concerns, bounded national movements, or stasis. For many, the rise of global art history has been a refreshing development, while others may be threatened by western art’s potentially diminished position in the field or the ambiguity that arises when geographic subfields bleed into each other. Even so, global art history is unlikely to wane or disappear. Rather, it stands to gain more traction as an enduring facet of art historical research. But, as with any innovation that becomes accepted institutionally, the global history of art risks being stripped down to a mere category or reduced to an innocuous label, unless it takes on an active agenda and sets ambitious goals for an evolving future. Here, I present some possible ways to push forward the initiative of global eighteenth-century art history, and perhaps, global early modern art history more generally, drawing from conversations that were initiated at the panel, “People, Places and Things in the Global Eighteenth-Century,” which I organized for “HECAA at 25” in Dallas. The imperatives and challenges included here are active in character, rather than descriptive, and aim to be generative rather than preservationist in their outlook.

Early in my career as an Islamic art historian, I was inspired by the possibilities for cross-cultural work that were offered by Lisa Jardine’s Worldly Goods (1996), Deborah Howard’s Venice & the East (2000), Rosamond Mack’s Bazaar to Piazza (2002), and Jerry Brotton’s The Renaissance Bazaar (2002). As a group, these studies endeavored to show how the roots of western creative development were undergirded by objects, knowledge, and expertise that were exchanged with the Islamic world, in addition to other areas. Interconnection and cross-cultural reliance edged out more cynical, but enduring, notions of cultural and religious conflict. This perspective was particularly welcome during a moment when the “clash of civilizations” view had been dangerously reinvigorated and Islamophobia was taking on new and frightening forms. Since then, countless tomes have been published on topics related to the ideas that fueled those works, and also in reaction to them.

These studies, which helped to lay the ground for today’s global art history, sought to minimize the great distances that foreign objects and goods travelled to arrive in the abundant marketplaces of the west. They also benefited from a view of transregional exchange that was fluid and congenial, rather than antagonistic and agonized. Now, decades later, art historians still find themselves celebrating the triumphs of cross-cultural interaction and reveling in the possibilities of an unexpectedly intertwined world. But, in doing so, the perennial difficulties of these relations have been obscured. Regardless of how frequent or commonplace cross-cultural exchange became by the eighteenth century, the extended journeys of procurement that enabled it were still difficult, hampered by the heavy burden of travel and stymied by the complexities of communication across languages and cultural zones. They were also fundamentally exploitative, often bolstered by slave labor and driven by the greedy desire for extraction. A new global art history should resist applauding the triumphs of cross-cultural interaction and steer away from the pernicious sense of wonder, or even awe, that may be inspired by these premodern global connections, so that we may lucidly analyze and understand the structures and institutions that facilitated, but also encumbered, eighteenth-century travel, trade, and exchange.

In 2003, Felicity Nussbaum prefaced her edited volume, The Global Eighteenth Century, with a certain amount of disappointment that all of the studies included therein hinged upon the European encounter, and thus they could only partially fulfill the ambitious remit of the book’s title. Now, over fifteen years later, historians of eighteenth-century art have managed, to a certain extent, to move beyond the limited purview of the east-west or north-south relations that characterized those early experiments in global studies. But, even as we note these welcome developments, we should be wary of becoming overly invested in the politics of representation on its own terms. Put differently, diversifying the art historical canon through geographic accumulation cannot be the goal of a new global art history. It should query, perhaps even destabilize, the easy relationships that are often assumed between people, places, and things, rather than reifying an assumed affinity between geographic sites and those who inhabit them or the things that came from them. Instead of aiming to fill in the regional gaps beyond Europe, the global history of art should upset accepted notions of what European art (as well as Asian, African, and Latin American art) is and was, by laying bare the transregional connections that lent to its production, conception, movement, and interpretation, and by exploring the specificities of locality within the global sphere. This means abandoning deeply rooted national investments and leaving behind singular or dominant notions about the impact of place. Indeed, travelling artists and collectors were often driven by shifting affiliations, unsteady agendas, and fuzzy lineages of patronage. Objects that circulated to distant lands were always subject to varying modes of reception, as they were bought, sold, transported, imitated, and transformed. Current research in the global history of art has the potential to effectively upend, rather than recover, originary meanings of material objects; it should also question fixed or enduring associations between people, places, and things.

These two goals are achieved most effectively in studies that are implicitly multi-sited in character, rather than binary. In Dallas, Dawn Odell presented an inspiring model with the case of Andreas Everardus van Braam Houckgeest, who journeyed between the Netherlands, Canton, Cape Town, Malacca, Beijing, Philadelphia, London, and Charleston, acquiring an impressive collection of Chinese art along the way. Her project sketched an itinerary that was truly global, in that it could not be contained on a single land mass, or even hemisphere, and was driven by a vibrant, almost peripatetic, sense of movement. Van Braam was a slaveowner who established a plantation in Charleston. He later relocated to Philadelphia, where he fashioned a pompous Asian-inspired persona, based on a careful staging of his art collection and supported by his Asian retinue. Thus, these objects and their bearers became increasingly disconnected from their origins as they were inscribed in new networks of power and meaning. Implicit in her study is the notion that objects move along vectors that may not align with their intended routes and that such things have varying, potentially differential, relationships to the people who procure, handle, enjoy, and profit from them. Such objects may sustain, lose, gain, or even resist associations with the places they came from or came to rest in. Their itineraries may require new modes of cartographic inscription and alternate mapping processes to account for this geographic dynamism and chronic dislocation.

This agenda for a global art history of the eighteenth century veers away sharply from a vision of a more peaceful and uncomplicated past world of cross-cultural interaction. It also warns against its assimilation as just another art historical subfield or a means to diversify the Eurocentric canon. It aspires to a bristling, contentious, and even dizzying set of journeys that cannot be contained within the fixed geographical categories that we usually rely upon, and may indeed call into question the relevance of those categories altogether.


Nancy Um is Professor of Art History and Associate Dean of Harpur College of Arts and Sciences at Binghamton University, Binghamton, NY


Roundtable Response

Amy Freund

As art historians, we operate in a universe of objects, in our research, teaching, and curating. Whether we are partisans of “art” or “visual culture,” we all study objects produced to instruct, delight, or motivate viewers and users.

So I start with an object, one that anchors Jennifer Chuong’s article in this Field Notes issue: the birch- and mahogany-veneered trunk from about 1790-1810. As Chuong argues, veneer was valued in eighteenth-century North America for its particularity and for its variability, qualities of the natural material from which it was cut. Her analysis depends on the local conditions of the trunk’s production, use, and reception in North America. But because of North America’s status as a former British colony, and the Central American and Caribbean origins of mahogany, her—and our—understanding of this object necessarily takes account of the global transit of ideas and materials.

Chuong’s analysis of this veneered trunk demonstrates the importance of holding in tension the particularities of object and place and the global networks in which any particular object and place is embedded. Her argument about veneer as a violence wreaked on trees that, as she demonstrates, could be regarded as sentient beings in the eighteenth century also points to the materiality and even the agency of the work of art. Now as then, the viewers and users of the veneered trunk attribute an animation and a subject-like quality to the work and its material.

Chuong’s essay embodies several important strands of our roundtable discussion, and of the “HECAA at 25” conference held in Dallas in 2018: how we as a field are expanding the geographic scope of our collective inquiry, how we are accounting for the global mobility of objects, people, and ideas, and how and how we are broadening the range of objects to which we devote our attention. The work of many of the authors in this issue and the presenters at the Dallas conference also demonstrates the field’s commitment to the study of material and visual culture (themselves contested terms) and the artistic activity of people rendered invisible by an older canon: women, workshop collaborators, people of color, and enslaved laborers.

The future of our field will certainly be more global, and our objects of study—already expanded far beyond those of our foremothers and fathers twenty-five years ago—will be more various. But our continuing strength remains, I believe, rooted (to make a tree pun) in the very terms of our discipline: in art and in history. (Let’s set aside the “eighteenth-century” bit, even though, as Elizabeth Mansfield and other conference participants so cogently pointed out, how we reckon with the legacy of the Enlightenment, and even how and why we define our field as 1660-1830, are crucial questions.)

I began this essay by asserting the primacy of objects. Should I have instead asserted the primacy of art? Doing so leads us immediately into roiling waters, because it implies judgments of value and quality (judgments our curatorial colleagues make explicitly, and all of us make implicitly, every day). Let’s say, then, that the artwork—however we define it—and its visual form is at the heart of our work, and that our task is to elucidate its meaning. This involves attention to the particular: the form and materiality of objects, the person or persons who produced it, the place it was produced and the visual tradition from which it sprung, and the viewers and users for whom it was intended. Many would argue that meaning cannot be determined by the conditions of the work’s production and initial reception, but that is our place of departure. We can—and often should—productively place artworks in a global context, but we ignore the specificity of object, place, and persons at our peril.

To study the visual arts, broadly defined, is our remit. The global and material turns, and the increased attention to female artists, have had the salutary effect of exploding what, even twenty-five years ago (when I was applying to graduate schools to study French painting of the Second Empire!), was a limited, and limiting, artistic canon. However, if we are committed to discarding that canon, as Paris Spies-Gans suggests, and also to prioritizing artworks that speak to global networks and conflicts, we should be aware of the possible drawbacks. One is the privileging of objects that move, or even that have exchange value, over objects that do not: buildings, large-scale paintings and sculptures, decorative cycles, objects made for one patron or one locality. Another possible drawback: what do we do about artists whose subject matter was resolutely (even perversely) inward-looking, whose works might have traveled (via prints or foreign patrons) but mostly didn’t?

We should also not foreclose on the close looking and deep attention to artistic process (in all its ideological shades) that brought our field into being in the English-speaking world and continue to make it so compelling—from the work of Michael Baxandall, Ann Bermingham, and Michael Fried to Mary Sheriff, Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, Jennifer Roberts, and many other scholars—including those in this issue and at the Dallas conference. A list that skews Franco-, Anglo-, and Italocentric (or even sometimes just Parisian, as Jeffrey Collins so trenchantly points out) will only expand in the years to come, and the work of art should always be at the center of our explanations, whether our objects are obdurately immobile and self-reflexive or the instigators and results of global networks and conflicts.

The history part of our discipline—the part that considers change over time, as well as the artwork’s embeddedness in larger political, social, intellectual, and cultural discourses and realities—is as important as the art part. It is a source of strength for us as we expand our range of objects and the geographical scope of our field. Indeed, a global art history privileges historical context while, as Wendy Bellion and Kristel Smentek stress, promoting nonlinear and nonhierarchical narratives. As someone deeply committed to historical analysis, I am thrilled to see how this section of our toolbox helps us expand our field.

But fulfilling the promise of the approaches laid out in this special issue of Journal18 brings challenges, as Elisabeth Fraser and other roundtable participants point out. We can train our students in new ways, presenting them with an expanded universe of artworks and with new methods with which to make sense of them. But we’ll need to surmount the practical difficulties of training responsible scholars of the global eighteenth century: mastering multiple artistic traditions, acquiring languages, conducting archival work and seeing artworks at first hand in multiple locations, and fostering collaborations with scholars who work in other art historical traditions. All this is already happening, of course, but in a climate of shorter times to degree for graduate students, decreased travel funding, wavering institutional friendliness to interdisciplinarity, and (at the time of writing) a global pandemic.

The overarching systemic problem we confront is the economy of scarcity in art history, and in the humanities in general: fewer tenure-track jobs, fewer majors in the discipline, fewer presses publishing academic books, longer wait times for journal publication. We are already combatting these challenges: Journal18, with its adventurous approach to the field and its commitment to open access, is a shining example. More of us need to become deans, provosts, and university presidents, or support our graduate student and faculty unions. We also need to make sure that all kinds of excellent scholarship is rewarded by hiring committees and editors. A vibrant and diverse field will only strengthen our chances of survival as a discipline.

New frameworks for our pedagogy and scholarship create other, even more fundamental, challenges, ones signaled by Amelia Rauser and other roundtable participants: the more objects, and the more histories, we encompass, the more we must be aware of the risks of a shallow knowledge of a global network. We shouldn’t lose sight of the rewards of a deep knowledge of one place, one artistic tradition, even one object, even as we connect that deep knowledge to a broader history. We don’t want our accounts of works of art to become themselves veneer over a carcass of duller wood. The second worry has to do with retaining other potentially transformative historical lenses: class, gender, and race, to name just a handful. Global art history should not supersede these modes of analysis, but rather should be conjugated with them, lest we flatten out the world and its history in a Thomas Friedman-like gesture that, as Nancy Um and Mansfield point out, leads to celebration rather than critique.

Jennifer Chuong’s essay reminds us of the joys of variability. Twenty-five years after the founding of HECAA, we increasingly value diversity in our objects, just as eighteenth-century viewers prized the unpredictability of veneers. And like those eighteenth-century viewers, we are increasingly engaged with a global multiplicity of objects and ideas. We can train our critical attention outward to that wildly variable visual culture while continuing to do what we do best: grappling with the specificity of forms (and places, and persons), and reaching for a multiple and collective history of the visual arts in the eighteenth century.

Amy Freund is Associate Professor and Kleinheinz Endowment for the Arts and Education Endowed Chair in Art History at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX



[1] Stacey Sloboda and Michael Yonan, Eighteenth-Century Art Worlds: Global and Local Geographies of Art (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019).

[2] Jeffrey Collins and Meredith Martin, “Early Modern Incense Boats: Commerce, Christianity, and Cultural Exchange,” in The Nomadic Object: The Challenge of World for Early Modern Religious Art, ed. Christine Göttler and Mia M. Mochizuki [Intersections: Interdisciplinary Studies in Early Modern Culture, 53] (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2018), 513-546. 

[3] On Cristos de caña see, for instance, Sarah Ryu, “Molded and Modeled: Sculptural Replication in the Early Modern Transatlantic World,” in At the Crossroads: The Arts of Spanish America and Early Global Trade, 1495-1850, ed. Donna Pierce and Ronald Otsuka (Denver: Denver Art Museum, 2012), 105-128, esp. 126, n. 66, noting similarity to molding traditions in Granada. On varieties of búcaros from Iberia and America, see Byron Ellsworth Hamann, “The Mirrors of Las Meninas: Cochineal, Silver, Clay,” The Art Bulletin 92:1-2 (2010), 6-35, esp. 16-17.

[4] Barbara Maria Stafford, “The Eighteenth-Century: Towards an Interdisciplinary Model,” The Art Bulletin 70:1 (1988), 6-24, at 9.

[5]  This is one of the key lessons of Mary Louise Pratt’s foundational book, Imperial Eyes; Travel Writing and Transculturation (London: Routledge, 1992).  In art history, two excellent examples of essays on cultural exchanges occurring not despite but because of bitterly fought wars are Ashley Dimmig, “Substitutes and Souvenirs: Reliving Polish Victory in ‘Turkish’ Tents;” and Meredith Martin and Gillian Weiss, “A Tale of Two Guns: Maritime Weaponry Between France and Algiers,” in Elisabeth A. Fraser, ed., The Mobility of People and Things in the Early Modern Mediterranean: The Art of Travel (New York: Routledge, 2019), 70-90 and 27-48, respectively.

[6]  The case of global porcelain is a great example of this treatment: Anne Gerritsen and Stephen McDowall explicitly challenge the view, promoted by Robert Finlay, of Chinese porcelain as creating a unified and connected early modern global culture. See Gerritsen and McDowall, eds., “Global China: Material Culture and Connections in World History,” special issue, Journal of World History 23:1 (2012); and Robert Finlay, “The Pilgrim Art: The Culture of Porcelain in World History,” Journal of World History 9:2 (1998), 141-187. Another illuminating illustration of this approach to diversified cross-cultural appropriations is Christine Guth, “Towards a Global History of Shagreen,” in Anne Gerritsen and Giorgio Riello, eds., The Global Lives of Things: The Material Culture of Connections in the Early Modern World (London: Routledge, 2016), 62-80.

[7] Felicity A. Nussbaum, ed., The Global Eighteenth Century (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Pres,s 2003). See also Mary D. Sheriff, ed., Cultural Contact and the Making of European Art since the Age of Exploration (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010); and Nebahat Avcıoğlu and Finbarr Barry Flood, “Introduction: Globalizing Cultures: Art and Mobility in the Eighteenth Century,” Ars Orientalis 39 (2010), 7-38.

[8] A key issue with nation-based histories, beyond their exclusive dominance and sheer rootedness, is that they take the nation, a uniquely modern formation, for granted as an explanatory category. Another is that the world has long been dominated by empires, whose cultures we tend to misread through the lens of the historically specific (and to a certain degree, mythic) nation-state.  I think the goal is to look at these national histories self-consciously and, at the very least, to add to them other possibilities.

[9] Elizabeth Rodini, “Mobile Things: On the Origins and the Meanings of Levantine Objects in Early Modern Venice,” Art History 41:2 (April 2018), 246-265.

[10] Two important art-history collections embodying these approaches are Daniela Bleichmar and Meredith Martin, eds., “Objects in Motion in the Early Modern World,” special issue, Art History 38:4 (2015); and Nancy Um and Leah Clark, eds., “The Art of Diplomacy: Situating Objects and Images in the Early Modern Diplomatic Encounter,” special issue, Journal of Early Modern History 20:1 (2016).  Two stimulating interdisciplinary collections that I found helpful in the classroom are Gerritsen and Riello, eds., The Global Lives of Things; and Zoltán Biedermann, Anne Gerritson, and Giorgio Riello, eds., Global Gifts: The Material Culture of Diplomacy in Early Modern Eurasia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018).

[11] Julia Landweber, “Domesticating the ‘Queen of Beans’: How Old Regime France Learned to Love Coffee,” The World History Bulletin 26:1 (Spring 2010), 10-12.

[12] Pamela H. Smith, “Itineraries of Materials and Knowledge in the Early Modern World,” in Gerritsen and Riello, eds., The Global Lives of Things, 31-61.

[13] John-Paul A. Ghobrial, The Whispers of Cities: Information Flows in Istanbul, London, and Paris in the Age of William Trumbull (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014); and Ghobrial, ed., “Global History and Microhistory,” special issue, Past and Present 242, Supplement no. 14 (November 2019).

[14] Capitalization of Visual Culture and Art History is intended to make clear when I am referring to academic disciplines as opposed to forms of cultural production.

[15] The major Anglo-American academic presses actively publishing research on the history of visual arts mostly market and categorize these titles under the headings “Art,” “Architecture,” or “Art History”: MIT Press catalogues as “Architecture” and “Arts”; Oxford University Press catalogues as “Art” and “Architecture”; Penn State Press catalogues as “Art” and “Architecture”; Princeton University Press catalogues as “Art & Architecture”; University of California Press catalogues as “Art”; University of Chicago Press catalogues as “Art” and “Architecture”; Yale University Press catalogues as “Art & Architecture.” Routledge is currently publishing 27 book series under the heading of Art & Visual Culture; of these, fifteen have titles that use “art” or “art history” to describe the series whereas only five have titles that include “visual,” “visual arts,” or “visual culture.” Faculty jobs for specialists in the eighteenth century listed over the past decade on the Art History Positions Wiki number 32. Of these, all but three describe the position as a professor or instructor of “Art” or “Art History”: in the 2011-2012 season, a position in “American art and visual culture”; in the 2012-2013 season, a position was listed for a specialist in “Decorative Arts and Material Culture”; and in the 2019-2020 season, a position is listed for “Art and Design.” This is not to say that position descriptions did not include reference to “visual culture” in other cases, but the position itself was designated as an instructor or professor of “Art History.”

[16] It should be noted here that I see the field of Cultural Heritage as sufficiently distinct in content and methodology from Visual Culture and Art History to be operating largely outside the institutional economy I am describing.

[17] Madeleine Dobie, Trading Places: Colonization and Slavery in Eighteenth-Century French Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010); Nancy Um, “Chairs, Writing Tables, and Chests: Indian Ocean Furniture and the Postures of Commercial Documentation in Coastal Yemen, 1700–40,” and Sandy Prita Meier, “Chinese Porcelain and Muslim Port Cities: Mercantile Materiality in Coastal East Africa,” both in the special issue “Objects in Motion in the Early Modern World,” ed. Daniela Bleichmar and Meredith Martin, in Art History 38:4 (2015); and the special issue “The Art of Embassy: Objects and Images of Early Modern Diplomacy,” ed. Nancy Um and Leah R. Clark, in Journal of Early Modern History 20:1 (2016).

[18] “Objects in Motion: Visual and Material Culture across Colonial North America,” Winterthur Portfolio 45:2/3 (2011); for biombos and madras, see essays by Barbara Mundy and Sophie White.

[19] JoAnne Mancini, Art and War in the Pacific World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2018); Eighteenth-Century Art Worlds: Global and Local Geographies of Art, ed. Stacey Sloboda and Michael Yonan (New York: Bloomsbury, 2019); Jennifer Van Horn, “‘The Dark Iconoclast’: African Americans’ Artistic Resistance in the Civil War South,” Art Bulletin 99:4 (2017): 133-167.

[20] For example, Laura Turner Igoe, “Creative Matter: Tracing the Environmental Context of Materials in American Art,” in Nature’s Nation: American Art and Environment, ed. Karl Kusserow and Alan C. Braddock (Princeton: Princeton University Art Museum, 2018).

[21] With the notable exception of Melissa Hyde’s keynote address, ideas of gender or the productions of female creators were largely absent at the conference.

[22] Linda Nochlin, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?,” ArtNews 69:9 (January 1971), 22-39, 67-71; see also Ann Sutherland Harris and Linda Nochlin, Women Artists, 1550-1950 (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Distributed by Random House, 1976). A few key examples of exhibitions and scholarship since HECAA’s founding include, chronologically: Stephen Lloyd, Richard and Maria Cosway: Regency Artists of Taste and Fashion (Edinburgh: Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland, 1995); Mary D. Sheriff, The Exceptional Woman: Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun and the Cultural Politics of Art (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996); Margaret Oppenheimer, Women Artists in Paris, 1791-1814 (PhD dissertation, NYU, 1996); Allison Yarington, “The Female Pygmalion: Anne Seymour Damer, Allan Cunningham and the Writing of a Woman Sculptor’s Life,” Sculpture Journal 1 (1997), 32-44; Marcia Pointon, Strategies for Showing: Women, Possession, and Representation in English Visual Culture, 1665-1800 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); Gen Doy, Women and Visual Culture in Nineteenth-Century France, 1800-1852 (London: Leicester University Press, 1998); Eik Kahng et al., Anne Vallayer-Coster: Painter to the Court of Marie-Antoinette (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 2002); Angela Rosenthal, Angelica Kauffman: Art and Sensibility (New Haven: Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art by Yale University Press, 2006); Margery Morgan, “British Connoisseurs in Rome: Was it Painted by Katherine Read (1723-78)?,” The British Art Journal 7:1 (Spring/Summer 2006), 40-44; Laura Auricchio, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard: Artist in the Age of Revolution (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2009); José Luis de los Llanos and Carole Blumenfeld, Marguerite Gérard: Artiste en 1789, Dans l’Atelier de Fragonard (Paris: Paris-Musées, 2009); Charlotte Yeldham, Maria Spilsbury (1776-1820): Artist and Evangelical (Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2010); Heidi A. Strobel, The Artistic Matronage of Queen Charlotte (1744-1818): How a Queen Promoted Both Art and Female Artists in English Society (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen, 2011); Jordana Pomeroy, Laura Auricchio, Melissa Hyde, and Mary D. Sheriff, Royalists to Romantics: Women Artists from the Louvre, Versailles and Other French National Collections (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of Women in the Arts, 2012); Marie-Josèphe Bonnet, Liberté, Égalité, Exclusion: Femmes Peintres en Révolution, 1770-1804 (Paris: Editions Vendémiaire, 2012); David Alexander, Caroline Watson & Female Printmaking in Late Georgian England (Cambridge: The Fitzwilliam Museum, 2014); Joseph Baillio, Katharine Baetjer, and Paul Lang, Vigée Le Brun (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016); Séverine Sofio, Artistes femmes. La parenthèse enchantée XVIIIe-XIXe siècles (Paris: CNRS, 2016); Melissa Hyde, “‘Peinte par elle-même?’: Women artists, teachers, and students from Anguissola to Haudebourt-Lescot,” Arts et Savoirs [online] 6 (2016); and Carole Blumenfeld, Marguerite Gérard: 1761-1837 (Montreuil: Éditions Gourcuff Gradenigo, 2019). At the moment, exhibitions on Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (at Versailles) and Angelica Kauffman (at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, 2020) are in production.

[23] Melissa Hyde, “Knowing Their Place? Women Artists in 18th-Century France,” Rosenberg Lecture, Dallas Museum of Art, Thursday, November 1, 2018.

[24] Stacey Sloboda provided a vibrant example of such work at the conference with her paper on “St. Martin’s Lane: Neighborhood as Art World in Eighteenth-Century London,” Research Session: Apprehending the Spatial: Methods and Approaches, Thursday, November 1, 2018.


Cite this note as: Jeffrey Collins, Elizabeth Fraser, Elizabeth Mansfield, Amelia Rauser, Kristel Smentek & Wendy Bellion, Paris Spies-Gans, Nancy Um, Amy Freund, “Reflections on HECAA at 25: A Roundtable Discussion,” Journal18 Issue 9 Field Notes (Spring 2020), http://www.journal18.org/4933.

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