Unlearning Art History: Anti-Racist Work in PreModern Fields

Fri, February 14, 06:00 PM
Hilton Chicago, Room: Lake Ontario


Chairs: Maggie M. Williams, William Paterson University/Material Collective & Camara Dia Holloway, Association for Critical Race Art History (ACRAH)

Pre-modern fields of art history are often viewed as operating anterior to, or even outside of, considerations of race, racism, diversity, and inclusion. The classical and medieval worlds in particular have long been taken (by both specialists and those working in other areas) as primarily European, in which unexamined whiteness is too often the default position for understanding patrons, artists, and subjects. This neglect of racialized histories has allowed many art historians (especially white scholars) to occupy a privileged position of ignorance, choosing to avoid the contemporary impact of their scholarship and (even passively) upholding biased and racist narratives in publications and curricula. But the recent uptick in hate crimes and white supremacist terrorism across the globe — including many instances in which the assumed “whiteness” of the past has been weaponized against people of color in the modern world — makes the project of contending with our approaches to historical race especially urgent right now.

This roundtable brings together art historians who work across pre-modern and early cultures for a conversation about the study of race in art, the role of museums in promoting inclusive views of the pre-modern world, and recent anti-racist writing in art history. Topics for discussion include: case studies about projects of anti-racist art history, especially public scholarship; issues in recruitment, mentoring, and hiring historians of diverse ethno-racial backgrounds; creating inclusive and anti-racist curricula; and debates in the museum world about race, curation, and audience.


  • Nina A. Rowe, Fordham University; Whose Middle Ages? Medieval Art and the Political Moment

Nina Rowe is an Associate Professor at Fordham University and President of the International Center of Medieval Art (ICMA). Her first book, The Jew, the Cathedral, and the Medieval City: Synagoga and Ecclesia in the Thirteenth Century (Cambridge UP, 2011) was shortlisted for CAA’s Charles Rufus Morey Prize (2012) and an article on related material won the Van Courtlandt Elliott Prize from the Medieval Academy of America (2008). Her forthcoming book, The Illuminated World Chronicle: Tales from the Late Medieval City, will be published by Yale UP in 2020. She is the recipient of fellowships from the NEH, the ACLS, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

  • Earnestine Qiu, Princeton University; Displaying Armenia

Earnestine Qiu is a PhD candidate at Princeton, where she studies Byzantine and Armenian manuscripts. She presented her research on a fifteenth-century Armenian manuscript from Kaffa at the 2018 Byzantine Studies Conference, where she won the Society of Armenian Studies award for best conference paper. She contributed to the catalogue for the 2018 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Armenia: Art, Religion, and Trade in the Middle Ages.

  • Roland Betancourt, University of California, Irvine; Byzantine Intersectionality: Sexuality, Gender, and Race in the Middle Ages

Roland Betancourt is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of California, Irvine. He has been appointed as a Chancellor’s Fellow from 2019-2022. In the 2016-2017 academic year, he was the Elizabeth and J. Richardson Dilworth Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He has co-edited Byzantium/Modernism (Leiden, 2015), and his work has appeared in several journals and edited volumes. His first monograph Sight, Touch, and Imagination in Byzantium (Cambridge, 2018) proposes a new understanding of theories of vision in the ancient Greek and Byzantine worlds. His forthcoming book Byzantine Intersectionality deals with race, sexuality, and gender identity in the medieval world.


Discussant: Adriana Zavala, US Latinx/Art Forum (USLAF)

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