Letter from the Chair, Spring 2011


By Matt Biro, professor & chair
Jun 17, 2011 Bookmark and Share

Matt Biro France

Matt Biro at Anselm Kiefer's estate in Barjac, France, 2010.

First let me extend all alumni and friends of the department my best wishes for the 2011-2012 academic year. You are the graduates and sponsors of this great department, and our reputation is largely due to your success both while you were at U-M and in your current careers.

I am very happy to report that the Department of the History of Art continues to thrive. In contrast to many art history programs today, the department is currently growing in size and prestige. After I became chair in July of 2010, it was one of my first great pleasures to welcome Professor Jennifer Robertson into the department. An anthropologist by training, she specializes in the art and visual culture of Japan and is particularly interested in questions concerning art and technology. This year, the department welcomes Associate Professor Christiane Gruber, an expert in Islamic art and visual culture. Gruber’s primary field of research is Islamic painting and book arts with a particular focus on images of the Prophet Muhammad in Islamic traditions. Also this year, we will be searching for two new colleagues, a specialist in South Asian art and visual culture, as well as one who focuses on the arts and cultures of the Mediterranean.

In addition, the department continues its very strong publication record. As I write this letter, Associate Professor David Doris’s new book, Vigilant Things: On Thieves, Yoruba Anti-Aesthetics, and the Strange Fates of Ordinary Objects in Nigeria, just appeared in print from the University of Washington Press. I am also pleased to announce two forthcoming books by faculty members, both of which will be published in the next few months: The Sex of Men in Premodern Europe (Cambridge University Press), by Professor Patricia Simons; and Plotting the Prince: Topographies of Shôtoku Cults in Early Medieval Japan (University of Hawai’i Press), by Associate Professor Kevin Carr. Congratulations are in order to Professors Doris, Simons, and Carr for their cutting edge contributions to the intellectual reputation of our department. Congratulations are also due to almost all of our other faculty members, who published numerous articles, essays, and edited volumes this year. It makes me proud to serve in such a dynamic and productive department.

Congratulations are also due to Professor Susan Siegfried, who was just named a Collegiate Professor, one of the University of Michigan’s highest honors. A number of other faculty members have won prestigious external fellowships and awards, and our graduate and undergraduate students continue to find positions after graduation. We are also implementing new strategies in teaching the undergraduate survey class through our innovative HISART100 lecture course, a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary survey involving team teaching across the department. Furthermore, the Paris Program, the department’s four-month overseas undergraduate program begun five years ago by Professor Howard Lay, continued to thrive, with recent PhD Katie Hornstein at the helm, and PhD candidate Jessica Fripp also teaching in the program. 

I also hope that all alumni and friends will connect with us through our new website, which went live in the winter of 2011. There you can meet and learn about our faculty, staff, and students; read current and past issues of our newsletter; explore our affiliations both at the university and beyond; preview coming events; and keep us informed about yourself. Above all, I remind you that you are a part of what makes the Department of the History of Art, past, present and future. We need you, so keep in touch, and don’t forget to mark your calendars. This fall we will present a special Freer Symposium on “Barbarians, Monsters, Hybrids and Mutants: Asian Inventions of Human ‘Others’” at the University of Michigan Museum of Art. Organized by Professor Robertson, it will bring together a cutting edge selection of scholars speaking on photography, painting, and other media. It promises to be very exciting, and I hope to see you there.

Sincerely,

Matthew Biro
Professor and Chair