Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellows in American Art

The Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art are awarded to graduate students in any stage of Ph.D. dissertation research or writing, for scholarship on a topic in the history of the visual arts of the United States, including all facets of Native American art. Although the topic may be historically and/or theoretically grounded, attention to the art object and/or image should be foremost. Since 2015, the awards have included the Luce/ACLS Ellen Holtzman Dissertation Fellowship in American Art, named after the Luce Foundation’s Program Director for American Art, who retired that year after 23 years of service. The fellowship is awarded to an emerging scholar of demonstrated achievement whose research and writing concerns American modernism and art of the 1950s and 1960s.

This program is made possible by a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.

Read more about this fellowship program.

Please note: affiliations shown are as of time of award. Please click on fellows' names for current information.

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Watch "Emerging Themes and Methods of Research: A Discussion with ACLS Fellows," an annual meeting session featuring recent ACLS fellows. 

Katherine L. Carroll
Katherine L. Carroll  |  Abstract
At the end of the nineteenth century, a revolution occurred in American medical education as physicians embraced scientific medicine and experiential learning. The new curriculum required the total redesign of the medical school. This dissertation provides the first comprehensive examination of medical school architecture and considers the transformative years 1893-1940. Existing research on medical architecture has focused on spaces for patient care. An analysis of the buildings for medical training reveals a new set of cultural discourses. The form of the medical schools shaped the professional identities of doctors and nurses and helped define modern medicine for members of the medical community and the public. This study also suggests the need for research into other educational sites.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, Boston University  -  Modernizing the American Medical School, 1893-1940: Architecture, Pedagogy, Professionalization, and Philanthropy

Annelise K. Madsen
Annelise K. Madsen  |  Abstract
This dissertation charts the rise of a civic art movement in America and the expanding roles of mural painting and pageantry in a Progressive-Era campaign to educate citizens through visual experiences. It investigates how civic artists helped constitute a Progressivism that secured a central role for the arts in period agendas of citizen-making. Believing firmly that pictures could teach as well as model character, artists stitched monumental pictures into debates on Americanization, immigration, suffrage, and educational reform. Through classically-inspired forms—allegories of Justice and Enlightenment alongside historical heroes like Paul Revere and Abraham Lincoln—muralists and pageant-masters engaged in the concerns of modern American life. This project reframes American Renaissance art within a Progressive-Era vision of citizenship formation, arguing for an understanding of early-twentieth-century murals and pageants that considers the reach of civic art into everyday life, including school curricula, art reproductions, photographic surveys, theatrical rehearsals, and the press.

Doctoral Candidate, Art & Art History, Stanford University  -  Model Citizens: Mural Painting, Pageantry, and the Art of Civic Life in Progressive America

Elizabeth A. Ferrell  |  Abstract
This dissertation examines the San Francisco avant-garde, a community of artists who lived in the city's Fillmore District from 1955-1965. It investigates how, in this circle, artistic collaboration evolved into a means of social performance—an activity the artists used to construct and act out their relationships to one another. Adapting methods from literary and performance studies, this project develops an approach to analyzing these intimate and intertextual practices that elude art history's definitions of “work” and “artistic identity.” This study contends that collaboration allowed the community to imagine and experience more complex relationships between the individual and the collective than were generally permitted in Cold-War American art and society.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art, University of California, Berkeley  -  Collaborated Lives: Individualism and Collectivity in the San Francisco Avant-Garde, 1950-1965

Rachel Middleman
Rachel Middleman  |  Abstract
Although women began making erotic art from explicitly female viewpoints in the early 1960s, art history has only properly addressed such work made after the feminist art movement coalesced in 1970. In chronological case studies, this dissertation takes on the issues that arise when considering erotic art produced by filmmaker Carolee Schneemann, sculptor Hannah Wilke, collagist Anita Steckel, and painter Joan Semmel in both pre-feminist and early feminist contexts. It argues that these artists made crucial interventions in the history of postwar American art, not only by redefining the male tradition of erotic art, but also in exploiting the genre to dismantle the universal assumptions of modernism. This dissertation contextualizes their work within the New York art scene of 1960s and early 1970s, and reveals how it inspired debates about gender, taste, and artists’ freedom to address everything from profane topics to deep social concerns.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, University of Southern California  -  A New Eros: Erotic Art by Women Artists in New York, 1963-1973

Angela George
Angela George  |  Abstract
Through a series of case studies, this dissertation examines how and why American artists imagined Mesoamerican antiquity from 1839 to 1893, a key period both in the development of the United States’ national identity and in archaeological investigation in Mesoamerica. Since little was known of the region’s ancient cultures before the 1820s, images of Mesoamerican antiquity varied and were shaped to serve the exigencies of many historical moments. As such, these images reveal as much about the United States as they do about the people and places of Mesoamerica. Ultimately, this study demonstrates that the artworks under investigation conveyed multivalent and ambivalent attitudes about Mesoamerica, views that emphasized the importance of the Mesoamerican past as well as the supremacy of the United States' future.

Doctoral Candidate, Department of Art History and Archaeology, University of Maryland, College Park  -  The Old New World: Unearthing Mesoamerican Antiquity in the Art and Culture of the United States, 1839-1893.

Sara Mandel Picard
Sara Mandel Picard  |  Abstract
Antebellum New Orleans free man of color Jules Lion (c. 1816-1866) was one of America’s earliest photographers and most prolific lithographers, yet his racial status challenges the American art canon by defying classification as exclusively European or African American. Born in France, his mixed-race and transnational identity was not unusual within the structure of New Orleans’s racial hierarchy, where a significant group of “free people of color” dominated aspects of culture and enjoyed financial success. This project examines Lion’s place in the American art canon, analyzes how his 200 extant lithographic portraits of predominately white middle-class men delineate New Orleans’s social structures, and explores how he navigated such a unique racial culture.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art, Indiana University Bloomington  -  Defying and Delineating Race in Antebellum New Orleans: Jules Lion’s Lithographs and Patronage, 1837-1866

Adam Robert Greenhalgh
Adam Robert Greenhalgh  |  Abstract
This project considers the intersection of American visual culture and the rhetoric, logic, and imagery of institutions and disciplines dedicated to rationalizing chance—insurance, probabilism, statistics—from 1876 to 1907, when popular, legal, social, and scientific conceptions of the accident were significantly revised. This study adds to recent social histories of chance by considering understudied visual materials—illustrations of accidents, insurance advertising, statistical atlases, composite photographs—to suggest not only how they inform major artworks but also how visual culture participated in underwriting an emerging conception of the world as an ultimately indeterminate, chance-based system. It demonstrates how chance was socially constructed and visually articulated.

Doctoral Candidate, Department of Art History and Archaeology, University of Maryland, College Park  -  Risky Business: Chance and Contingency in American Art, 1876-1907

Tanya M. Pohrt
Tanya M. Pohrt  |  Abstract
During the Early Republic, an era with few patrons and little demand for paintings other than portraits, artists such as John Singleton Copley, Thomas Sully, Samuel F.B. Morse, and Rembrandt Peale adopted the entrepreneurial practice of independently exhibiting and touring history paintings. This project traces the emergence and development of painting exhibitions and tours in America, exploring how this practice shifted art consumption from a tangible object to a visual experience. Touring painting exhibitions impacted the art market in important ways, shaping artistic identity and challenging artists to redefine their roles in the public sphere.

Doctoral Candidate, Dept. of Art History, University of Delaware  -  Touring Pictures: The Exhibition of American History Paintings in the Early Republic

Karin Higa  |  Abstract
This study considers Japanese American artists in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles between World War I and II and the art they created. It also surveys representations of the Japanese body by the dominant culture. By placing representations by and of Japanese Americans into dialogue, this study illuminates the complexity of the interwar period, when Japanese American artists were subject to heightened racism while at the same time creating powerful, influential works of art that have been under-recognized due to the World War II incarceration. Through close object analysis and attention to historical context, this study aims to reanimate the connections between Japanese American artists and their European and American counterparts to present a nuanced picture of pre-World War II American culture.

Doctoral Student, Department of Art History, University of Southern California  -  Little Tokyo, Los Angeles: Japanese American Art and Visual Culture, 1919-1941

Mary S. Trent
Mary S. Trent  |  Abstract
American artists Joseph Cornell and Henry Darger approached the subject of girlhood in collage and assemblage projects made during the 1930s-1960s, a period when images of girls were abundant in the popular culture. While most American modernist artists ignored the subject, Cornell and Darger imagined girlhood as an alternative realm in which they could explore identities that did not fit with the values of mainstream American masculinity. By creating elaborate worlds filled with references to girls and girlish domestic crafts, these two artists celebrated the possibilities for the individual imagination in a mass-mediated culture. Although they achieved differing degrees of professional success and tend to be categorized separately in the artistic genres of Surrealism and Outsider Art, this dissertation argues that their work presents an important line of thought developing on the margins of mid-century American culture.

Doctoral Candidate, Visual Studies, University of California, Irvine  -  Innocence Reproduced: Girlhood in the Art of Joseph Cornell and Henry Darger