University of Rochester

Graduate Students in Visual and Cultural Studies Garner Awards for Innovative Work

May 26, 2011

Four doctoral students in the University of Rochester's Graduate Program in Visual and Cultural Studies—Amanda Graham, Jessica Horton, Gloria Kim, and Erin Leary—have been awarded prestigious fellowships in recognition of their academic work. "These students are transforming visual and cultural studies as well as the other fields that their interdisciplinary projects address," said Joan Saab, associate professor of art history and visual and cultural studies, and chair of visual and cultural studies.

Amanda Graham has received the Walter Read Hovey Fund Award from the Pittsburgh Foundation in support of her dissertation on the influence of early photographer Eadweard Muybridge's studies of human and animal movement. She will study how his use of "grids" to organize and understand movement influenced other artists' work, including composer Philip Glass, choreographer Lucinda Childs, and conceptual artist Sol LeWitt. According to Graham, "There's a narrative in this community. These artists were drawing from each other's work and all engaging with the organizing concept of the grid."

"What I find especially impressive about Amanda's work is that she can so persuasively link art works, even entirely abstract ones like Lucinda Childs' Dance, to wider social concerns," said Douglas Crimp, Fanny Knapp Allen Professor of Art History and Professor of Visual and Cultural Studies, who is Graham's advisor.

"Looking at these archival materials will offer me a unique opportunity to expand the scope and depth of my dissertation," said Graham. The award will allow her to conduct archival research and conduct interviews at the Fales Library at New York University, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

Jessica Horton has been named a 2011 Wyeth Fellow by the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA) for a 24-month term. She also will receive dissertation support from the International Dissertation Research Fellowship (IDRF) Program, which offers nine to twelve months of financial support to students who will conduct their dissertation research abroad.

"Jessica is multitalented, vibrant, an exceptional writer and scholar, and her commitment to scholarship is informed by ethics and intellectual inquiry of the highest order," said Janet Berlo, professor of art history and visual and cultural studies, and Horton's advisor.

Horton's work focuses on 20th-century Native American art, particularly the work of artists influenced by the American Indian Movement in the 1970s and how it circulates internationally. "Showing how native artists work internationally can give us a broader picture of how globalization has occurred historically," says Horton. As a Wyeth fellow, Horton will spend one year of the fellowship traveling in the United States and abroad doing research, and one year in residence with CASVA, the research branch of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Before beginning these other fellowships, Horton will spend the summer in Giverny, France, as part of the Terra Summer Residency Program. The Terra Foundation for American Art supports artists and scholars from the United States and Europe with lodging, study, and studio spaces for eight-week terms, and also offers a series of seminars and independent studies with senior artists and scholars in residence.

Gloria Kim has been awarded an Andrew W. Mellon /American Council for Learned Societies (ACLS) Dissertation Completion Fellowship. She is one of just 70 recipients out of more than 1,000 applicants. Kim's work examines the visual aspects of contemporary public health information campaigns, considering both their visual representation and forms of mediation. Her work considers how the creation of a new disease concept in 1989 by U.S. government scientists – "Emerging Infectious Diseases" (EIDs), a term used to describe new or re-emerging diseases – has transformed the practice of public health both in terms of its visual communication and in practice. Although EIDs is often heralded as paving the path to great global health equality, Kim's work stages a dialogue between visual studies, public health, health policy, and media and communications studies in order to understand how EID discourse reinforces or naturalizes systemic inequalities that actually sit at the heart of global health. "Only once we understand how certain structural injustices are being replicated on various tiers can we then look at alternative ways of addressing these issues," said Kim.

"Gloria's project epitomizes the bold and creative interdisciplinary approaches characteristic of VCS dissertations," according to Robert Foster, professor and chair of anthropology, professor of visual and cultural studies, and member of Kim's dissertation committee. "Her project will shed light on how definitions of healthy bodies and the body politic are intimately connected."

According to Kim, "My work attempts to bridge communities that don't usually talk with each other." Her class at the University of Rochester's School of Medicine, "A Tweet a Day Keeps the Doctor Away," helps create such connections among disciplines. In the class, first-year medical students explore the increasing use of new media in the doctor-patient relationship, considering how technologies like Twitter, Facebook, or telehealth, might impact relationships of trust, care and knowledge in the medical relationship.

Erin Leary has been awarded a Winterthur Dissertation Fellowship from the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library. Leary's dissertation will address women's domestic arts as a stage for political activism, specifically pre-suffrage political views on immigration, nativism, and eugenics. For example, discussions about which plants, bred in specific ways, might thrive in American soil could have been used to express women's views on citizenship and immigration before women had the right to express their political opinions through voting. According to Saab, "Erin's work makes particularly innovative connections between 19th century material culture and the social and cultural history of the time."

"VCS is about pushing the limits as much as possible, and the community is really supportive of that," says Leary. Her work requires access to rare gardening and other domestic manuals from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which are available in the Winterthur collections.

The visual and cultural studies program is an interdisciplinary doctoral program, housed in the Department of Art and Art History. It accepts five or six students per year. The program draws from coursework and faculty expertise in several University of Rochester humanities departments. According to Saab, "Because our faculty work in the fields of art and art history, film studies, modern languages and cultures, and anthropology, students can relate literary and cultural theory to visual culture and make connections among cultural productions, critical theory, and society." For additional information on the program, visit