University of Rochester

Rochester Art History Student Wins NEH Award

April 18, 1994

Sheila Murphy, a sophomore majoring in art history at the University of Rochester, has been named a National Endowment for the Humanities Younger Scholar for 1994.

Murphy is one of 87 college students selected from a pool of 537 applicants in the national competition. The NEH Younger Scholars Award carries a stipend of $2,500 that supports independent, non-credit research and writing projects. The projects are conducted during the summer under the supervision of an adviser.

In her project, Cleopatra as Early Modern Other: Multiculturalism in the Visual Arts, Murphy plans to examine the representation of women, minorities, and gender roles in 15th- through 18th-century art. "These topics really interest me," she said. "Cleopatra is an ancient person who's been mythologized into an erotic person, when in actuality she wasn't this great lover and beauty. She was a powerful political leader."

Murphy will conduct historical research, examining literature and art in University of Rochester libraries and using the resources of the Memorial Art Gallery.

Murphy will address themes of multiculturalism and marginalization -- how women and minorities are pushed to the side or put into the background.

"Our society is built upon the Renaissance and the societies of Western Europe, and I want to learn how they treat multiculturalism," said Murphy. "Cleopatra has been europeanized. She was of Greek and Egyptian origin. She is depicted in art at the time she committed suicide, and she is always shown naked with the asp biting her breast." These artworks of Cleopatra, according to Murphy, depict the Egyptian queen as a sexual object and do not portray the image of the woman as an effective leader. "The purpose is finding the connections between gender and racial issues addressed in the present and issues of class and women in the past."

Professor Jarold Rams, who administers the program at the University, said he is delighted at Murphy's success.

"She's the latest in a long illustrious line of University of Rochester winners," said Rams. "Sheila's project is a really exciting one. For the first time, the Department of Art and Art History has a winner."

The National Endowment for the Humanities is an independent federal agency that supports research, education, and public programs in the humanities.