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Jennifer Raab

Jennifer Raab is Assistant Professor in the Department of the History of Art at Yale University where her teaching covers the art of the United States from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries as well as the history of photography. Before joining the Yale faculty in 2013, she held postdoctoral fellowships at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University and at the John F. Kennedy-Institut für Nordamerikastudien, Freie Universität, Berlin. Her work has been supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Wyeth Foundation at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Dumbarton Oaks, and the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Her research engages with landscape studies, the history of science, aesthetic theory, and the intersections between literary and visual representations. Her first book, Frederic Church: The Art and Science of Detail (Yale University Press, 2015), examines the changing visual, cultural, and historical meaning of detail in nineteenth-century America through the landscape paintings of Frederic Church. Focusing on Church’s monumental representations of North and South America, the Arctic, and the Middle East, the book offers the first sustained examination of the aesthetics of detail that fundamentally shaped nineteenth-century American landscape painting and that is inseparable from scientific as well as religious discourses of the time. More broadly, it asks: What is a detail? What does it mean to see a work of art “in detail”?

Her current book project, which she will be at work on while a MERA fellow, is tentatively titled "Relics of War."  It asks how the work of photographing warfare—and specifically violence to the body—shaped the visual language and the cultural context for post-Civil War photography in the United States. By focusing on four photographers—two canonical figures, Mathew Brady and Timothy O’Sullivan, and two much less well-known, William H. Bell and William A. Bell—the project will consider a broad range of issues: the status of the relic in nineteenth-century culture and how the photograph itself might function as a relic; the material problem of dead bodies, burial, and commemoration; the connections between medical photography and landscape representation; and the relationship between photography and pilgrimage. One aim of the book is to put photography into intimate dialogue with other material objects and physical spaces produced during the period—from wooden cups, bone fragments, and national cemeteries to silver crumb knives, therapeutic springs, and resort towns—to explore the ways in which photographic images mediate between human bodies and nonhuman forms.

She has recently published articles and essays on history painting and the aesthetics of mapping, ornament and masculinity in portraits of Native Americans, panoramic vision and telegraphic language in early railroad guidebooks, and the minimalist artist Dan Flavin’s collection of nineteenth-century drawings. Her work has appeared in Art Bulletin, Art History, American Art, Journal of American Studies, and in exhibition catalogues for the National Gallery of Art, the Morgan Library and Museum, and the Yale University Art Gallery.

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