Emily Burns

Assistant professor of art history

College of Liberal Arts

Emily Burns, assistant professor of art history in the College of Liberal Arts, teaches a variety of courses, including a course on the constructions of race in visual culture. She is currently developing courses in the history of Asian art as well as 18th-century European art and recently designed and led a two-week study abroad program to Paris. Her research has been supported by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Terra Foundation for American Art, Baird Library Society of Fellows, Walter Read Hovey Memorial Foundation, the University of Nottingham, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming. Burns has presented her research at numerous national and international conferences.

Her recent and forthcoming publications address the relationship between national identity and visual culture by exploring images of mothers and children by American artists studying in Paris, representations of Americans undertaking the transatlantic passage, the role of American artists' clubs in Paris and metaphors of American culture, such as Puritanism, in the French imagination. She is currently developing a book manuscript that explores the visual culture of the American West in the French imagination during the fin-de-si├Ęcle. Burns holds a Ph.D. in art history and archaeology from Washington University in St. Louis.

1. What brought you to Auburn?

I moved to Auburn in August 2013 to take this wonderful position of assistant professor of art history in the Department of Art and Art History. I offer classes on 18th- and 19th-century European Art, Art of the United States, Arts of Asia and a course about constructions of race in art history. I completed my dissertation at Washington University in St. Louis while a research fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in December of 2012 and was thrilled to find a position teaching courses in my areas of interest while continuing my research projects on American culture in late 19th-century France.

2. Tell us about your plans to take students to Paris to study art abroad this summer.

On June 21, I met a group of 12 Auburn students in Paris to begin a two-week study abroad program that I designed. The students are living in apartments near the Bastille, earning three credits in a course on 19th century art that is taught at many of the museums of Paris and experiencing activities in the French capital, including meals and a boat ride on the Seine. We'll visit the Louvre, the Orsay and some smaller museums like the Atelier Moreau and the Marmottan. After having spent so much time in Paris for my research projects, I'm excited to share one of my favorite cities with Auburn students.

3. You recently traveled to give lectures in Paris and then in Cody, Wyoming. What did you speak on?

Both of these talks were related to my research on 19th-century art and culture and traveling artists. The talk in Paris was at the Centre Allemand de l'histoire de l'art in a conference on transnational artistic formation; I gave a talk about my research on American artists' clubs in late 19th-century Paris. In the past, I have written about these clubs as sites for insularity and cultural nationalism in France, but in this talk, I considered the cosmopolitan milieu of the clubs, which often invited foreign artists to participate in exhibitions. The next weekend, I flew to Cody, Wyoming, to speak about the traveling artist John Mix Stanley. While little known today, Stanley created a gallery of paintings of his western travels in an attempt to document its landscapes and indigenous populations. After writing an essay for the exhibition catalogue to accompany the first major retrospective of Stanley's work, I gave a talk about the ways in which he participated in a growing culture of spectacle in mid-19th century America by marketing his work to a wide range of audiences. It's been wonderful to have the opportunity to travel to share my research on these topics with other scholars and with the public.

4. Is there a particular era in art history that is your favorite to teach?

The 19th century in Europe and the United States is my favorite to teach. In the 1890s in particular, there are so many places ripe with artistic experimentation and cross-cultural exchange. There are artistic centers in France, Britain, Italy, Germany and the U.S., and artists are painting in a range of styles from academic to impressionist to symbolist. It's a fascinating moment also to study the relationships between art making, mass media, travel and national identity, which are the main areas that interest me.

5. Where do you like to go when you're not traveling?

I really enjoy downtown Opelika. It has great little shops and restaurants, and I like its character facing the railroad tracks. There are also new places opening up often there, as well as classics like The Overall Company for a popsicle or pimento cheese biscuit. I wasn't sure I liked pimento cheese when I first moved here, but now I've been converted! Still working on the sweet tea, though...

Last Updated: June 29, 2015

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