American and Contemporary Art
Director of Undergraduate Studies
Jennifer L. Roberts is Elizabeth Cary Agassiz Professor of the Humanities and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of History of Art and Architecture. She is an art historian focusing on American and British art of the seventeenth century onward, as well as modern/contemporary art, with particular interests in print studies, the history of science and technology, and craft and materiality theory. She received her A.B. in English and Art History from Stanford (1992) and her Ph.D. in History of Art from Yale (2000), and joined the Harvard faculty as an assistant professor in 2002. She held the Slade Professorship in Fine Arts at Cambridge University in 2019 and delivered the Mellon Lectures at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art in 2021.
Within an art-historical discipline built on arguments about the virtuality and transcendence of images, Roberts has consistently sought to return attention to the material intelligence of art and its makers. Her first book, Mirror-Travels: Robert Smithson and History (2004), examines Smithson's engagement with everything from crystallography to eschatology to show how his celebrated earthworks and traveling projects confront the social and material histories of the sites they occupy. Her book Transporting Visions: The Movement of Images in Early America (2014), forges a material history of visual communication by tracing the literal transportation of pictures through the swamps, forests, oceans, and cities of the Anglo-American landscape between 1760 and 1860. Treating pictures that register, in various ways, the material complications of their own transmission, the book explores the relationship between communication/transportation media and period understandings of visual representation. In 2012 she curated the exhibition Jasper Johns/In Press: The Crosshatch Works and the Logic of Print for the Harvard Art Museums; the catalog was also published that year. That project, which grew out of an undergraduate seminar, sparked her interest in the broad cultural and philosophical implications of the physical operations of printing – reversal, pressure, transfer, incision, contact, etc. – and led her to her current Mellon lecture/ book project, titled Contact: Art and the Pull of Print. Another book in progress, co-authored with the artist Dario Robleto, is titled Life Signs and explores the history and philosophy of the pulsewave as a graphic, medical, and emotional technology.
At Harvard she has been active in the promotion and development of a new gateway curriculum in the Humanities; designing new courses that introduce students to the aesthetic, historical, and social intricacy of the visual arts. She was also a founder, along with Ethan Lasser of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, of the "Minding Making" project, which aims to develop rigorous new methods of incorporating technical and artisanal knowledge into the historical and interpretive disciplines. She is currently focusing on initiatives to create alliances between the arts/humanities and the STEM fields on campus and beyond.