Melissa McCormick

Melissa McCormick

Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Japanese Art and Culture
Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations
Department of History of Art and Architecture
Melissa McCormick


McCormick’s interest in art history began while in performing arts high school (Interlochen Arts Academy and North Carolina School of the Arts), where she trained in modern dance. Study of the Japanese language inspired her to pursue Japanese art history at the University of Michigan, where she graduated with a B.A. in art history and Japanese in 1990. In the same year, she won a Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities for graduate studies, which she took to the Ph.D. program at Princeton University to study with Professor Yoshiaki Shimizu (1936-2021). She completed her dissertation in 2000, after having spent two years at Gakushūin University in Tokyo working with Professor Chino Kaori (1952-2001). McCormick began her teaching career as the Atsumi Assistant Professor of Japanese Art at Columbia University in the Department of Art History and Archaeology and then moved to Harvard as Associate Professor in 2005. She was promoted to Professor with tenure in 2009.  

As an art historian with an interdisciplinary approach, McCormick investigates the relationship between pictorial form and social history and contexts of artistic production, focusing on literary artifacts. Her first book, Tosa Mitsunobu and the Small Scroll in Medieval Japan (University of Washington, 2009) rewrites the history of emaki (picture scrolls) by arguing that a new genre of scroll symbiotic with the short story emerged in the late fifteenth century. Her work analyzes the relationship between scale, format, and media specificity to meaning, representation, and categorical forms, and it integrates analyses of texts and images with original research into historical readers and viewers. McCormick’s approach to the study of scrolls and book history emphasizes material properties, contingencies of production, narratological modes of analysis, and the embodied experience of reading.  

Numerous articles have also examined interpretive communities of women readers, writers, and artists, while McCormick’s work on the eleventh-century narrative The Tale of Genji has resulted in over a dozen publications in both English and Japanese. Her research was featured in two NHK televised specials (2008, 2019), and is the basis of her monograph, The Tale of Genji: A Visual Companion (Princeton University Press, 2018). In 2019 she co-curated and co-edited/authored the catalogue for the international loan exhibition The Tale of Genji: A Japanese Classic Illuminated, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, named among the top five exhibitions that year by the Washington Post. She is currently writing three separate articles on the material poetics of the Buddhist nun-artist Ōtagaki Rengetsu (1791-1875); medieval Genji Genealogies as paratexts; and an introduction to the narrative scrolls in the collection of the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford.  


Contact Information

485 Broadway,
MA 02138
p: 617.496.2276