American Art and Visual Culture Seminar: Ellen Roberts, Art Institute of Chicago, and Melissa Dabakis, Kenyon College

Friday, March 23, 2012

2 pm to 5 pm

Room 101

Center for American History and Culture Programs
American Art and Visual Culture Seminar

“Defining, Confining, and Inventing Japan: American “Japan Rooms,” 1854–1893
Ellen E. Roberts, Art Institute of Chicago

During the late-nineteenth-century Japan craze, middle- and upper-class Americans often created “Japan Rooms” in their homes, which allowed them to show off their Japanese objects but also to establish spaces of exotic fantasy, where they could escape from the modern West. Designers confined Japanese culture to one space, defining it in opposition to contemporary American society. Although the Japanese were actually industrializing rapidly in this period, in “Japan Rooms” Americans presented an imagined view of the culture as premodern, ideally artistic, and close to nature—the antithesis of modern, commercialized, Gilded Age America.

“American Art History and Transatlantic Exchange: The Case for Italy
Melissa Dabakis, Kenyon College

In “making the case for Italy,” this essay will expand the ground upon which the American artists Martin Johnson Heade, Harriet Hosmer, Anne Whitney, and the illustrator Thomas Nast have been studied by considering the cultural and political currents that framed their artistic production and reception abroad. This paper will embed their work in the material and ideological conditions of both the Risorgimento, the Italian struggle for independence and unity, and the anti-slavery battles taking place in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. 

Commentator: Wendy Greenhouse, Independent Scholar

Scholl Center Seminar papers are pre-circulated electronically.  For a copy of the paper, email the Scholl Center at  Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.