Art Historian, East Asian Scholar McCormick Given Tenure

Historians in the News

Art historian Melissa McCormick received tenure from the East Asian Languages and Civilizations department this July, becoming a professor of Japanese art and culture.

Her research on the Tale of Genji, a seminal Japanese novel composed by a woman over 1000 years ago, and her work on the relationship between painting and literature in pre-modern Japan have helped bring her to the forefront of her field...

... McCormick said she intends to do further research on women’s roles in 16th- and 17th-century Japan, a period after the Tale of Genji was produced when dominant scholarship holds that women were not as influential as they had been in the 15th century.

By studying paintings called Hakubyo – literally “white lines,” for the negative space around the ink of the illustrations – McCormick said she is "trying to show that that is not the case and that women had continued to compose narratives and poetry.”

Last year, when Harvard’s endowment plunged, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith instituted a temporary hiring freeze. But McCormick’s hiring process was not affected by last year’s freeze because she was already in the tenure track, a path Smith stipulated would not be affected by the alteration in hiring patterns.

“The school is really keeping good on its promise and promoting from within the university, which is very exciting,” McCormick said. “I think people had been wary pre-tenure, but now I think there is a feeling that they are fulfilling the commitment.”

McCormick taught at Columbia University prior to coming to Harvard in 2005, when she began as an associate professor. Prior to receiving tenure, McCormick was the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Humanities.

As an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, McCormick anticipated a career in modern dance.

“I was very much influenced by East Asian philosophy—reducing things to the minimum, reducing illusionism,” McCormick said. “All of those things were appealing to me in the modern dance form, and I felt an affinity for them when I started studying Japanese art.”...

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