Welcome to my personal website. I am a cultural historian working at the intersection of history, art history, anthropology, museology, and philosophy. I incorporate philosophy of art and artifacts into historical writing and exhibition practice.

 Please click on the headings for details.


I realize that my combination of interests confuses people—it confuses me—but inter-disciplinarity, rather than narrow academic specialization, is our fate. It’s also in my temperament to define and ask the question behind the question (and the question behind that question). It annoys so many people.


In a career at London University’s Warburg Institute, Cambridge University, and—since 1991—Harvard University, I have written, edited, and contributed to a bunch of books and academic journals, and published contemporary art criticism. My subject matter is diverse because I am concerned with the principles of writing history from art and artifacts. My work on early modern Dutch and Flemish art—notably Johannes Vermeer— attracts some readers, while that on museum practice engages others. Yet others dip into my philosophy contributions, notably Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and the Arts, the book series I edited with Salim Kemal.


I have curated numerous long-term museum installations and art exhibitions. I work on the Web: check out “I Have a Son to Offer”—An Online Exhibition of American Civil War Artworks in Harvard Collections. [Temporarily suspended in May, 2009 as part of the redevelopment of the Harvard Art Museum web site.]


While acknowledging the inescapability of my European and American identity, I promote cultural decentering (no more centers and peripheries). I advocate attention to the visual creativity of a wide range of societies. Recently, I have written and lectured on topics from Polynesia, Congo, and Native American nations in the USA.

I am starting to make podcasts of lectures available: try listening by following the link to my podcast page.

New: Here’s a link to a video of a lecture I gave at the Getty in June, 2009, “Art and Beyond: Some Contemporary Challenges for Art and Anthropology Museums.” It’s far longer than anyone could reasonably bear. 


Prospective students who are interested in working with me should also visit my Harvard History Department webpage. Teaching is important to me, but I also have other responsibilities, from July, 2010 in the Office of the Provost.