Jennifer L. Roberts is Elizabeth Cary Agassiz Professor of the Humanities in the Department of History of Art and Architecture, and Johnson-Kulukundis Family Faculty Director of the Arts at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She is an art historian focusing on American art from the colonial period onward, with particular interests in craft and materiality theory, print studies, and the history and philosophy of science. 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 will occupy the Slade Professorship in Fine Arts at Cambridge University in winter 2019 and will deliver 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. She is the author of three books spanning American art from the 1760s to the 1970s. Her first book, Mirror-Travels: Robert Smithson and History (2004), examines the ways that Smithson's 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, led to her co-authorship (with Susan Dackerman) of the catalogue raisonné of Jasper Johns's monotypes (published 2017). It also sparked her interest in the broad cultural and philosophical implications of the physical operations of printing – reversal, transfer, incision, contact, etc. – and led her to her current book project, titled The Matrix: Contemporary Art and the Life of Print.
At Harvard she has been active in the promotion and development of a new gateway curriculum in the Humanities; she is a co-creator of the Frameworks course "The Art of Looking," which introduces students to the aesthetic, historical, and social intricacy of the visual arts. She is also a founder, along with Ethan Lasser of the Harvard Art Museums, of the "Minding Making" project (mindingmaking.org), which aims to develop rigorous new methods of incorporating technical and artisanal knowledge into the historical and interpretive disciplines.