Jessica R. Williams studies modern African art history with an emphasis on the continent's histories of photography. Her dissertation, “A Working Woman's Eye: South African Photography and the Modernist Lens of Anne Fischer, 1937-48,” examines the work that Fischer, a German-Jewish refugee to Cape Town, produced in South Africa in the decade leading up to the advent of apartheid. Through close attention to Fischer’s photographs and their circulation, her project explores how Fischer mobilized modernist aesthetics and discourses regarding proletarian photography in South Africa during a period of rising white supremacism and heightened antisemitism. Williams's research engages the intersections of modernist, feminist, and leftist histories and has been generously supported by grants and fellowships from the Smithsonian Institution, the Fulbright Program, and Harvard.
Williams earned her M.A. degrees in the History of Art and Architecture from Harvard (2016) and the University of Maryland, College Park (2013) and received a Certificate in Critical Theory from the latter's Department of English Graduate Studies (2014). She was awarded her B.A. in English and Art History and Criticism from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln in 2010. She is currently based in Cape Town.