Melissa McCormick, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Japanese Art and Culture at Harvard University, earned her B.A. from the University of Michigan (1990) and her Ph.D. from Princeton University (2000). She began her teaching career as the Atsumi Assistant Professor of Japanese Art at Columbia University in the Department of Art History and Archaeology and then moved to Harvard as Associate Professor in 2005. She was promoted to Professor with tenure in 2009. She has been a visiting Professor at the University of Zurich, and the Universidade Estadual de Campinas (Unicamp), Brazil.
Her research focuses on the relationship of art and literature, as well as forms of visual storytelling, and their integration with social and political history and Buddhist thought. Her first book, Tosa Mitsunobu and the Small Scroll in Medieval Japan (University of Washington, 2009), rewrites the history of emaki (picture scrolls) by arguing that a new genre of scroll symbiotic with the short story emerged in the late fifteenth century. She analyzes the relationship between scale, format, and media specificity to meaning and representation and integrates analyses of texts and images with original research into historical readers and viewers. McCormick’s approach to the study of scrolls and book history, as in her EdX course, Japanese Books: From Manuscript to Print, emphasizes material properties, contingencies of production, narratological modes of analysis, and the embodied experience of reading.
Numerous articles have also examined interpretive communities of women readers, writers, and artists, while McCormick’s work on the eleventh-century narrative The Tale of Genji has resulted in over a dozen publications in both English and Japanese. Her research was featured in two NHK televised specials (2008, 2019) and is the basis of her monograph, The Tale of Genji: A Visual Companion (Princeton University Press, 2018). In 2019 she co-curated and co-edited/authored the catalogue for the international loan exhibition The Tale of Genji: A Japanese Classic Illuminated at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, named among the top five exhibitions that year by The Washington Post. She is currently writing three separate articles on the material poetics of the Buddhist nun-artist Ōtagaki Rengetsu (1791-1875); medieval Genji Genealogies as paratexts; and an introduction to the narrative scrolls in the collection of the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford.
At Harvard McCormick teaches a range of courses for undergraduate and graduate students from introductory surveys on the arts of Japan spanning the premodern to the contemporary, to seminars such as Gender and Japanese Art; Tea in Japan/America; Histories and Theories of Clothing and Fashion; The Tale of Genji in Word and Image; Medieval Picture Scrolls; and a Museum Research course examining works in the Harvard Art Museums to prepare for publications and exhibitions.