UC Berkeley History of Art Department

People / Faculty


  • Whitney Davis


    Ancient, Modern, and Theory

    Ph.D., Harvard University, 1985
    A.M., Harvard University, 1982
    A.B., Harvard College, 1980

  • Bio

    Whitney Davis (George C. and Helen N. Pardee Professor of History and Theory of Ancient and Modern Art) has taught at UC Berkeley since 2001. Previously he taught at Northwestern University, where he was John Evans Professor of Art History and Director of the Alice Berline Kaplan Center for the Humanities. He received his PhD in Fine Arts from Harvard University in 1985, where he was a Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows from 1983 to 1986.

    Davis's teaching and research interests include prehistoric and archaic arts (especially prehistoric arts of north Africa and European Paleolithic art); worldwide rock art; the Classical tradition and neoclassicism in Western art since the later Middle Ages, and especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Britain; the development of professional art history in interaction with archaeology, philosophical aesthetics, anthropology, and other disciplines; art theory in visual-cultural studies, especially problems of pictorial representation in relation to computation and notation; aspects of modern art history, especially its expression (or not) of nonnormative sexualities; the history and theory of sexuality; queer theory; world art studies; and environmental, evolutionary, and cognitive approaches to the global history of visual culture.

    He is the author of seven books: The Canonical Tradition in Ancient Egyptian Art (Cambridge, 1989); Masking the Blow: The Scene of Representation in Late Prehistoric Egyptian Art (California, 1992); Pacing the World: Construction in the Sculpture of David Rabinowitch (Harvard, 1996); Drawing the Dream of the Wolves: Homosexuality, Interpretation, and Freud's "Wolf Man" Case (Indiana, 1996); Replications: Archaeology, Art History, Psychoanalysis (1996); Queer Beauty: Sexuality and Aesthetics from Winckelmann to Freud and Beyond (Columbia, 2010); and A General Theory of Visual Culture (Princeton, 2010), which received the Monograph Prize of the American Society for Aesthetics and the Susanne K. Langer Award of the Media Ecology Association. He is currently working on three book projects: Visuality and Virtuality: A Historical Phenomenology of Images and Pictures (to be published by Princeton in 2017); Space, Time, and Depiction (based on his Research Forum Lectures at the Courtauld Institute of Art); and Inquiry in Art History (a collection of historiographical and critical studies of major art historians and artwriters). He has published one hundred articles in journals, anthologies, and conference proceedings. Recent talks and articles deal with eighteenth-century British portraiture; the representation of climate change in prehistoric art; "frontality," scale, and illusion in ancient Egyptian depiction; the effect of modernism on the description of Classical Greek art in the early twentieth century; the nature of "post-formalism" in art history in the early 21st century; Michael Baxandall's model of the "idiographic stance"; the problematics of "presence" in Paleolithic visual art; and Walter Pater's account of the temporality of the classical ideal in art. Recent invited talks include the Rumble Lecture on Classical Art at King's College London (March, 2016), presentations and discussions at a two-day symposium on his work at the Dahlem Humanities Center of the Free University of Berlin (April, 2016), and lectures for the universities of Essex, Antwerp, Virginia, Edinburgh, Cambridge, Southern California, and York and for University College London, the Courtauld Institute of Art, and the Warburg Institute.

    At UC Berkeley, Davis regularly teaches History of Art 100, a course in "methods and theories of art history" required of undergraduate majors in History of Art, and History of Art 200, a proseminar in the same materials required of first-year PhD students in History of Art. Other courses include lecture courses on Prehistoric Visuality; Queer Visual Culture (in the minor program in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies); and Ancient Art & the Modern Imagination; undergraduate seminars on Art History in the 21st Century and on Darwin and the Arts; and graduate seminars on Notations, World Art Studies, and Visuality. In fall semester 2016 he will lead a special interdisciplinary graduate seminar on the work of the influential psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas, who will be a scholar and writer in residence at the Townsend Center for the Humanities. 

    Davis has been awarded fellowships by the Stanford Humanities Center, the National Humanities Center, the Getty Research Institute, the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art, the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. He has held visiting scholar and visiting professor appointments at Duke University, the Courtauld Institute of Art of the University of London, the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, and the University of York, UK, where he was part-time Visiting Professor of History of Art from 2013 to 2016. He has served as member of the board of the College Art Association and recently as a member of the Advisory Boards of CASVA and the Research and Academic Programs at the Clark Art Institute. He serves on the editorial boards of Art History, Representations, Open Arts, Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics, Theory, Culture, and Critique, the Journal of South-East Asian Studies, and the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. At Berkeley, he has served as Chair of the Department of History of Art, Director of the Film Studies Program, Director of the LGBT Minor Program, Chair of the University Senate Committee on the Library and Scholarly Communication, and Director of the Consortium for the Arts and the Arts Research Center. He was a founding member of what is now the Berkeley Center for New Media. Currently he is serving on the executive/steering committees of the Townsend Center for the Humanities, the Global Urban Humanities Initiative, the Art of Writing Program, and the Task Force on the Creative Curriculum. 

  • Books