UC Berkeley History of Art Department

People / Faculty


  • Whitney Davis


    Ancient, Modern & Theory

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

  • Bio

    Whitney Davis (George C. and Helen Pardee Professor of History of Art) has been professor of the history and theory of ancient and modern art 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 and predynastic arts of northeastern Africa); 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: Images and Pictures from Ancient Egypt to New Media; Space, Time, and Depiction (based on his Research Forum Lectures at the Courtauld Institute of Art); and Inquiry in Art History (a study of the interaction of idiographic and nomological traditions of explanation in art history since the late 19th century). He has published nearly a 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; and Michael Baxandall's model of the "idiographic stance."

    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 recent courses include lecture courses on 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, the 2010 Judith Stronach Memorial Travel Seminar on Universal Museums in a Global Context: The Case of the British Museum, and Material Beings: Redefinitions of the Object.

    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 served as member of the board of the College Art Association and recently as a member of the Advisory Board of CASVA. 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.

    In 2012-13, Davis is serving on the Advisory Board of CASVA, a predoctoral fellowship selection committee of the Social Science Research Council, and an initiative funded by the Mellon Foundation (and headquartered at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University) to "rethink the PhD in art history."

  • Books