Joanna Wilson

GS: Where are you from?
JW: I am from Bay Minette, Alabama
GS: What degree did you/will you receive and when?
JW: I received a BFA with a concentration in painting from the University of Montevallo. I am scheduled to finish my MA in Art History here at UAB this summer 2014.
GS: How long have you been at UAB?
JW: I began here in the fall of 2011.
GS: What is your research? 
JW: My research is an interdisciplinary exploration of the ways that attitudes towards nature and geographically determined identity can be discerned through art and visual culture. My Thesis work looks at how the pastoral environment in the text and illustrations of A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard’s Winnie-the-Pooh reveal a shift in English national identity and attitudes towards nature in response to Imperial decline and WWI.
GS: Why did you choose UAB for your graduate studies?

I was drawn to the Art History department’s small but diversely accomplished faculty, in addition to their partnership with the Birmingham Museum of Art. Also, switching tracks, as I did, from studio art to art history was a somewhat daunting change. Though my undergraduate degree provided a unique and valuable foundation for my art history research, there is a significant difference in the way the two disciplines are practiced. UAB assured me early in the application process that they valued the strengths I brought from my previous experience, and that the department would offer guidance and support as I adjusted to a new way of working.

GS: Have you received any awards or honors?
JW: In 2012 I was awarded the Klaus Urban scholarship for exceptional Art History Graduate Student and was awarded one of two Graduate Assistantship positions within the department. In 2013 I won 1st place in my Graduate Student Research Days session, was awarded an Ireland Grant for research travel, and was nominated by my department for the Deans Award for Outstanding Graduate Student in the College of Arts and Sciences. I was also awarded the UAB Curatorial Fellowship at the Birmingham Museum of Art. This year I have been named College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Graduate Student (Masters) in the Department of Art and Art History and am the recipient of the Samuel B. Barker Award for Excellence in Graduate Studies (Master’s Level).
GS: What has been your most rewarding experience at UAB?
JW: This is a difficult question to answer. My time at UAB as a whole has been very positive with many experiences that have been rewarding in ways distinct to where I was on my educational path at the time. Presenting my first paper at an Art History Symposium, writing and delivering my first art history lecture as a TA, and doing curatorial work on the AEIVA’s inaugural art exhibit are some highlights of a long list of experiences I’ve had at UAB that have both challenged and affirmed my commitment to this discipline.
GS: Who was your greatest influence here at UAB and why?
JW: I feel very fortunate that all of my Art History professors are scholars that I admire, and whose instruction has informed my research in fascinating and productive ways. However, my advisor Dr. Jessica Dallow has certainly been the most influential. She has always been a great advocate for me; pushing me to pursue opportunities and offering guidance as I work towards them. But she has also made me a more thoughtful and creative scholar. Dr. Dallow’s instructional style is to ask a lot of specific questions. Her interrogative method of giving feedback is encouraging in that she never simply dismisses the flaws in my writing or methodology, but by prompting me to re-investigate, rethink, reorganize; I am forced to either flesh out, strengthen and clarify my premise so that it functions the way I originally intended, or to learn exactly why it doesn’t work or shouldn’t be included. Whether or not my answer to Dallow’s critical questions make it to the final edit of the paper, I am left with a more expansive understanding of the topic.
GS: What is your motivation in your academics/research?
JW: I am incredibly inquisitive and utterly fascinated by human history. The beauty of art history is that it is such a flexible lens that can be focused on virtually any period or topic in history of which there is a visual record. Even though the nucleus of my research is grounded thematically in conceptions and representations of nature and geography, I am also able to feed my indiscriminate curiosity for all things by exploring the broader social, cultural and economic context surrounding the object of my scholarship. A recent paper on the painter Edouard Vuillard enabled me to research early French neurologist Jean Martin-Charcot’s studies of female hysteria, nineteenth-century feminist literature dealing with mental health and domestic space, nineteenth-century French labor laws in the garment industry, and the history of wallpaper design and production over three centuries. The fact that two of my greatest leisure preoccupations (reading and writing) combine to form a respectable career path feels like I’m pulling off an elaborate scam. Of course, I also believe there is broader communal merit in any work that complicates and expands people’s assumptions and worldviews, an inherent product of any good scholarship, but I’m afraid I would still be trying to do this if it benefited nobody.
GS: What are your plans after graduating and for the future?
JW: I’m looking forward to entering the PhD program in Art History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this fall 2014. They have a fantastic program and faculty that are ideal for my interdisciplinary interests. I’m excited that I will be working closely with Dr. Anna Andrzejewski, an art historian at UW whose wealth of surname consonants is rivaled by her wealth of knowledge and experience within my area.  It typically takes between 5 and 6 years to complete an Art history PhD, so I will have time before completing my dissertation to let this next step in my education shape the specifics of how and where I can best use my scholarship. My ambition is to find work after graduating that continues to challenge and support my research.