Art historian recognized for scholarly research and teaching

Heather McPherson, Ph.D., was awarded the 2018 Ireland Prize for Scholarly Distinction.

heather mcpherson streamHeather McPherson, Ph.D., a professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham College of Arts and Sciences, was recently awarded the 2018 Ireland Prize for Scholarly Distinction for her passion and scholarship in art history.

“Dr. McPherson is a highly regarded teacher who shares her love of and expertise in art history with her students, who in turn express through their course surveys how much they love and enjoy her classes,” said Robert Palazzo, Ph.D., dean of the UAB College of Arts and Sciences. “McPherson’s drive to engage students in scholarly research within the art history field distinguishes her among her peers.”

Over the course of her career, McPherson has established herself as an internationally known scholar who is highly respected in the field of 18th- and 19th-century European art history. She is a prolific scholar, with numerous books, articles, reviews and awards on French and English portraiture and theatrical culture to her name.

Her expertise and insights on a wide range of disciplines — including photography, prints, decorative arts, painting and sculpture — have made her a “highly distinguished art historian” who is also a strong strategic thinker with a “sure voice and the capacity to write both elegantly and incisively,” according to her peers at other institutions.

While she has written numerous articles and essays, she is best known for two of her books: her first, “The Modern Portrait in Nineteenth-Century France” (2001), and her most recent, “Art and Celebrity in the Age of Reynolds and Siddons” (2017). Reviewers praised both books, noting the compelling prose and sophisticated arguments of “The Modern Portrait” and the meticulous research and interdisciplinary analysis of “Art and Celebrity.” 

McPherson has received many competitive and prestigious fellowships from a number of institutions, including the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the British Academy, the Huntington Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities. She has also served in a variety of leadership positions in organizations in her field, including resident and vice president of the American Society of Eighteenth-Century Studies and the Executive Committee of the International Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. She is also actively involved with the Birmingham Museum of Art.

McPherson served as director of UAB Graduate Studies for 18 years and, in that capacity, she mentored students into doctoral programs and museum professions.

As one of her nominators noted, “She instills in students an understanding of what it means to conduct professional research, the importance of precise argument and how to execute scholarly writing.”

McPherson graduated with a B.A. degree in French from the University of Oregon, then received her M.A. in art history from the University de Paris/Sorbonne, France. She received her Ph.D. in art history from the University of Washington.

The prestigious Ireland Prize for Scholarly Distinction is presented by the UAB College of Arts and Sciences to a full-time faculty member for professional and academic achievements and contributions to the university and local community. The prize, made possible by the Caroline P. and Charles W. Ireland Endowment for Scholarly Distinction, comes with $5,000 and a Steuben crystal engraved award.