Assistant Professor of American Art and Undergraduate Advisor
Art History

Erin Pauwels, PhD

Erin Pauwels is an historian of American art and visual culture with special interest in photography and critical media theory, especially of the 19th and 20th centuries. Her research explores the politics of visuality by mapping intersections between elite and popular forms of expression across evolving technologies for circulating, consuming, and reproducing images. 

Her forthcoming book, Napoleon Sarony and the Art of Living Pictures, reconstructs the complex legacy of a once-famous, nineteenth-century artist to reveal how the emergence of mass media and celebrity culture reshaped the public life of photography as well as modern notions of artistic authorship and visual literacy. Other publications include articles on portraiture and Cuban-US migrant experience; the hybrid media operations of painted photographic backdrops; and the entangled histories of theater, early film, and fine art. Her work appears in the journals American Art, Panorama, History & Technology, as well as in recent books such as the National Portrait Gallery’s 50th-Anniversary volume, Beyond the Face: New Perspectives on Portraiture (Smithsonian Institution, 2018), and Acting Out: Cabinet Cards and the Making of Modern Photography (University of California Press, 2020).

Pauwels has received grants and fellowships in support of her research from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Henry Luce Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Wyeth Foundation for American Art, the Terra Foundation for American Art, the Houghton Library of Harvard University, the Harry Ransom Center, and the Huntington Library. Most recently she was awarded a Jay and Deborah Last Research Fellowship in American Visual Culture from the American Antiquarian Society, and was Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library.
 
PhD, Art History and American Studies, Indiana University, 2015
MA, Humanities and Social Thought, New York University, 2008

Selected Works
Pauwels, E. (2020). The Art of Not Posing: Napoleon Sarony and the Popularization of Pictorial
     Photography. In John Rohrbach (Ed.), Acting Out: Cabinet Cards and the Making of American
     Photography
. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Pauwels, E. (2018a). Let Me Take Your Head: Photographic Portraiture and the Gilded Age Celebrity
     Image. In W. W. Reaves (Ed.), Beyond the Face: New Perspectives on Portraiture (pp. 136–155).
     London, UK: The Smithsonian Institution National Portrait Gallery in association with D Giles
     Limited.
 
Pauwels, E. (2018b). Backdrop of East Lynne: Charles Demuth’s Dramatic Abstraction. American Art
     32
(3), 86–95.
 
Pauwels, E. (2015). Resetting the Camera’s Clock: Sarony, Muybridge and the Aesthetics of
     Wet-Plate Photography. History & Technology: An International Journal 31(4), 482–491.
     doi:10.1080/07341512.2015.1090674