What does Art Hx mean?

Hx is a clinical abbreviation used in health professions to represent “history.” So our title – Art Hx, literally Art History – illustrates the close connections between art, colonial histories and medicine. 
What is Art Hx?

Art Hx was formed in 2020 to address how medicine, art, and race informed each other in the British Empire. We wanted to create a space where these histories and their contemporary legacies could be discussed together. We are collaborative and research focused, we are a digital platform, and we offer a space for conversation and engagement between people from different fields of expertise and interests.
What does Art have to do with it?

Art Hx centralizes the importance of visual sources, recognizing that their aesthetics were also tools of empire. Art activates, and acts upon its environments, it opens up the past. It reveals important transhistorical and transregional connections, and, it can focus our attention—, in unexpected ways—, on the impact these intertwined histories of colonialism and medicine have on how we see and value each other today. 
And the glitchy font?

We’re glad you asked. One of the most common typefaces used to circulate medical knowledge was Caslon, a typeface that remains popular for its readability. But our headings use Pathologized Caslon: a font Bhavani Srinivas designed with an inbuilt ‘blip,’ using a scanner – an important tool for copying and circulating information in our contemporary institutions. By distorting the semibold weight of Adobe Caslon by Carol Twombly, Bhavani created a typeface that reminds us of this dissonant history. So the typeset visualizes our aim. Art was integral to the production and circulation of colonial and medical knowledge. We want to provide viewers with tools to see, with these artworks, and see these histories in new ways. 
So what does Art Hx do?

We have created a digital database of objects that viewers can access for their own research, teaching and educational purposes. The database has three main areas of focus: Pathologies of  Difference, Medicalizing Space, and Cultivating Care. We also create informational and interpretive resources, based on the database, that can be accessed and used by anyone. Finally we host public events, work with artists and writers to reinterpret the historical material in the database, and are always open to new contributions and collaborations. If you would like to participate or work with us please be in touch. 
How do we use the site?

Please search the database, make use of our network and mapping tools, download our resources, listen to the audio recordings and read our posts. We’d love to hear your suggestions and contributions too. We have included copyright information and links to the collecting institution with each object in the database. We have also indicated when images are in the public domain and free to use, republish and modify. However we cannot grant or deny permissions for the material on this website. If you require further permissions information or higher resolution images you may contact the institutions and artists directly using the links we have provided. Citation information is included with the written material we have produced. 

We are committed to addressing how medicine, art, and race informed each other in the British Empire. Our digital database can be filtered by tags and used as a research tool. As a research platform Art Hx has three areas of focus: Pathologies of Difference maps the ways medicine and race shaped colonial expansion and traces their impact on perceptions of racial difference, disease and health today. Cultivating Care considers the many meanings of care in the practice of (historical) interpretation and the practices of health and medical treatment. Medicalized Space focuses on the ways medicine as a field of knowledge was used to interpret, categorize and circulate meanings about humans and their environments.

Art Hx is led by Professor Anna Arabindan-Kesson and Jessica Womack. This site was created by Ben Johnston, Senior Educational Technologist at the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning at Princeton and initially designed by Bhavani Srinivas. The body is set in Libre Caslon and the Headings are set in Pathologized Caslon. You can download and use the font here. Art Hx is sponsored by the following Princeton funding awards: The Rapid Response Magic Project of the Princeton University Humanities Council, Humanities Council Exploratory Collaborative Grant, the Addressing Racism Funding Initiative, The Center for Digital Humanities and the University Committee on Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences. 



Pathologies of Difference

Informed by the practice of mapping, Pathologies of Difference addresses how medicine and race shaped the project of empire, and traces their impact on perceptions of racial difference, disease and health today. By using the database to follow these intersections, we make connections between different geographies and histories not usually brought together. This is a way of unmapping the historical views we have been given, to create alternative viewing positions into our past, and into our futures.

 Networks allows you to use filters to visualize connections between objects. The Map shows the geographic distribution of the database. Notes houses responses to objects in the database, in the form of short essays, video, podcasts, and more.


Cultivating Care

These images are difficult to view, they perpetuate damage. So how can we reorientate our approaches, and address these histories in ways that centralize care? Care is a radical, revolutionary act, but people’s experiences of healthcare often tell a different story. Cultivating Care considers what care means in both the practice of (historical) interpretation and the practices of health and medical treatment. acknowledging that it is only by seeing and valuing each other differently that we can build more capacious forms of care. 


Medicalized Space

Medicalized Space addresses how medicine was used to interpret and circulate meanings about geography. We track the ways medicine was used to create – to literally bring into view – meanings about people and places, and the ways these people and places sustained the production of medical knowledge we still use today.


Dr. Anna Arabindan-Kesson, Project Lead

Dr. Anna Arabindan-Kesson is Assistant Professor of African American and Black Diaspora Art at Princeton University, and jointly appointed in both African American Studies and Art and Archaeology. Prior to completing her PhD in the United States, Anna was a Registered Nurse. She trained in NZ, and worked in Australia and the UK. This project grew out of a course Anna taught in Spring 2020 which coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic. It brings together her professional background as an art historian, and her experiences in healthcare where she was taught by, and worked with, First Nations women who modeled how to see critically and think reflexively about the inequities of a system that did not address the health disparities of First Nations Communities and people of colour. Seeing critically is also what art historians do as they address how representation shapes social relations and claims for equality. Art Hx’s emphasis on the visual bridges these two different, yet connected, forms of analysis in order to redesign harmful ways of seeing, thinking and treating each other.

Headshot of Joseph Litts

Joseph Litts, Researcher

Joseph Litts (he/him) is a Ph.D. student in the department of Art and Archaeology at Princeton University, where his research focuses on art made in and around the Atlantic basin by Black, European, and Indigenous creators in the long eighteenth century. He has published on collections and afterlives of Cherokee rivercane baskets (talu-tsa), as well as the racist material histories of carved alligator souvenirs from the US South. Joseph earned his M.A. from the University of Delaware, where his thesis, Materials, the Body, and Race in the Early Modern Franco-Swiss Atlantic World, asks how allegorical figures of the four continents fetishized bodies to merge the human form and luxury objects as part of the French Académie’s quest to visually articulate and thus naturalize colonial expansion. He is particularly interested in the cave as a sight of challenging bodily integrity and the ways bodies and their representation in portraiture became more porous and permeable through European colonialism. Joseph has held positions at the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Georgia Museum of Art, and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

As a member of the Art Hx team, Joseph is particularly interested in considering absence and the body, as well as medicine’s dual legacy of protecting and harming, and how these connect with eighteenth-century art’s multiple valences of preservation, destruction, and survivance. How can scholarship of past objects and stories help us care for each other in the present?

Headshot of Luke Naessens

Luke Naessens, Researcher

Luke Naessens is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Art and Archaeology at Princeton University. He studies the intersections of colonialism, activism, and postwar and contemporary art and visual culture in the United States. His dissertation traces a series of encounters between two models of temporality, aesthetics, and politics in the 1970s: Postminimalism and Red Power. It examines why the decade’s countercultural visions of the future remained invested in the colonial imaginaries and material conditions that constrained Indigenous life in North America; and attends to moments when art, visual culture, and activist tactics imagined alternative worlds. Before graduate school, Luke worked on the curatorial team at the Barbican Art Gallery in London, and received a BA in art history and English literature from Trinity College, Dublin, and an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art.

Luke is enthusiastic about Art Hx’s use of interdisciplinary research and digital resources to make visible the entanglement of aesthetics and colonial science, and he is especially interested in investigating the way contemporary medical and environmental inequities have been shaped by the historical expropriation, marginalization, and suppression of Indigenous forms of knowledge.


Jessica Womack, Project Manager

Jessica Womack is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Art and Archaeology at Princeton University and is pursuing graduate certificates in African American Studies and Latin American Studies. She studies modern and contemporary art from the Caribbean, Latin America, and the United States with a focus on African Diasporic religions and their iconography and visual culture in postcolonial and post-revolutionary contexts. She is especially interested in nation-building, identity (re)formation, diaspora, and performance. Her dissertation focuses on Jamaican art after independence in 1962 and examines the connections and negotiations between artists, arts institutions, and Jamaican, British, U.S., and Cuban government officials; her work has been supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and the Social Sciences Research Council. She received her A.B. in art history from Dartmouth College in 2014 where she was a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow and her M.A. from Princeton University in 2019. Before starting her graduate work, she held curatorial and programming positions at the Hood Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, and she has participated in the Studio Museum in Harlem’s Museum Education Practicum. She was recently selected as a Curatorial Fellow in Afro-Caribbean Art by the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute.

Jessica is motivated by ArtHx’s commitment to visualize and emphasize how colonialism has shaped modern-day medicine and science. She is particularly interested in thinking about colonialism, racial capitalism, sugar, and diabetes as well as the disparities in prenatal healthcare that overwhelmingly impact Black, Brown, and Indigenous women and lead to disproportionately high rates of maternal and infant mortality around the globe.

Advisory Committee

Bhakti Shringapure

Dr. Bhakti Shringarpure is Associate Professor jointly appointed in English and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at University of Connecticut, and the founding editor of Warscapes magazine. She is the author of Cold War Assemblages: Decolonization to Digital (Routledge, 2019) and her edited works include Literary Sudans: An Anthology of Literature from Sudan and South Sudan, Imagine Africa and Mediterranean: Migrant Crossings. She was the recipient of the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award in 2019 to teach and conduct research in Kenya. She is currently the editor of a short books series called Decolonize That! Handbooks for the Revolutionary Overthrow of Embedded Colonial Ideas which is being published by OR Books in New York. Her monthly section for the Los Angeles Review of Books titled Decolonize | Defund | Abolish is co-written with Greg Pierrot and engages scholars, artists, and activists in dialogues about structures of colonialism persisting in the world today, and about creative and speculative practices of freedom in response to these structures. She recently co-founded the Radical Books Collective and has written for Africa is a Country,  New Frame, Scroll (India), Brittle Paper, LitHub and the Guardian, UK.

Headshot of Elena Fratto
Elena Fratto

Elena Fratto is the author of Medical Storyworlds: Health, Illness, and Bodies in Russian and European Literature at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (Columbia UP, 2021) and a major research interest of hers is the intersection of healthcare, storytelling, and the visual arts.

Horace Ballard, November 2019, Williams College Museum of Art, taken by Jessica Smolinski.
Horace D. Ballard

Horace D. Ballard (he/they) is the Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr. Associate Curator of American art at the Harvard Art Museums. Prior to this role, he was Curator of American art at the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA). His research interests include the legibilities of gender and race in eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and twentieth-century US portraiture; colonial men’s fashion; and the visual and material cultures of religion in the Americas. Ballard received his doctorate in American visual culture from Brown University. He also holds degrees from the University of Virginia and Yale University. He has held positions in the curatorial, education, and interpretation departments of the Yale University Art Gallery, the Museum of Art of the Rhode Island School of Design, Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, and the Birmingham Museum of Art.
Headshot Alt Text: Horace Ballard, November 2019, Williams College Museum of Art, taken by Jessica Smolinski.

João Biehl


Judith Weisenfeld

Judith Weseinfeld

Judith Weisenfeld is the Agate Brown and George L. Collord Professor of Religion at Princeton University where she is also Associate Faculty in the Department of African American Studies and the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies. A specialist in early twentieth-century African American religious history, her work has focused on religion and constructions of race, African American women’s religious history, and religion in film and popular culture. She is the author most recently of New World A-Coming: Black Religion and Racial Identity during the Great Migration (NYU, 2016), which won the 2017 Albert J. Raboteau Prize for the Best Book in Africana Religions, Hollywood Be Thy Name: African American Religion in American Film, 1929-1949 (California, 2007), and African American Women and Christian Activism: New York’s Black YWCA, 1905-1945 (Harvard 1997). Her current research examines white American psychiatrists’ theories about of the place of religion in Black mental health in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the treatment practices connected to these theories, and the experiences of Black patients in state mental hospitals. She is the co-director of The Crossroads Project: Black Religious Histories, Cultures, and Communities, which is funded by the Henry Luce Foundation.

Rachael DeLue professor of art history and American studies dressed in work clothes and smiling for the camera
Rachael DeLue

Rachael Z. DeLue is the Christopher Binyon Sarofim ’86 Professor in American Art in the Department of Art & Archaeology at Princeton University and currently serves as the Chair of the Department. At Princeton, she holds a joint appointment with Princeton’s Program in American Studies. Prof. DeLue specializes in the history of American and transatlantic art and visual culture with particular focus on intersections among art, science, and the history and theory of knowledge and on the transnational and transcultural formation of “America” as a complex geography, identity, and idea. She serves as the editor-in-chief of the Terra Foundation Essays and she edited Picturing (2016), the first volume in the series. She has also published George Inness and the Science of Landscape (2004), Landscape Theory (2008, with James Elkins), and Arthur Dove: Always Connect (2016). Other recent publications consider the work of the modern artist Romare Bearden, Spike Lee’s film Bamboozled, the relationship between art criticism and medical diagnosis, shoreline landscapes as symbols of empire, natural history in the context of settler colonialism, and the construction of Native America in 18th- and 19th-century archaeology and ethnography. She regularly serves as a member of the teaching team for AMS 101 America Then and Now, the gateway course for American Studies, Asian American Studies, and Latino/a/x Studies at Princeton, and she teaches a wide range of undergraduate and graduate courses on American culture, history, and identity and on the intersection between the history of art and the history of science. She is currently at work on a book about “impossible images” that considers a wide range of imagery from the fine arts, visual culture, and the sciences in Europe and the United States in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Ruha Benjamin poses against a black background, wearing a dark grey jacket with arms folded.

Ruha Benjamin

Ruha Benjamin is Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, Founding Director of the Ida B. Wells Just Data Lab, and author of the award-winning book Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code among other publications. Her work investigates the social dimensions of science, medicine, and technology with a focus on the relationship between innovation and inequity, health and justice, knowledge and power. Professor Benjamin earned a BA from Spelman College, MA and PhD in Sociology from UC Berkeley, and completed postdoctoral fellowships at UCLA’s Institute for Society & Genetics and Harvard’s Science, Technology and Society Program. She is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including from the American Council of Learned Societies, National Science Foundation, Marguerite Casey Foundation 2020 Freedom Scholar Award, and the President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching at Princeton. For more info please visit www.ruhabenjamin.com

Dr Ruth De Souza (RMIT University)
Ruth De Souza

Dr Ruth DeSouza is a highly experienced multidisciplinary educator, researcher and consultant, specialising in cross cultural engagement, cultural safety, and the interface of digital technologies within CALD communities. Her background is in nursing where she has extensive experience as a clinician, researcher and academic in New Zealand and Australia and has published work on community engagement in the arts. Ruth is a 2020 RMIT Vice Chancellor’s Fellow, based in the School of Art and a member of the Design and Creative Practice Enabling Capability Platform (ECP). Her fellowship project aims to engage health professionals in finding new ways to understand, co-design and implement sustainable cultural safety initiatives in a range of health contexts. Ruth has extensive networks across the Melbourne creative industries and is on the Fair Play project reference committee for Diversity Arts Australia.

Sarah Turner headshot photo
Sarah Turner

Sarah Victoria Turner is Deputy Director at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art in London, which is part of Yale University, where her aim is to share the work and resources of the Centre as widely as possible. Sarah is the founding co-editor of British Art Studies, an award-winning, open-access journal launched in 2015. She works closely with colleagues at the PMC to develop digital projects that enable new ideas and narratives about British art to circulate beyond the physical walls of the Centre. Much of her research and writing has focused on the entangled relationships between Britain and South Asia and she has published widely on this topic. She co-leads the London, Asia research project with Hammad Nasar, Senior Research Fellow at the PMC. Along with Hammad Nasar and Amy Tobin, Sarah is co-curating an exhibition entitled Making New Worlds: Li Yuan-chia and Friends which will open at Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge (UK) in 2023. She was named one of Apollo magazine’s “40 Under 40” in the European art world, and in 2018 was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. She is the co-writer and co-host, with Jo Baring, of the Sculpting Lives podcast. More information about Sarah’s projects and publications can be found on the Paul Mellon Centre’s website.

Headshot of Tanya Sheehan
Tanya Sheehan

Tanya Sheehan is William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Art at Colby College. She is the Principal Investigator of Colby’s inaugural Public Humanistic Inquiry Lab, Critical Medical Humanities: Perspectives on the Intersection of Race and Medicine. This grant-funded research initiative supports faculty research in 2021-24 by hosting public events, organizing publications, and establishing innovative institutional partnerships. Across her career, Sheehan has worked at the intersection of American art history, medical humanities, and critical race studies. This work includes two books, Doctored: The Medicine of Photography in Nineteenth-Century America (2011) and Blacks and Whites: Photography, Race, Humor (2018). Her current book project examines the subjects of medicine and public health in modernist and contemporary art by African Americans. Since 2015 she has served as executive editor of the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art Journal.

A middle-aged man with dark hair and glasses stands in front of a painting of a turbulent landscape.
Tim Barringer

Tim Barringer is Paul Mellon Professor the Department of the History of Art at Yale University, of which he was Chair from 2015 to 2021. He specializes in British art and art of the British Empire, with a particular interest in the Victorian period and has supervised more than 25 doctoral dissertations in the field. His books include Reading the Pre-Raphaelites (1999) and Men at Work: Art and Labour in Victorian Britain (2005). With colleagues he co-edited Colonialism and the Object (1997); Frederic Leighton: Antiquity, Renaissance, Modernity (1998); Art and the British Empire (2007); Writing the Pre-Raphaelites (2009), Victorian Jamaica (2018) and On the Viewing Platform (2020). He was co-curator of American Sublime (Tate, 2002); Art and Emancipation in Jamaica (Yale, 2007); Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde (Tate, 2012); Thomas Cole’s Journey: Atlantic Crossings (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and National Gallery, London, 2018) and Picturesque and Sublime (Catskill, 2018). He is co-curator of Radical Victorians (eight US museum venues, 2019-21). He is finishing a book Broken Pastoral: Art and Music in Britain, Gothic Revival to Punk Rock based on the Slade Lectures given at the University of Cambridge.

Art Hx Alumni

Headshot of David Chmielewski, Princeton Class of 2024 and proud member of the ArtHx team

David Chmielewski, Social Media Manager (Fall 2021)

David Chmielewski is a sophomore in Princeton’s class of 2024 interested in studying the history of culture and how it intersects with socioeconomic contexts. Art history, and the history of culture broadly, is influenced by the social but also holds incredible power to shape the social in return, making Art Hx’s project of interpreting medical images and their relationship to the racial history of Western medicine crucial. On campus, David writes for two campus publications: The Daily Princetonian and the Nassau Weekly.

Headshot of Megan Pai

Megan Pai, Designer (Fall 2021)

Megan Pai is an undergraduate student at Princeton University’s School of Architecture and the Program in Visual Arts. As an artist and designer, her personal practice engages with themes of memory, storage, and the relative capacity for physical and digital environments to hold information. In her recent work, Megan produced an experimental publication about digital space through an investigative, research-driven mode of collection; alongside her collaborator Cammie Lee, she led a series of interviews with artists in an attempt to think critically about topics ranging from interface design and the development of Internet subcultures, to broader questions of privacy, accessibility, and the implications of representing bodies and identities digitally.

In continuing the design work that previous Art Hx designer Bhavani Srinivas began, Megan hopes to evolve the visual identity of Art Hx such that it can sustain the growing archive while finding new ways to reframe its contents to reveal the underlying complexities. She sees the great importance in Art Hx as it serves not only as a research tool, but as a platform for visitors to actively participate in the dialogue that it initiates. Megan believes in the website as it situates itself in an extended temporal space, acknowledging the expansiveness of stories that have yet to be addressed as constellations of histories gradually accumulate. The work moves slower so that the information can settle deeper in this living resource.

A photograph of Bhavani Srinivas, an Indian-American woman with curly hair.
Bhavani Srinivas, Designer (2020-2021)

Bhavani Srinivas is an artist and recent graduate of Princeton University’s Department of Art and Archaeology. In her senior thesis exhibition, Bhavani surfaced relationships between family ritual, trade, food histories, and craft techniques through installations in fiber, metal, glass, found material, and other media. On campus, she was a Co-Convener of the Religious Life Council, a member of Students for Prison Education, Abolition, and Reform, and a Peer Arts Advisor for the Lewis Center for the Arts.

Bhavani designed the Art Hx website as a response to the histories aggregated in the Art Hx Database and to contemporary norms in institutional website design. Bhavani is particularly interested in researching the ways in which difference and perceived ugliness have been medicalized. Through working on Art Hx, she has also been able to learn more deeply and critically about histories related to her family, which includes several physicians.

Sydnae Taylor, Researcher (2020-2021)

Sydnae Taylor is a sophomore from Kingston, Jamaica at Princeton University majoring in Medical Anthropology with a certificate in Global Health and Health Policy. On Campus, she is a Davis International Center Leader and the Vice President of Logistics of the Princeton Africa Summit. She is passionate about engaging with her local and international community through entrepreneurship, the arts and healthcare.

This project is incredibly important to Sydnae because it has allowed her to learn more about Jamaica’s colonial history and the experiences of her ancestors. When thinking about a future in healthcare, Sydnae is passionate about gaining and sharing knowledge about how our past impacts our future. This work has taught her, and hopefully the people who choose to engage, about the importance of amplifying the experiences of the voiceless as well as finding new ways to research and interact with our pasts. She hopes to continue to grow professionally and personally through powerful projects such as Art Hx.

Phoebe Warren, Researcher (2020-2021)

Phoebe Warren is an undergraduate student in the Department of Art and Archaeology and is pursuing a certificate in Dance. Her undergraduate independent work has focused on intersections of art and medicine. Her senior thesis examines the production and transmission of images to communicate medical knowledge in the context of disease outbreaks in the nineteenth century within and beyond the U.S., and will assess the lasting influence of nineteenth century visual strategies on images circulating in the COVID-19 pandemic. After graduating from Princeton, Phoebe plans to attend medical school, and hopes to continue thinking about medicine’s visual histories as a medical student.

Phoebe is inspired by the Art Hx project’s role in facilitating new ways of seeing and caring. She hopes to continue learning about the historical contributions of colonialism, scientific racism, medical education, and reproductive health to current conditions of severe inequity in healthcare for Indigenous, Black, and Brown communities in order to think about ways in which new practices of care might chart a way forward.

Art Hx