David G. Frey Assistant Professorcao-picture-2016-small
Hanes Art Center 206

On leave Fall 2017

B.A. Harvard University, 2006
Ph.D. Harvard University, 2014

Maggie Cao is a scholar of American art and material culture. She received her doctorate in art history from Harvard University in 2014 and did postdoctoral work at Columbia University’s Society of Fellows before coming to UNC in 2016.

Her work focuses on the intersections of art with histories of technology, natural science, and economics. She has also written on media theory, material culture, and ecocriticism. Her first book, forthcoming from University of California Press, is entitled The End of Landscape in Nineteenth-Century America. It examines the dissolution of landscape painting as a major cultural project in the late nineteenth-century United States and argues that landscape is the genre through which American artists most urgently sought to come to terms with modernity.

Her newest research project, “New Media in the Age of Sail,” focuses on art forms that emerged in the eighteenth and early nineteenth-century maritime world. These include glass paintings of the China Trade, trompe-l’oeil prints by handwriting masters, whalers’ scrimshaw, and early paper photography. By analyzing these practices as both artistic mediums and communication media, the study reveals them to be producers of economic discourse in a global century, both digesting and remaking the new mercantile connectivity of their time.

Professor Cao is also involved in several collaborative projects with colleagues at other universities: a roundtable and publication on the state of the field in American landscape studies, an environmental humanities conference on the history, science, and materiality of ice, and a series of international symposia on new approaches to the study of art and economics.

At UNC, Professor Cao teaches the history of American art from the colonial period to the twentieth century as well as courses on the visual histories of science and economics.

Selected Publications

The End of Landscape in Nineteenth-Century America (University of California Press, forthcoming in 2018)

“Ice-Scapes,” American Art 31, no. 2 (Summer 2017): 48-50.

“Abbott Thayer and the Invention of Camouflage,” Art History 39 (June 2016): 486-511

“Washington in China,” Common-Place 15, no. 4 (Summer 2015), online at common-place.org

“Heade’s Hummingbirds and the Ungrounding of Landscape,” American Art 25, no. 3 (Fall 2011): 48-7

Course Offerings

Art and Technology (co-taught with Cary Levine)
Copies and Counterfeits: A History of Visual Representation
Introduction to American Art
Art of Exploration and Exchange: Early America and the Globe
Art and Money
Media and Materiality