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David G. Frey Assistant ProfessorBust portrait of Maggie Cao
mmcao@unc.edu
Hanes Art Center 206

Spring 2020 office hours: Thursdays 3:30-5 pm

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. Her first book, The End of Landscape in Nineteenth-Century America (University of California Press, 2018) 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.

In her newest research, Cao is developing interdisciplinary frameworks to offer new perspectives on globalization in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. She is working on a new book entitled Painting and the Making of American Empire, 1830-1898—the first synthetic treatment in American art history of nineteenth-century art and overseas imperialism. The project focuses on the globalization of American commerce and the establishment of a system of colonial power relations in the decades leading up to 1898. It explores such topics as landscapes of polar expedition and tourism, still lifes of imported goods, and ethnographic portraiture. The book also tackles the legacy of American imperialism, connecting the metropolitan, Euro-American painters of the past with the more racially diverse global artists of the present.

Cao has also written on media theory, material culture, and ecocriticism. Her recent publications include essays on the print culture of the earliest worldwide financial bubbles and the materiality of export art for Westerners made in eighteenth-century China. She is also involved in collaborative projects with colleagues at other universities including a series of international conferences and a publication 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 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2018)

“The Entropic History of Ice,” in Ecologies, Agencies, Terrains, edited by Christopher Heuer and Rebecca Zorach (New Haven: Yale University Press and Clark Studies in the Visual Arts, 2018), 266-291.

“Copying in Reverse: China Trade Paintings on Glass,” in Beyond Chinoiserie: Artistic Exchange between China and the West during the Late Qing Dynasty (1796-1911), edited by Jennifer Milam and Petra ten-Doesschate Chu (Leiden: Brill, 2018), 72-92.

“Fabricating Value between Mint and Studio,” Social Research 85, no. 4 (Winter 2018), 837-858.

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

“Forgery Fiction,” Public Books, October 1, 2016

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

“Washington in China,” Common-Place 15, no. 4 (Summer 2015)

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

Course Offerings

Introduction to American Art
Making Material Histories (
QEP Makerspace Integrated course)

American Art and the Globe

How Do We See? (co-taught with Laurie McNeil, Department of Physics and Astronomy)
Art and Money
Media and Materiality
Art and Technology (co-taught with Cary Levine)
Copies and Counterfeits: A History of Visual Representation