For a better experience, click the Compatibility Mode icon above to turn off Compatibility Mode, which is only for viewing older websites.

Defining and Redefining National Identity

November 15, 2017

Defining and redefining national identity, through the visual arts and museums is a day-long symposium set for Saturday, December 9th that’s being organized by Distinguished Teaching Professor Derek Gillman of the Department of Art & Art History and the Museum Leadership Program. This symposium addresses the development of national identities in relation to the visual arts and museums.

“During the last two years, the media has been filled with warnings about a resurgence of nationalism across the world, and it’s clear that strong feelings about national identity played into the Brexit referendum and recent elections in the US and Europe," Derek Gillman told us. 

Rather than look in general at the relationship between cultural heritage and place, the focus here will be to examine more particularly how the visual arts have contributed to a conscious assertion of national identity. Individual speakers and panels will seek patterns and commonalities, and discuss the tensions that arise when efforts to create a coherent national identity confront a plurality of cultures and agendas. Gillman said, “This will focus on the many ways that the visual arts and museums have contributed to national identity and self-determination, and continue to do so.  Speakers will explore relationships between visual culture and national identity across geography and time, and the motives of key players, which range from noble, to naïve, to manipulative.”

Topics will cover museum and national treasures; ancestors, narratives, and nations; and art and architecture in the service of nations. Moderated panels will feature such experts as  Robert Anderson, President and CEO, Chemical Heritage Foundation and former Director of the British Museum; Dan Rahimi, Executive Director of Galleries, Penn Museum, University of Pennsylvania; C. Brian Rose, James B. Pritchard Professor of Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania, and Curator-in-Charge of the Mediterranean Section, Penn Museum; Christopher Coltrin, Associate Professor, Art History, Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, West Virginia; Jeffrey Cohen, Term Professor in Growth and Structure of Cities, Bryn Mawr College; Renata Holod, College of Women Class of 1963 Term Professor in the Humanities, History of Art Department, and Curator, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, both at the University of Pennsylvania; Tanya Williams Wetenhall, Assistant Professor of Design History, Corcoran School of the Arts and Design at the George Washington University; and Shaun Wang, student, Columbia University;  Participants from our Westphal faculty include Danielle Rice, Museum Leadership Program Director; Dr. Delia Solomons, Assistant Professor of Art History; and Dr. Ulrike Altenmüller-Lewis, Associate Professor in Architecture, Design & Urbanism; and Derek Gillman, Distinguished Teaching Professor, Art History and Museum Leadership. Moderators include Judith Dolkart, Mary Stripp and P. Crosby Kemper Director of the Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy; Dr. Elizabeth Milroy, Professor and Department Head of Art & Art History; and Dr. Pia Brancaccio, Associate Professor of Asian Art

Two decades ago it might have appeared that we were approaching a post-nationalist age, yet the phenomenon of nationalism has come to the fore again, not least within China, Europe and the USA.

Nationalism as an idea is associated with the rise of nation-states during the industrial revolution, but nations have, of course, self-identified for millennia. Some of the obvious means by which nations historically emerged as self-conscious political entities have been the enlargement of city-states, the conquest of territory, and the presence of natural boundaries. 

Sat. Dec 9 // 9:20AM-4PM // URBN Annex Screening Room // Interested in attending? Please email Lisa Getz at