Professor of Japanese Art and Culture
Harvard College Professor
Melissa McCormick earned a dual B.A. in art history and Japanese language and literature from the University of Michigan (1990) and her Ph.D. (2000) in Art and Archaeology from Princeton University. She studied at Gakushūin University (1996-98) while conducting her dissertation research. After a year as a fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), she was appointed as the Atsumi Assistant Professor of Japanese Art at Columbia University (2000-05), before moving to Harvard as Associate Professor in 2005.
As an art historian with an interdisciplinary approach, Professor McCormick investigates the relationship of pictorial form to social history and contexts of artistic production, focusing in particular on the interrelationship of art and literature. Tosa Mitsunobu and the Small Scroll in Medieval Japan (Washington, 2009) studies the relationship of scale and format to pictorial representation and literary genre, while combining analyses of texts and images with historical research into hypothetical readers and viewers in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century. Several articles have examined the tradition of ink-line (hakubyō) narrative painting and communities of female readers, writers, and amateur artists, and a book on this tradition of monochrome narrative painting is in progress.
Professor McCormick’s ongoing interest in The Tale of Genji has resulted in close to a dozen publications on the work's artifactual history and patronage, as well as its reception by female readers, exegetical commentators, and a variety of artists. Her research on the Genji Album in the collection of the Harvard Art Museums, which dated the work to 1510 and identified its patron, was featured on an NHK documentary (2008) and is the subject of a forthcoming book from Princeton University Press. Other current projects include articles on the Genji as a Buddhist text, the meaning and function of Murasaki Shikibu portrait icons, and a forthcoming international loan exhibition. She regularly offers the seminar The Tale of Genji in Word and Image in which students read the entire novel and perform close readings of texts and images from the twelfth to the twenty-first century.
Professor McCormick's courses include the introductory survey of Japanese art and architecture (HAA18k), a freshman seminar on pictorial narrative covering manga and anime, seminars on gender and sexuality in Japanese Art, and advanced graduate seminars on museum research, reading and translating medieval emaki (including how to read kuzushiji), and modern and contemporary Japanese art. She was named Harvard College Professor, the highest teaching award in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, in 2014.