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About Jennifer Van Horn

scholar, Author, teacher

Jennifer Van Horn is an Associate Professor with a joint appointment in the departments of Art History and History at the University of Delaware. She is a specialist in the art of the United States and has published about objects of many sorts, including dressing tables, dentures, portraits, city views, gravestones, and embroidered samplers. Several of these appear in her first book, The Power of Objects in Eighteenth-Century British America, which was a finalist for the George Washington Prize.

Her second book, Portraits of Resistance, Activating Art During Slavery, locates enslaved Africans and African Americans on both sides of the painted canvas, as producers and viewers of portraits, and as destroyers and preservers of depictions. A piece of this project published in The Art Bulletin was awarded the National Portrait Gallery’s Director’s Essay Prize.

Jennifer’s current scholarship focuses on enslavement and iron. This project embraces phenomenological approaches to investigate the 18th and 19th-century elite domestic interior as a site where iron artifacts played a critical role in white enslavers’ attempts to dishumanize Black people. At the same time, iron was an important vehicle for enslaved people’s skilled creation, cultural performance, and memory making. 

Born in southern Appalachia, Jennifer became a Delawarean and earned her B.A. at the University of Delaware (UD). She is a graduate of the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture at UD (M.A.), and received her Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. Before returning to teach at the University of Delaware, she worked as an assistant curator at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and taught at George Mason University, as well as for the Smithsonian M.A. Program in the History of Decorative Arts. She has also enjoyed being an invited speaker for the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts’ (MESDA) Summer Institute, of which she is an alumna.

Her research has been supported by post-doctoral fellowships from the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art, the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Yale Center for British Art, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Winterthur Museum and Library. She currently serves on the editorial boards for The Art Bulletin and the University of Delaware Press and is vice president for the Historians of Eighteenth-Century Art and Architecture (HECAA). 

She works to expand venues for inclusive conversations about social justice and visual and material culture. Together with Jaipreet Virdi and Sarah Wasserman she co-organized The Disability Gaze conference through UD’s Center for Material Culture Studies. With Catharine Dann Roeber she co-edited a special double issue of Winterthur Portfolio: A Journal of American Material Culture entitled “Enslavement and Its Legacies,” now a continuing series. 

Jennifer has enjoyed sharing her research in academic talks as well as public lectures at a variety of museums, libraries, and historic sites including the Huntington Museum and Library, Massachusetts Historical Society, Cincinnati Art Museum, Mount Vernon, the White House Historical Association, and Wilton House Museum, among others.

Jennifer with Jai Virdi speaking at the podium at the Disability Gaze Conference. Image courtesy of Helena Kim and Sarah Wasserman.
Jennifer asking a question at the Disability Gaze conference. Image courtesy of Helena Kim and Sarah Wasserman.

Jennifer Van Horn
University of Delaware