Department of Art & Art History

Emily Burns

Emily Burns


108 Biggin Hall
(334) 844-4318


  • PhD, Art History and Archaeology, Washington University–St. Louis

Office Hours

    By appointment

About Emily Burns
Associate Professor

Dr. Burns’s research analyzes the circulation of artists and objects in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and interprets how mobility shapes visual culture and cultural discourses of nationalism. Her book Transnational Frontiers: the American West in France (2018) analyzes appropriations of the American West in France in performance and visual and material culture in the tripartite international relationships between the United States, France, and the Lakota nation between 1867 and 1914. Images of the American West appeared in France in an array of media—paintings, postcards, magazine illustrations, architectural decoration, photographs, live performance and film. These representations drew the stereotypically provincial and undeveloped corners of the North American continent to the center of a cosmopolitan conversation. In spite of oft-divergent aims, French, American, and Lakota individuals shared one goal in appropriating and performing the myths of the American West—the possibility of cultural renewal. The book reveals cultural reciprocity between US and French visual cultures and uncovers examples of Lakota survivance and cosmopolitanism in a period of assimilation. Furthermore, the project offers new ways of considering the circulation of images and reconstruct the dynamics of agency—political, social, racial, and corporeal—represented in aesthetic choices. Building on research completed for this book, she is co-editing a special issue on the American West in France for Transatlantica, an open-access American studies journal based in France (projected Spring 2019), and developing articles on Lakota identity constructions through photographs and through international travel with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.

Her ongoing book project, Innocence Abroad: The Cultural Politics and Paradox of American Artistic Belatedness in Fin-de-Siècle Paris, revises and expands her dissertation to present a thematic analysis of constructions of American cultural innocence in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century France. This discursive history analyzes artists’ letters and journals, and visual and material culture including painting, photography, magazine and book illustrations, pottery, furniture, cultural performances, architectural spaces, and sculpture of the US artists’ colony and tourist travel in Paris to show that Americans abroad enhanced a mythology that claimed cultural innocence in response to European expectations. Each chapter deconstructs a distinct period-specific use of innocence and considers the mechanisms of its performance for its transnational audience. The exploration of this paradox will contribute to transnational art history and to the study of Franco-American exchange.

Her research has been supported by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Terra Foundation for American Art, the Baird Library Society of Fellows, the Walter Read Hovey Memorial Foundation, the University of Nottingham, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, the New England Regional Library Consortium, and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, WY.

Classes Taught

Emily Burns offers courses on nineteenth-century European and U.S. art, constructions of race in visual culture, the history of the arts of Asia, and the surveys of art history. She is also developing courses on eighteenth-century European art and Native American art.

Representative Publications

Forthcoming Publications

  • Response to Alexander Nemerov, “Art is Not the Archive.” Archives of American Art Journal, 57 no. 2 (Fall 2018).
  • “National or Cosmopolitan? American Artists’ Clubs in Paris, 1890-1910.” In Disrupting Schools: Transnational Art Education in the 19th Century, edited by Bénédicte Savoy, France Nerlich, and Eleonora Vratskidou. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers. Expected Fall 2018.
  • Spectral Figures: Edward Hopper’s Empty Paris.” In Empty Spaces: Confronting Emptiness in National, Cultural and Urban History, edited by Courtney J. Campbell, Jennifer Keating, and Allegra Giovine. London: Institute of Historical Research, University of London. Expected Fall 2018.

Last Updated: August 21, 2019