Martha McNamara

Senior Lecturer in Art, Director NE Arts&Architecture Prgm

Expert in New England art and architecture. Co-directs the architecture program.

My research focuses on the visual and material culture of New England from the earliest period of European contact to the 20th century. I am fascinated by the stories objects can tell about people and places; about events and memories; about past lives and experiences. From grand civic buildings to ordinary dwellings and from paintings by John Singleton Copley to the work of amateur filmmakers, I have explored a wide range of aesthetic expressions to uncover compelling, intriguing, and often infuriating or heartbreaking stories. There are captivating tales out there, but even more interesting, from my point of view, is the question of how these objects communicate meaning. How do courthouses tell the story of legal professionalization? How do home movies communicate attachment to place? And how can a landscape image convey an artist's attempt to understand bewildering change?

In the Art Department at Wellesley College I am director of the New England Arts and Architecture Program (a curricular and extra-curricular program focused on exploring New England's cultural expressions) and co-director of the Architecture major. I primarily teach intermediate and advanced courses in American art and architectural history. My upper-level seminars include ARTH 317: Historic Preservation: Theory and Practice; ARTH 318: New England Arts & Architecture, and ARTH 320: Boston Architecture and Urban Planning. My courses at the 200-level include ARTH 206: American Art, Architecture & Design; ARTH 231: North American Architecture; ARTH 245: House and Home: Domestic Architecture, Interiors & Material Life in North America, and ARTH 266: New Perspectives on the Global City (co-taught with Professor Alice Friedman).

I am currently working on two scholarly projects. The first, a book manuscript tentatively titled Tovookan's Story: Pictorial Autobiography and Abolitionist Narrative in Antebellum America, examines the life and work of folk artist Pedro Tovookan Parris and his experience of slavery and freedom in the nineteenth-century Atlantic world. The second is another book-length study, New England’s Prospects: Landscape Representation in Word and Image, 1750-1850, that explores the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century New England landscape through its narrative, pictorial, and cartographic representations.

My previous publications include Amateur Movie Making: Aesthetics of the Everyday in New England Film, 1915-1960, co-edited with Karan Sheldon (Indiana University Press, 2017) which won the 2018 prize for “Best Edited Collection” from the Society for Cinema and Media Studies; From Tavern to Courthouse: Architecture and Ritual in American Law, 1658-1860 (Johns Hopkins, 2004), and New Views of New England: Studies in Material and Visual Culture, 1680-1830 co-edited with Georgia Barnhill (University of Virginia Press, 2012). I am the author of a number of essays in peer-reviewed journals and the recipient of fellowships and grants from the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard University, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Antiquarian Society, the Getty Foundation, the Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture at Columbia University, and the Luce Foundation.

I am also actively engaged in the fields of Public History and Historic Preservation, in particular serving as Board Chair of the non-profit organization charged with interpreting and preserving Boston's Old State House, the oldest civic building in North America and the locus of key debates and conflicts leading to the American Revolution. As chair, I have worked closely with the organization's senior staff to transform the visitors' experience of the building. By expanding financial capacity, connecting with Boston's disparate communities, and developing innovative programs, we are fundamentally reconfiguring this important Freedom Trail site as an exciting, inclusive, and vital cultural organization that invites people to explore the history and practice of America's representative democracy.