Celebrated humanities scholar Alexander Nemerov, University of Vermont Class of 1985, brings an explorer’s mind and an imaginative, perceptive voice to his close readings of American visual art and cultural history, opening pathways of personal understanding and meaning for his students, colleagues, and readers. Drawing analogies between visual, literary, and historic source material, Professor Nemerov engages art as a springboard for asking questions about democracy, ethics, culture, identity, and humanity. Chair of the Art and Art History Department at Stanford University and the Carl and Marilynn Thoma Provostial Professor in the Arts and Humanities, he kindles great passion among students for the study of art history in his enormously popular classes. He received a Doctor of Letters, honoris causa during University of Vermont’s 2017 commencement ceremonies.
Professor Nemerov graduated cum laude with a bachelor of arts in art history and English. He credits his University of Vermont art history professors Christie Fengler-Stephany, Margaret Roland, and Bill Lipke, and English professor Mary Jane Dickerson, among others, with directly inspiring his career as an art historian and as a teacher. Beyond the writing required for his studies, as editor-in-chief of UVM’s student newspaper, the Cynic, he wrote multiple news articles and editorials weekly, a practice that he considers invaluable to his development as a writer. His UVM mentors recall his independence of thought, curiosity, humility, and determination.
Upon earning his doctorate in art history from Yale University in 1992, Professor Nemerov began teaching at Stanford University. In 2001 he returned to his graduate school alma mater, where his class “Introduction to Western Art” grew to attract one of the largest enrollments of any undergraduate class at Yale.
In the words of a former Yale colleague, “When he speaks about art, Alex has a mesmerizing quality, one that derives from a combination of deep learning and individual poetic sensibility. Generations of students—in economics, biology, psychology—who have taken only one class in the history of art have been taught to see by Alex, and taught to value what they see.” In 2009, Professor Nemerov was appointed chair of the Department of the History of Art at Yale University, and in 2010 he was named to an endowed professorship.
In 2012, Professor Nemerov accepted the position of Carl and Marilynn Thoma Provostial Professor in the Arts and Humanities at Stanford University. His classes are some of the largest humanities classes at the university. Both graduate and undergraduate students praise him as an enthusiastic teacher, a dedicated mentor, and a humane critic whose meditations on visual art develop in them a deeper way of seeing, making real-world experiences more immediate, powerful, and meaningful. His doctoral advisees have gone on to important positions in universities and museums throughout the United States.
Over the course of his career, Professor Nemerov has published eight highly regarded books, including the acclaimed Acting in the Night: Macbeth and the Places of the Civil War, considered startlingly original for its holistic reading of the Civil War through the prismatic lens of a single night’s performance of Macbeth in Washington, D.C. attended by President Lincoln. The relationship between his father, the celebrated poet Howard Nemerov, and his aunt, iconic photographer Diane Arbus, and their significance in his own formation as a poet of art history, is the subject of Silent Dialogues: Diane Arbus and Howard Nemerov. His most recent book, Summoning Pearl Harbor, reflects on how and why we remember the past and whether or not the past wants to be remembered. He has authored more than thirty articles and essays for peer-reviewed journals, including American Art, Art History, and Critical Inquiry, and has curated three exhibitions at national museums, each accompanied by a catalogue under his authorship. In spring of 2017, Professor Nemerov gave the 66th annual Andrew W. Mellon Lectures at the National Gallery of Art, becoming the first speaker in the history of the series to speak on American art.
Professor Nemerov leads his audiences to a rich and nuanced understanding of American culture and life through intuitive analysis and appreciation of aesthetic expressions across a wide range of genres; his work encourages us to look for those connections ourselves. His teaching, writing, and curating reflect a profound belief in the enduring importance of the arts and humanities to a thoughtful, authentic, and deeply moving life.