Photo of Professor Karen-edis Barzman.

Karen-edis Barzman

Professional Biography

After receiving her B.A. in 1978 from New York University, Professor Barzman was awarded a Master’s degree by Bryn Mawr College in 1980 and a Ph.D. by Johns Hopkins University in 1986. While completing her dissertation in 1984, she began teaching at the University of Maine, where she was tenured and promoted in 1992. She subsequently taught at Cornell University before joining the faculty at Binghamton University in 1999, in a department in which she has served as Acting Chair and as Director of Undergraduate Studies and Graduate Studies.

Since receiving her Ph.D. in 1986, Professor Barzman has been the recipient of major grants and fellowships in addition to smaller awards and prizes from research foundations and universities where she has taught. Her external funding has included a J. Paul Getty Postdoctoral Fellowship in the History of Art and the Humanities (1987-88), a Villa I Tatti Fellowship at the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in Florence, Italy (1990-91), a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Grant with Travel Stipend (1995), and a Fulbright Senior Research Fellowship at the Istituto Universitario Orientale, Universitá Federico II in Naples, Italy (Spring 2005).


At the undergraduate level, Professor Barzman teaches a global survey that traces developments in art and architecture at the center and periphery of the great empires of the pre-modern world, in Asia, Africa and the Americas as well as in Europe. Trained as a specialist in the Renaissance and the Baroque, she also teaches required upper-division courses and electives that span the thirteenth through the eighteenth centuries, many of which have a pan-European or global perspective. The emphasis in her teaching ranges from formal analysis and matters of style, iconography and patronage to specific circumstances of artistic production and reception, with attention to individuals and institutions that regulated and framed the making and viewing of art. An interest in sacred art and devotional practice is also evident in her teaching, as is her long-standing engagement with critical theory and her commitment to training students in the critical reading of primary and secondary sources.

At the graduate level, her courses are typically cross-listed with the programs of Medieval/Early Modern Studies and Women’s Studies, and the departments of History and Philosophy (with the latter, through the Program in Philosophy, Interpretation, and Culture). Her seminars have focused on painting, sculpture, architecture, and spectacle from the late medieval through early modern periods; institutions of art, art education, and art criticism in early modern Europe; art, religion, and the state; and critical theory, gender studies, and representation. In recent year her roster of seminars has included:

  • Theories and Methods
  • Academies, Pedagogy, the State
  • Sexing the Body
  • Gender and Performativity in the Early Modern World
  • Early Orientalizing

For a complete list of courses, see her Curriculum Vitae.

Scholarship and Publications

Professor Barzman’s primary fields of research are the Italian Renaissance and the Italian Baroque. Many of her publications deal with Italian art, cultural politics, national identity, and the emergence of the early modern state. Her first book, titled The Florentine Academy and the Early Modern State: The Discipline of ‘Disegno’ (Cambridge University Press, 2000) covers a period of 250 years, providing a comprehensive picture of the first state academy as an extension of the disciplinary power of the Medici Grand Duchy and as an instrument in the family’s cultural politics at home and abroad. Here Professor Barzman discusses the operations of the academy as a school (for artists, amateurs and dilettantes) and, then, as a confraternity and guild, indicating how the institution engendered particular forms of thought and behavior, regulated artistic production, and structured relations between subjects and the state – in its classrooms, theaters of devotion, and halls of justice.

Her current book-length project, titled Early Orientalizing, traces the radical shifts that took place in representations of Islam in Italian art, measuring these shifts against changes in political and commercial relations between Italy’s Christian states and the various Islamic states that thrived around the Mediterranean. In this work Professor Barzman argues that “orientalizing” (the West’s production of an “Oriental Other”) had its origins in the sphere of crusade and Christian evangelizing (particularly through the efforts of Italian friars) and, later, in Italian state-formation, empire-building and colonial rule. In broader terms, the book investigates the production of the terror of Islam in the Christian West, a process in which narratives of beheading have come to bear a particular burden. Against this backdrop, she examines the production and reception of specific works of Italian art (featuring images of the beheading of the Baptist and Judith beheading Holofernes) in a series of inter-related essays.

This second book belongs to the larger intellectual project Professor Barzman has been pursuing for the past twenty years — focusing on the role of representation in cultural politics, in the formation of cultural identity in that period of transition from medieval to early modern. It also represents a broadening of vision in the field of Italian Studies, with Professor Barzman’s insistence on reading and interpreting Italian art in a pan-Mediterranean political and cultural context.

The list of publications in Professor Barzman’s Curriculum Vitae provides a more comprehensive idea of her scholarly reach, which includes work on sacred imagery and devotional practice in Italy, and on feminist theory and the history of art.

Last Updated: 9/9/16