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Tom McDonough

Art History professor spending fall at Harvard

by Marisa Monte

For Tom McDonough, receiving a visiting associate professorship at Harvard University for the fall is more than a personal accomplishment.

"It's an accolade and recognition of the respect of my colleagues which means a huge amount," the associate professor of art history says. "But it's also an opportunity for me to bring a culture from Binghamton into that setting."

McDonough came to Harpur College's Art History Department after receiving his doctorate in 1998 from New York University.

"Art history here even 15 years ago had a distinctive profile in the field in terms of having a forward-looking, experimental approach to the discipline," he says. "So it was an easy choice."

As chair of the Art History Department, McDonough works with his faculty to maintain this atmosphere, hiring new faculty who exhibit an interdisciplinary approach to the field. McDonough had the opportunity to foster this educational advance on a broader level through Binghamton University's Transdisciplinary Areas of Excellence (TAE) under the NYSUNY 2020 plan.

Thanks to his supportive colleagues in Harpur, McDonough is taking leave of these positions to fulfill a visiting associate professorship at Harvard University in the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies.

A testament to his work in the field of art history, McDonough received the opportunity from two of his colleagues at Harvard.

"Carrie Lambert-Beatty in art history and Giuliana Bruno in visual and environmental studies were both going on leave," he says. "Giuliana and I were at a dinner after a talk I gave in Manhattan and she leaned over to me and asked: 'How about coming to Harvard for a semester?' It sounded like an amazing opportunity."

While at Harvard, McDonough will teach courses similar to those he offers at Binghamton. One is an upper-level undergraduate lecture on the "Artist as Typographer." The other is a graduate seminar called "The 1960s and the Ends of French Cinema." Both are geared toward forcing students to think about art more critically.

"These two courses are certainly oriented around research interests of mine," he says. "I find here at Binghamton that my undergraduate students and my graduate seminars foster a level of discussion that forces me to rethink my assumptions in my research. I expect no less from my students at Harvard."

Based on his past visiting associate professorship at the University of California-Berkley, McDonough expects that he will gain more than educational content through his experience at Harvard.

"I certainly found that I came back to Binghamton not only with all kinds of new ideas about courses I'm teaching," he says, "but seeing how a department might be run differently and seeing how a campus culture functions."

Although excited to experience the academic environment the Cambridge area has to offer, McDonough admits there are things he will miss about Binghamton's campus.

"We have a really collegial, and fun, culture," he says. "I think that has to do with a whole set of people who — out of a profound respect for each other's work and sympathy for each other's personalities — have gelled into something I like a lot and I don't expect to find that in other places."

The most satisfying aspect of this opportunity is what the professorship means for both Binghamton and Harvard, McDonough says.

"It's an incredible privilege to come and work in a respected, academic environment like Harvard," he says. "But it's also a chance to represent the incredible quality of work that my faculty and students are doing here. I get to bring the work being done at Binghamton into this setting and I get to bring some of Harvard back to Harpur College. It's really important for me that this is a two-way exchange."

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Last Updated: 3/1/17