Art history graduate student receives awards to support her research in France

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Brynne McBryde, a doctoral candidate in art history, has received the Penn State Alumni Association Dissertation Award, one of the most prestigious awards available to Penn State graduate students, in addition to a Waddell-Biggart Graduate Fellowship, which is awarded to a student from the College of Arts and Architecture or College of the Liberal Arts. The awards will support her continued research in France for her dissertation, "Public Bodies: Public Health and the Nude in Nineteenth-Century France."

McBryde’s dissertation focuses on the rise of public health as a field and its relationship to the way that the human body is understood and represented.

“I look at medical theories around topics like bathing, gynecology and hermaphroditism and how those theories filtered into society at large by focusing on medical illustrations, paintings and photographs,” explained McBryde. “I am particularly interested in how medical imagery intersects with issues of gender and sexuality. In my final chapter I explore the French colony of Algiers and the particular ways that issues of health and hygiene played out in the complex context of colonialism, which is charged with hierarchies of race, class and gender, as well as European notions of exoticism.”

McBryde noted she has been interested in the relationship between medicine and art since she was an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan, where she earned bachelor of arts degrees in English literature and language and the history of art. She wrote a joint honors thesis in English and the history of art that examined prostitution reform and venereal disease in 19th-century London and Paris. In her master’s program at George Washington University, where she earned a master of arts in art history, she continued to explore issues of medicine and the body through a variety of different topics.

“When I came to Penn State I worked with my advisers to develop a topic that allowed me to combine my interest in issues of gender with those of health and medicine,” she said. “I firmly believe that we see the legacy of 19th-century theories of health and medicine in our relationship to our own bodies and the bodies around us today.”

This fall McBryde will spend three months in Paris and Aix-en-Provence taking advantage of their libraries, art collections and medical history collections, including the French colonial archives in Aix, and Paris institutions such as the Bibliothèque national de France, Bibliothèque interuniversitaire de santé, the Louvre, and the Musée d’Orsay. She will also spend a week in London at the Wellcome Collection.

McBryde said her doctoral committee, headed by associate professor Nancy Locke, has helped her shape the way she thinks about her topic and understand the objects she is studying. “Nancy, in particular, has been an invaluable source of information, guidance and support,” she said, noting the Department of Art History has supported her through travel grants and funding that has allowed her to attend professional conferences.

McBryde has also received a Department of Art History Dissertation Fellowship for fall 2016, and she will be a Graduate Fellow at the Institute for the Arts and Humanities in spring 2017. 

Last Updated May 25, 2016