Suzanne Preston Blier (b. 1948)
After serving as a Peace Corps volunteer (1969–1971) in Savé, Benin Republic, Suzanne Preston Blier returned to the University of Vermont to complete her bachelor’s degree (1973). She went on to earn her master’s and doctoral degrees at Columbia University (in 1976 and 1981). She then taught at Vassar College (1979–1981), Northwestern University (1981–1983), and Columbia University (1983–1993), before taking up her current position at Harvard University, where she is the Allen Whitehill Clowes Professor of Fine Arts and of African and African American Studies. Blier is also a member of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science. Her first book, The Anatomy of Architecture: Ontology and Metaphor in Batammaliba Architectural Expression (Cambridge University Press; paperback, Chicago University Press, 1987), won the Arnold Rubin Prize. Her second book, African Vodun: Art, Psychology, and Power (1995) received CAA's Charles Rufus Morey Prize in 1997. Further information about her research and teaching can be found at her her academic page on the Harvard University web site.
A longstanding participant in the College Art Association and contributor to The Art Bulletin, Blier chaired the The Art Bulletin Editorial Board from 2005 to 2008. A brief biography and her own description of her ongoing engagement with the work of CAA are posted here.
She has published two reviews in the journal (in 1990, vol. 42, no. 3, and 2005, vol. 87, no. 1). In 2011 both of the articles she published in The Art Bulletin were selected for the journal's "Centennial Anthology": “Kings, Crowns, and Rights of Succession: Obalufon Arts at Ife and Other Yoruba Centers,” in 1985 vol. 67, no. 3 (pdf) and the Featured Article "Imaging Otherness in Ivory: African Portrayals of the Portuguese in 1492," 1993, vol. 75, no. 3 (pdf). "Imaging Otherness" has been influential in prompting more complex ideas about what the art-historical study of "others" in cross-cultural settings might involve.
Several aspects of Blier's scholarly work resonate with themes highlighted in Publishing The Art Bulletin: Past, Present, and Future. One theme is reflection. Blier is attentive in her work to her subjectivity as an art historian, leading to critical reflections on the processes of art historical inquiry (see, for example, "Autobiography and Art History: The Imperative of Peripheral Vision," RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics No. 39 (Spring, 2001), pp. 24–40). A second key theme for this project is mapping. Blier is co-chair of the Electronic Geo-Spatial Database: AfricaMap, and chair of the Steering Committee of Worldmap, an online open-source tool for mapping. Her Africamap project illustrates the rich potential of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) technology for teaching, research, and online publication. (See her useful instructional video for using Worldmap.) If her "Imaging Otherness," were to be published today, Blier says she would employ the mapping resources she has helped develop, not only to identify sites discussed in the article, but also to allow readers to explore additional information and multi-media illustrations embedded in the map. (See Maps and mapping.)
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