Nell Irvin Painter, a leading historian of the United States, is the Edwards Professor of American History, Emerita, Princeton University. In addition to her earned doctorate in history from Harvard University, she has received honorary doctorates from Wesleyan, Dartmouth, SUNY-New Paltz, and Yale.
A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Nell Painter has also held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the American Antiquarian Society. She has served as president of the Organization of American Historians and the Southern Historical Association. Those presidential addresses have been published in the Journal of American History (“Ralph Waldo Emerson's Saxons” in March 2009) and the Journal of Southern History (“Was Marie White?” February 2008). The City of Boston declared Thursday, 4 October 2007Nell Irvin Painter Day in honor of her Outstanding Book Award from the Gustavus Myers Center in 2006.
A prolific and award-winning scholar, her most recent books are The History of White People (W. W. Norton, 2010, paperback, March 2011),Creating Black Americans (Oxford University Press, 2006), and Southern History Across the Color Line (University of North Carolina Press, 2002). A second edition of Standing at Armageddon: The United States, 1877-1919 and a Korean translation of Sojourner Truth, A Life, A Symbolappeared in 2008. Her other books are also still in print. For a complete list of her book and article publications and other honors and activities, please consult the CV on this website.
As a public intellectual, Professor Painter is frequently called upon for lectures and interviews on television and film. In January 2008 she appeared live for a three-hour “In Depth” program on C-SPAN Book TV. To see the program on the internet, go to the web page for “In Depth.”She has also appeared on Bill Moyers’s “Progressive America.” New Jersey Network’s “State of the Arts” documented her work as both a scholar and an art student.
Question: Which artists inspire you most?
Nell Irvin Painter: Absolutely. I can tell you two or three artists whose work I admire. I think someone who has been with me for sometime is Robert Colescott, who died a couple of years ago. Colescott was an African-American artist who was deeply engaged in the history, of art history and so his work did have a lot of cultural meaning and historical meaning and also he was really a riotous painter with a great sense of color and kind of… I hate to use the word riotous again, but his compositions also were like that, that he would pull together images that would seem not to fit together, images that were uncomfortable, but I found them very satisfying, so Robert Colescott has been someone who inspires me and has inspired me. At the moment I am very inspired by Maira Kalman who does the blogs in The New York Times, has done books. Kalman began as an illustrator. She wrote 12 children’s books. She is still writing children’s books. She did two very well regarded books. One she illustrated, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and the other it was Principles of Uncertainty, which came out of her New York Times blog. What I really like about Maira Kalman is that she uses text. She uses text. She used drawings, paintings and she uses photographs together, so for me that is very inspiring. I am nowhere near her abilities, her skill, her imagination and her humor, but to see what she does with these three different kinds of representations is very illuminating. And then somebody like Charline von Heyl, who is actually an abstract painter, but I like her work very much. Denyse Thomasos is also an abstract painter, an African-American… a Canadian painter actually, who does architectural compositions with a great sense of energy, and so even though her work is abstract you can see a kind of sense, not of figuration because she doesn’t put figures in, but of representation. So these are just four artists, but there are many others whose work I like very much.