Hannah Segrave is a
doctoral candidate in art history at the University of Delaware,
pursuing the interdisciplinary curatorial track focused on preparation
for curatorial careers in specialized art historical fields.
In the fall of 2017, Segrave presented at an art history conference in Rome, partly funded by a research travel grant from UD’s Center for Material Culture Studies,
and remains in Rome for the research and writing of her dissertation,
“Conjuring Genius: Salvator Rosa (1615-1673) and the Dark Arts of
Segrave shared some of her experiences in a question-and-answer interview.
Q: What do you love about the study of art history, and what motivates your interest in it?
Segrave: First and foremost, art history is important because
it taught me how to critically look at the world around me, as well as
my own place in it. We live in a world saturated with images. Visual
analysis is a vital skill that allows you to interpret what an
advertisement is trying to tell you about the kind of person you should
be, just as it allows you to understand the gender dynamics or
intellectual values in Italy that are reflected in a painting.
My research focuses on depictions of witches in early modern Europe,
the time of the infamous “witch craze” that saw hundreds of thousands of
people persecuted for witchcraft. While my work specifically aims to
illuminate how the artist Salvator Rosa constructed ideas about art and
his public persona through his representations of witchcraft, more
broadly it also reveals the ways in which ideas about witches in our own
time come from this period. The history of witchcraft, especially as
told through images, demonstrates how men are clearly so terrified of
women that they have been demonizing them for centuries. If you look at
the thrashing, naked, wild-haired, crooked-nosed old hags that Rosa was
painting in the 1650s, you’ll see there’s a direct line to witches like
Snow White’s evil stepmother or the Sanderson sisters from Disney’s
Being able to recognize and analyze the messages contained in these
images is one of the most powerful ways that you can expand your own
ways of thinking, and being critically engaged in the world around you
is a crucial part of working toward a more open, aware and equitable
Q: What led you to UD's art history graduate program?
Segrave: UD was my top choice for a Ph.D. program in art history
because I knew I wanted to specialize in baroque art. But unlike most
schools — which often don’t even have one professor who specializes in
Italian baroque art — at Delaware there were three professors who all
specialized in the 17th century (especially my own adviser), so I knew I
would be able to get both this incredibly specific and broad training
in the exact period I wanted to focus on.
Just as importantly, I was also able to talk to prospective students
while I was applying — who were welcoming, kind, and smart as hell — and
who let me know that students are equally funded, which created the
open and non-cutthroat atmosphere and community that I really enjoyed
being a part of during my coursework.
Q: UD's art history curatorial track is relatively new — what attracted you to that program?
Segrave: The art history curatorial track
actually started during my second year in UD’s art history program. As
someone who spent her whole life thinking she was going to be a Latin
professor, I had no idea about the world of curating and museums in any
real sense until I got to UD.
UD’s program and curatorial track are particularly unique because we are so fortunate to have one of the very few art conservation programs
in the country. This relationship between art history and art
conservation is such important training for those interested in
curatorial careers, and it meant that I was introduced to ideas of
technical art history and conservation and object histories that I never
would have been exposed to so early at another school.
My initial coursework in the curatorial track was completely
illuminating and made me realize how much the field was in line with the
kind of questions I wanted to ask in my own research. It gave me a new
purpose toward working on my Ph.D., and that summer I went on to
complete my doctoral internships at the Cleveland Museum of Art. I
quickly learned that curatorial work was not only the exact type of
research that I wanted to invest my life in, but also that working in
the kind of collaborative environment of a museum was the kind of
lifestyle that suited who I am both as a scholar and as a person.
Q: Have your research and writing been affected by the current stay-at-home environment in Italy? How have you adapted?
Segrave: The lockdown completely changed my life and my
research. Normally, I was working at two or three different libraries,
Monday through Friday, and often going to churches or museums on
weekends. Now I work completely from home.
While I am lucky to have a little office with a desk in my apartment,
I don’t have any books — literally not a single one. I’m only here for a
year, and working at well-stocked art historical research institutions,
I didn’t need them. I finally broke down and found a key monograph that
I needed and just had it shipped here so that I could continue this
important aspect of my research for my current dissertation chapter.
Later I will have to figure out how to actually get this 500+ page, 3 kg
I’ve got to say, it is really hard to write a dissertation without
books. I’m working on a new chapter at the moment, a time when I usually
do a bit of exploratory reading which now I can’t. I often find myself
working on a section and getting an idea about something I need to learn
about, and then I just have to stop because I don’t have the materials I
need to figure out the answers to my questions. It can feel really
jarring, frustrating and even a little disheartening.
Luckily, UD’s Morris Library
staff has been so incredible in helping me get access to new online
materials, working with partners to increase accessibility, and scanning
and sending articles. While it won’t be enough for me to properly edit
and finalize the dissertation, it is enough to keep me going while I am
trying to crank out chapters to get to a full draft of my project.
I just keep trying to write and be kind to myself, trying not to beat myself up for what I can and can’t do.
Q: What are some of the highs and lows of being in Italy at this particular time?
Segrave: I feel so lucky to be in Italy during the lockdown.
Unlike the stories I hear from friends and family throughout the U.S.,
we haven’t really been experiencing any food or supply shortages in
Rome. However, once the Italian government moved to lock down the
country, it meant you are not allowed to be outside except for the
grocery or pharmacy. If you are deemed too far away from your home or
without a reason for being outside, you can be cited for violating
quarantine rules with a fine of up to 3,000 euros.
So, long gone are the early days when I walked laps around the empty
Circus Maximus. That said, Rome is fully blooming into spring, and it’s
wisteria season in my neighborhood, so while I take my daily walks,
smelling the fresh flowers in the Roman sun, I feel a complete sense of
peace and contentedness. Rome has been my home so many times throughout
my life (this is my fourth time living here), and even in this very
strange and surreal world, there’s nowhere I would rather be.
Article by Nora Zelluk; photo courtesy of Hannah Segrave
Published May 1, 2020