Prominent Scholar and Art Historian Charmaine A. Nelson Joins UMass Amherst History of Art and Architecture Department

Nelson brings the first research center to focus on 200-year history of Canada and the American North participation in Transatlantic Slavery

Prominent scholar, art historian, educator, author and the first-ever Black professor of art history in Canada Charmaine A. Nelson will join the UMass Amherst Department of History of Art and Architecture to teach Black Diasporic Art and Visual Culture in fall 2022.

Charmaine A. Nelson (Photo credit: Meghan Tansey Whitton)
Charmaine A. Nelson

Following an extended period of teaching art history at McGill University from 2003 to 2020, Nelson joins UMass Amherst from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University in Halifax, Canada. There, she was a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Transatlantic Black Diasporic Art and Community Engagement and the founding director of the Institute for the Study of Canadian Slavery, the first research center to focus on the 200-year history of Canadian participation in Transatlantic Slavery.

She brings this research hub to UMass as the Slavery North Initiative, expanding the focus to include both Canada and the American North. Slavery North will continue to host research and cultural events and to support and promote the research of scholars and artists-in-residence in these understudied and often neglected histories.

“I am thrilled to be joining the accomplished and dedicated faculty and staff in the History of Art and Architecture Department and equally excited to meet colleagues from across the campus and region,” Nelson says. “I know that I will be energized by the talented students and draw inspiration from what we will learn together. “I’m grateful for all who had a role in my arrival at UMass, including former Provost John McCarthy, Provost Tricia Serio, Dean Krauthamer, and Professor Monika Schmitter (chair of the department). Thank you for welcoming me to the UMass team!”

Nelson’s research is focused on postcolonial and Black feminist scholarship, transatlantic slavery studies and Black diaspora studies. Her scholarship examines Canadian, American, European and Caribbean art and visual culture including various types of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art and popular art forms including TV, film, photography, print culture, sculpture, painting and dress. She also works across various genres including portraiture, still-life, nudes and landscape art.

“We are thrilled to welcome a new faculty member of Professor Nelson’s caliber and renown,” says Monika Schmitter, chair of the Department of History of Art and Architecture. “Her expertise in Black diasporic art and visual culture will undoubtedly take the department in exciting new directions.”

Nelson has received several prestigious fellowships and appointments, including a Bard Graduate Center Fields of the Future Research Fellowship in 2021; the William Lyon Mackenzie King Visiting Professor of Canadian Studies at Harvard University in 2017; a Fulbright Visiting Research Chair at the University of California – Santa Barbara in 2010; and a Caird Senior Research Fellowship at the National Maritime Museum in the United Kingdom in 2007.

In 2020, Nelson hosted a guest seminar for UMass Amherst graduate-level students called Contemporary Scholars, New Art History: Writing the Histories of Transatlantic Black Diasporic Art.

Nelson is the author of seven books including “Towards an African Canadian Art History: Art, Memory, and Resistance;” “Slavery, Geography, and Empire in Nineteenth-Century Marine Landscapes of Montreal and Jamaica;” “Ebony Roots, Northern Soil: Perspectives on Blackness in Canada;” “Representing the Black Female Subject in Western Art;” “The Color of Stone: Sculpting the Black Female Subject in Nineteenth-Century America;” and she is a contributing author for many other publications. She earned her Ph.D. in art history from the University of Manchester in 2001.

To learn more about Nelson, visit