JHI Alumni Spotlight—Mark Cheetham

January 20, 2022 by Mark Cheetham & Sonja Johnston

Mark Cheetham was a JHI Faculty Research Fellow from 2019 to 2020 during the theme year Strange Weather. Mark is a Professor in the Department of Art History at the U of T and focuses on art, art theory, and visual culture from the mid 18th century to the present in Europe, the USA, and Canada. Mark has been affiliated with the JHI since its inception, and worked as Acting Director in 2011.

Mark provides an overview of the project he worked on while at the JHI and shares what his fellowship experience was like. He also shares why he thinks the humanities are important.

JHI: Can you summarize the project you worked on while at the JHI?

MC: Thanks for the opportunity to reflect on my year at the JHI in 2019-20.

This was the Strange Weather theme year. My research was on Weather as Matter & Metaphor. I examined the paradox that weather is both ours and not ours, utterly familiar yet also foreign. Weather is enmeshed in a range of other human preoccupations and emotions, both trivial and momentous. References to the weather in literature, the visual arts, and even in our use of empirical climate science and weather modelling in the humanities, remain largely about ourselves. The anthropogenic sources of our current climate crisis tempt us to assign blame or to believe that we can ameliorate catastrophic weather. Despite their imbrication with the human, however, as part of material ‘nature’ conceived as separate from us, atmospheric phenomena occur outside our realms of cognition, affect, and control. Taking a historical approach to these issues, my focus for the year was weather images and narratives of Arctic voyaging from the Anglosphere in the 19th century.

JHI: What was your JHI experience like?

MC: Very positive. The rhythm of work on site every day (observing the weather) and the many days spent in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library were tremendous. Several of the JHI sponsored talks and events were outstanding.

JHI: Did participating in the Fellows' Lunch or general interaction with other Fellows spark or inform your research/creativity once you left and if so, how?

MC: Fellow’s lunches tended to be the high point of every week (before we shut down in March 2020, that is). I am still in touch with quite a few of the people I met on these occasions, including the two artists of Public Studio, who were in residence.

JHI: What are you doing/working on now?

MC: Arctic voyaging narratives continue to be one focus. I have published several articles on this theme since my year at the JHI. I am also completing a long project of the uses of analogy in the construction of artists’ biographies and the discipline of Art History.

JHI: Why do you think the humanities are important?

MC: The Humanities continue to be the crucible of critical reading, writing, and communication. Our embattled planet needs the Environmental Humanities in particular more than ever.

JHI: Anything else you’d like to add?

MC: One of the most valuable elements of the JHI Fellowship - built in from the beginning – is the opportunity to teach an upper-level seminar on one’s topics in the following academic year. I have developed new 4th-year and graduate seminars in the visual culture of the Arctic that have been very successful and would not have been possible without the research time afforded by the JHI.