After she graduates next month from the University of Virginia in just three years, art history major Emily Cox will continue her studies at the University of Oxford in England as UVA’s first participant in the Mica and Ahmet Ertegun Graduate Scholarship Programme in the Humanities.
Cox, of Fairfax, a distinguished major in art history, is specializing in fin-de-siècle political art – particularly the work of Camille Pissarro, and his use of light and liminal spaces in “Turpitudes sociales” (1889), a collection of pen and ink drawings showing what Pissarro thought were the horrors of the capitalist society, and the nighttime scene, “The Boulevard Montmartre at Night” (1897) as keys to understanding Pissarro’s politics.
“My proposed dissertation at Oxford will expand on a key gap in the scholarship of later French art: namely, the implications of transnational political movements that brought together London, Paris and St. Petersburg in the late 1880s and 1890s,” Cox said. She will bring together artists, writers and philosophers of several European nationalities, including men such as Leo Tolstoy, Emile Zola, Pyotr Kropotkin, William Morris and Pissarro “to stake out how these profound but largely unexplored international connections between art, literature and politics drove early modernism.”
The Ertegun Scholarship, founded by Mica Ertegun, brings together top graduate students in the humanities with Oxford’s community of scholars to foster dialogue across academic disciplines, cultures and generations in an effort to create leaders in their disciplines and within the global community. The scholars also have access to Ertegun House, a building on the Oxford grounds for them to study and conduct research.
“To have the wonderfully symmetrical, Georgian façade of the Ertegun House stand in the heart of Oxford as a testament to the University’s commitment to the humanities is a big statement,” Cox said. “To have the opportunity to research and write in a space explicitly built to further the humanities – a building supported by those who have dedicated their lives to improving the world through music, design and other cultural pathways, the undersung but most powerful undercurrents of our lives – is an invaluable gift.”
Cox is looking forward to thinking collaboratively with other members of the Ertegun community.
“I think Oxford is one of the most magical places on Earth, so I can’t wait to dive into its challenging, incredibly stimulating intellectual culture next year,” Cox said. “I’ll be living practically next door to the Pissarro Archives at the Ashmolean Museum, so I’ll get to spend a full year working with the artist’s unpublished letters and drawings there, which will be invaluable for my postgraduate research.”
Cox said she is humbled by being selected as an Ertegun Scholar. “As a scholarship community that seeks to recruit the next generation’s leaders in the humanities, I feel an incredible responsibility to use my experience next year at Oxford as a jumping-off point for working to make the humanities relevant to a broader audience, for helping other people find the same joy in them that I have,” she said.
Sarah Betzer, an associate professor of art history and co-director of the College Fellows Program, said Cox parlayed her work in the Pissarro archives in 2015 into an extremely sophisticated distinguished majors thesis.
“Emily Cox is a tremendously talented student who has managed to break exciting new interpretative ground in her work as an undergraduate art history major,” Betzer said. “Her year at Oxford promises to be productive, allowing Emily to study with a world-class art history faculty and in proximity to Pissarro archives that have already proven such a fertile resource for her work. It has been a great pleasure to collaborate with Emily as an undergraduate and I look forward with anticipation to her future contributions as a colleague.”
Andrus Ashoo, director of the Center for Undergraduate Excellence, praised Cox for her diligence.
“I’m always trying to help students see that these awards cannot be ends in and of themselves,” Ashoo said. “With Emily, who was a finalist for the Marshall, Rhodes and Fulbright [scholarships], it was easy. She came with more ambitious and more complex goals. Emily has worked very hard, learned from each experience and continued to refine and pursue those goals.”
Paul Barolsky, professor emeritus in the Department of Art, found Cox unique among students.
“In almost 50 years of teaching the history of art at UVA, I never encountered an undergraduate with the highly distinctive combination of intellectual curiosity and fearlessness that I have found in Emily Cox,” he said. “Her boundless sense of humor and ability to laugh at herself are equally remarkable.”
After earning her master’s degree in the history of art and visual culture at Oxford, Cox intends to pursue a Ph.D. in art history, work as a curator and eventually become a museum director.
“While I love research and think that art historians have a real responsibility to art objects themselves, I think the true magic of art lies in its ability to reach out and grab people, to shock them out of their realities, to introduce them to other cultures and to expand their creative and empathetic potential,” Cox said.
An Echols Scholar, Cox has received a Lindner Center Fellowship for Art History, an Ingrassia Family Echols Scholars Research Grant, a Summer Ethics Internship Award and a Double ’Hoo Research Grant. The Musée Pissarro published her article, “A Woman Empowered: Julie Pissarro and the Purchase of the Éragny House.” She has been managing editor of the Undergraduate Law Review, a Madison House volunteer, a member of the Raven Society and co-founder of Thursdays Magazine.
She is a Lawn resident, a Robert M. Burgess Memorial Scholarship recipient and has been on the Dean’s List every semester. She was the youngest of 42 interns at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Department of European Paintings. She has also had internships at the District of Columbia Superior Court and the United States Senate, and she participated in the U.S.-U.K. Fulbright Commission’s Summer Institute at King’s College London.
“I hope that my reception of the Ertegun Scholarship can inspire other students involved in the arts and the humanities to think that their ideas matter; that they, too, with passion and work, can make their ideas known,” Cox said, “that they, too, can diversify human knowledge, and that they, too, should have the audacity to assert the importance of literature, art, language, theology – the stuff that gives our life meaning.”