May 2, 2016
Professor Neil McWilliam’s speech from the award ceremony:
There are any number of reasons one might wish to honor a scholar as accomplished, dynamic and original as Caroline Bruzelius, but today we come together to recognize the extraordinary role she has played in promoting digital art history at Duke, and establishing the Wired! Lab as one of the country’s most active and innovative centers in this rapidly developing field. The Dean’s Leadership Award is intended to honor “a distinctive contribution to research, teaching and service”. In spearheading digital art history, Caroline has made signal contributions to the university in all of these areas. As a leading architectural historian of the medieval period, she took an early lead in recognizing the great potential of digital reconstruction of the built environment as a new and versatile research tool. She understood, too, the extraordinary potential of digital technologies as a pedagogical aid that encouraged students to pose searching questions of historical evidence and adapt it in engaging new ways.
Over the last few years, Duke students have constructed imaginary cathedrals, whose design is rooted in a detailed analysis of the techniques that shaped the great churches of Europe, they have rebuilt whole neighborhoods in Venice by directly engaging with archival and visual records, and they have used digital projections to restore color to the sculptural fragments displayed in the Nasher Museum. These, and many other projects promoted under the auspices of the Wired! Lab, are shining examples of what Duke does best. Caroline’s leadership as a teacher committed to new technologies has expanded opportunities for undergraduate research, and for collaborative investigation more generally, in an environment that is both deeply focused and expansively interdisciplinary. In the words of one of the department’s doctoral candidates: “Through her advocacy of digital innovation in art historical research, Dr Bruzelius has instilled in her students the value of cultivating an inner hunger for experimentation and teamwork. The bustling environment of the Wired! Lab encapsulates Dr. Bruzelius’s vision of “the future” of art history, one in which a research community thrives on the sharing of diverse technical expertise and critical perspectives.”
None of this could have been achieved without Caroline’s tireless commitment to the nuts and bolts of establishing and expanding a new initiative. Since the opening of the Wired! Lab in Smith Warehouse in 2010, Caroline has been hugely successful in attracting support from within and beyond the university, notably through Bass Connections, the Trent Foundation, Humanities Writ Large (Mellon), the Mellon, the Getty Foundation, the Delmas Foundation, the NEH, the Kress and others. Thanks to her energy, students and researchers at Duke enjoy outstanding facilities in a project-based humanities lab that provides a model for the university. The Wired! Lab has become a vibrant meeting place for students from all over campus—art historians, engineers, artists, computer scientists, documentarians, and others —and is forming a rising generation of thinkers who work together to produce new knowledge and share it with the public. As a former student remarks on the Wired! experience: “Not only did this form of teaching expose me to new-found information and histories, but it offered something much more that is vital to the learning process: a new form of decision making came to light. If scholarship and teaching is communication, Caroline was pushing the boundaries of how to reach her students and convey complex ideas in an engaging and innovative fashion.”
Caroline’s achievement is conspicuous in the bricks and mortar, the bits and bytes of the Wired! lab. It can be measured through the MA program she has established in Digital Art History, in the collaborations with other departments and international institutions, in the invitations by colleagues across the nation and beyond to share her ideas about the role of new technologies in art-historical research. Above all, though, Caroline’s achievement is rooted in her extraordinary personal qualities as a teacher, a colleague, and an example. There is, perhaps, no better way to sum up what true leadership might mean in a university than these words of one of Caroline’s undergraduate students: “Her enthusiasm is contagious, and her constructive criticism has made me a better writer and art historian. Dr. Bruzelius spreads her affection to everyone in the department. She takes art history very seriously, but she doesn’t take herself too seriously. She is kind, generous with her time, and sincerely interested in what is going on in the department.” For all of these reasons, it is a privilege to introduce Caroline Bruzelius, Anne M. Cogan Professor of Art History, as recipient of the Dean’s Leadership Award for 2016.