Jessica Williams ’19: On Robert Willis and Architectural History


Christine Liu

Jessica Williams is a senior majoring in Art History, and minoring in Psychology and Political Science. Her Graduation with Distinction project came out of her work with the Wired! Lab, read more about the project and her future plans below. 

Please describe your thesis project:
My thesis is entitled Robert Willis (1800-1875) and the Historiography of Italian Gothic Architecture. Described as the “father of architectural history,” British academic Robert Willis was extremely influential to the development of methodologies in studying, as well as the nomenclature for, Gothic architecture. In spite of this, he has largely been forgotten by the art historical field, with his early work receiving especially little attention. My thesis focuses on the notes and drawings Willis created for his first publication on architecture, Remarks on the Architecture of the Middle Ages, Especially of Italy, which have to this point been left out of Willis’s narrative. I travelled to London over the summer with a Dean’s Summer Research grant to access Willis’s sketchbooks. I argue that these drawings mark a key moment in Willis’s development as an architectural historian, in which he applies his previously scientific mindset to the study of buildings.

Which Wired! project did it come out of and what are your duties in the project?
My thesis developed from an idea from The Medieval Kingdom of Sicily Image DatabaseI am currently the team leader of the project, and have worked on the Database since my freshman year. I collect and enter images of Sicilian medieval monuments into our database, including many images I collected from Willis’s materials.

Has your thesis work factored at all into what you hope to do after graduation?
Yes! After taking a gap year working in museums, I plan to go to graduate school to pursue a PhD in art history.

Image Credits: Jessica Williams