On Oct. 5 Wesleyan Professor of Art History and Archaeology Phillip Wagoner and University of Arizona Professor of History Richard Eaton co-won The John F. Richards Prize for their book, “Power, Memory, Architecture: Contested Sites on India’s Deccan Plateau.” This prize is awarded to works of scholarship related to South Asian history.
“This was an especially nice award in that both my co-author and I were very close with John Richards,” said Wagoner. “So it was a personal thing as well.”
The fact that the book was co-written by professors from two different universities sets it apart from others in its field.
“Collaborative work is not usually done in the humanities in the way it is done in the sciences,” Wagoner said. “But in the humanities, it was very rare for people to work together. To me and to Dick, my collaborator, the thing that was so wonderful about this project that basically took about 10 years was the collaborative nature of it. It removes the loneliness of scholarship. It’s a very solitary activity.”
Not only did Wagoner and Eaton conduct fieldwork together, but also each step of the research, writing, and publishing process was a completely united effort.
“I highly recommend collaborative work to anyone, provided that you have the right collaborator,” Wagoner said.
The University’s Art & Art History Program focuses on Studio Art, as well as Art History. The program seeks to be interdisciplinary, connecting its courses to as many other departments as possible and highlighting the social, economic, and political aspects of art.
“Wesleyan’s Art History program, arguably one of the best purely undergraduate programs in art history in the country, is truly proud to have faculty of such exceptional caliber as [Professor] Wagoner,” wrote Nadja Aksamija, the Art History Program Director, in an email to The Argus. “This award is a testament to his remarkable contribution to the field of South Asian art and architectural history in this country and internationally, but it also speaks to the high level of research regularly produced by our faculty.”
Wagoner has been teaching at the university for 28 years. In the late 90’s, the University of Chicago tried to hire him, but he decided not to leave the University.
“What you need to know is that the University of Chicago is really one of the two or three premier institutions of the country,” Wagoner said. “I was given an offer for a tenured position there, and that would have been a great move to make in a certain way. But when I started thinking about it, I realized I didn’t feel like I was missing anything at Wesleyan.”
Up until 1998, Wagoner was the curator at the center of East Asian Studies. In addition to teaching, he was in charge of creating displays for the center.
“That was really exhilarating, but I was beginning to tire a little bit of having to come up with new exhibitions,” he said. “And my teaching was taking a more interesting turn.”
When the University offered to convert Wagoner’s position into a full-time teaching job, he made the decision to stay put at the University.
“I have to say that the quality of the students that I’ve had the chance to work with is the quality of graduate students,” he said. “I wouldn’t leave here for anything, as long as it stays like that.”
Professor of History William Pinch noted that the University employs an unusually high number of South Asian historians for a liberal arts school.
“Not many places of Wesleyan’s size have more than one historian working in South Asia,” Pinch said. “We’re really lucky.”
Pinch and Wagoner have been close colleagues since Pinch came to the University in the 1991. Even though they are interested in different fields of study, their interests overlap.
“His linguistic expertise is southern whereas my linguistic expertise is northern,” Pinch said. “We really complement each other very well, even though we are in different departments. I think it’s a special treat to have someone like Phil here. And of course, his work is excellent.”
Wagoner has not only been greatly recognized for his historical work over the years, his excellence in teaching has been acknowledged by the University as well.
“Professor Wagoner is one of Wesleyan’s most exceptional teachers who received the Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching in 2013,” Aksamija wrote. “Students rave about his classes in art/architectural history and archaeology, which range from ‘Empire and Erotica: Indian Painting, 1100-1900’ to ‘Grounding the Past: Monument, Site, and Memory.’”
The students aren’t the only ones who admire Wagoner; University professors also appreciate his presence.
“In addition to being a great scholar he’s a great teacher, and he’s trained many students who have gone on to PhDs,” Pinch said. “He embodies the ideal of the Wesleyan schoolteacher.”