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2011 Hellman Fellow

Jason Weems

Understanding how visual experience drives transformation (UCR)

Jason Weems is the Chair of the History of Art Department at UC Riverside. His work explores the intersections between art, sight, and technology across the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He is interested in the meaning and application of vision across levels of representation, social structures, and everyday culture, particularly how visual experience influences social transformation.

During his 2011 Hellman Fellowship he completed his first book, Barnstorming the Prairies: How Aerial Vision Shaped the Midwest which broke new ground in considering the ways real and imagined aerial viewpoints inform the cultural development of what we commonly think of as the nation’s heartland. His research found that landscapes, especially flat ones, are hard to see and even harder to conceptualize. Looking from above offers an illusion of control and clarity that can’t be perceived at ground level, thus visual experience can characterize the complex relationship between distanced “big picture” and “local” on the ground thinking”. He applies this perspective to each of his roles as a teacher, advisor, and academic leader, looking near and far simultaneously and measuring the grand design against the individual instance, adapting each to the shared good.

The understanding gained from my work as a Hellman Fellow has infused not only my subsequent scholarship, but all facets of my academic work.

– Jason Weems, Ph.D.

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