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Introducing Megan O'Neil, Term Assistant Professor in Art History

What is your specific area of research? What are you currently working on?
I am an art historian and archaeologist. My research is on ancient Maya art and archaeology, with an emphasis on stone sculpture from archaeological sites in southern Mexico and northern Guatemala. For me, art is not just about when and how an artist made something—it’s also about how people use and interact with it.  For example, in my recent book, Engaging Ancient Maya Sculpture at Piedras Negras, Guatemala, I looked at sculptures from Piedras Negras, a site in Guatemala, from the 6th to 8th centuries AD. I explored how people physically interacted with those sculptures—which at times included breaking, moving or smashing them—at the time they were made and in later centuries, and even what happened to those sculptures in the 20th or 21st century. Currently, I’m working on a comparative study of ancient use and reuse of sculptures from eight different archaeological sites around Mexico and Guatemala.

I’m also involved with a project on comparative iconoclasm. I am among a group of scholars who consulted on an exhibition opening at the Tate in London in October—it is called Art Under Attack and it looks specifically at British iconoclasm. In conjunction with this exhibit, we have a book coming out, Striking Images, Iconoclasms Past and Present, which considers iconoclasm in many different cultures and times.

What is most exciting to you about joining Barnard's faculty? What are you looking forward to most about being here?
It is clear that Barnard students are enthusiastic and hard-working. I look forward to showing them the material that I work on, and using that to inspire them to think in different ways about history, artworks and objects. Columbia has a long tradition of pre-Columbian studies, so it’s nice to be able to introduce students to this area of study and to know that they have excellent resources available if they want to go into more depth. Also, it’s exciting to be teaching these subjects in New York, with its great museum collections.  

What courses will you be teaching?
This semester I am teaching "Mesoamerican Art and Architecture" as well as a seminar on the Ancient Maya, which looks at Maya art and architecture through the lens of myth, religion and the cosmos, and the place of humans within the cosmos.

Outside of your academic life, any interests, hobbies, accomplishments of note?
I love hiking and other outdoor activities. Here in the city, I’ll have to make the most of Riverside Park and Central Park, but I look forward to getting out and exploring more of the region. I’m also a singer—I’ve done a cappella, jazz, opera, and I’m hoping to be in a choir here in New York, if I have time.

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