Joseph Litts

Modern Art


Joseph Litts is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Art and Archaeology at Princeton University. His research focuses on art made in and around the Atlantic basin by Black, European, and Indigenous creators between 1680 and 1840. Joseph is completing his dissertation: “Natural Disaster in the Atlantic World: Aesthetics, Delight, and Risk during the Long Eighteenth Century.” The project investigates how a surge of artistic interest in catastrophe intersected with the growth of real bodies and things exposed to tragedies through their increased circulation—coerced or voluntary—around the Atlantic. Why did those subjected to the vulnerabilities of the Atlantic world create, purchase, and enjoy representations of the destructive forces that could end their life or fortunes?

Joseph has published on collections and afterlives of Cherokee rivercane baskets (talu-tsa), as well as the racist material histories of carved alligator souvenirs from the US South and Anna Atkins’s plantation photographs. He earned his M.A. from the University of Delaware. His thesis, “Materials, the Body, and Race in the Early Modern Franco-Swiss Atlantic World”, asks how allegorical figures of the four continents fetishized bodies to merge the human form and luxury objects as part of the French Académie’s quest to visually articulate and thus naturalize colonial expansion. Joseph has held curatorial and research positions at the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Georgia Museum of Art, and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Selected Publications

“Anna Atkins’s Cyanotypes as Coffee Plantation Landscapes,” in MoMA Mellon-Marron Research Consortium Dossier 9: Treading Softly: Ecocritical Approaches to Cultural History (New York: Museum of Modern Art, forthcoming)

“Swamps, Race, and Escapism—or Alligator Souvenirs from Georgia,” in African American Material Culture on the Southern Landscape, edited by Torren Gatson and Tiffany Momon (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, forthcoming)

“Weaving Together War and Memory: Isaac Vincent’s Cherokee Basket” in Material Georgia 1733–1900: Two Decades of Scholarship (Athens: Georgia Museum of Art, 2020)