Visiting Student Research Collaborator Ivana Dizdar Reflects on Her Year at Princeton

Written by
Ivana Dizdar
Sept. 6, 2023

Ivana Dizdar is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Toronto, where her dissertation examines representations of the Arctic in French 19th-century visual culture. She spent fall 2022 and spring 2023 at Princeton as a visiting student research collaborator and shares her impressions.

What drew you to Princeton?

I came to Princeton to work with one of my favorite art historians, Rachael DeLue. It was a fantastic and fruitful year of collaboration. I also took full advantage of the University’s exceptional resources and made lots of progress on my dissertation research. As a bonus, I made great friends and had a great time.

How has the year at Princeton impacted your studies?

The year at Princeton had a direct and profound impact on the way I conceive of the themes, questions, and objects in my dissertation. Discussions with Bridget Alsdorf and talks by Thomas Crow and Emmelyn Butterfield-Rosen informed my perspective on what it means to write about French nineteenth-century art in a global context. As I examined the (largely dubious and often violent) practices of collecting in the nineteenth century, histories of looting and dispossession, and urgent debates on restitution, I was especially moved by a panel of Tlingit elders, scholars, and artists who spoke on these subjects and how institutions like Princeton are implicated. I was particularly excited to speak with panelist Judith Dax̱ootsú Ramos about her work as a consulting curator for the new Pacific Northwest wing at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. A definite highlight was being invited by Princeton University Art Museum curators Mitra Abbaspour and Jun Nakamura to consult on the upcoming display of a grouping of newly-acquired works of art by Inuit artists, including some of my favorite Canadian artists: Jessie Oonark, Ningiukulu Teevee, and Eva Talooki Aliktiluk. Another highlight was meeting Wendy Red Star, currently an Artist-in-Residence at the Art Museum, whom I’ve long admired for her conceptually rigorous work and sharp sense of humor. Last but not least, I benefited immensely from conversations with other students working at the intersection of art history and the history of science: notably Anna Speyart, who writes on the history of ice in early modern Europe, and Eva Molina Flores, who writes on Antarctica (and—plug—tweets great penguin content).

Rachael DeLue lectures on a work as students listen

From left to right: Professor Rachael DeLue, Julia Curl, Paulina Choh, Maxwell Smith-Holmes, Ivana Dizdar, and David Saiz viewing works as part of ART 562 “Science and its Fictions in the Long 19th Century” 

Which influences and experiences have had the greatest impact on your work?

Besides Rachael and Bridget, Anna Arabindan-Kesson has been hugely influential for me and I valued our discussions about how we can use contemporary art as a productive framework for reframing nineteenth-century art. Conferring with Irene Small has enriched my thinking around methodology and innovative approaches to art history writing. Chika Okeke-Agulu’s work has informed my perspective on the relationship between art and decolonization, and I really enjoyed seeing him in conversation with Nigerian photographer Samuel Fosso, whose work, in turn, has long been a point of fascination for me.

What were the year’s highlights – both personally and professionally?

The friendships I formed in the department are ones I know will last a lifetime. I’ll miss seeing my Princeton friends regularly, but we’re already finding ways to meet up elsewhere around the world. One is coming to visit me while I’m on research in Paris this fall, for instance, and another is hosting me in Berlin when I travel there for the opening of the exhibition General Idea (for which I was the curatorial assistant) at the Gropius Bau.

Back in Princeton, some of my fondest memories revolve around the little things on and near campus: running into people on the Dinky, trivia nights at the Ivy, ginger tonics at Small World Coffee, movies at the Garden Theatre, and performances at the McCarter (my personal favorite was seeing Oumou Sangaré live in concert). Some of the best events I attended at the University were through the Program in Media and Modernity: talks by Tina Campt, Joan Kee, and Michelle Kuo were particularly inspiring.

As far as professional highlights this year, I had the opportunity to share in-progress research toward my five dissertation chapters in different contexts: as a presenter at conferences at the University of Oslo, Brown, and Yale; as a guest speaker in Tim Barringer and Katie Trumpener’s graduate seminar on panoramas, also at Yale; and as a guest speaker in Elena Fratto’s graduate seminar on Russian and Eurasian Environments at Princeton.

Group of students oriented toward glass case with painting

Ivan Dizdar discusses Édouard Manet’s Young Woman in a Round Hat (ca. 1877–79), The Henry and Rose Pearlman Founda on loan since 1976 to the Princeton University Art Museum as part of ART 565 "Seminar in Modernist Art and Theory: Before and After Gender” co-taught by Professors Bridget Alsdorf and Irene Small.

What advice would you give to someone considering a year as a Visiting Student Research Collaborator at Princeton?

If you’re an art historian or otherwise interested in visual and material culture—and if you’re flexible on timing—try to go to Princeton once the Art Museum reopens (in the spring of 2025); the collection is one of a kind. Spend as much time as possible in Rare Books, where you can request to see an overwhelming number of overwhelmingly fascinating objects. Reach out to faculty, students, and other affiliates whose work you like; people at Princeton are super friendly and willing to meet over coffee (or ginger tonics). At the Dillon gym, I’m a big fan of Zumba with Keri, 305 Fitness with Ashlee, and spin with Caroline. In the area, I recommend walks around the Institute for Advanced Study, kayaking or canoeing along the lake, and day-trips to nearby towns like Lambertville and Hopewell (in New Jersey) and New Hope (in Pennsylvania). Especially long research days are best rewarded with pizza from Nomad or Conte’s, a Princeton staple.

Do you anticipate continued collaboration with Princeton? 

Beyond my ongoing work with Rachael, I have upcoming collaborations with several people I met at Princeton. I’m co-organizing a session at the upcoming Modernist Studies Association conference with Magdalena Grüner, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Hamburg and an incoming Getty fellow, whom I met when she was conducting research in Princeton’s Special Collections. Through Rachael, I also met a brilliant undergraduate student, Wendi Yan '23, who wrote her thesis on science in Alaska during the Cold War and has a body of artwork about mammoth de-extinction; she has since joined the Visual Cultures of the Circumpolar North Working Group I co-convene at the University of Toronto.

What’s next for you?

This fall I’m based in Paris, where I’m a visiting researcher at the Musée d’Orsay. I’m excited to spend time with my dissertation case studies—in the city and across France—and to put them in dialogue with the materials I had the pleasure of studying at Princeton.