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Karen Overbey
Associate Professor
Director of Graduate Studies

Contact Info:
Tufts University
Dept. of Art & Art History
11 Talbot Avenue
Medford, MA 02155

Office: 617.627.5384
Email Prof. Overbey

Expertise:
Medieval art and architecture, especially of early Ireland and the British Isles; relics, reliquaries, and the cult of the saints; medieval decorative arts, including textiles, gems, and jewelry; medieval postcolonialism and invasion politics

Education:
Ph.D. Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

CV:
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Research:

The early focus of my research was medieval Ireland, especially the ways that the 8th to 14th centuries looked back to earlier times – whether pre-Christian or early Christian – to construct a visually recognizable "golden age." My first book, Sacral Geographies (Brepols, 2012), focuses on how kings, churchmen, and other influential patrons shaped the cult of the saints at the same time they shaped the kingdoms and narratives of medieval Ireland. One of the research interests that developed during this work is the "long histories" of objects: reliquaries for example, that were made originally in the 7th century, and then refashioned in the 8th, 10th, 12th, and 14th centuries. Rather than just as "medieval," we should understand these objects as implicated in history and art history over centuries. My new book project, Broken Things, takes up these trans-temporal isues through objects such as the 14th-century images of Anglo-Saxon saints, and a 12th-century Welsh shrine that was rebuilt in the mid-20th century.

In 2010, I co-founded the Material Collective, a collaborative of (mostly) medieval art historians dedicated to interdisciplinarity (especially with artists, curators, and scientists), experimental scholarship, and activism within academia. We have over 600 members on our Facebook group, and an active blog as well as a regular presence at conferences and in art historical organizations. Individually and collectively we have published online and in open-access publications, and are involved in several ongoing digital initiatives. My work with the Material Collective is grounded not only in critical theory such as object-oriented ontology and new materialism, but also in an abiding interest in objects: their properties, circulations, fabrications, and sensoria as much as their representations, instrumentalization, patronage, and politics.

At Tufts I teach classes on early medieval art, medieval architecture, pilgrimage and devotion, Vikings, relics and reliquaries, medieval dress and ornament, maps and diagrams, and medieval materiality.

Selected Publications:

Books and Edited Volumes

  • Sacral Geographies: Saints, Shrines, and Territory in Medieval Ireland (Brepols, 2012)
  • "Active Objects," edited with Ben C. Tilghman, special issue, Different Visions 4 (2014)  http://www.differentvisions.org
  • Transparent Things, edited with Maggie M. Williams. New York: Punctum Books, 2013 http://punctumbooks.com/uncategorized/transparent-things/
  • The Bayeux Tapestry: New Interpretations, edited by Martin K. Foys, Karen Eileen Overbey and Dan Terkla. Woodbridge, Suffolk, U.K.: Boydell and Brewer, 2009.

Chapters and Articles

  • "Decorative Arts," in Oxford Bibiographies in Medieval Studies, ed. Paul Szarmach. New York: Oxford University Press http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/obo/page/medieval-studies
  • "Postcolonial." In "Medieval Art History Today: Critical Terms," edited by Nina Rowe, special issue, Studies in Iconography 33 (2012): 145-156.
  • "Female Trouble: Ambivalence and Anxiety at the Nuns’ Church, Clonmacnois." Celtic Studies Association of North America Yearbook 7 (2008): 93-112.

Forthcoming

  • "Material Networks: Belt Relics in Early Ireland and Anglo-Saxon England," in Insular Cultures, ed. Mary Clayton, Alice Jorgensen, and Juliet Mullins. Essays in Anglo-Saxon Studies 7. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies [forthcoming, 2015] 
  • "Seeing Through Stone: Materiality and Place in a Scottish Pendant Reliquary," RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 65/66 [forthcoming 2015]