Tim Tai, Senior Photographer

Maurie McInnis GRD ’90 GRD ’96, who will become Yale’s 24th president on July 1, has an extensive academic record in the field of art history.

She received her bachelor’s degree in art history from the University of Virginia and master’s and doctoral degrees in the history of art from Yale. Throughout her career, McInnis’ academic work has focused on the relationship between art and early American politics, as well as themes of race, slavery and power in the American South.

“I can’t say enough good things about her scholarship except perhaps to say it is exceptionally timely for Yale right now,” Bruce Robertson GRD ’78 GRD ’83 GRD ’87, a professor of the history of art and architecture at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said. “You have in Maurie a very able administrator, but also someone who is fearless in treading into new scholarly areas around race and identity and who does it sensitively.”

In her most recent 2019 book “Educated in Tyranny: Slavery at Thomas Jefferson’s University,” which McInnis co-authored, she and her colleagues explore the history of slavery at the University of Virginia.

Leslie Harris, a professor of history at Northwestern University who researches African American history, told the News that “Educated in Tyranny” is an “important addition” to the ongoing research on the history of slavery and enslaved peoples at institutions of higher education and that she is impressed that McInnis was able to balance her work as an administrator with her commitment to completing the book. At UVA, McInnis served as director of American studies and later vice-provost for academic affairs. 

In addition to editing the book, McInnis contributed a chapter entitled “Violence,” where, according to Harris, she demonstrated her “unflinching attention” to Thomas Jefferson’s and the University of Virginia’s “troubled histories and legacies” regarding slavery and race. 

She added that society “desperately” needs university leaders who can speak eloquently on these issues, and she is hopeful that McInnis will rise to the challenge.

“Most university administrators shied away from such investigations, fearing the controversies they would bring, or simply in denial about the role of slavery at their institutions, but McInnis went in the opposite direction,” Harris said. “I hope that she will bring a similar fearless leadership to Yale.”

In 2011, McInnis published “Slaves Waiting for Sale: Abolitionist Art and the American Slave Trade.” 

The book uses paintings to examine the slave trade in the American South and examines the role of visual culture and iconography in transatlantic abolitionism movements.

“‘Slaves Waiting for Sale’ is a model of engaged scholarship,” said Edward Ayers GRD ’78 GRD ’80, former president of the University of Richmond and founding chair of the board of the American Civil War Museum. “The book displays an astonishing range of talents, weaving the history of art into a rich interpretation of an entire society.”

According to Bernie Herman, a professor of American studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a member of McInnis’ dissertation committee, the book centers on a single painting in a far-reaching narrative that cuts across the antebellum South and transatlantic debates over the human cost and contested ideologies of slavery. 

Herman added that McInnis’ work in this field “epitomizes the best in scholarship,” and her accomplishments are “nothing short of extraordinary.”

Robertson wrote that when he first read the book he was “astounded” at what she discovered in her work. He said that it takes “amazing research skills” to find the material she uses in the book and putting it to work interpreting images is “astonishingly smart and creative.” 

He added that the book demonstrates that if you dig hard enough, it is possible to recover the suppressed voices of enslaved Black Americans in their “particularity and humanity.”

In 2020, when McInnis was also considered for a chaired appointment at Stony Brook University, David Shields, a ​​professor of English language and literature at the University of South Carolina, was tasked by Stony Brook to provide a summary assessment of McInnis’ academic work. In the report, which was obtained by the News, Shields traced McInnis’ work from her first published work, “The Politics of Taste in Antebellum Charleston,” published in 2005, which explores how the city came to be regarded as one of the most refined in antebellum America, to “Slaves Waiting For Sale.” 

Shields praised McInnis’ academic scholarship and said that Stony Brook would be fortunate if they counted McInnis as a colleague.

“Because Dr. McInnis is such an eminence in the field of early American art history and material culture studies, it is not difficult to make a case for her tenured appointment … as this letter suggests, I regard McInnis as one of the most important scholars in the field of art history and material culture studies,” Shields wrote in the report.

McInnis will be the first woman to serve as Yale’s president in a non-interim capacity. 

Adam Walker is the University Editor of the Yale Daily News. He previously covered Yale Law School for the University desk. Originally from Long Island, New York, he is a rising junior in Branford College double majoring in Economics and American Studies.