Education: B.A., Art History and Russian Studies, American University; Ph.D., Art History, Rutgers University.
Allison Leigh is a postdoctoral fellow in art history at the Cooper Union.
When did you first develop an interest in Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies?
I first developed an interest in Slavic Studies as a senior in high school. I was offered a scholarship through the Washington, D.C. public school system to take a college course at American University and I decided to begin studying the Russian language. I went to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts for high school where I studied dance intensively and was lucky to have been trained in the Vaganova ballet technique there. That combined with the fact that years before, when my military family was stationed in Italy, I traveled with them to St. Petersburg and Moscow. It was an amazing experience for a ten year old to have. I would say my passion for Russian culture grew out of all these experiences and I leaped when that first opportunity to dig deeper presented itself. What I was shocked to learn was how personally difficult learning Russian was for me! Of course I knew it was an extremely challenging language, but I found I wasn't a natural at all. That adversity fueled me. I felt humbled before the daunting task of learning Russian and knew that sticking to it would help me grow both intellectually and personally.
How have your interests changed since then?
My original interest in Slavic Studies changed quite a bit from those early college days. I later discovered Art History while at American University and knew that was the field I wanted to go into. I was lucky to have great advisors in the program there and they encouraged me to combine Russian Studies with Art History as I moved on to graduate school. I realized that there was a real need for greater study of Russian art before the 20th century in the English-speaking world and that led me to new areas of research. I found I could make a difference in my field by focusing on 18th and 19th-century Russian art in praxis with Western European art and have been committed to it ever since.
What is your current research/work project?
At present I'm working on my first book, currently titled "Superfluous Man: Modernity and Malaise in Nineteenth-Century Europe" - it's an interdisciplinary and trans-cultural study of modernity which focuses on the role of boredom and malaise in men's lives during the 19th century.
This research began with my dissertation which focused on paintings depicting various permutations of melancholy and ennui among men in Russia and France. It's very exciting work to be doing because it not only fulfills my goal of broadening the art historical canon to include Russian art, but allows for thinking more broadly on themes as monolithic as modernity and urban life. That and it's rewarding to be a part of this new wave of 'masculinity studies' in academia; I hope the book will have something special to offer across a number of disciplines.
I'm also working on completing two articles, one about a painting by the Russian artist Ilya Repin and how it has something vital to tell us about the alienation of modern life (this research I'll actually be presenting at the 2015 ASEEES convention!) and the other about the earliest portraits to be created in Russia during the reign of Peter the Great.
What do you value about your ASEEES membership?
My ASEEES membership is such a boon because it allows me to stay connected to the field of Slavic Studies in a way I never could without it. Attending the conference is one of the highlights of my year because I can hear so many different talks on such a range of subjects and across so many fields. I always come away from it with many profoundly new ideas and ways of thinking - it's really a delight for an interdisciplinary practitioner like me! Networking and getting to know scholars through ASEEES has definitely made me a better thinker and professor - a priceless combo for any academic if you ask me.
Besides your professional work, what other interests and/or hobbies do you enjoy?
I am a devoted yoga practitioner and distance runner and also enjoy taking advantage of the multitude of cultural events available in New York City. I attend the opera, symphony, and ballet regularly as well as art openings and exhibitions as much as I can.