Who’s Who: Samuel Shaw

Who are you and what do you do at the OU? What modules are you involved in?

My name is Samuel Shaw and I’m a Lecturer in History of Art. I’m part of the module team for the MA in Art History (A843 and A844) and the third level module Art and its Global Histories (A344).

What got you interested in Art History?

I was lucky to grow up with art history books in the house and enjoyed frequent trips to museums, so it’s always been part of my life. My initial hopes were to be an artist, but I thought I’d do a degree in art history first, as it combined my interest in art with my interest in history and literature. Although my understanding of what art history is, and can be, has changed a lot over the years, I haven’t really looked back since then. The BA led to an MA and onto a PhD. The idea of not spending large parts of my day looking and thinking about images and objects seems ridiculous.

What are your main research areas?

I began to specialise towards the end of my undergraduate degree, when I first developed an interest in early twentieth-century British art. For a while it was all about the generation which emerged shortly before the First World War: David Bomberg, Mark Gertler, Paul Nash, Wyndham Lewis, etc. Then I started drifting backwards, into the earlier 1900s and the 1890s. I wrote my PhD thesis on the artist, writer and teacher William Rothenstein, who remains central to my research. Rothenstein’s long career and wide range of interests sent me in many directions, and helped me understand the ways in which late Victorian and modernist art worlds, despite surface differences, were in fact closely connected. This period (c.1880-1920) is still central to my research, although I’ve begun to move in other directions also. Between 2013-16, I worked on a project based in the US, on art and the British Empire, during which I began to explore intersections between art and natural history in the long nineteenth century. This led to a book on the cultural representation of zebras, and a wider interest in the ways in which art and visual culture help us to understand our relationship with the so-called ‘natural world’.

What is your most significant publication or latest publication?

The book I’m currently working on (William Rothenstein and the Cosmopolitanism of the British Art World, due 2022) is probably the most significant thing I’ve written. But I must say that I’m very fond of Zebra (Reaktion Books, 2018) which I co-authored with the historian Christopher Plumb. It’s a short book, but it ranges across history and across disciplines. It was a lot of fun to write – and I even convinced the publishers to let me include some of my linocuts in it.

For more information about my publications and research interests, please see my OU people profile.