I’m from the Philippines and grew up mainly in the US. My background and experiences have contributed to my interests in global encounters and exchanges. Besides research, I most enjoy making music and traveling with my family in pursuit of great cities, sights and sounds. 

If you’d like to know more about me as a whole person (and not just as an academic), below is an edited excerpt from my first blog post, in which I tried to explain to students who I am, what I do, and why. I hope it makes the values that inform my work clear, especially around equity, diversity, and inclusion.

I’m an expert in medieval Islamic art and architecture, a field that grew out of and was/is an active agent in colonial systems, with all the difficult and problematic issues that entails. I know that simply by working in the academy I am a part of unjust systems of oppression and exclusion.  But I also know that my work, and my commitment to supporting diversity and inclusion, is profoundly shaped by my perspectives as a cis-female-introverted-parent-mixed-BAME-immigrant from a working-class family.

I’m from the Philippines, which has a complicated history of Spanish and Anglo-American colonialism. My father is white and was in the US military. I’m shaped by those national and transnational histories and by legacies of empire and war.  I’m the first person in my immediate family to go to graduate school and the first to get a PhD.  When we moved to the US, after living in the Philippines and then in Italy, where my dad was stationed, I didn’t fit in at all in our small rural town. I looked different, I sounded different. As a kid at school I got used to being asked: “Are you Oriental?” and “Are you mixed?” 

 I’m a product of a public school system that was probably ranked near the bottom in the US, academically, at that time. Against all odds and expectations I got into a PhD program at MIT, which changed my life. My doctoral program was my first experience at an elite private institution. It was a difficult transition. Academically, I didn’t feel adequately prepared in the beginning – becoming an art historian, let alone a historian of Islamic art, was not something I’d planned to do as an undergrad, or even as a graduate student, until I decided to go for a PhD. But I felt at home at MIT, in large part because I was surrounded by immigrants who all came from outside the US. I no longer stood out for the way I looked or spoke. That was an amazing feeling, but I still didn’t quite fit in because by that point I was also a new parent with a 4-month old baby.  For the first year or two I literally thought I was the only grad student mother in the entire institution, which was difficult and isolating.  But I did it with the support of my husband and our family, and the institution as well.

I took the photo below twenty years ago, during my first research trip as a PhD student. It shows the Islamic visual language of a medieval palace in Seville, in Spain, with people providing a sense of scale. The two in the foreground are my mom and my son, who was around two years old at the time. She is leaning over to look at the Arabic inscription that he was pointing out. To our amusement he announced confidently that he could read the inscription, and that it said “Keep off the grass” – an unexpectedly intertextual reading based on one of his favorite books!…

You can find the full post, “On diversifying art history. Perspectives from a mixed BAME academic (14 July, 2020),” here.

© Glaire Anderson (CC BY-NC 4.0)