By Jeff Gage
In 2016, Joseph R. Hartman became the first-ever student to graduate from SMU Meadows with a Ph.D. in art history. Raised on a corn and soy-bean farm in Indiana, Hartman previously received his master’s from the University of North Texas. “I’ve benefited a great deal from the art history community of North Texas, which is much deeper and richer than a lot of people from other parts of the United States would expect,” he says.
Hartman is now an assistant professor of art history and Latinx and Latin American studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He will release his first book, Dictator’s Dreamscape: How Architecture and Vision Built Machado’s Cuba and Invented Modern Havana — the basis for which was his dissertation at SMU — this month through University of Pittsburgh Press.
What brought you to study at SMU Meadows?
SMU had just opened this really exciting program, the Rhetorics of Arts, Space and Culture (RASc/a), when I was on the market and applying. It was especially strong in offering the broad view of Latin American art that I was interested in, something that would allow me to go from ancient origins into colonial encounters and the myths of modernism, while also examining the ongoing conflicts and trials of contemporary globalism.
What was it like to be on the ground floor of the program?
One way to look at it, I like to joke, is that I was either the pioneer or the guinea pig. What I found enriching about the experience was that I was also, in my own little way, able to help shape the program, as Mariana von Hartenthal and I were the first to go through the program and provide feedback for every step along the way. I enjoyed that.
How did that help lead to your current position in academia with UMKC?
I think that experience was an advantage for me going into the marketplace. I had this background and training with professionals in the field, being part of a new, exciting vision for what you can do with art history and how you look at art history in relationship to the broader field.
What was special about the education you received at SMU Meadows?
SMU really gave me a program of quality and excellence that would be comparable to something you’d encounter in the Northeast or the West Coast. The quality of professors and rigor of the program is something you don’t easily encounter in the Southwest and Southeast. Particularly with SMU’s focus on the Americas, it puts the program in a unique position, because you’re surrounded by the culture of Latinx and Latin America.
Any recommendations for the next generation of SMU Meadows students?
Use the strengths of the department and the culture around you. Go see art shows here in Dallas. Go use the Meadows Museum. And talk to your professors, because they’re really some of the best in the nation. Create a community any way that you can.