As an Art Historian and a faculty member at the University of Virginia, Dr. Carmenita Higginbotham could cover a plethora of topics. And she does, but the one she’s most often associated with is the cultural and visual impact of Disney in American popular culture.
It is this subject that she will discuss during the Third General Session of the 2016 Honors Institute, June 20-25 at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.
Higginbotham teaches courses in both the Art History Department and in UVA’s American Studies program. Her lectures have ranged from the history of American art and popular visual culture to African American art and art film. Yet the kid in all of us can’t help but feel at least a bit nostalgic at the mere mention of Walt Disney’s name — it is this course that led to her being featured in PBS’ “American Experience” documentary on Walt Disney in 2015.
“Disneyland is the idealization of the past and the hopeful regard for the future,” she said in the film. “It is not about now. It is a complete release from all those burdens.”
Myths about Walt Disney abound, including that he was an anti-Semite. Producers of the documentary found no evidence to support this, and Higginbotham said the numerous urban legends about Disney speak to the power of the “myth of who (he) was.”
“I teach on Disney, and this comes up a lot in the classroom,” she said during a panel discussion on the documentary. “Young viewers now want the complete story. They want to understand more about this individual than they normally get, and that frequently comes up. And so there is this desire to reconcile who he was, who we think he was. It’s part of the mythos that is Walt Disney.”
Animated films and theme parks aside, Higginbotham has also made a name for herself researching early 20th century American art with an emphasis on how notions of “the city” have had an impact on representation. Her book, The Urban Scene: Race, Reginald Marsh and American Art, considers how Reginald Marsh as an American Scene artist represents African Americans during the 1930s.
Honors Institute features six dynamic keynote speakers, who will examine the Honors Study Topic, How the World Works: Global Perspectives, from their own individual views. The early registration deadline is May 13. Attendance is limited and is filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Register now.
The registration fee covers event tuition, lodging for a week and all meals except Thursday’s R&R Day. See the full schedule.