Alison Syme

Associate Professor


Fields of Study

Areas of Interest

  • 19th- and early 20th-century French, British, and American art and visual culture


My research primarily focuses on art of the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Britain, France, and the United States. Within this field, I study a range of different topics and traditions, from the neomedievalism of the Pre-Raphaelites to society portraiture to early abstraction. All of my research, however, is characterised by a commitment to close looking, examination of the intersection of art and visual culture, interdisciplinary enquiry, and analysis of the role of metaphors in artistic practice and poetics. My first book, A Touch of Blossom: John Singer Sargent and the Queer Flora of Fin-de-Siècle Art (Penn State University Press, 2010), shortlisted for the Modernist Studies Association Book Prize in 2011, considers Sargent in the context of nineteenth-century botany, gynaecology, literature, and visual culture and argues that the artist mobilised ideas of cross-fertilisation and the hermaphroditic sexuality of flowers in his works to “naturalise” sexual inversion, visually elaborating a floral poetics of homosexuality. I am currently working on my third book, The Sticks and Stones of Edward Burne-Jones, which explores the Victorian artist’s poetics of materials and animation strategies in the context of Victorian geology, print culture, and archaeology. Other current projects include articles on the Omega Workshops and on Impressionism and ecology.

My graduate courses include “Art and Animation” and “Bloomsbury and Vorticism.”


Selected Publications

  • “Bohemians of the Vegetable World,” in Queer Difficulty in Art and Poetry: Re-Thinking the Sexed Body in Verse and Visual Culture, ed. Jongwoo Kim and Christopher Reed, 10–23 (New York: Routledge, 2017)
  • “Screens of Vegetation; or, The Cyber Gardens of Philomène Longpré,” in Philomène Longpré: Transcendare. Ouvres-Systèmes Sensibles/Responsive Art Systems, ed. Christine Redfern (Montreal: Ellephant, 2016), 39–59.
  • “Über Geschichten von pflanzlichen Vampiren – oder moderne Verbrauchernachrichten” (“Tales of Vegetable Vampires; or, Modern Consumer Reports”), trans. Daniel Schreiber, in Floriographie: Die Sprachen der Blumen, ed. Isabel Kranz, Alexander Schwann, and Eike Wittrock (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 2016), 315–335.
  • Willow (Reaktion, 2014)
  • A Touch of Blossom (Penn State UP, 2010)


PhD, Harvard University, History of Art, 2005

Administrative Service

Associate Chair, Graduate Studies, 2012-2014