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Dr. Nancy Steinhardt

Dr. Nancy Steinhardt is the Professor of East Asian Art at The University of Pennsylvania and Curator of Chinese Art at Penn Museum. She was the 2016-2017 Joanna Nichols Visiting Scholar.


When people think about ancient Chinese art and architecture, they may not associate it with words like “cutting-edge” and “fast-paced”. Instead, the image of an archaeologist painstakingly digging up relics and slowly restoring them to their former glory may come to mind. However, Dr. Nancy Steinhardt, the 2017 Joanna Nichols Visiting Scholar, put that notion to rest during her month-long visit with upper school students and faculty.

Dr. Steinhardt is the Department Chair and Professor of East Asian Art at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also the Curator of Chinese Art at the Penn Museum. She holds a PhD from Harvard University and has spent her career researching art and architecture with a particular focus on China and border problems between Chinese and geographical neighbors. At TAS, Dr. Steinhardt taught courses in the History of Asia, History of Asian Art, World History, Mandarin, Japanese, Architecture, and 3D Art. Her passion for this area of study became abundantly clear during a division-wide presentation to upper school students.

Drawing from her rich collection of photographs and her deep understanding of Chinese art, architecture, history, and customs, she brought to life two centuries of culture rarely examined in history books.

She began her presentation by prefacing that scholars are discovering new things all the time in the world of Chinese art and architecture. Often these discoveries challenge our pre-existing worldviews. Dr. Steinhardt spent time talking about the lesser-known Liao Dynasty that dominated northern China from the early 10th to 12th centuries. Drawing from her rich collection of photographs and her deep understanding of Chinese art, architecture, history, and customs, she brought to life two centuries of culture rarely examined in history books. For example, students and faculty were fascinated to see both the Western and Chinese Zodiacs depicted together on the ceilings of Liao tombs. This was just a sampling of her far-reaching expertise. In one of her classes at TAS, a student inquired about a little known Taoist monastery in the Shaanxi Province called the Yongle Palace. Dr. Steinhardt recalled, “I was really impressed that a student would have known about this, so I decided to talk about it.” She went home that weekend and prepared an entire lecture on the palace just for that class.

Dr. Steinhardt has had a distinguished career in her academic field and is considered by many to be the embodiment of intellectual curiosity.

Dr. Steinhardt’s visit to Taipei American School was her second visit to Taiwan. Her first occurred earlier in her career before China opened up to foreigners. Dr. Steinhardt visited some of the small towns in Taiwan that had masterfully protected architectural structures of old buildings and temples. Dr. Steinhardt listed both Tainan and Lukang just south of Taichung as areas that offer excellent opportunities to step back in time and explore Taiwan’s rich architectural history.

Dr. Steinhardt has had a distinguished career in her academic field and is considered by many to be the embodiment of intellectual curiosity. A scholar at heart, she has authored a number of books and journal articles, most recently The Chinese Mosque in 2015 and Chinese Architecture: Twelve Lectures in 2017. She is currently working on a new book, titled The Borders of Chinese Architecture. She is a prolific lecturer and has conducted hundreds of public presentations while also acting as an advisor for over a half dozen museums around the world. Dr. Steinhardt has received grants from some of the most prestigious academic organizations, including the Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Institute for Advanced Study.

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