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Matthew Vollgraff

Matthew Vollgraff


Matthew Vollgraff is a NOMIS–eikones Fellow at eikones – Center for the Theory and History of Images at the University of Basel (Switzerland).

Vollgraff is a cultural historian who specializes in the science, politics and visual culture of modern central Europe. He studies how 19th and 20th century scientists and artists have negotiated knowledge about the human, including theories of affect, technology, race and migration. His work deals closely with the epistemic role of images across anthropology, aesthetics and the life sciences, particularly in imperial and colonial contexts.

He completed his PhD in German at Princeton University (US) and has held academic appointments at the Warburg Institute, University of London; the University of Hamburg; and the Center for Literary and Cultural Research, Berlin. He is the author of two forthcoming monographs: The Science of Expression: Emotion, Technology and German Modernity (Zone Books) and The Imperial Childhood of World Art (Bard Graduate Center). His articles have appeared in journals such as Grey RoomOctoberRes: Anthropology and AestheticsHistory of Science, and Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte.

As a NOMIS Fellow, Matthew will work on a new book project, tentatively titled Migration as Method: Diffusionism and the Global Politics of the Deep Past, 1890–1960. The project centers on the history of diffusionism, an influential approach in anthropology and archaeology that interpreted similarities in distant visual and material culture worldwide as evidence of ancient migrations and culture contact. The book follows a transnational network of diffusionist scholars across the first half of the 20th century, examining how their ideologically multifarious visions of the deep past were entangled with contemporary sociopolitical phenomena like globalization, nationalism, war, immigration and decolonization. Retracing the impact of modern geopolitics on theories about the deep past, Migration as Method reappraises diffusionism’s ambivalent legacy as it relates to issues of cultural identity, heritage and sovereignty into the present day.

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