Tech Alumna's Unique Journey Through the Art World Shows that Anything is Possible with an IAC Degree

Posted May 12, 2021

Sarah Mallory had settled into her first phase of life as a Georgia Tech graduate, working as a student communications coordinator out of the Wardlaw Center, a job she found stimulating and rewarding. But Mallory’s passion for learning hadn’t dimmed, and she had taken a few classes on the side. One that particularly piqued her interest was Kranzberg Professor Emeritus John Krige’s graduate survey on the history of technology, which she took in the fall of 2008.

Mallory, a 2003 graduate from the Science, Technology, and Culture (STAC) program in the School of Literature, Communication, and Culture (now Literature, Media, and Communication), knew at the time that she wanted a graduate degree – she just wasn’t sure what to study. But it was that graduate survey, and the willingness to explore different fields and disciplines that the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts instilled in her, that helped set Mallory on her current path: she’s working on a Ph.D. in the Department of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard, showing that the range of possibilities with an IAC degree is almost limitless.

“I don’t think I would have had the confidence to even try and move forward with an academic career if the professors at Georgia Tech hadn’t said, ‘Hey, keep going,’” Mallory said.

Mallory, a Lilburn native, first enrolled at Tech in the materials science and engineering program, looking to study textile and fiber engineering. After a year, though, she realized she had to follow her interest in languages and the humanities. Mallory learned about STAC from another student in the program. After meeting with an advisor, she switched her major.

Mallory’s classes in the program covered a wide range of topics and fields. She fondly remembers studying with T. Hugh Crawford, associate professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication, and Alan Rauch, who is currently at UNC-Charlotte.

“Sarah approached the material both then and now with a quiet intensity that I envy,” Crawford said. “She ended up writing her senior thesis on Alfred North Whitehead’s Process and Reality, a notoriously difficult book – I was just happy to have someone to read it with. I’ve never taught a more adventurous and at the same time careful thinker as Sarah.”

While Mallory never took an art history class, her studies broached those topics, covering movements such as modernism and postmodernism, and examining works of art as a part of studying artistic movements. Mallory also would take the opportunity during football games, when her friends were otherwise occupied, to borrow their cars and drive to the High Museum of Art near Georgia Tech’s campus.

“I absolutely loved it,” Mallory said of her time at Georgia Tech. “I had such a fabulous time.”

It was the class with Krige years later, however, that helped give Mallory a more concrete idea of where to take her studies. During that class, she started to pursue an interest in World’s Fairs, particularly how they presented technology to wider audiences. That led Mallory to the field of material culture, which studies the meaning of what society and its citizens consume and present.

It also helped her find a graduate degree to pursue, in the History of Design and Curatorial Studies at the New School’s Parsons School of Design in New York City. In that program, Mallory took classes in the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, where “everything gelled,” she said. She went on to work as a researcher at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met), assisting with an exhibit on European Renaissance tapestry, and completed a Master’s in art history and archaeology at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts.

Mallory’s time at the Met helped guide her to her current interest in Dutch and Flemish art in the 16th and 17th centuries. Her most recent work in that area has focused on how the art world in that era was influenced by one of the other defining characteristics of European empires back then: colonialism and involvement in the slave trade. Mallory recently helped organize a digital program, Art Museums and the Legacies of the Dutch Slave Trade: Curating Histories, Envisioning Futures, exploring how  museums can use their collections to examine the legacies of slavery in our pasts, presents, and futures. 

She attributes much of the willingness to cross disciplines and seek the context and “critical frameworks” of art to her time at Georgia Tech and IAC. And more broadly, the sense of adventure and constant discovery that has characterized Mallory’s career to this point started in IAC, where she discovered that the only limit to her education was her imagination.

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