“Surprise on Those Petty ‘Museum-Souls’”: Amateurs and the Boundaries of Chinese Art Knowledge in the Age of Professionalism, 1919–41
This paper examines the role that amateur speakers and writers played in fostering interest in and understanding of Chinese art in the United States during the 1920s and 1930s, contributions that have largely been overlooked in the existing literature. It focuses on three women—Florence Ayscough, Agnes Meyer, and Dagny Murphy Carter—and analyzes the different factors that led to their relative successes and failures in publishing popular books and on the lecture circuit. The paper contextualizes their work within the social and intellectual evolution of Chinese art as a profession in the U.S., and uses it to assess the widening gap between professionals and non-professionals in the field. Thus, its contributions go beyond recovering a set of forgotten writings, to analyzing the significance of credentials, social networks, wealth, and gender in constituting the boundaries between information, knowledge, and power.
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