Caroline Paganussi skillfully handles the reins of her future

It might surprise you to learn that Caroline Paganussi originally intended to become an equine veterinarian. Yes, the PhD candidate in Italian Renaissance, who speaks flawless Italian and boasts an impressive dossier of museum experience up to and including The Phillips Collection, initially set her sights on veterinary school at Cornell University, going so far as make a full application there. However, she realized quickly that she lacked the emotional detachment required to work with animals in all phases of health (“I panicked!”). Fortunately, Caroline retains her love of horses, and even more fortunately for us, she began her freshman year in Art and Sciences at Cornell with an undefined concentration. A handful of first-year Art History classes later, and Caroline was hooked on a field in which she excels and to which she stands to make important contributions, including over the next two years in the Collaboratory as the Robert H. Smith Digital Art History Fellowship, about which more below.

As it turns out, many experiences in Caroline’s childhood prepared her for the art historical turn. In fourth grade she and her class acted out Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb (no doubt with the dramatic flair appropriate to a ten-year old). A self-described library nerd from early on, Caroline discovered, and fell in love with, that seminal museum classic, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and one imagines Caroline stepping into Claudia Kincaid’s shoes during her frequent visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of her favorite places to go when visiting family in New York City. It also did not hurt that an aunt specialized in Art History and passed on her love of all things Italian Renaissance.

Caroline confirmed her childhood passion for museums during a summer internship at the Holocaust Museum in Washington after her freshman year, and subsequent internships in various museums and  departments (from curatorial to development), some ominous advice from her mother  about her choice of major notwithstanding (“I hope you know what you are doing. About to be tough….”), allowed her to hone her keen financial acumen and managerial skills, which she brought to much of her subsequent museum work, especially as Executive Assistant to the Director at The Phillips Collection.

Cornell University requires of its undergraduate students demonstrated foreign language proficiency; as well, to encourage deep learning of a language and its culture they promote study abroad in non-English-speaking countries and away from the major tourist centers. Thanks in part to this stricture and to her desire to explore her family roots, and perhaps to give herself a challenge (at the time her Italian was pretty minimal, especially compared to an ability in Spanish nurtured by ten years of instruction) Caroline committed to study abroad in Bologna her junior year. With classes taught completely in Italian, and for which one registered only after arriving in country (one also was responsible for securing housing on one’s own!), Caroline excelled. While some of her classes were conducted within the hallowed halls of the world’s oldest university, quite often Bologna itself was the classroom.

Caroline’s favorite course, focused on Bolognese sculpture, painting, and architecture, was completely in situ. The firing of all senses as one learned of, and discussed, the significance of a chapel one day and the next a funerary monument featuring a professor addressing students in a sort of forever lecture, appealed greatly to Caroline. She is convinced that that course, by bringing her and other students face to face with the objects and monuments under discussion, shaped her approach to Art History as a field and continues to fuel her inexhaustible curiosity about cultural production. Using this seminal experience as a lodestar, during the two years of her Smith Digital Art History Fellowship in the Collaboratory Caroline will explore the capacity of technology (360 degree film and still photography, stereoscopic audio, virtual reality) to bring the power of place and immersive teaching to students taking an online course. Should she succeed, Caroline will explode the potential of online teaching in our field in a way that no one to date has, and which would result in a national or international convening in the Collaboratory to discuss future online pedagogy.

Caroline’s experience in Bologna also proved consequential for the trajectory of her education. Giancarlo Benevolo, one of Caroline’s professors in Italy, glimpsed her potential and stated “we have to discuss your future.” He directed her away from working in auction houses and towards the M.A. in Museum Studies at University College in London . Internships at the Uffizi Gallery and the Mall Galleries prepared her well for an internship at The Phillips Collection, where she preceded to work her way up to become Executive Assistant to the Director. Her favorite part of that job was working with Board of Trustees, because it allowed her to have conversations with a lot of people who really love art and to learn what drives them to collect art.

Since matriculating at University of Maryland, Caroline has regularly been what her advisor, Professor Meredith Gill, would call “a study in motion.” Caroline is an excellent and experienced teacher, both as a teaching assistant during the academic years and as an online instructor in the summer. In academic year 2018-2019 she served as the Research and Writing Fellow, helping numerous undergraduates strategize about how best to research and write term papers. In spring 2019 Caroline represented the Department at the forty-ninth annual sessions of the Middle Atlantic Symposium. Her talk, “A Woman of Total Goodness, and a Singular Talent”: Anna Morandi Manzolini and Self-Portraiture in Wax,” was very well-received, even as Caroline concedes that work on that was in addition to her dissertation.

Her dissertation, appropriately, takes her back to Bologna, where she is exploring how the presence of the university fostered and shaped a painting that is distinct in its approach to that of the nearby art centers of Florence and Venice in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. To talk to Caroline about this time in Bologna is to realize that, far from a quiet university town, Bologna was a place of considerable political intrigue, a sort of Renaissance “Game of Thrones” whose impact on artistic patronage is but part of the web of influences through which Caroline sorts as she completes her research.

When she completes her dissertation, Caroline hopes to become a curator in an area museum with a strong focus on education. Perhaps then she will find a moment to relax. When asked what she does now to relax, her eyes blink for a moment: “I don’t know what that is. I’m in graduate school.”

Don’t worry Caroline, Graduation is Coming .