An avowed imagist, Barbara Stafford's writing focuses on the history and theory of imaging and visualization modalities from the early modern to the digital era. Her books reveal the deep intersections connecting the arts, sciences, and optical technologies to one another: Geography/Geology/ Mineralogy (featured in Voyage into Substance); Anatomy and the Life Sciences (Body Criticism); Neuroscience and Cognitive Science (Echo Objects). She also writes historically-grounded manifestos on the vital significance of the Visual and Sensory Arts to general education as well as to society at large (Artful Science; Good Looking).
Currently Stafford is an independent scholar, writer and curator. In her recent work, Stafford has examined the revolutionary ways in which the brain sciences are changing our view of the total sensorium and inflecting our fundamental assumptions concerning perception, sensation, emotion, mental imagery, and subjectivity. Recent projects include efforts to establish a laboratory/studio-based PhD tying together the Neurosciences with Humanities/ Social Sciences-based Imaging (SUNY Buffalo). Other types of innovative programs would hopefully lead to the reconceptualization of Design Studies as Pattern-Recognition. Yet another project involves the completion of a collaborative book, A Field Guide to a New Metafield: Bridging the Humanities-Neurosciences Divide (2012). This volume results from the invitation to be Templeton Fellow at USC, Los Angeles, in 2008. From 2010-2012, she served as Distinguished University Visiting Professor as well as 2013-2014, Distinguished Critic in the College of Architecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
She has held fellowships from the NEH, CASVA, Getty Research Institute, Guggenheim, Humboldt Prize, the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, Sir John Templeton Fellow (USC), and the Migunyeah Fellow (University of Melbourne, AU). In 2015 she was the recipient of the inaugural Media Art Histories Award for Contributions to the Field.
Stafford received her BA from Northwestern University majoring in Continental Philosophy and Comparative Literature. She also spent a year at the Sorbonne in Paris studying Plato with Jean Wahl, Aesthetics with Philippe Souriau, and Victor Hugo with Charles Dedeyan. She returned to Northwestern for her MA in Art History—finding Philosophy not enfleshed enough—and went on to receive her PhD from the University of Chicago. The most momentous event of her doctoral studies was receiving a fellowship from the American Association of University Women enabling her to study at the Warburg Institute in London, where she discovered her thesis advisor, Ernst Gombrich.