Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College


Touba Ghadessi

Touba Ghadessi

Associate Professor of Art History
Chair, Art History (Art and Art History Department)

Co-founder, The Wheaton Institute for the Interdisciplinary Humanities
President (joint position), The New England Renaissance Conference


Ph.D., M.A., Northwestern University
B.A., Trinity University

Main Interests

Monsters in the early modern period; History of anatomy; Gender definitions and gender ambiguity between 1400 and 1800; Ruling figures and vexed visualizations of power

Research Interests

My first project explores the ways in which human monstrousness and physical deformity have been historically represented, categorized, and interpreted in the various Italian and French courts of the late Renaissance. At the center of this interdisciplinary study are the court monsters – dwarves, hirsutes, and misshapen individuals – who, by their very presence, altered Renaissance ethics vis-à-vis anatomical difference, social virtues, scientific knowledge, and the art theoretical discourse on portraiture. My book-length study, Courting Monstrosity, examines several cases to illustrate these concepts.

My new research seeks to address the more theoretical notion of monstrosity in images of Valois rulers in France. From alchemy, to wilderness, and hermaphroditic bodies, this project traces the ways in which varied monstrous bodies allowed for new ruling epistemologies to occur and how these forms of knowledge challenged the homogeneous narrative often used to illustrate monarchs’ political intentions.

Teaching Interests

I teach courses that fall very broadly in the categories of Renaissance art and history of science and anatomy. In my classes, students discuss the use and display of birthing bowls one day and problematize Foucault's concept of episteme the next. In addition to core methodologies and solid foundations in deciphering and understanding visual productions, my courses bring non-canonical objects to the classroom: I want my students to feel confident in their ability to analyze historical material -- be it textual or visual -- especially material with which they are not familiar.

Other Interests

I am passionate about the true and concrete value of the humanities, particularly in a professional, civic, and political context. I believe that knowledge, in all its forms, is what constructs a respectful and innovative society. As an expression of this interest, I co-founded and co-directed The Wheaton Institute for the Interdisciplinary Humanities and I am privileged to be a board member of The Rhode Island Council for the Humanities and of The Providence Athenaeum.

I am also the joint president of The New England Renaissance Conference, the oldest Renaissance Society in America.