Rachel Stephens

Rachel Stephens

Associate Professor of Art History, American Art and Architecture


  • PhD, Art History, University of Iowa, 2010
  • MA, Art History, Vanderbilt University
  • BA, Art History, Sewanee: The University of the South

Research Areas

  • Art and architecture of the US South


Rachel Stephens joined the Department of Art and Art History at The University of Alabama as an assistant professor in 2013. Her research focuses on nineteenth-century American art and visual culture, especially antebellum Southern art, race and representation, and Jacksonian-era portraiture and political prints.

Dr. Stephens discussing Charles Willson Peale’s Portrait of William Buckland at Yale University Art Gallery

Stephens has published two monographs. Her new book, Hidden in Plain Sight: Concealing Enslavement in American Visual Culture, released in the fall of 2023 from the University of Arkansas Press, offers a wide-ranging view of the ways that slavery and enslaved people were hidden, omitted, or idealized within the context of Southern art in the decades before the Civil War. In preparing this project, Dr. Stephens served as a Tyson Fellow at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in the fall of 2018, a fellow at Yale’s Gilder Lehrman Center in the spring of 2019, an Ailsa Mellon Bruce Visiting Senior Fellow at CASVA in the fall of 2020, and a Virginia Humanities Fellow at the Library of Virginia in the fall of 2021. Her first book, Selling Andrew Jackson: Ralph E. W. Earl and the Politics of Portraiture, published in June 2018 with the University of South Carolina Press, explores the critical role that Earl and his dozens of portraits of Jackson played in shaping Old Hickory’s public persona, aiding his election to the presidency, and responding to anti-Jackson caricature. Stephens has also published articles in Panorama, Early American Studies, and Tennessee Historical Quarterly, among other places. She is currently preparing an edited volume of essays on Southern art, as well as a third monograph about the implications of Indigenous removal and enslavement on the visual arts of Nashville.

Courses Taught

  • ARH 253: Survey of Western Art II
  • ARH 374: Art of the American South
  • ARH 375: 19th-century Art
  • ARH 376: American Architecture
  • ARH 377: American Painting and Sculpture
  • ARH 377: American Art to 1815
  • ARH 379: American Art 1815 to 1880
  • ARH 386: Latin American Art
  • ARH 477: Southern Architecture
  • ARH 477: Slavery and American Art
  • ARH 477/577: Undergrad/graduate seminar, Archiving Lyon Hall
  • ARH 550: Graduate seminar in Theory and Methodologies
  • ARH 575: Graduate seminar in Civil War and American Art
  • ARH 575: Graduate seminar in Slavery and American Art
  • ARH 577: Graduate seminar in American Portraiture

Recent and Upcoming Presentations

  • October 14, 2023, SECAC, Richmond, Paper: “Slavery and the Tennessee State Capitol Building: Investigating Race and Architecture in the Athens of the South”
  • September 28, 2023, Book talk and reception for Hidden in Plain Sight, Historic Tuscaloosa, Jemison Van De Graaf Mansion
  • May 21, 2021, Symposium: Landscape Art of the Americas: Sites of Human Intervention across the 19th Century, Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia, “Plantation Paintings in Cuba and the United States: National Identity versus Slavery Justification”
  • February 2021, CAA (virtual) “‘Too Independent for a Lady’: Art, Capital, and Propriety in Nineteenth-Century Tennessee”
  • December 2020 SECAC, Richmond (virtual); “The Heroine of Virginia: Anti-Abolitionist Violence in a Rare 1814 Watercolor,” co-presentation with Katie McKinney

Recent AwardsDr. Rachel Stephens

  • Fall 2021, Virginia Humanities Fellow, Library of Virginia
  • Fall 2020, Visiting Senior Fellow, CASVA, National Gallery, Washington
  • Spring 2019, Gilder-Lehrman Center, Yale University 4-month Faculty Fellowship
  • Fall 2018, Tyson Scholars Fellowship, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Recent Publications


Watch a video of Dr. Stephens describing her teaching and research:

Below, Dr. Stephens discusses her research on the history and archives of slavery on the University of Alabama campus in a talk sponsored by UA Libraries.

Below, Dr. Stephens moderates a discussion between Brigette Jones, curator of social history at the Tennessee State Museum and Laura Kilcer, curator at Oak Alley in Vacherie, Louisiana, for a discussion about their work in interpreting enslavement at historic sites.

Interpreting Enslavement | Department of Art & Art History from UA College of Arts & Sciences on Vimeo.

The Christian Science Monitor interviewed Dr. Stephens in an article on President Andrew Jackson and comparisons with President Donald Trump, about Jackson’s portrait artist and Stephens’ area of expertise, Ralph E. W. Earl.