Amy Werbel, PhD

Professor | Art History and Museum Professions; History of Art
Amy Werbel

(212) 217-4673

Business and Liberal Arts Center, Room B611


BA, Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges
PhD, Yale University

2018-2019 State University of New York Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities


Amy Werbel joined the department in 2013 as a specialist in art of the United States. She is the author of numerous works on the subject of American visual culture and sexuality, including Lust on Trial: Censorship and the Rise of American Obscenity in the Age of Anthony Comstock (Columbia University Press, 2018), winner of the 2019 Peter C. Rollins Book Prize of the Northeast Popular and American Culture Association. Lust on Trial has been praised in the Times Literary Supplement as "richly detailed, deeply researched, and lavishly illustrated," and in the Los Angeles Review of Books as "an amazing feat of pop-cultural scholarship." Werbel's previous publications include Thomas Eakins: Art, Medicine, and Sexuality in Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia (Yale University Press, 2007), which was designated an "Outstanding Academic Title" by Choice magazine and praised in The New England Journal of Medicine as "a rigorous academic review that is readable and enjoyable." Professor Werbel currently serves as Faculty Senate President, and for 2024-2025 is a SUNY Civic Engagement and Education and Civil Discourse Fellow.

Dr. Werbel is the past recipient of fellowships and scholarships from numerous institutions, including the UC National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement, Frick Center for the History of Collecting, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and Metropolitan Museum of Art. She served as a Fulbright Scholar in the United Kingdom (2019-2020), and in China (2011-2012).

Selected Publications


Lust on Trial: Censorship and the Rise of American Obscenity in the Age of Anthony Comstock (New York: Columbia University Press,  2018). Lust on Trial Reviews.

Lessons from China: America in the Hearts and Minds of the World's Most Important Rising Generation (Self-published. Printed by CreateSpace, 2013). 

Thomas Eakins: Art, Medicine, and Sexuality in Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007).  

Recent Essays

“Anthony Comstock’s 1906 Raid on the Art Students League of New York” 150 Stories: The Art Students League 150th Anniversary (forthcoming, 2025).

"Anthony Comstock and the Rise (and Fall) of Obscenity Prosecutions," in: Jen Manion and Nick Syrett, eds., The Cambridge History of Sexuality in the United States, vol. II (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming, 2025).

"The Fragile Future of Artistic Expression on Campus", Inside Higher Ed (March 30, 2023). 

"The Comstock Law at 150: A Highly Relevant Cautionary Tale for Today", co-authored with Jonathan Friedman, The Hill (March 3, 2023).

"Proposed federal abortion ban evokes 19th-century Comstock Act", The Conversation (September 19, 2022).

Study of Freedom of Artistic Expression in Academic Art Museums and Galleries, University of California National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement (June, 2022).

Teacher Guide: Does the First Amendment Allow Government to Censor Art?, First Amendment Watch at New York University. A Project of the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute (published June 1, 2021).

"The Confederate Flag in the Capitol and the Future of Artistic Expression", Panorama: Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art 7.1 (Spring, 2021).

"The Influence of Art Censorship on New York Collectors in the Gilded Age," Journal of the History of Collections (February, 2021).

"John Haberle’s A Bachelor’s Drawer: Censorship, Geologic Time, and Truth in America, ca. 1894," Metropolitan Museum Journal vol. 55 (forthcoming, 2020).

Recent Lectures

"From Sir Frederic Leighton to Banksy: Censorship’s Perverse Consequences," Sorbonne Université (forthcoming, June 5, 2024)

“Anthony Comstock in Historical Perspective,” ComstockCon, Initiative for a Representative First Amendment at the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University (May 14, 2024). 

"Drawing Histories: Contemporary Perspectives on Practice" National Academy of Design (panel participant, September 19, 2023)

Fellows in the Field: Art and Porn on Campus, webinar with Lynn Comella, UC National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement (October 13, 2022).

Art Law Colloquium: Censorship and Artistic Expression on College Campuses,  Center for Art Law (October 1, 2022).

Panelist, Restricted Access: An American History of Book Banning, New York Public Library / PEN America (September 21, 2022).

"The Puritan Gladiator: 115 Years of Life Drawing and Censorship at The Art Students League of New York" (August 3, 2021)

The Confederate Flag in the Capitol and the Future of American Expression, panel discussion, Reframing the Legacy of the Capitol, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts - Art at Noon, January 26, 2021.

Art in the Age of Social Media with Mikaela Gross and Irina Tarsis, Center for Art Law Lunch Talk, July 29, 2020.

Off Limits: Art, Social Media and Censorship with Michael White and Kyveli Lignou-Tsamantani, York Festival of Ideas, June 9, 2020.

What Would Benjamin Franklin Think About Facebook?, Fulbright Annual Lecture, Benjamin Franklin House, London, May 28, 2020. Transcript available on Medium

Censorship, Social Control, and the Nude in 19th C. Britain vs. the United States, University of York, Department of the History of Art Research Seminar, February 27, 2020.

Censorship and Obscenity in Law and Culture, Institute of Art and Law, York, UK, February 22, 2020.

Obscenity in Law and Culture in the Age of Anthony Comstock, University of New Hampshire School of Law, The Franklin Pierce Center for Intellectual Property, March 27, 2019.

From Charles Willson Peale to Robert Mapplethorpe: Philadelphia on the Front Lines in the Fight for Artistic Freedom, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, March 6, 2019.

First Amendment Salon with Nadine Strossen, Ballard Spahr LLC, December 4, 2018.

The Quagmire of Government Censorship Efforts in the Age of Anthony Comstock, Archer Center, The University of Texas System in Washington, DC, November 14, 2018.

Professional Leadership

Project Co-Investigator, Creative Spaces/Contested Spaces: Reinterpreting Italian American Public Art in New York City Landmarks of American History and Culture Grant, National Endowment for the Humanities, with Rebecca Bauman and Daniel Levinson-Wilk (June, 2024)

Co-Organizer, Art Censorships on Campus, College Art Association Session, with Andrew Wasserman (February 15, 2023)

Scholarly Advisor, Flashpoints: Free Speech in American History, Culture & Society, 2022-2023 event series organized by PEN America and the American Historical Association

Book Review Editor, Panorama: Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art, 2020-2023


  • HA 219 African American Art
  • HA 231 Modern Art in Europe and North America
  • HA 245 Art of the United States
  • HA 246 Art and Social Justice in New York