- Professor of Near Eastern and Classical Art and Archaeology, Department of the History of Art
- Curator Emerita, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology
- Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology
- Ancient Near East and Classical traditions
- Near East
Margaret Cool Root's research focuses on issues of art, social history, and historiography particularly involving studies of iconography, style, and identity politics. Her specialist realms of analysis are the Achaemenid Persian empire and its complex interactions with ancient Greece. More broadly, she pursues studies both in traditions of monumental art, in traditions of seals as vehicles of stylistic and symbolic agency, all with special attention to problems of understanding intersecting circles of cultural engagement across time, place, and historiographically charged perception. Between 1978 and 1994, Root operated as sole curator of Egyptian and Greek material as well as ancient Mesopotamian collections at the Kelsey, charged also with promoting work on categories of ancient production across the entire range of Kelsey holdings (in particular, glass and glyptic evidence). Her exhibitions, publications, and research agendas for the Kelsey cover a very wide range.
Professor Root's first book, The King and Kingship in Achaemenid Art: Essays on the Creation of an Iconography of Empire (1979) was transformative in her field. It explored the official representational strategies of the Achaemenid Persians as productions not of a vacuous barbarian dynasty, but rather of an ideologically coherent program that systematically mined and recast antique and foreign imagery and styles in the service of a new paradigm of world order. Root brought a major funded research project with her to her position at Michigan: an ambitious project to document the seals used on thousands of administrative documents of the Persian empire excavated at the site of Persepolis in the 1930s by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago under the direction of Ernst Herzfeld. This research has deeply informed our understanding of the importance of the Near Eastern seal collections of the Kelsey. She also continues to probe large issues in the study of the visual record of the Persian Empire as a major historical source and as an especially contentious zone of both ancient and modern cultural politics in an extensive array of articles, books, edited volumes, and exhibitions. Her teaching includes courses such as "Art and Empire in Antiquity" with a Race & Ethnicity mandate from the College, and "Exhibiting Mesopotamia: Art, Politics, and the Museum."
Professor Root has been the recipient of external fellowships for independent research from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities. In addition, she has garnered research and exhibition project grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, and the Iran Heritage Foundation.