Warburg Institute appoints the V&A’s Bill Sherman as director

Scholar says the library founded by Aby Warburg “badly needs some profile raising”


The Victoria and Albert (V&A) scholar Bill Sherman has been appointed director of the Warburg Institute at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. Sherman, the director of research and collections at the V&A, replaces David Freedberg who stood down in April. 

The Warburg Institute grew out of the private library of the German art historian Aby Warburg (1866-1929) who amassed science, history and art history publications. Under threat from the Nazis, his 60,000-strong library was shipped to London in December 1933. 

Sherman stresses that the Warburg is built around one of the world’s great libraries. “It is the perfect place to combine what I have learned during my time at the University of York, where I was founding director of the Centre for Renaissance & Early Modern Studies, and at the V&A where I helped to launch the V&A Research Institute,” he says. 

“My vision for the Warburg is to consolidate its reputation for innovative research and teaching (in its heyday it was the place to be trained) and recover its founding role as a haven for displaced scholars and endangered knowledge,” Sherman says. 

“At the same time, it badly needs some profile raising and has limitless potential for engagement with new audiences and new partners. It sits, after all, in what may be the world's greatest concentration of books and data, and we ought to be joining forces to address the role of libraries in preserving and shaping our access to knowledge.” 

The institute, described on its website as “the premier institute for the study of cultural history and the role of images in culture”, has a chequered past. In November 2014, the High Court in London ruled that the original deed of gift in 1944 between the Warburg family and the University had to be respected, and that the university was subsequently responsible for the Warburg Institute’s upkeep.