David J. Roxburgh grew up in the Borders, Scotland, and attended Edinburgh University and Edinburgh College of Art from 1983 until 1988 where he received an M.A. with Honors in Fine Art. His degree combined history of art with studio practice (school of sculpture). He won a Thouron Fellowship for a one-year exchange program at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, in 1988 and enrolled in the doctoral program in the Department of History of Art. He carried out his doctoral thesis research in Istanbul and completed the thesis in Washington, D.C., as a fellow at the Smithsonian Institution and Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, in 1996.
Roxburgh started his teaching career at Harvard University in 1996 and was promoted to full professor with tenure in 2003. In 2007 he became Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Professor of Islamic Art History. He also taught at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris, as a visiting professor in 2003.
His books include Prefacing the Image: The Writing of Art History in Sixteenth-Century Iran (Leiden, 2001) and The Persian Album, 1400-1600: From Dispersal to Collection (New Haven, 2005). He has also worked as a curator on the exhibitions Turks: A Journey of A Thousand Years (London, Royal Academy of Art, 2005) and Traces of the Calligrapher: Islamic Calligraphy in Practice, c. 1600-1900M (Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, 2007). His articles take a variety of approaches to the study of aesthetics, art and culture of the book, history of collections, and written sources.