Friday, April 30, 2010

Lancaster City Walk (1)

Jennifer Kopf, Lifestyle co-editor for Lancaster's newspaper The Intelligencer asked me to ponder the architectural value of my new home, eliciting an outsider’s initial response to the treasures of this industrial jewel and its post-industrial glimmer. I was deeply honored, remembering that a few years ago, when I started teaching at Clemson University, I had written to the Lifestyle editor of the Greenville news with some editorial ideas. I was told that there wasn't much interest on architecture down there.

On Tuesday, we’ll take a stroll along a chosen path and engage in pedestrian conversation, my favorite line of discourse. I have chosen Queen Street (the cardo maxima of Lancaster's colonial plan). The theme of this walk will be "A Conversation with Fragments."

The central paradox of cities involves incongruities of time and space. On the one hand, cities offer virtual conversations between trans-generation artifacts. Two adjacent buildings, let’s say from 1860 and 1920, offer a conversation between the highest ideals of their respective generation. Postbellum America speaks to Jazz Age America and today's pedestrian can listen in. On the other hand, the conversation that cities offer is fragmentary. America's market-driven urban economy with its booms-and-busts guarantees that no single generation can fully manifest its vision. No generation can transform an entire city. Saint Petersburg, Versailles, or Haussmann's Paris cannot happen in the U.S., which is why we need fantasies of completeness at Colonial Williamsburg, Disney Land, Las Vegas, or the World's Fairs.

In any walk through an old American city, we only have the fragments of totalizing utopias incapable of fully transforming the urban organism. Each consecutive utopia materializes in parts before a different totalizing utopia picks up the fragments. To capture the conversational nuggets of this process as observers, we must cultivate a critical vision. Reading a city requires an idiosyncratic intellectual discipline, one that is spatially and temporally flexible. It does not require advanced education or specialization. The discipline of reading the city requires a categorical resistance to the simplistic binary of “progressive” versus “conservative” sentiments. The progressive invests in change, the future and a yet unrealized version of the present. The conservative seeks to conserve the moment, preserve the past and resist the unknown future. Both models have a simplistic notion of linear time (“pro-future” or “pro-past”) that does not take into consideration how cities and architectural ideas actually evolve. In order to talk about cities, we must substitute the redemptive Anglo-Saxon notion of teleological history with the richer Continental model of dialectical history. This does not mean that we have to all become experts in Hegelian dialectics. It is enough to accept the fragmentary nature of material culture and embrace the concept of Collage City (to use Colin Rowe's fundamental study from 1978).

Thinking of my upcoming conversation with Jen, I turn to a similar conversation between journalist Kurt Andersen and architectural critic Paul Goldberger. In "A City from Three Stories Up," (Studio 360, March 12, 2010) Goldberger walks with Andersen on the High Line, the most successful urban project of the last decade that opened in June, 2009. The High Line is a 1 1/2 mile urban park utilizing an abandoned elevated freight line line running along the West Side of Manhattan. The High Line was designed by James Corner (Field Operations), professor of landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. Incidentally, Corner has been selected to design a similar park on Philadelphia's Delaware banks. For a review of the proposed plan (and its budgetary limitations), see Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron, "A Peerless Plan for a Philly Pier" (Changing Skyline, Feb. 19, 2010).

Godberger is the architectural critic for the New Yorker magazine and the author of a new book smartly titled Why Architecture Matters (New Haven, 2009). Although I often disagree with Goldberger’s criticism, I enjoyed Goldberger interview, especially his apt description of urban fundamentals. I quote his interview with Andersen:

“You feel layers of time in a city. I think that’s absolutely critical. A place in which you don’t feel time just somehow feels hollow. Even when the buildings are good, it lacks a certain kind of resonance and depth. Architecture is a conversation between the generations conducted over time. That’s really what a city is, in fact. On the other hand, we sometimes have come to make the opposite mistake today, which is that rather than disdaining history as old and worthless, to be thrown away like a paper towel, we sometimes sentimentalize it and over-romanticize it. We become trapped by it in a certain way and the victims of it. At the end of the day you really want a balance. The city has to keep doing new things to stay alive. A city is a living place. We don’t want to be Williamsburg on the Hudson [referring to NYC], Colonial Williamsburg that is not the other Williamsburg [in Brooklyn].”

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The strangeness that attends even the most mundane circumstances

I have embraced Chris Arthur’s mission statement, “the strangeness that attends even the most mundane circumstances," in his essay "(En)trance," The Literary Review, reprinted in The Best American Essays 2009, ed. Mary Oliver, (Boston and New York, 2009), pp. 2-16. Arthur develops both a unique craft of essay writing, but also a style of architectural writing. Here is how he describes this process.

“‘Only connect,’ said the great E. M. Forster. ‘Only write about what you know,’ says the old watchword of practical advice for would-be writers. I attempt to disconnect things from the dense mesh of their immediate camouflaging milieu and examine them with a gaze whose first allegiance, far from being given to the warm familiarity of the known, is rooted in a recognition of the strangeness that attends even the most mundane circumstances. While Foster and writers of their exalted ilk concentrate on the construction of fictions, weaving their delicate spun cacoons of imagined happenings and outcomes on the hard substratum of facts—about India, about manners, about sexuality—I focus on fragments of the substratum itself, trying to tease out the tendrils that are coiled tightly at the heart of every moment, their intricate abundance independent of invention.” (p. 2)

Last year, when I taught a seminar on domestic architecture, I began collecting house-narratives from students. I posted some of the best “House Stories” on this blog. At the same time, I started collecting published writings about houses, selecting pieces that clearly articulate the interface between the objective and subjective architectural experience. I think of this as a bulk-pack-in-the-making or my own Best-House-Essays.

Best American Essays 2009 includes two such house essays, Chris Arthur’s “(En)trance” (from The Literary Review) and Michael Lewis’ “The Mansion: A Subprime Parable” (from Condé Nast Portfolio). Arthur’s essay explores the entranceway of his mother’s house in Shandon, Ireland. Arthur’s philosophy of writing, quoted above, resonates with a hermeneutic tradition of architectural analysis exemplified by the work of David Leatherbarrow (see, Architecture Oriented Otherwise, 2008). Lewis’ essay describes his own real estate adventures with a New Orleans mansion through which he interprets the origins of the sub-mortgage crisis from the depths of the American psyche regarding domesticity and social status.

Here are some tidbits from Arthur’s “(En)trance” that I enjoyed.

1. Technical correctness, “pillar” versus “pilaster,” understanding the technical difference (the former attached the latter freestanding) but abandoning it in favor of common usage among the house occupants

2. The removal of the iron gates in World War II to be melted for armament, more important than practical reason, this signaled the opening up to outside influence and increasing the permeability between of boundaries set by A. family, B. nation, and C. faith.

3. The pillars attached to a curved wall, giant cupped hands placed at the roadside.

4. Laurel grotto behind left pillar, a secret observation post for children spying on the adult world. “It was here we found a discarded whiskey bottle not quite empty, a half-smoked cigarette, its butt inked with lipstick, crumpled pages from a pornographic magazine, once a pair of knickers. Sharp verbal flecks (‘fuck,’ ‘bastard,’ ‘cunt’) blew in from the conversations of strangers walking past, providing spoken parallels to these tawdry artifacts.”

5. The curvy tarmac, opening to the road that lead to the market town of Lisburn or to the airport. The children from the grotto create stories about all the cars that DID NOT turn up the tarmac but continued elsewhere.

6. New occupants inhabit the house now. Shandon is now a well pruned remnant of its previous self. The old “untidy margins” have been circumscribe, defined, made hard by new concrete driveways, patios, lawns and garages.

7. What do the birds think when they fly over the house?

8. Houses with servants offer confrontation with alien peoples. At Shandon, the maids were Catholic and very different from the Presbyterian owners. The candles, the incense, the Latin, realistic depictions of the cross contrasted with the austere simplicities of Presbyterianism. “Anyone who has spent some time in an enclosed space with an excited bat knows what it is to encounter a fundamentally alien form of life,” writes Thomas Nagel (the analytic philosopher).

9. In effect, “Everyone who passed between the pillars might be used to snag a line of narrative and take it forward, pulling the attention of readers along behind them.”

10. Metaphor for fiction/architecture, “For me, invisible dogs stand at Shandon’s pillars, their shared respiration symbolizing the intimate and mysterious connection that exists between the known and the unknown, between the telegraphic attenuations of the names we give things, the descriptions we offer—superficially, partial—and the significance that’s coiled intricately within them.” These are the koma-inu, the stone dogs that guard the gates of shrines in Japan.

11. In Greek mythology, dreams enter through gates. True dreams enter through the Gate of Horn, false dreams enter through the Gate of Ivory. A third gate should be added between dream and walking, the Gate of Laurel.

12. For every “Un” there is an “A”

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Byzantine Urbanism at Queens College, NY

Today, I'm taking part at the Kallinikeion Byzantine Colloquium at Queens College New York. The day conference was organized by Warren Woodfin


Thursday, April 22
1:30–5:30 pm
Queens College, CUNY
Student Union, Room 301

1:30 Welcome
Emanuel Demos, Esq., President, Kallinikeion Foundation

1:35 Introduction
Helen Evans, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

1:45 Byzantine Urbanism in the Peloponnesos: Revising Old Narratives from the Field
Kostis Kourelis, Franklin & Marshall College

2:30 The Byzantine City of Amorium in the Early 9th Century
Eric Ivison, The College of Staten Island, and the CUNY Graduate Center

3:45 Old Wine in New Jars: Approaches to Research at Chersonesos (Cherson) in Crimea, 2004–2010
Adam Rabinowitz, University of Texas at Austin

4:30 Response
John Haldon, Princeton University

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Fleshing Out the Byzantine House

Here is a topic that I have been thinking about and hope to build up into a conference paper or even an article

Fleshing Out the Byzantine House

The mutable nature of domestic architecture has guaranteed the disappearance of most houses from the extant material record visible to the architectural historian. Thanks to commemorative and ritual functions, on the other hand, churches survive in greater numbers and are deployed to tell the whole story of Byzantine architecture. Recent efforts to fill this domestic gap have produced a corpus of houses excavated with greater sensitivity towards anthropological rather than formal architectural questions.

New archaeological evidence allows us to, literally, flesh out the Byzantine house through its engagement in precise ecologies, its inclusion of organic matter and even its incorporation of human bodies. A softer archaeological lens reveals soft tissues of domestic architecture less evident under the harder lens of architectural studies. We look at three categories of artifacts. First, we consider the burial of family members within the house floors. Fetus burials from Athens, domestic family tombs from Chersonesos, or hospice burials from Corinth highlight the Byzantine practice of in-house burials. Second, we consider other living forms involved in the construction of Byzantine houses. A geological study of mortar samples from the Peloponnesos reveals the incorporation of organic material in the making of the walls, typically collected from the community’s own trash heaps. Such organic inclusions complement our knowledge of animal sacrifice during foundation rituals. Third, we consider the ecological niches that different Byzantine settlements engage and the environmental exploitation evident in the houses, from the woods used in construction to the woods used in firing the hearths.

If we admit all this organic evidence into the discussion, we can stipulate an anthropological tension between hard and soft architectural entities. Walls, floors and ceilings formed the physical envelope of Byzantine life. Houses prescribed social life (eating, sleeping, working, playing, praying, procreating) but also embodied deceased organic life. Investigating this type of flesh more broadly allows us to challenge our assumptions of architectural meaning in Byzantium. Masonry was not an inert as the modern scholar would have it. Masonry lived, breathed, listened and occasionally spoke.

Houses are a paradigmatic building type that cannot be separated from the processes of developmental psychology. From early childhood, houses articulate the distinction between animate and inanimate powers that culture proceeds to formulate. To use Sigmund Freud’s terminology, our notion of home incorporates its correlate, “the unhomely” or “uncanny.” Contemporary architectural theory has embraced Freud’s canonical essay on (“Unheimlich,” 1925) in the postmodern armature. Marrying the theoretical uncanny with new archaeological data sheds light on the Byzantine house and throws a wrench (perhaps a toy-wrench) into the stony assumptions of Byzantine architectural history.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Gothic Jefferson

Homi Bhabba uses the term "colonial mimicry" to articulate some of the strategies that a liberated colony undertakes. In building its two national cathedrals (St. John the Divine in New York and the National Cathedral in Washington), America mimicked the perceived superiority of the colonizer's medieval culture (Britain) to the expense of any indigenous expression, including the suppression of Native American heritage. The National Cathedral copies 14th-century British Gothic. Washington's first bishop, Henry Yates Saterlee was influenced by Ralph Adams Cram's neo-medieval vision. Cram is typically seen as a conservative revivalist. Reading his writings, however, I now see him as a radical; see, for example, Cram's Walled Towns, 1919, available on-line here.

While in Washington for the Dumbarton Oaks archaeology conference, I made sure to visit the Washington Cathedral to inspect what Elizabeth Emery has analyzed as a post-colonial graft onto a foreign prototype. I made sure to snap a photo of Thomas Jefferson (left) who was grafted into a stained glass window, on the north of the Cathedral, an attempt to softly de-colonize an uber-colonized project. And Jefferson is not alone in these modern stained glass windows. St. John the Divine, the National Cathedral and John D. Rockefeller's Riverside Church have numerous grafted images of American colonial heroes, of Native Americans and of modern life (Victrolas, automobiles, etc.) onto an otherwise medieval simulacra. Riverside Church is especially interesting as a protest gesture by Rockefeller, who was a Baptist and, thus, excluded from the "ecumenical" board of Episcopalian elites. When Albert Einstein visited Riverside Church, he was amused to find himself (a German Jewish physicist) inserted into the stained glass windows, along with Hippocrates, Newton, Darwin and Pasteur. America's Gothic cathedrals of the 1920s should be set apart from the Gothic revival movement of the 19th century. They are not simply more encyclopedic or more correct to their prototypes. They represent America's early engagement with modernity and the identity crises that it produces.

Visiting the National Cathedral was especially enriching because that very weekend I was addressing attitudes of of Byzantium in American archaeological practices. My inspiration for the visit was a wonderful new essay by Elizabeth Emery, "Postcolonial Gothic: The Medievalism of America's 'National' Cathedrals," in Medievalisms in the Postcolonial World, ed. Kathleen Davis and Nadia Altschul (Baltimore, 2009), pp. 237-264.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Minnesota Diva (Lancaster Object 003)

Who is the Minnesota Diva? Lancaster Object 003 is a pink tag separated from its artifact. I picked it up on my commute from Pennsylvania Station to my office, The plastic pink pseudo-leather is stitched around cardboard and is capped by a plastic tag painted metallic. The tag shows a crown and the words MINNESOTA in capital letters and Diva in Art Deco script. Surprisingly enough, Lancaster Objects 001 was also pink. Our sample so far is small and statistical meaningless but, you must admit, there is something weird going on with pink desiderata. Some might argue that I have picked up proof of the pink dictatorship that we are all living through.

When I picked up Minnesota Diva, I thought, "piece OK. Surely I'll be able to find the missing accessory once attached to the label. I have in my hands the diagnostic fragment, the label." But it wasn't as easy as that. The first Google hit for Minnesota Diva is an HIV/AIDS charity organization (make sure to watch the video). The next Google hit is a blog, Thoughts from a Diva, "Random images and thoughts from a misplaced Minnesota Diva trying to survive in Wisconsin." The rest of the hits are equally helpless, ranging from actual divas like the Minnesota-born soprano Audrey Stottler to nail salons in Lake City, MN.
No doubt, the lost tag once belonged to a Minnesota diva now attending Franklin & Marshall College. We'll never know unless that Minnesota diva Googles herself and finds this posting, in which case I HOPE SHE LEAVES A COMMENT.

Unlike the previous Lancaster Objects found on a busy road (in fact ran over by a car), this object was collected from the sidewalk around a college dormitory. Walking through the same site again this morning, I saw a diligent employ sweeping up the sidewalk. Unlike the previous sites, this one is kept clean. In other words, the tag could not have been lying dormant for more than 24 hours, otherwise it would have been swept up. The tag clearly belonged to a Franklin & Marshall student living in the adjacent dormitory, College Row. I must have picked it up minutes or just hours after its dislocation.

Lancaster Object 003
"Minnesota Diva" accessory tag (4.0 x 4.5 x 0.5 cm)
Location: 40° 2'57.46"N, 76°18'59.03"W
Date: April 13, 2010

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Medieval Art Connecting with Students

One of my commitments to teaching comes from what bell hooks called the openness to a multiplicity of narratives (Teaching to Transgress, 1994). The straightforward historical narrative of the textbook is one narrative; my own interpretations in lecture is another narrative. But there is also the narratives that students create with the very same material. Every semester, I try various techniques to understand those narratives by simply asking my students how the material engages with their "real" lives. Most of my students are not Art History majors, so they come to the class with different backgrounds and agendas. In the past, I have done polling, I have conducted recorded interviews, and I have made my students write short stories (see Teaching Thursdays and House Stories)

After the Dumbarton Oaks conversation on archaeology, I realized it's time to take the pulse of my Medieval Art & Architecture class at Franklin & Marshall (ART 275). On Monday, I explained to my students what went down at Dumbarton Oaks, especially the anxiety that we scholars feel over the relevance of Byzantium to contemporary America. I asked them why they are taking the class, what they thought the class would be like, what they have learned, what skills they have developed, etc. etc. The discussion was great!!! I wish I had done it more frequently in the semester. Then, I asked them to go home and consider what work of art from our survey is their absolute favorite and prepare to talk about it. Every Wednesday, we have a graded writing exercise, typically contrast-comparison or discussion about important ideas covered in the readings. This time, I gave them this question:

"This work of art ---- (Fig. --- ) in Snyder's Medieval Art is my favorite. Somehow it spoke to me more than anything else. It entered my private thoughts and actions in the following way."

Once I get permission from the students, I hope to post some individual entries. For the time being, I want to share some of the trends. Reading through all 19 entries, a number of consistent themes emerged.


50% of my students made some reference to travel in Europe. Whether they have themselves been there or not, they articulated an important function of the survey as introduction to travel. More amazing than that was the realization that 1/3 of all my students had actually visited the monument of their choice in real life, typically with their parents before or after college. 83% of that sample chose a monument in Paris, and 66% chose Notre Dame Cathedral specifically. Whatever we say about the social utility of art history, we must embrace its touristic dimension. My role is not to criticize a certain socio-economic group (they are my bread and butter) but to highlight that personal site inspection is a central part of our process. One student was explicit, "I think many people in this class can't appreciate these monuments because they haven't seen most of them in person."


44% of my students discussed the emotional power of art and architecture. They mentioned some kind of awe and admiration. Medieval architecture and the art on its walls evokes a sublime response of power. The romantic tradition is alive. Monuments from the past, ruins and masterpieces transform the individual by some awesome power that they exercise on the viewer.


28% of my students involved some discussion of their faith in their answer. Since the art of the Middle Ages is monotheistic (Jewish, Christian and Moslem) this makes a lot of sense. The class serves as a vehicle for addressing faith. Some students remembered their own religious education or lack thereof. Some students used the material in the class to access some elements of faith.


17% of my students used gender in their answer. For some, it was a political inquiry. Representations of women (Eve, Mary, etc.) in the medieval world triggered a general inquiry about the social status of women. Some students picked up on the "femininity" of some works, either because of some aesthetic quality or because of subject matter. For instance, the articulation of an emotional relationship between mother and child was highlighted in scenes of the Virgin. One students even talked about sex (the sexual implications of Mary's Lamentation scene). I should also note that the class is predominantly (83%) female, a little higher than my usual distributions.


17% of the students spoke of how medieval art relates to their own studio production. Here, the work of art inspired or communicated with them as artists. They talked about style, or techniques of drawing the human face.


11% of the class spoke about how medieval art has helped them understand contemporary America. Sometimes, it was a direct lesson such a in understanding collegiate Gothic (as seen in F&M's architecture) or the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. Some students took pleasure in contrasting a medieval synthetic life with the fragmented present (lack of focus, digital media, etc.)


Only one student (6%) mentioned the pleasures of understanding the interworkings of an old culture. In other words, only one student seemed in invested in the primary culture as such and figuring out what it was all about (regardless of how it relates to the present).

These are entirely preliminary, but they give me a good sense of what my students are after. I've highlighted the major emotional connectors, but there are plenty more. In conclusion, I was amazed by the statistical prevalence of three modes, The Grand Tour, Emotional Power and Faith. I was interested in three other consistent themes: Gender issues, Studio practices, and relations to American life today. It was enlightening to learn that only one student engaged Art History as a project of historical inquiry. Only one student showed emotional interest in the factual realities of medieval society.

Finally, about a quarter of the students mentioned some kind of inter-personal engagement. 22% of the sample talked about engaging their friends and relatives with the material that they learned in class. Some of it was engaging others in the mode of "our next vacation." But other students talked about critical conversations and experiences.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pink Cell Phone (Lancaster Object 001-002)

We find objects and objects find us. These two modes reflect epistemologies situated in two polar extremes, archaeology (we find objects) and poetry (objects find us). On my daily walk between Lancaster's Pennsylvania Station and my office at Franklin & Marshall, I cross a few topographies usually with headphones wrapped around my ears, catching up on my weekly podcasts (This American Life, Studio 360, Radio 3 Arts and Ideas, A History of the World in 100 Objects, the Moth, New Yorker Fiction, In Our Times with Melvin Bragg). My gaze occasionally descends and I intake information from the ground and all its surfaces. I cannot keep the surface surveyor's thoughts out of the commute. Yesterday, on my first day after a conference steeped into the dialectics of archaeology, a poetic object was offered to me by the street, the fragment of a smashed up cell phone. I bent over and picked it up. The object was wet from a mixture of black dirt and the rain. I held it cautiously with two fingers trying to keep my hand clean. About 80 yards later, I found
Publish Post
another fragment of the same object. Having chosen to pick the first fragment, this second piece seemed fated, a congratulatory gift. And I cannot fail to recognize that the pick-up act was totally therapeutic, dissolving all the academic anxiety that the conference had raised. Michael Shanks has engaged Julia Kristeva into the conversation. Postprocessualism lets me embrace the archaeological Abject, and I don't care anymore that my reading list is not shared by everyone (see Kristeva's Murder in Byzantium).

Even the most unsentimental pedestrian could not have resisted bending down to pick up this ordinary eloquent object. The physical debris turns poetic and we pay attention. We find it difficult to resist 1) feeling sorry for the owner of the phone that might have lost it, 2) reconstructing the process of loss (did it slip out a pocket, or was it violently thrown from a window?), 3) imagining the feminine modes marketed in magenta, 4) marvel at the circuitry, 5) feel the violence of physical scrapes against the pristine electronics, 6) ponder on the objects maker somewhere in China, etc. etc. I picked up the object and henceforth began a new series of posts called Objects of Lancaster. The series relates to my earlier thoughts on the train commute (that precedes the walk), see "Trainscape: Philadelphia-Lancaster" (March 5).

I took the fragments to my office, washed off the dirt, dried up the clean water with napkins, and let the object air-dry on an orange chair, where students sit during office hours. Today, I scanned the dry fragments on the Art & Art History Department's scanner with a manila envelope as background. I did not include a scale figure fearing that it would add an unnecessary aura of science and factuality. The image below shows the "front" of Object 001 (right) and Object 002 (left), and then the "back" of both objects. If I had more time, I would love to take the objects to the next level, the analytical drawing, inspired by Ben Leech's "Subterranean Recovery Crew" shown in Old Weird Lancaster.

I don't have very much to say about this discarded cell phone, so I'll let it be but simply provide some basic documentation and the context. Below, I clip a Google Earth image (taken from the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The two pins illustrate the find spots. The building in the upper right is Lancaster's Pennsylvania Station (with adjacent tracks, driveway, parking) and the apsed building on the lower left is a car dealership (with adjacent lot).

Lancaster Object 001
Magenta cell phone, fragment of mouthpiece (5.4 x 5.7 cm)
Location: 40° 3'13.36"N, 76°18'31.21"W

Lancaster Object 002
Cell phone fragment with number keypad (7.4 x 5.2 cm)
Location: 40° 3'12.89"N, 76°18'34.22"W
Date: April 12, 2010

The cell phone fragment led me to believe that I should easily be able to identify the vintage of the original product. Actually, it is not that easy to get information about older cell phones; the web is saturated by new models. Frankly, I wasn't very successful in fine-tuning my search. My gut feeling is that the fragments belong to a Motorola RAZR type of phone, but not the most recent model (shown left). Something about the width, also directs me to Motorola.

As you can see in the scanned images, a few codes survive in the interior part of the phone. Barcodes and numbers identify the inner parts. Unfortunately, I have no idea what all these numbers mean. But here they are:

G0RV2935ZP csf 058 B06
SJUG2150CB 0101 Made in China

V3 (G8/9/18/19) S/W: 08.BD.D3R
SKU: 64634 SEO: LO68527
FCC ID: IHDT56EU2 IC: 1090-EU1
MSN: E23MHD2WLZ M04-4411G21
IMEI: 3515300104889566

Monday, April 12, 2010

Dumbarton Oaks: Archaeology Conversation First Impressions

Dumbarton Oaks (DO) hosted a conversation this weekend addressing the achievements and future challenges of Byzantine archaeology. “Byzantine Archaeology in North America” was in many ways a momentous events, highlighting Dumbarton Oaks’ institutional ability to muster up a huge intellectual community that has limited venues for conversation (the Byzantine Studies Association of North America annual meeting being the other, and by design the more democratic one). The last time such a conversation happened at DO was 1978, marking the moment when DO turned its back to “big digs” and, according to some, turned its back to archaeology more generally. The prime mover behind the recent attitudinal shift within DO is its new director, Margaret Mullet, and all credit must go to her and the organizers, Michael McCormick and John Haldon.

Although it was a gathering of incredible intellectual caliber, I must confess, that I left Washington a little depressed, partially because the issues that I think of prime importance were never addressed. My 15-minute contribution “Archaeology as Critical Practice” failed to generate discussion and I feel this is largely my fault for missing the target. I overviewed four moments of critical engagement with Byzantine material culture, I. aestheticism, 1850s-1920s, II. stratigraphic positivism, 1920s-1960s, III. processualism, 1960s-1980s, and IV. post-processualism (1980s-now). I argued that half of DO checked out in Period II (Antioch vs. Corinth) and all of DO checked out in Phase III (after the 1978 collapse). Despite the archaeological topic, the majority of the audience did not seem engaged with archaeology’s internal discourse (methods, ideology, theory). But this is OK. More important than what was said or not said at the conference is what will unfold in future conversations. In order to start this conversation, I begin with self-reflecting. I pose a series of comments as first and most immediate thoughts. I organize them into two related headings, Archaeological Reality and Institutional Honesty.

1. Archaeological Reality

One question that surfaced the whole weekend was whether Byzantine (or medieval, or whatever we call it) archaeology is in any way special. What much of the conversation revealed is a fundamental shift in archaeological definition. Up until the 1960s, archaeology was defined culturally rather than methodologically; it was defined by cultural typologies. So, we had classical archaeologist focusing on classical civilization, or Christian archaeology focusing on Christian civilization. The methods of cultural formation were supplanted in the 1960s with a concern for critical, self-reflective practices. Practicing archaeology broke from cultural, ethnic, or geographical definitions. An autonomous discipline was formed, whose theory and methods could be successfully applied across the cultural and geographic board. This also meant that one could not privilege one historical layer over another when excavating or surveying a site, producing not only a discussion of archaeological ethics but also the foundations of diachronic projects.

When I train my archaeology students, I anticipate that most of them will not excavate Byzantine sites. Many will dig other periods and other places, and many will become contract archaeologists in the U.S. (in America, archaeology is not a federal discipline, it is officiated by the state government and executed by private companies). Historians find this difficult to understand because their cultural definitions rely so much on the knowledge of the culture’s languages (to read the primary texts) and textual histories. The modern archaeology student learns a different language that springs from the natural and social sciences. A Byzantine archaeologist has no disciplinary niche, and must hence become a little bit of a historian, linguist and art historian (based on the unique model of Classical Studies).

As a result of method-driven archaeology, you have two kinds of people. Those trained as historians/art historians who pick up archaeology in the field, and those trained as archaeologists that pick up Byzantium in the field. The former were represented at the DO conversation but not the latter (with the exception of Sue Alcock). It became a little depressing for the trained archaeologist to hear so many speakers begin with “I am not an archaeologist.” What was missing from the table were the majority of scholars who are not self-defined as Byzantinists but who have actually made the greatest contributions to our field.

This concern over “Byzantium” and the need to define a cultural-type, whether we call it Byzantine, Post-Byzantine, late-antique, medieval, Islamic became a central question. My counter-argument was that the need for cultural-types is the historian’s anxiety not the archaeologist’s. The archaeologist should make distinctions arising from the material record and not the other way around. The transition from terra sigilata to glazed pottery or from mega-basilicas to mini-cross-in-square churches needs no label. From the ceramics point of view, Joanita Vroom has published a typology of 48 pottery types from 500 to 1900. The cultural label has been a primary target of archaeological discourse precisely because it recycles imperial or national agendas.

2. Institutional Honesty

Although we academics spend entire careers analyzing and deconstructing historical institutions, we have a hesitancy to articulate power-structures, modes, traditions, oppressive structures, exclusivities, propaganda, ideologies of our own traditions. I urged everyone in the conference to read Louis Menand’s new book, The Marketplace of Ideas. The book is rather normative, analyzing the origins of the humanities in the United States and the extra-academic motivations that shaped them. Anyone studying American academic history will find nothing new or original in the book, but it is a wonderful and succinct summary. From my perspective, it answers half of the questions raised at DO. Ultimately, any crisis of Byzantine Studies is situated in a larger context. Menand’s book is a MUST because it articulates the crisis of today, particularly from the perspective of redesigning general education at Harvard. So, first, we need to raise the bar by contextualizing our Byzantine problems more broadly in North American institutions (and sadly what Frankfurt has to say become less important). DO is a product of a different era (the Cold War) and it must now address the era of capitalism. It must deal with the drop of undergraduate majoring in the humanities. DO is a product of the baby-boomers and the Cold War. The director of DO alluded to the perception of DO as a “cash cow.” Well, that is a reality that must be reckoned with. Harvard is capitalistically powerful despite its endowment reduction, but what does that mean for Byzantine practices?

Clearly, DO has functioned as a gate-keeper thanks to its financial patronage. We need to examine this historically. Robert Nelson, Helen Evans, Glenn Pierce and others have began a historiographical critique of Byzantium as a constructed art-historical discipline. DO lacks institutional self-reflection. Consider the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, which is most admirably confronting its colonial heritage and its Byzantine archaeology. Its very director, Jack Davis, has been publishing profusely not only on his scholarly expertise (Bronze Age, surveys, etc.) but on the history of his institution. This kind of soul-searching has motivated my own research, but I owe the inspiration to others. Despite all the cutting-edge Marxism in Byzantine history, there is little socio-economic critique of the academy. How does super-structure relate to base in Byzantine Studies? DO's earlier debates about the city were in many ways about the Soviet Union (Ostrogorsky, Kazhdan, etc.) What is the role of ideology in Byzantine block-buster exhibitions today? What happens when corporate sponsors outside the U.S. finance exhibitions in New York? What happens when Greek tobacco pays the bill for Glory of Byzantium? Why is Serbia not Byzantine all of a sudden? What does it mean to sell Byzantium to a consumer? What does it mean to have the Greek media magnate manage the EU funds devoted to scanning American excavation notebooks?

DO must also confront what Bob Ousterhout called “the elephant in the living room,” antiquities that have entered DO’s museum in suspicious ways and are challenged by the host countries (Turkey, Peru). Such conversations should not be forced by political pressure, they should evolve from intellectual inquiry. The Archaeological Institute of America has defined an ethical code that its members must adhere to. My archaeological ethical code is much stricter than the one of my museum colleagues and I cannot be evasive when I represent American archaeological ethics to the international community. The museum curator and art historian has greater liberties on that front.

DO must also confront its own archaeological lineage. The 1978 collapse started the conversation, but nobody dared to comment on it. The 1978 DO meeting was not as civil as the one 32 years later. Blood was spilled. I know this because my own mentor was caught in the carnage. His relationship to DO has been forever damaged. But his stories are now my stories. My mentor’s narratives inform my own narratives, although I had nothing to do with DO for my entire academic career, a fact which undoubtedly reflects that situation.

Jim Russell’s “Last Time Around” did not reveal the conversation that ensued in 1978. And I am sure that, at some level, revisiting 1978 (and the Angeliki Laiou years that followed) is still traumatic for many of the key players. But these are stories that formed me indirectly and are consciously or unconsciously trickling down to my own students. I want to know the full story. I know that DO is conducting an oral history project but I want those narratives to influence the debate today. With enough historical distance, what happened behind the fortress of DO’s leadership and its Senior Fellows will be ultimately part of our story. There diaries, secret histories and excavation notes the future historian will be able to consult. But I would rather have those issues addressed now, when they can be used for making critical decisions. It can be done in a constructive way (see how Brown University dealt with the discovery of its slave past). The American School is doing it extremely well, so that we are learning precisely how Alison Frantz and other archaeologists engaged with the Cold War. It’s time for DO to turn its attention to its rich history. I wish I had passed through the institution to be able to do it. My focus is the American School. I would also very much like to hear from the younger scholars who had to deal with the pieces after 1978. Robert Ousterhout and Sharon Gerstel, who presented the achievements of Turkey and Greece, had to deal with the collapse. Each on his/her own way, managed to create semi-archaeological identities that reflect post-1978 DO. Their tactical engagement with archaeology is a success story of the 1978 collapse, but also a reflection of its limitations. Just as much as I would like to hear more about the Striker-Mango conversation, I would like to hear what it must have been like for Bob and Sharon to work as junior scholars within that environment.

Transnational issues must also be confronted. DO’s international engagement calls for a few observations. During the last quarter of the 20th century, American institutions turned their back to Byzantine archaeology (for an entire host of great reasons; DO is perhaps a big part of the story). The deficit was filled masterfully by Great Britain, which pioneered both archaeological methods and theory (the two always go hand-in-hand). Looking at the archaeological landscape at DO this weekend, I could not help to notice the celebration of this British tradition. Jim Crow reported on the view from Edinburgh, but it would be myopic to pretend that Byzantine archaeology in the U.S. today is not partially a transplantation. The fact that the new director of DO is British speaks volumes of national sensitivities pro/con material culture. Let’s be institutionally honest. Christopher Lightfoot brought a British project to the U.S. and welcomed the new financial support (he told the story very well this weekend). John Haldon brought the lessons of one of the most successful archaeological curricula from Birmingham to Princeton. Richard Hodges brought the British experience in the Balkans to the University of Pennsylvania. Guy Sanders, the director of American excavations of Corinth, is not only the greatest living Byzantin archaeologist but also British. This is fascinating. To me, this illustrates an American deficit. It is a direct reflection of DO’s rejection of archaeology. The issue was not just “the big dig," everyone dealt with that. A good question for our day may also be the following. What happens when institutions with lots of money but weak archaeological traditions invest their resources on departments with strong historical traditions. In other words, what happens when you throw historians lots of cool toys? What kind of trickle down effect can we expect?

My request for institutional self-reflection and transparency is not just my own style of asking questions. It emerges from contemporary archaeological practice, occurring under the umbrella of physical and cultural anthropology. The myth of “objective viewer” has been shattered. In every discipline, including the sciences, we have analyzed the modernist project. We have understood how the myth of interpretive autonomy (New Criticism in literature, Processualism in archaeology) is a product of specific socio-political agendas. Post-structuralist theory in literature and Post-processual theory in archaeology are confronting the dichotomies of subject/object, emic/edic, insider/outsider in enriching ways. DO’s resistance to such theory can only be read politically. Does the institution feel a theoretical threat? The conference this weekend avoided all the critical archaeological issues, the topics that I teach in my classes, the topics that all my other colleagues deal with in/out of archaeology: Post-Colonialism and Nationalism, Gender, Globalization, Environmentalism, Neo-Imperialism. What happens to the political discourse at DO? Having members of the diplomatic core attend receptions is interesting, but it cannot substitute for substantive discussion over our American geopolitical reality. To quote Howard Zinn’s memoir, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”

Let’s face it, Byzantium was a bubble constructed between the late 19th and 20th centuries. The bubble was created because the empire’s territory fit the geopolitical boundaries of the western world as it was sliced and resliced by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, two World Wars and a cold one . Byzantium was "discovered" only when it mattered. It served both the military radar (Cold War) and the aesthetic radar (exoticism). It formed the limes of modernity. Those boundaries have shifted further east to the Islamic World and China. Sure, Byzantinists should feel anxious that their academic positions are replaced by recent areas of geopolitical heat. The erosion of Byzantine studies, however, reveals the fragility of its construction. Archaeology as a contemporary discipline tackles these very issues. With or without “Byzantine” as a preface, I am thrilled to be an archaeologist in the 21st century. I relish in learning about DOs role as intellectual gate keeper in the second half of the 20th century, but I hope it will engage with archaeology more constructively in the 21st century.

I want to point attention to another thought-piece reflecting on the workshop. See Veronica Kalas' posting on Facebook.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Schwarzmann: Islamic Philadelphia

I'm reading more about the Centennial Exhibition of 1876, specifically on the work of its main architect, Herman Schwarzmann. Specifically, I'm reading the monograph by John Maass, The Glorious Enterprise: The Centennial Exhibition of 1876 and H. J. Schwarzmann, Architect-in-Chief (Watkins Glen, N.Y., 1973). The Philadelphia Centennial celebrated 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence and was the first official World's Fair in the United States, followed by the Colombia World's Exhibition of Chicago in 1893. It was a momentous event of national redefinition. The equivalent of 20% of the U.S. population visited the exhibition. These numbers are astounding. See earlier postings on Centennial here and here.

I am interested in the Exhibition for many reasons. But as an archaeologist of the medieval Mediterranean, I am especially intrigued by Schwarzmann's Horticultural Hall because it was designed in an Islamic style.

Before discussing Horticultural Hall, let me note that Schwarzmann was an architect from Munich. As a young painter, he learned the art of fresco painting and was employed by the court of Ludwig. Amazingly enough, he executed the frescoes in the Royal Palace in Athens for Ludwig's son, Otto the King of Greece (p. 12). This is an important detail showing that Scharzmann would have come into direct contact with Islamic visual culture, in the remnants of Ottoman Greece. In 1868, Schwarzmann emigrated to the U.S. As would be natural for a German, Schwarzmann settled in Philadelphia and began work on projects associated with Fairmount Park. Schwarzmann was selected as the chief architect for the 1876 exhibition.

Horticultural Hall was one of the Exhibition's five principle building and the largest conservatory built in the world. In Schwarzmann's words "the design is in the Moresque style of architecture of the twelfth century, the principal materials externally being iron and glass" (p. 60). Strange as it may seem to us today, the Orientalist mindset associated exotic plants with Islam. As early as 1843, German conservatories used Islamic prototypes, such as the conservatory in the Wilhelmina at Stuttgart (1843), the Paris Exposition (1867) and the Vienna Exposition (1873). Schwarzmann was, therefore, importing European notions of exoticism into the U.S.

John Maass has traced the specific origins of Schwarzmann's Islamic features to the following sources: "The brick arcade of striped pattern may be derived from the engravings of the 12th Century mosque Barbauk and El Moyed in Architecture Arabe ou Monuments Du Kaire by Pascal Coste (1839). We know Schwarzmann studied the Corquis d'Architecture: the September 1869 issue featured a large drawing of the court of the mosque in Cairo with striped arches; the first issue published after the Franco-German War, in April 1871, carried a drawing Court of Old House, Cairo with striped arches." (p. 65)

Horticultural Hall was not the only structure inspired by Islamic prototypes. A dozen of smaller structures and pavilions carried Islamic references: the Turkish Cafe, Tunisian Cafe, Bethleem Bazaar, Jerusalem Bazaar, Bosphorus Bazaar, Frank Leslie's Pavilion, Moorish Villa, Soda Water Stands and Guano Pavilion (p. 70) (left)

The presence of a dominant eastern flavor in America's antebellum self-representation is intriguing. I am also intrigued in imagining Schwarzmann's direct memories of the Ottoman East while working for King Otto in Athens.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Furness: Centennial Bank

Every morning, on my walk from West Philly to 30th Street Station, I pass a brilliant building designed by Frank Furness in 1876. The Centennial Bank (re-dedicated as Drexel University's Paul Beck Center in 2000) contains one of my favorite architectural details (my sketch left)

This vertical limestone ornament marks the division of bays in the western 1-story bay that extends south from the corner. In typical Furnessian manner, it evokes sentiments of mechanical power and the medieval past (corbel, crockets, etc.), but it also reworks the motif of the entrance way. This console has additional significance in that it created a prototype used throughout Philadelphia's row houses in the 1880s and 1890s.

The Centennial Bank was chartered to finance the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition (see earlier posting on Jerome Hodos' essay of the exhibition here). The building sits diagonally on Market Street today and it would have served as an axial termination to a street that lead to the Exhibition.

The photo below was taken in 1961, for Historic American Buildings Survey; Library of Congress HABS PA,51-PHILA,525-1.

Byzantine Archaeology: An Intercollegiate Proposal

During last Spring's Dumbarton Oaks Symposium, I got a chance to meet Margaret Mullett, the new director of Byzantine Studies. At the end of the conference, a small group gathered for lunch and brainstormed on the future of archaeology at Dumbarton Oaks. The conversation has blossomed into a public workshop this weekend (see here). Over the summer, brainstorming and consultation lead to the idea of an undergraduate field school in Byzantine archaeology. In the Fall, I wrote up those thoughts into an email. Now that the conversation on archaeology is formalized, I thought I might post that email. Some of the ideas were also discussed in the 2010 annual meeting of the Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology Interest Group of the Archaeological Institute of America and were warmly received. I thank all the people whose brains I picked last summer.

I should also note that during my paper in last May's symposium, I made a comment about Dumbarton Oaks lack of support in surface surveys. My May 21, 2010 follow-up "Dumbarton Oaks and Surface Survey" addressed some criticism. I think it is no coincidence that I have been paired with Sue Alcock, the queen of reflecting on surface survey, in this weekend's conversation.

Email to Margaret Mullett
Sent September 21, 2009

Dear Margaret

It’s been a while since we last communicated. We met last May during the Dumbarton Oaks Conference. Thank you for inviting me to the lunch meeting where we discussed the future of archaeology at Dumbarton Oaks. I’ve been giving your questions a lot of thought in the last four months and I would like to share some of my thoughts and conversations with other young archaeologists.

Some of our conversations have been directed towards engaging undergraduates as much as graduate students in field archaeology. One idea that we have kicked around is organizing a field school, or a summer program similar to DO’s Byzantine Greek seminar. We are envisioning an intercollegiate program with many collaborators and components. This would be different from DO summer grant program. DO’s sponsorship would be primarily institutional and organizational. The field school would hope to bring both students and faculty. It could serve as the network for exploratory research taking place across the collaborating universities and faculty. So, in addition to a number of people gathering at one excavation in the summer, there could be educational coordination back in the United States, including visiting lectures and workshops.

Given the recent landscape of excavation permits, it seems that Turkey has now become as difficult as Greece. Over the summer, I began a series of conversations with a growing community of researchers and institutions in Cyprus. An intercollegiate program has been operating in Cyprus at the Pyla-Koutsopetria Project Archaeological Project (PKAP). The recent hire of Nikolas Bakirtzis at the Cyprus Institute adds an additional component in the landscape, and CAARI is looking forward to any new collaboration. The local archaeological service is extremely keen in having PKAP extend their survey (which was completed this last season) into an excavation. William Caraher (PKAP co-director) and I have worked closely the last four years in the creation of the Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology in Greece Interest Group of the AIA. The group meets every year at the AIA meetings and strategizes over future projects, conferences, PR, and advocacy.

An intercollegiate archaeological field school in Cyprus seems like an excellent means to pool resources and create a platform of collaboration. A short excavation season could be supplemented by additional experiences. The team, for example, could be taken to other sites and introduced to other methodologies (archival work, dendrochronology, GIS, etc.) Given the number of collaborators, the project could also extend across countries and continents. After working in Cyprus, for example, I could take the students to Corinth for a week of analyzing the 1930s house excavations, and Ann Marie Yassin could take them to Rome. Although we could set up collaborations between our colleges independently, Dumbarton Oaks would provide the platform for a conversation – maybe even an undergraduate workshop back in the US.

I am not sure if this is an avenue that resonates with your plans for DO. One thing that would be nice to do is organize a workshop in the Spring, where a number of us gather and critically address the future of Byzantine field archaeology. Although it doesn’t have to be a formal conference, we could each present components of our concerns and ideas. Such a brainstorming gathering might lay the foundations for a common project, even if it doesn’t end up in Cyprus.

Thanks for hearing my thoughts. The Medieval and Post-Medieval Group will be meeting at the AIA conference in Anaheim, California, where Sharon and I have organized a panel called “First Out: Late Levels of Early Sites.” The Group also organized a colloquium at the Modern Greek Studies Association Meetings in Vancouver, “City, Village, Monastery: The Archaeology of Modern Greek Landscapes.”


-Kostis Kourelis

Monday, April 05, 2010

Dumbarton Oaks: Byzantine Archaeology in North America

This weekend, Dumbarton Oaks is hosting a conversation on archaeology, "Byzantine Archaeology in North America." The discussion promises to be interesting, and I commend Margaret Mullet for initiating this conversation.

My contribution ("Problems and Opportunities") will focus on a couple of institutional issues that have defined Byzantine archaeology from an American point of view. I will speak on some general issues but will focus on the American School of Classical Studies, which is the legally binding organization through which all American archaeology must occur in Greece. I will also articulate what I perceive to be some ideological problems in Dumbarton Oaks' archaeological patronage.

I was not able to find the conference program on-line, so I quote it below:


Dumbarton Oaks
Research Library and Collection
1703 32nd Street NW
Washington, DC 2007

April 9-10, 2010

"Byzantine archaeology is a rapidly developing area with profound implications for the future of the subject. But it has very little infrastructure in North America: no established chairs, few graduate programs, little available field training. Even creating opportunities for an exchange of views is difficult, sometimes easier in the host countries in the field than in North America. This has the result that scholars find it hard to cross the political boundaries; few archaeologists work in both Greece and Turkey, for example. Honorable exceptions are panels at the AIA, and MGSA, and blogs set up by individuals, as well as many interdisciplinary initiatives. There is anxiety about finding and training the next generation of archaeologists in such a fragmented practice, particularly in specialist fields like ceramics. And then of course there are problems in placing students once they have qualified. All in all it appears more difficult at present to be a Byzantine archaeologist than any other kind of Byzantinist, while the results can change the field more rapidly and fundamentally than in any other discipline. We propose to hold a series of conversations in April 2010 in Dumbarton Oaks on achievements and challenges and the future. We hope that we can arrive at suggestions which can improve opportunities in the field, and in which Dumbarton Oaks can play some part."

Friday, April 9

I Achievements of North American archaeology

2.30 Margaret Mullett, Introduction
2.45 Achievements in Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, led by Sharon Gerstel, Bob Ousterhout, Marcus Rautman
4.15 Tea in the Study
4.45 Achievements in Italy, the Balkans, North Africa and the Levant, led by Richard Hodges, Susan Stevens, Ken Holum
7:00 Drinks on the Bowling Green

Saturday, April 10

II Problems and opportunities

9.00 John Haldon, Introduction
9.15 North American institutional and attitudinal issues, led by Susan Alcock, Kostis Kourelis
10.15 Coffee in the Study
10.45 Problems and possibilities for and in host countries and in American overseas research centers, led by Scott Redford, Chris Lightfoot, Mary-Ellen Lane
12.15 Transforming Byzantine archaeology through science, led by Henry Schwarcz
12.45 Discussion
1.00 Lunch at the Refectory

III The future

2.45 Mike McCormick, Introduction
3.00 Joachim Henning, The future as seen from Frankfurt
3.15 Discussion
3.30 James Crow, The future as seen from Edinburgh
3.45 Discussion
4.00 Tea in the Study
4.30 General Discussion
6:00 Reception for host countries on the Music Room Terrace


Susan Alcock, Rina Avner, Betsy Bolman, Darlene Brooks Hedstrom, Susan Boyd, Budrun Bühl, James Crow, Danny Curcic, Florin Curta, Tony Cutler, Örgü Dalgiç, Jennifer Davis, Clive Foss, Sharon Gerstel, Heather Grossman, John Haldon, Joachim Henning, Richard Hodges, Ken Hollum, Veronica Kalas, Kostis Kourelis, Mary-Ellen Lane, Chris Lightfoot, Mike McCormick, Sheila McNally, Eunice Maguire, Vasileios Marinis, Margaret Mullett, Bob Ousterhout, Marcus Rautman, Scott Redford, Jim Russell, Henry Schwarcz, Andrew Smith II, Sharon Gerstel, Carolyn Snively, Heather Grossman, Kathy Sparkes, Susan Stevens, Deb Stewart, Noreen Tuross, Günder Varinlioglu, Jan Ziolkowski, Stephen Zwirn.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Hodos: 1876 Centennial Exhibition

My good friend and occasional contributor to this blog Jenn Ball was visiting Philadelphia this weekend (with her husband and two lovely daughters). She was staying with a friend from her graduate school who now lives in Philadelphia (with her husband and lovely daughter). Within the first few minutes of our visit to Jenn’s friend’s house, it became obvious that we are all interconnected by a web of social relationships and professional affiliations. I don’t want to bore the readers with all the details. Suffice it to say that the city of Philadelphia offers what might be called “social capital” that intersects with our host Richardson Dilworth, a political scientist at Drexel University and husband of Jenn's friend. It was especially amusing to meet Dilworth soon after Franklin & Marshall's president was announced to become Drexel's new president.

Dilworth has edited a collection of papers, Social Capital in the City: Community and Civic Life in Philadelphia (Philadelphia, 2006) that contains an essay by an old friend and new colleague at Franklin & Marshall Jerome Hodos. In some kaleidoscopic way, I use this book to understand both my city of inhabitance and my itinerant network of academia/personal life. Dilworth’s book is dedicated to his daughter Nina “because she and the rest of her cohort of toddler Philadelphians are already well on their way to forming their own social network and building anew a collective stock of social capital in the city.” (p. xi) Our meeting this last Saturday was just as much a meeting of children as a meeting of adults and I look forward to seeing more of everyone involved.

I turn now to Hodos’ essay “The 1876 Centennial in Philadelphia: Elite Networks and Political Culture,” Social Capital (pp. 19-39) because it deals with an event of great architectural interest, the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. From an art-historical point of view, the 1876 Centennial was transformative. See, for example, Elizabeth Milroy’s “A Crowning Feature: The Centennial Exhibition and Philadelphia’s Horticultural Hall” in Studies in the History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes 26:2 (2006), pp. 132-165. Coincidentally, Milroy was the dean that hired my wife at her previous job. Hodos offers a different point of view on how political capital intersects with social capital. In short, the 1876 Centennial managed to push the city beyond a political gridlock and into modernity. Jerome Hodos, explains that the exhibition solved a political puzzle that plagued the city’s transition into an industrial metropolis. Four particular problems confronted the antebellum city, 1. rapid population growth, 2. intense industrialization, 3. public disorder, and 4. a change of guard in the ruling elites (namely from a mercantile class to an industrial class). The Civil War had divided the city's double allegiances to both the North and the South. Support for the Democratic party comprised of a pro-Southern alliance. Republicanism, which emerged victorious and remained unchallenged for 60 years after the Centennial, coalesced in the 1870s and was assisted by the organization of the exhibition.

The essays in this collection deal with a definition of social capital developed by Robert Putnam in a book with the most memorable title, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (New York, 2000). Hodos argues that social capital developed when political hegemony needed to move outside its economic/political domain and collaborate with culture. The Centennial offered precisely that opportunity. More importantly, the Centennial as a historical case study reveals the inter-penetrability of intellectual realms. I know this relates to a Durkheim vs. Weber conceptual problem, but my social theory is to rusty to tackle here. Thanks to the academic social network, I can simply ask Hodos for details next time I see him on campus.

Much of the pleasure of reading a friend’s work is hearing their voice behind the text but also learning a tremendous amount without having to bother them. Hodos’ essay is full of great nuggets. I had no idea that the Democrat-Republican rivalry in Philadelphia's civic politics reflected Southern allegiances. I am reminded of the Philadelphia enclaves in Charleston from Clemson's Charleston Preservation program. I was also interested to learn that in 1850, Philadelphia was almost 5% African American and 5.6% German born. Over the weekend, I chanced on a mid-19th century building abandoned by its German community (part of the Trainscape exploration). Now I have a context.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States