Faculty Activities: Nancy Um, Shipped but Not Sold: Material Culture and the Social Protocols of Trade during Yemen’s Age of Coffee

Congratulations to Associate Professor Nancy Um, whose book Shipped but Not Sold: Material Culture and the Social Protocols of Trade during Yemen’s Age of Coffee has just been published by the University of Hawai’i Press! The introduction is currently available on academia.edu.

 

In the early decades of the eighteenth century, Yemen hosted a bustling community of merchants who sailed to the southern Arabian Peninsula from the east and the west, seeking and offering a range of commodities, both luxury and mundane. In Shipped but Not Sold, Nancy Um opens the chests these merchants transported to and from Yemen and examines the cargo holds of their boats to reveal the goods held within. They included eastern spices and aromatics, porcelain cups and saucers with decorations in gold from Asia, bales of coffee grown in the mountains of Yemen, Arabian horses, and a wide variety of cotton, silk, velvet, and woolen cloth from India, China, Persia, and Europe; in addition to ordinary provisions, such as food, beer, medicine, furniture, pens, paper, and wax candles.

As featured in the copious records of the Dutch and English East India Companies, as well as in travel accounts and local records in Arabic, these varied goods were not just commodities intended for sale in the marketplace. Horses and textile banners were mobilized and displayed in the highly visible ceremonies staged at the Red Sea port of Mocha when new arrivals appeared from overseas at the beginning of each trade season. Coffee and aromatics were served and offered in imported porcelain and silver wares during negotiations that took place in the houses of merchants and officials. Major traders bestowed sacks of spices and lavish imported textiles as gifts to provincial governors and Yemen’s imam in order to sustain their considerable trading privileges. European merchants who longed for the distant comforts of home carried tables and chairs, along with abundant supplies of wine and spirits for their own use and, in some cases, further distribution in Yemen’s ports and emporia.

These diverse items were offered, displayed, exchanged, consumed, or utilized by major international merchants and local trade officials in a number of socially exclusive practices that affirmed their identity, status, and commercial obligations, but also sustained the livelihood of their business ventures. Shipped but Not Sold posits a key role for these socially significant material objects (many of which were dispatched across oceans but not intended only for sale on the open market) as important signs, tools, and attributes in the vibrant world of a rapidly transforming Indian Ocean trading society.

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Binghamton@DH@GUELPH

Binghamton University, and particularly the Department of Art History, was amply represented by faculty, staff, current graduate students, and alumni at the 2017 Digital Humanities Summer Workshops at the University of Guelph. Participants included (from left to right) Julia Glauberman (Reference/Instructional Librarian), Eve Snyder (PhD candidate, History), Tracy Stuber (BA, Art History, 2011), Jeannine Keefer (PhD, Art History, 2013), Marcia Focht (Curator, Visual Resources), Nancy Um (Associate Professor, Art History), Lauren Cesiro (PhD program, Art History), and Mariah Postlewait (PhD program, Art History). They took courses such as “Get Down with your Data,” “Introduction to Digital Humanities Pedagogy,” “Spatial Humanities,” “Omeka Workshop,” “Making Manuscripts Digital,” and “Online Public Intellectual Work through Social Media.” More at #dhatguelph2017

Graduate Activities: Nicole Wagner at Harvard

Anonymous, Il gioco dei tarocchi, fresco, originally in the Castello di Masnago, Varese (currently in private collection in Rome), 1430-1450.

From April 7-8, doctoral candidate Nicole Wagner participated in the Brown-Harvard Graduate Chiasmi Conference in Italian Studies, “E(x)pressing Play,” where she presented her paper, “Disrupting Social Practice and Spatial Order: Women Gambling in Early Modern Italy.”

Abstract: In 1493 Beatrice d’Este Sforza traveled from Milan to Venice on the bucintoro  (barge) gifted to her by her parents, on official business for her husband, Ludovico “Il Moro” Sforza (Duke of Milan, 1494-99). In letters to Ludovico, Beatrice reported that while on board she triumphed against her mother, the Duchess of Ferrara Eleonora of Aragon, and her sister-in-law, Anna Sforza, winning a large sum of money in the card game buttino. Other letters disclose that over the course of one year Beatrice won 3,000 gold ducats while playing scartino, another game of wager involving a deck of cards, and that Beatrice’s sister, Isabella d’Este Gonzaga (Marquess of Mantua, 1490-1539), also gambled in a variety of times and spaces, often to great profit. This paper looks at the conjunction of a novel form of material culture (the paper card deck) and the practice of gambling on boats (the preferred means of transport for elites in northern Italian courts connected by waterways) – mobile spaces that became ambiguous with respect to “place” when in transit and thus elusive with regard to the reach of sovereignty and surveillance. Boats were far from the exclusive site of female gambling in early modern Italy, but distinguishing them was their “placelessness,” which made them ideal as (provisional) heterotopias where women, I argue, rehearsed a new kind of social and economic independence as actors in material, spatial, and temporal fields long overlooked by scholars.

The paper will begin with the introduction of the card deck into late medieval and early modern Italy, where women’s card play originated as a “virtuous” leisure-time activity recommended and supervised by men in the regulated spaces of the palace or protected haven of enclosed gardens. Working with largely unpublished primary sources it will then turn to the bucintori and the unsupervised practice of women “working the table” in their sumptuously appointed interiors.

Gallery talk today on Ambra Polidori’s ‘How Beautiful Mexico is!’

Join us for a gallery talk at noon Tuesday, May 2, by Juanita Rodriguez, graduate student in the history department, on her installation of a work by Mexican artist Ambra Polidori (born 1954). The recently acquired work, How Beautiful Mexico is!, 2015, was donated to the Binghamton University Art Museum by Distinguished Professor John Tagg and Luisa Casella. The set of postcards depicts 43 students who disappeared after municipal officers in Guerrero, Mexico, allegedly fired on their bus in 2014. The violence chronicled in the postcards problematizes the notion of Mexico as a tourist destination. The installation will be on view through May 20, 2017.

Graduate Activities: Nicole Wagner at Yale

Anonymous, d’Este tarocchi deck (The Magician), hand painted with gold and silver, 5 ½ x 3 ¼ in., Ferrara, 15th century. Cary Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

Congratulations to doctoral candidate Nicole Wagner, who has been awarded the Renaissance Society of America-Kress Beinecke Library Fellowship for 2017 for research on her dissertation, “Women Working the Table: The Material Culture, Gendered Spaces, and Visual Representations of Early Modern Female Card Players.”  She will visit Yale in September of this year.  Nicole has also recently received the Rosa Colecchio Travel Award, the IASH Graduate Fellowship, and the Foundation Travel Grant, all through Binghamton University.