Faculty and graduate activities: Nancy Um and Lauren Cesiro

In its June 2017 issue, The Art Bulletin is publishing reviews of six online collection catalogs issued by the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC; the Seattle Art Museum; the Arthur M. Sackler and Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Tate, United Kingdom; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. This is the first time the quarterly journal has devoted its reviews section to digital scholarship.

Stephen H. Whiteman’s review of the Seattle Art Museum’s Chinese Painting & Calligraphy catalog is available now in an enhanced digital version, published on the Scalar platform and developed in collaboration with Nancy Um and Lauren Cesiro. The open-access project is at http://scalar.usc.edu/works/samosci/index.

Faculty Activities: Nancy Um in “Architectural Heritage of Yemen: Buildings that Fill my Eye”

The exhibition “Buildings that Fill my Eye”: Architectural Heritage of Yemen opens on July 13 at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, University of London. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalog, which includes an essay by Nancy Um. For every copy sold 5 GBP will be donated to the UNHCR Yemen Emergency Appeal.


Faculty Activities: Julia Walker at the Society of Architectural Historians

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and South African President Jacob Zuma before a meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on Nov. 10, 2015. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

Assistant Professor Julia Walker will be presenting a paper this Friday, June 9, as part of the panel Publicly Postmodern: Government Agency and 1980s Architecture at the annual meeting of the Society of Architectural Historians in Glasgow, Scotland.

Dissolving Monumentality: Schultes and Frank’s Berlin Chancellery Building

This paper examines a crucial government project—Axel Schultes and Charlotte Frank’s Federal Chancellery Building in Berlin—completed in the waning years of postmodernism’s trajectory, but no less emblematic for that fact. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and Germany’s decision to return to Berlin after years of retreat in Bonn, the government sought to define a new image for itself through the architecture of its past and future capital. A yearning for a return to tradition infused the series of government competitions held to determine the master plan and individual buildings of the federal district, and the results show the government’s attempt to discover a simultaneously light and monumental architectural idiom.

This typically postmodern monumentality is most apparent in the proposals submitted to the Chancellery competition held in 1994. O. M. Ungers’s colonnaded design won third prize, while the firm KSV placed second with a proposal that jurors deemed indisputably classical. Yet Schultes and Frank seemed to have struck the balance between continuing the rhetoric of modest transparency established in Bonn and offering a new architectural confidence to the reunified nation. Their design, a nine-story, partially transparent cube flanked by lower wings, was intended to elicit “sympathy at the first glance,” as the architects stated. Its forbears are the pastoral government buildings designed at the beginning of the postmodern turn for developing nations, like Le Corbusier’s designs for Chandigarh or Louis Kahn’s National Assembly in Dhaka, as well as Romaldo Giurgola’s high postmodern New Parliament House in Canberra. By using this mode of monumentality, I argue, the German government intentionally and explicitly aligns itself with the political liberalization of postcolonial capitals. Yet implicitly, it also aligns itself with economic neoliberalization; this dissolved monumentality powerfully evokes the elimination of barriers fundamental to Germany’s new role in the global economy.

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.


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