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.

Graduate Activities: Wylie Schwartz at the Warburg-Haus

Members of Drakabygget creating a Co-ritus work of art. Jens Jørgen Thorsen and Olav Herman Hansen at Bergens Kunstforening, 1966. From the photo archive of Elsebet Rahl.

Doctoral candidate Wylie Schwartz has been invited to present a paper, titled “Pedagogy, Ritual, Resistance: Collective Transgression in the Aesthetic Practices of The Bauhaus Situationist Drakabygget” at the conference Forming Collectives: Strategies in Modern and Contemporary Art organized by the Warburg-Haus in Hamburg, Germany. The conference will be held from October 9-13, 2017.

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

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.