Identity

We live in a world awash in identities and identity politics.  It is hardly surprising that we think art can enact, create, and modify individual and collective identities.  In this constellation we subject this idea to historical scrutiny and theoretical analysis.  We investigate the role of art in the formation and imagination of polities and communities, and how these cross-cut with notions of race, class, gender, religion, nationality, and ethnicity.

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Identity

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    Lamenting Lord Elgin

    Today is my last day working on the Itinera database until my presentation tomorrow.  While gearing up for the end of the semester, let's take a moment to look back at the unfortunate life of Thomas Bruce.

    Thomas Bruce suffered from asthma throughout his life, so under his doctor's orders, he doused his face with mercury for his frequent lung complaints.  Medical treatment in the 1700s certainly is not what it is today. The mercury caused abrasions on his nose, which prompted doctors to cut off the tip of it, disfiguring Bruce's face.

    In August 1803, Bruce was traveling with his wife, Mary Nisbet, and got detained by the French in Bareges, because he was a British ambassador with a travel schedule that coincided with the Napoleonic Wars.  From there, he was eventually sent to prison at Lourdes.  While he was incarcerated, Nisbet was allowed to leave France, accompanied by a man named Robert Fergusson.  The two were secretly engaged in an affair, and Fergusson would go on trial in May of 1808 for adultry.

    In 1816, facing bankruptcy, Bruce sold his prized marbles to the British Museum.  He said that the marbles were worth about £75,000 (roughly $111,360), but the museum bought them for £35,000 (about $51,950).  Needless to say, he was not happy about the sale.

    Between his cheating wife, partial nose and massive debt, Bruce was not a happy person.  Because he bought the marbles and messed with Greek culture, people still don't like him after his death.  And they certainly don't pity him.  He will always be remembered as the man who brought antique culture to Britian, but at the expense of ancient Greek identity.

     

    The picture, of Thomas Bruce with his full nose, is courtesy of http://www.athensguide.com/elginmarbles/photos/elgin.JPG

    For more information, check out these books:

    Nagel, Susan. Mistress of the Elgin Marbles: A Biography of Mary Nisbet, Countess of Elgin. New York: William Morrow, 2004. Print.

    Vrettos, Theodore. The Elgin Affair: The Abduction of Antiquity's Greatest Treasures and the Passions It Aroused. New York: Arcade Pub., 1997. Print.

    Categories: 
    • Identity
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Current Projects
    • Itinera
    • Undergraduate Work
    • VMW
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    Why the Parthenon Marbles are Controversial

    Last week, I got into the story surrounding Thomas Bruce and the Parthenon Marbles.  Now, let me tell you about the controversial past (and present) of these artifacts.

    As I mentioned, Bruce had to get a firman from the Ottoman authorities in order for his workers, including Giovanni Battista Lusieri and William Richard Hamilton, to continue sketching the Acropolis in Athens.  He eventually got this letter of permission in early 1801, and the document was deemed official by July 1.  However, due to transnational tensions that culminated into the Napoleonic Wars (1803 - 1815), government paperwork and rules at the turn of the century were a little murky.  This led to a disagreement on the true owners of the Parthenon Marbles.  People who want the Marbles to stay in London say that Bruce obtained the firman with the full knowledge and permission of the Ottoman Empire, which controlled Greece at the time, so his actions were completely legal.  But people who want the Marbles returned to Greece say that the Marbles should be replaced to their homeland, stating that Bruce illegally stole the Marbles during Greece's Turkish occupation.

    Bruce removed the Marbles between 1800 -1811, but then sold them to the British Museum in 1816 because he was facing debt.  Controversy about the Marbles was reintroduced in 1925 when a newspaper argued that Greece should be able to reclaim the Marbles.  Today, why do people care about the movement of the Marbles if it happened almost 200 years ago?  In October 2014, the London-based lawyer/activist/author Amal Clooney said that Greece had "just cause" for the return of the Parthenon Marbles.  So even today, the plot thickens.

    Why does this even matter?  Well, the controversy about the Parthenon Marbles is important for a couple of reasons.  Pro-London supporters say that the Marbles are "an important representation of ancient Athenian civilization in the context of world history" and they give "maximum public benefit" to the people of England, so it is more important that they should stay in London than go back to Athens.  To these supporters, the Marbles represent a moment in antiquity and continue to emphasize the ancient Athenian culture to the modern public.  Pro-Athens supporters say that the Marbles are an important symbol of the whole nation's heritage - in the present, not just in antiquity - and they should be returned for the sake of national pride.

    The significance of the Parthenon Marbles is completely defined by society, meaning that people assign importance to these ancient sculptures.  These artifacts are symbolic of an all-but-lost ancient culture, and if Greece ever gets the Marbles back, the nation will have to reevaluate their cultural significance in a modern context.

    In late March, Greece requested the return of the Parthenon Marbles for the second time.  The British Museum turned down the request, and it is unlikely that the Marbles will be returning to Athenian soil anytime soon.

    Check out these sources if you're interested in learning more about the controversy about the Parthenon Marbles:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/11274713/Why-are-the-Elgin-marble...

    http://greece.greekreporter.com/2015/03/27/double-rejection-for-partheno...

     

    Photo courtesy of http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/oct/14/amal-alamuddin-advis...

    Categories: 
    • Temporalities
    • Identity
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Current Projects
    • Itinera
    • Undergraduate Work
    • VMW
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    HA&A Graduate Student Trip to the College Art Association Annual Conference

    With generous support from the Dean of Graduate Studies, ten HA&A graduate students (Maria Castro, Nicole Coffineau, Clarisse Fava-Piz, Annika Johnson, Isaac King, Colleen O’Reilly, Ben Ogrodnik, Nicole Scalissi, Krystle Stricklin, and Marina Tyquiengco) traveled to New York to conduct individual research and attend the annual conference of the College Arts Association. In a colloquium on March 25th, these students discussed their research, their newly acquired tools and knowledge, and the presence of the constellations at CAA.

    Attached is the slideshow from their discussion which includes some resources and potential jumping off points for further discussion in the department.

     

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Temporalities
    • Environment
    • Identity
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
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    Inputting into Itinera

    As I mentioned in a previous post, my next step in Itinera is to input my Elgin Marbles-related information into the database.  So far, I'm actually pretty efficient at this part.

    In Itinera, I'm submitting info for agents (people), tours (their lives), and tour stops (places they visited).  Right now, the main people whom I'm dealing with are Thomas Bruce (Lord Elgin), Mary Nisbet (his wife) and Giovanni Battista Lusieri (artist comissioned to draw the Marbles).  There are a couple more people involved, but those are some of the more central actors.  After I'm finished with the people and their lives, I'll be able to input information about the Marbles themselves.

    Everything in Itinera is connected - it is a digital web of art historical information.  Everything has to be precisely submitted step-by-step, and I frequently have to go back into the database to make sure that all the information is recorded correctly.  It's tedious and a little bit frustrating, but I think I'm getting the hang of it.

    However, I am a little concerned about the timing.  My FE-R presentation is in about four weeks, and I'm worried that we'll run into more problems as we try to submit the Marbles (which will be called 'objects' in Itinera).  I'm almost finished with inputting all the agents, tours and tour stops, so luckily, completing that won't take too much time out of next week.  Then I can spend the rest of the day entirely devoted to putting the Marbles in Itinera.  Jen and I have gone through my spreadsheet and identified about 20 sculptures or fragments of the Elgin Marbles that are ready to be put into the database.  Then it's just a matter of if Itinera will organize them correctly.

    At the same time, that still means that there are over 100 fragments in the British Museum alone that I won't get a chance to put in Itinera before the semester is over.  I know that this database is a work in progress and we will be adding info to it for quite some time, but I wish that I had more time in the Visual Media Lab to finish up this project before the semester ends at the end of April.

    Categories: 
    • Identity
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Current Projects
    • Itinera
    • Populations
    • Undergraduate Work
    • VMW
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    Hey, Art Historians! Interested in learning more about copyright issues in your work??

    CAA has produced the pamphlet, "Code of Best Practices for Fair Use for the Visual Arts." It is clear, concise, and direct. Do read it!

    It's attached below, and it's also on the Internet here: http://www.collegeart.org/pdf/fair-use/best-practices-fair-use-visual-arts.pdf

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Temporalities
    • Environment
    • Identity
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW
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    Abstract Writing Pt. II

    Here's my second attempt at the Itinera abstract, after some comments from Jen:

    The humanities are ingrained in the history of our species, and they study people and objects to reveal what it means to be human.  In our rapidly-digitizing age, history can be more easily preserved through the use of new technologies to avoid dissolving into itself.  Through the database Itinera, we are able to preserve art history online by tracking culturally-motivated travel in an interactive forum, which is more accurate than preserving art history through traditional, textbook media.  The database helps to make people more aware of and connected with our historic past, going beyond the confines of bookcovers and webpages, extending the history and making it easier to visualize.  In a collaborative project like Itinera, multiple scholars can contribute to make new connections about old data through digitized configurations.  My contribution to Itinera concerns research in tracking and documenting the Elgin marbles.  These artifacts were ancient Greek sculptures, inscriptions and adnornments that decorated the Parthenon in antiquity, but migrated throughout Europe during the early 1800s.  In my research, I will be able to deduce where and why these objects migrated, and ultimately, I will better understand the cultural reasons for moving these ancient art pieces in a 19th century context.

    Categories: 
    • Identity
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Current Projects
    • Itinera
    • Undergraduate Work
    • VMW
  • Ill-Treatment of Chinese at San Francisco.  From Arthur H. Smith, "A Fools Paradise," Outlook, March 24 1906.

     

    The Search for Bertillon Cards from the Chinese Exclusion Act

    For the past few months, Aisling and I have been searching for the identification cards created for Chinese immigrants using the Bertillon system of measurement.  While we have found many earlier and later identification cards from the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Bertillon cards created during the system’s short-lived period of use, between 1903 and 1906, have eluded us.  The Bertillon system was used to create a database of Chinese laborers who were exempt from the Chinese Exclusion Act and thus allowed to remain in the United States.  While the law only required laborers submit to measurement, the definition of laborer was ambiguous, and any Chinese immigrant suspected of being a laborer, as many were, could expect to be measured.  The Bertillon system was considered incredibly degrading by those Chinese immigrants who underwent measurement, as Bertillonage was known as a method of criminal identification.  The repeal of the Bertillon system was part of a moderate liberalization of the Chinese Exclusion Act after the- Chinese boycott of American goods in 1905.

    In the absence of the any Bertillon cards used during the Chinese Exclusion Act, there is at least one first hand account of the process written by a Chinese immigrant: “First, the person’s picture is taken, full body and from the waist up.  Then the face, frontal view; and then from the back of the head, and facing left and right.  Afterwards, a machine is used to measure the width of the skull.  The distances between the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth are measured as well as one’s height and the length of one’s hands and feet.  The distance between the shoulder, elbow, and wrist are measured, as are the distances between the hips, knee, and calf.  The arms are measured out-stretched and bent as are the legs measured while standing and in-step.  All of these measurements are taken while the person is nude.  The length of the fingers and toes between each joint is also recorded.  There is nothing that is not recorded in great detail.” Liang Qichao Ji Huagong jinyue. Excerpt translated in K. Scott Wong, “Liang Qichao and the Chinese of America: A Re-Evaluation of His ‘Selected Memoir of Travels in the New World,’” Journal of American Ethnic History, Vol. 11, No. 4 (Summer 1992): 3-24.

    The striking revelation from Liang’s testimony is that the Chinese immigrants were measured in the nude.  Compare this to the account of an Ohio prisoner: “The second day of my imprisonment I was taken to the room for the identification of prisoners by the Bertillon method.  My photograph was taken with my glasses off, front and side view, with my prison number 31498 fastened across my breast.  Then I was weighed and measured in many dimensions, and my own clothes were taken from me, except my underclothing and shoes, and I was put into the gray uniform of the highest grade allowed to be given to any prisoner on his first coming there. “ Charles C. Moore, Behind the Bars; 31498, Lexington, K.Y. 1890.  While Moore’s self-aggrandizing tone leads one to question the reliability of this account, his reveals the Bertillon process as the critical moment in the transition from citizen to prisoner.  Moor associated the loss of his street clothes, which he claimed happened after measurement, with his (uncharacteristically enthusiastic) achievement of the grey prisoner’s uniform.

    If we take Moore’s account to understand Bertillon measurement as a moment of transition from one state of identity to the next, what does that mean for the Chinese immigrant?  This person is also transition.  He or she is passing between national boundaries, transforming from national-citizen to immigrant-outsider, and being distilled from a complex background into two dominate identities: “Chinese” and “laborer.” According to Simon A. Cole in Suspect Identities, what emerged from the Bertillon system “was a new way of visualizing criminality: the authorities did not read criminality in the body itself, but rather used the body as an index to a written criminal record.”  The physical traces of the anthropological “born criminal” was replaced by the Bertillon system’s preference for the individual’s unique mark.  In other words, the grasping overreaches of the search for the identifiable characteristics of criminality in the nineteenth century were replaced by a system in which the criminal’s body was itself a unique trace of criminality.  Such an identity was permanent and unambiguous.  For the Chinese immigrants, this becomes more complex.  The enforcement of Chinese Exclusion Act was based on broad generalizations of  “Chinese-ness,” leading to infinite confusion and appeal as to the definition of identifiable physical and cultural characteristics for identifying those Chinese laborers to be turned away from the United States.  With the adoption of the Bertillon system, the Chinese immigrant was subjected to a method in which the label “Chinese laborer” was no longer a generalization, but the unique mark of their person, exposed in the moment of transition from an assumed state of personhood to the pretext of criminality.  Thus, for now, we continue to search for these cards.

     

    Categories: 
    • Research Groups
    • Agency
    • Identity
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Current Projects
    • VMW
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    Mobilities

    This is the current theme of Wesleyan's Humanities Center.  To add to all the many "turns" we have heard about, there is now a "mobility turn":

    MOBILITIES

    Over the past decade, a new approach to the study of mobilities has emerged involving research on the combined movement of peoples, animals, objects, ideas, and information. This can be viewed through the lens of complex networks, relational dynamics, and the redistribution or reification of power generated by movement.  But despite the emphasis on movement, this “mobility turn” must be viewed in the light of the relationships between mobilities and associated immobilities:  borders as well as border crossings, isolation as well as connectivity, disability as well as ability. It thus encompasses both the embodied practice of movement and the representations, ideologies, and meanings attached to the mobile and immobile.... (click here for the full description)

    Of course we've already made the turn with our constellation mobility/exchange and Itinera in particular.  But I wanted to add a couple of notes to this topic that I have been thinking about a lot lately.  

    One is that art history overwhelmingly privileges sedentary societies and non-mobile populations.  "Art" and "architecture" do tend to serve the needs of sedentary states and institutions. The distinction between center and periphery only makes sense in a world that assumes the sedentary as the norm.  Our own Kathy Linduff, who works on exchange between mobile and sedentary societies in ancient China, is one of the very few who does not think in this "sendetarinormative" way. (I believe I have just coined a new jargon term.)  

    The other idea I have been revolving is the notion that in the sedentary world of territorial states and civilizations, art is used often to defeat mobility, or dishonor it, or deny it.  My cemetery project is making me think about how the nation-state fixes dead soldiers in place, as a response to their tragic dislocations in life.  Out of the terrible flux of their wartime experiences, the national cemetery creates a monumental arrangement of graves and names that is supposed to be static, unchanging, and hence honorific.

    Categories: 
    • Research Groups
    • Agency
    • Identity
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Current Projects
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    Public Humanities

    I've attached a short, interesting piece arguing that historians need to be more engaged with nonacademic publics.  The author makes the interesting point that in in the early to mid 20th century most PhDs in American history got jobs outside the academy, and they took it for granted that they needed to be able to talk about their research with a very wide audience.  Then with the big boom in university employment in the 1960s, PhDs became much more focused on academic jobs and academic audiences, and the profession as a whole acquired the luxury of being insular.  So in fact the current turn toward a more "public" humanities is a return of sorts, to an era in which humanities scholars understood their livelihood to depend on reaching beyond academia.

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Temporalities
    • Identity
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
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    ULS now subscribes to ARTMargins journal!

    ULS has recently subscribed to the peer-reviewed journal ARTMargins, published by MIT Press. According to its website, "ARTMargins publishes scholarly articles and essays about contemporary art, politics, media, architecture, and critical theory. ARTMargins studies art practices and visual culture in the emerging global margins, from North Africa and the Middle East to the Americas, Eastern and Western Europe, Asia and Australasia. The journal seeks a forum for scholars, theoreticians, and critics from a variety of disciplines who are interested in postmodernism and post-colonialism, and their critiques; art and politics in transitional countries and regions; post-socialism and neo-liberalism; and the problem of global art and global art history and its methodologies."

    Here is the URL (log in through PittCat to access off campus): http://www.mitpressjournals.org.pitt.idm.oclc.org/loi/artm

    Thanks to Kate Joranson for making this subscription possible!

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Temporalities
    • Identity
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work

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