Faculty Work


    Collective Book Launch for Jennifer Josten, Caitlin Bruce, Harris Feinsod

    Author: Rebecca Giordano 

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    On October 25th, Pitt’s Humanities Center hosted a collective book launch for three scholars whose work draws out transnational networks of creative practice. Bridging three disciplines, multiple media, and several different decades, the authors each spoke about their book projects with nods to each other’s work followed by a generous and lively Q&A. HAA associate professor Jennifer Josten presented her book Mathias Goeritz: Modernist Art and Architecture in Cold War Mexico alongside Pitt Department of Communication assistant professor Caitlin Bruce who shared her book Painting Publics: Transnational Legal Graffiti Scenes as Spaces for Encounter. Chronicling different decades and locations, each presented Mexican artistic production as sites within hemispheric and transnational networks from distinct methodologies and disciplinary vantages. Harris Feinsod, now an associate professor of English at Northwestern, discussed The Poetry of the Americas: From Good Neighbors to Countercultures, a supranational history of poetry and politics he worked on while an Early Career Specialist at the Humanities Center (2015-2016). 

    Throughout the talk, the authors referenced the conversations they shared while developing their projects at Pitt. From the discipline-specific approaches to translation to the art historical methodologies designed to give principle weight to the art object, each voiced what they borrowed and what they shared. Hearing how such cross-disciplinary conversations advanced their projects shed light on the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration and the spaces which host it. During her presentation, Josten gave a close reading of all three book covers which each have artworks made in Mexico, noting that Feinsod’s book featured a work by Mathais Goertiz, the subject of her book. Feinsod and Josten both focus on the movement of ideas and people within geopolitical realities that defined Cold War cultural production. Bruce’s work brings these concerns into the present while capturing the personal and living nature of such networks through observation and interviews. 

    During the Q&A, Feinsod recounted to the audience that revered Mexican writer Octavio Paz had once graced the Cathedral of Learning for a year in 1969 during his exile in protest of the Mexican government’s actions in the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre. Feinsod read from a letter Paz wrote during his time in Pittsburgh, which Feinsod translated into English. Paz’s witty and sharp letter is filled with funny barbs about the Cathedral’s “purest Gothic brick and cement” and quips about industrialist Andrew Mellon and poet Robert Bly. A pitch-perfect capstone to the event, the letter illustrated Pitt’s long history as a hub of hemispheric thinking, marked by intelligent criticism, a commitment to broad inquiry, and scholarly humor. 

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    Photo of the author, looking at archival materials at Senator John Heinz History Center

    Woodworking in the Steel City: the History of Carpentry and Carpenters

    Author: Paula Kane,

    Professor and Marous Chair, Religious Studies Department and Work Forces workshop participant

    Pittsburgh justly is famous for being the Steel City. But the very city and campus that we inhabit would not exist except for another trade, namely, carpentry. I once harbored the naïve notion that carpenters mainly made furniture and decorative wooden objects, and practiced fine woodworking in stately mansions and office buildings. In other words, I thought that carpentry was less about industry and more about craft. In fact, however, carpentry involves a host of trades including floor coverers, lathers, millworkers and cabinetmakers, millrights, pile drivers, and all-around carpenters who do residential construction. Today, due to a set of forces that include changes in building design generally, it seems that carpentry more often involves heavy-duty construction and hard-hats: rebar and cement dominate over wooden materials; forms, framing and excavation have taken the place of furniture, mantelpieces and stairways.  For the workshop, “Work Forces,” I am beginning a project about the history of carpenters in the Pittsburgh region over the last century. More precisely, it examines carpenters as a “work force,” and changes in carpentry practices over time.

    American carpenters first organized a union in Chicago in 1881, named the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. Pittsburgh joined soon after. National UBC membership reached 200,000 by 1910, when it was said that “the craftsman without a [union] card is a man without a trade.” Today there are over 9000 carpenters in western Pennsylvania, who are members of the International Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners. Local institutions like the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC keep them employed in maintaining, renovating and repairing existing buildings, as well as in erecting new ones. In the United States there are 19 regional and district councils of the IBCJ. In 2016 the western Pennsylvania region merged with several others, including carpenter unions in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. This enormous Keystone+Mountain+Lakes Regional Council of Carpenters now has membership totals above 40,000.

    Union membership, though apparently thriving, continues to be mostly white and male, and it is worth asking why there is little racial and gender diversity. Furthermore, how do carpenters’ wages and health care compare with the other building trades, such as electricians and plumbers? These questions lead me to others, such as how the recruiting process works, how apprenticeships are mentored, and how the union will sustain itself in an era when organized labor is constantly under attack and when fewer young Americans are drawn into the construction trades. Since carpenters are only paid when they are employed, health care costs and pension contributions, which must be paid out-of-pocket during periods of unemployment, remain sources of concern and financial stress for individual carpenters. 

    Thus, I am interested in asking questions about the history of the carpentry union as caretaker of workers, as well as charting the changes in the practice of carpentry through the last century.  Carpentry may be nearly unique among the skilled trades in that it relies upon human labor that cannot be replaced by automation. Carpentry continues to require skills in mathematics, precision measurement, reading blueprints, understanding materials and the use of human hands and hand-held tools. If so, what effect does this necessity for human labor have on the job security of carpenters? And for those portions of the construction process that can be automated, such as machines to help lift heavy loads of sheet rock or lumber, has this innovation prevented physical strain and injury and increased efficiency?  

    The early twentieth century saw carpenters, like most trades, fighting battles against open shop employers. When employers used non-union labor, this action led to worsened work conditions, weakened safety rules, and deliberate attempts by businesses and corporations to weaken or destroy labor unions. This struggle is ongoing, to which are added the new challenges cause by the globalization of labor and the increasing power of multinational corporations over work processes.

    What will be the impact of the globalization of the economy on carpenters and carpentry? If you watched the new documentary, “American Factory,” the first project of Barack and Michelle Obama through their Higher Ground production company, you witnessed one example of the impact of globalization in nearby Dayton, Ohio. There, a corporation owned by a Chinese billionaire who produces glass for automotive windshields, moved into the closed and vacant General Motors plant in 2014. This experiment in global cooperation did not go smoothly: the transplanted Chinese workers were used to laboring seven days a week, and working overtime whenever asked, and regarded the American workers as lazy and indulged. For their part, the Americans were outraged that their union protections were being violated and overrun, and that their workplace protections and ultimately, their jobs were being cut and automated to save money, even though they had already taken pay cuts to work for Fuyao Glass. When the American workers begin a unionization drive, the Chinese hired consultants to oppose a union and undermine the drive. What is the fate of unionized labor in this kind of world, where one nation’s workers expect different conditions and standards?  How can American workers be educated to understand the processes affecting their lives in order to protect their trades? Are carpenters also concerned about these issues, and who is responsible for educating them about legislative and union concerns?

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    Students Explore Museum Careers at Welcome Week

    Author: Alex J. Taylor 

    Assistant Professor and Academic Curator, Department of History of Art and Architecture

    As part DiscoverU Day, sponsored by the Career Center as a part of Welcome Week at the University of Pittsburgh, 20 first year students signed up to hear about the career opportunities to work in museums from a panel of staff from across the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. This was the first year that the Carnegie Museums participated in the program. After lunch in the William Penn Union, students made their way to the Carnegie Museum boardroom to hear how employees from a range of departments made their way from undergraduate study to a museum career. Organized by Grace Anderson and Renee Thomas from the museum’s volunteer office, the students heard from staff across the Oakland museums including Juliana Carlino, Manager of Admissions; Matt Lamanna, Associate of Curator of Vertibrate Paeleoltology, CMNH; Natalie Larson-Potts, Associate Curator of Education, CMOA; Laura Zorch, Manager of Social Engagement, CMOA; and Pitt alumni Valerie Bundy, Education Program Manager, CMOA, and Mandi Lyon, Interim Program Manager for Schools and Groups, CMNH.

    Find out more about the other organizations and businesses participating in DiscoverU Day here

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    fig 1. Continuous Miner Paintings at CMOA (photo by Ana Rodríguez)


    ‘Work Forces’ Workshop: automation and the transformation of labour

    Author: Mark Paterson

    Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Pittsburgh and Work Forces workshop participant

    The ‘Continuous Miner’. A phrase that has a rhythm, and sounds almost poetic. Like Handel’s famous suite from 1720, ‘The Harmonious Blacksmith’. Or so I thought when I first heard the phrase. Whereas one of these titles is a delightful set of baroque pieces of music played on a harpsicord in the music rooms, salons, and concert halls of polite society, the other is possibly the farthest away in terms of space and culture that you could get. For the Continuous Miner is actually a huge hunk of thick metal and articulated conveyer belt, a noisy room-sized machine which works incessantly in the sulphurous underground amongst dark seams in the sooty coalface. With its hardened, pointed, rotating claws at the front of the conveyor, it digs into the darkness like a monotonous machinic dinosaur. Yet how it becomes a subject of artistic production, as opposed to an object of art, will seem unlikely at first.

    It has a certain brutal aesthetic, based as it is so purely on function over form. The ‘aesthetic’ aspect is not superficial, as our introduction to the machine within the Work Forces workshop was as a series of paintings presented to us in the Carnegie Museum of Art (fig. 1), commissioned by the manufacturer. The Jewish-Romanian emigrée Hedda Sterne, instrumental in the avant-garde art scene of New York in the 1940s and 1950s, was one of those commissioned artists, and her oil on canvas painting ‘The Continuous Miner’ of 1954 (fig. 2) differs from the others because the framing is circular, giving an almost fish-eye impression of the machine in its dark environment to the viewer. Costas Karakatsanis, Fine Arts Curatorial Researcher at the CMOA, talked about the background to the paintings, explained that those machines had been invented as far back as 1948 by the Pittsburgh-based Joy Manufacturing Corporation and cost $50,000 at the time (fig. 3; an online inflation calculator tells me this is equivalent to $532,304 in 2019). A variant of this machine is still being made by the Japanese Komatsu Corporation, which bought Joy in 2016, but enshrines the prior company in the model number: the Joy 12CM12 (fig. 4).

    Studs Terkel’s rather wonderful oral history of workers in America, Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, includes the account of Joe who graduated from high school in 1930 and went straight to work in the mines, getting up around 3.30-4am to start work at 6. 


    My hearin’… It coulda been affected with so much noise. I was tampin’ up, shootin’ the coal down, just behind the machine. I worked that continuous miner. That made lotsa noise. This hearin’ aid cost me $395. (Joe, in Terkel 1997:16).


    The overview and discussion of the paintings was on Wednesday May 8, and the following day we had the opportunity to see one of these machines ‘in the wild’, as it were, with a visit to the Tour-Ed Mine and Museum in Tarentum, PA, which had a number of demonstrations of mining equipment, starting from the old carts on rails and the use of human loaders with pick axes, and then as visitor progress through the mine you encounter more advanced machines that automated the process. The final machine was a working Continuous Miner manufactured by the Joy Corporation, the exact same machines as in the paintings. We got a sense of the scale of the machine and the noise it created first-hand, and one of the tour guides described working with the machine in his previous job. 

    For me, the fascination with the Continuous Miner is part of a wider developing interest in the history of automation. Based on my current work on the history of the measurement of bodily sensation from 1833-1945, pain and fatigue feature in factories and workplaces (Movement, Measurement, Sensation: How We Became Sensori-Motor, forthcoming with University of Minnesota Press). But my next project will benefit very directly from the Work Forces workshop, as I look at the history of automata and automation, and increasingly how work and the future of work are being transformed (Animal Automata and Living Machines: Robots, Replicants, and Companion Species, contracted with Routledge). Prior to the HAA Work Forces workshop, my emphasis was beginning to change because of the rich history of labor and work around Pittsburgh, and colleagues for example had introduced me to the Pittsburgh Survey and scholars such as Edward Slavishak’s Bodies of Work: Civic Display and Labor in Industrial Pittsburgh (2008). But the visits to archives, museums, and the intense conversations with fellow workshop attendees has certainly advanced this intersection between the history of labor, automation, and the transformation of the workplace.

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  • Sound shirt showcased at the Access+Ability exhibition at CMOA


    Access+Ability: A Vital and Inspiring Exhibition at the Carnegie Museum of Art

    Author: Thomas J. Morton

    Senior Lecturer, Architectural Studies Program, History of Art and Architecture

    As the world continues to refine its thinking on accessibility – perhaps most importantly by expanding the general concept of accessibility – the Carnegie Museum of Art hosted a provocative and timely exhibition, Access+Ability (1 June – 8 September 2019), that showcased dozens of products and designs that are expanding access and ability for many people around the world.

    Organized into four large sections: ‘Moving,’ ‘Connecting,’ Navigating the Environment,’ and ‘Living,’ the exhibition highlighted some of the recent products and designs that have sought to great expand access and ability for many. Some of these were to be expected, e.g. better designed walking canes, while others, such as the Soundshirt, which “translates the experience of listening into a physical and sensory experience for people who are deaf or hard of hearing,” were completely new and stunning in their creativity. Wonderfully, within each of these sections there were plenty of objects and displays that encouraged active engagement with the visitor. For example, one could touch the handles of new canes, try out the new flatware, and play with Uno cards that were redesigned for those who are colorblind. In addition, there was a display monitor and program entitled, “I wonder what it is like to be dyslexic.” Each of the four sections did not try to be exhaustive in terms of the objects and designs on display; rather, a tremendous breadth of items was on display. They ranged in scale from the fabulous DotWatch (2017) with its Braille displays for time functions and receiving text messages to inclusive playgrounds such as the Magical Bridge Playground (Palo Alto, CA, 2015).

    Each time that I visited the exhibition, I was pleased by the audible gasps of the museumgoers and to hear frequent exclamations such as, “That is pretty brilliant,” and “This is so freaking cool.” The designs on display are awe inspiring, and as it was noted in the wall text: digital technology has completely transformed communication in our lifetime, and people with disabilities have benefitted greatly from these new digital communication tools. These individuals drive innovation, and these new designs are greatly expanding access and ability for many. 

    Although the majority of this exhibition’s run has occurred while most classes were on summer break, its final weeks have provided a brief window for students of all ages to engage with the show. I hope that Pitt faculty members in various disciplines might still encourage students to use the exhibit for class visits, assignments, and projects before the exhibition closes on September 8. 

    As a side note, I am sure this exhibition will have encouraged the Carnegie Museums to reflect on its own accessibility challenges. It was not lost on the observer that docents had to stand at the entrance doors to the exhibit – an exhibit on accessibility – since there are no blue push pads to activate automatic doors for those with limited mobility. As is equally true of our own Frick Fine Arts Building, the accessibility problems of historic architecture remain an urgent issue for public institutions of all kinds. 

    Lastly, one cannot review an exhibition without a few words on the related items in the museum store. The exhibition highlighted products and research, and accordingly, design objects and books with research were for sale in the museum store. I applaud the museum store staff for having affordable objects that would appeal to a range of ages (e.g. Braille math blocks for children and compression socks for adults) and darn good and relatively inexpensive books. Graham Pullin’s book, Design Meets Disability (MIT Press, 2009) and Matthias Hollwich with Bruce Mau Design’s New Aging (Penguin, 2016) stand out among the books; the latter being a particularly enjoyable book to read. 

    Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable and inspiring exhibition. Initially organized and exhibited by the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in 2018, the CMOA exhibition was curated by Rachel Delphia, the Alan G. and Jane A. Lehman Curator of Decorative Arts and Design. I applaud her and the museum for bringing such an important exhibition to Pittsburgh and would strongly support the curation of similar exhibitions at the CMOA. As a recent transplant to Pittsburgh, I can state without a doubt that this has been my favorite exhibition at the CMOA.

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  • Sylvia Rohr (Director, UAG) speaks to high-school teachers from the Pittsburgh area on including the Africans in India exhibition in their curriculum.


    Africans in India: From Slaves to Generals and Rulers


    Mrinalini Rajagopalan, Associate Professor, Department of History of Art and Architecture

    Neepa Majumdar, Associate Professor, Department of English and Film and Media Studies Program

    A seventeenth-century painting shows the Mughal Emperor Jahangir (r. 1605-1627) standing on a globe as two angels hover above in the clouds. His bow is stretched taught, about to release an arrow at its target: the decapitated head of an African man. The darkness of this man’s skin, his hollow eyes, and the owls (symbolizing evil) that circle him contrast with the pale almost radiant skin of the Mughal emperor, his stately crimson robes, and his opulent crown. In this painting Jahangir is shown vanquishing his archenemy Malik Ambār—an Abyssinian who arrived in India as a slave, rose to the rank of general and later ruled a principality that challenged Mughal imperial domination and expansion. Like so many court paintings of the time, this representation of Malik Ambar was a fiction, one that reduced him to a powerless African slave at the mercy of an omnipotent Indian emperor.

    Compare this image of Malik Ambār to another from the same period that shows him dressed in simple yet stately white clothes. His profile shows his African features clearly—the color of his skin and his full lips. Unlike the above-mentioned painting, however, the regal dignity of Malik Ambār cannot be ignored here. Symbols of nobility—a long sword with an ornate handle and sheath, embroidered cummerbund and belt, and vibrant red shoes are combined with the sartorial effects of a devout Muslim—the plain white tunic and simple turban without ornament. He holds out a finger on his right hand—possibly indicating that he is uttering the two testimonies of the Islamic faith. In this image Malik Ambār is both pious Muslim and nobleman; unmistakably African while also Indian Muslim; simple devotee as well as formidable warrior. 

    These paintings are only two examples of the rich corpus of images that make up the Africans in India: From Slaves to Generals and Rulers exhibition. Between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries, many Africans came to India as military slaves and some, like Malik Ambār, rose to become generals and rulers. Yet others were musicians, architects, wives, and traders and became an integral part of India’s courtly culture.The rich and long-standing contributions of Africans to Indian history, however, have been marginalized and woefully understudied. An initiative of the Schomburg Center at the New York Public Library, Africans in India showed at the UAG from February 15th to March 21st. The exhibition loan and related programming were organized by Pitt professors Mrinalini Rajagopalan (History of Art and Architecture) and Neepa Majumdar (English and Film and Media Studies). Their goals with this exhibition were to bring attention to the long histories of connection and exchange between Africa and India; to highlight the contributions of the African diaspora beyond the Americas and the Atlantic world; and to raise discussions around racial difference, migration, borders, and asylum—exigent topics in the contemporary world.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    Figure 1


    The Clapp Drawings and “Object-Based Research”

    Author: Christopher Nygren

    Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture and Director, Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program

    In 1941, the University of Pittsburgh purchased an album containing about 300 old master drawings from George Hubbard Clapp. Clapp graduated from Pitt in 1877 and went on to make a fortune in the aluminum industry as the founder of Alcoa. He also served as the chairman of Pitt’s Board of Trustees for more than 40 years before his death in 1949 (Clapp Hall was built and named in honor of G.H. Clapp shortly after his death). How exactly he came into possession of these drawings remains unclear. All we know is that they entered the University’s collection of art in 1941 and became one of the foundation stones of the University Art Gallery (UAG). 

    I have been intrigued by the Clapp drawings since I first arrived at Pitt in the fall of 2014. Over the last year or so I’ve been spending a great deal of time looking at them in preparation for an undergraduate museum studies seminar that I am currently teaching in which students engage in hands-on, object-based study of these drawings in preparation for their exhibition next fall. This is part of the revised exhibition seminar schedule, which now spans two semesters and allows us to undertake more challenging topics that require prolonged research (This is Not Ideal was the first manifestation of this new approach and shows the wisdom of the extended production schedule). 

    With my class, I’m trying to answer a few very basic questions: who made these drawings? When? Where? Why were they brought together into a large, leather-bound volume? Was there a logic to the way that the drawings were collected and ordered in the volume? 

    In the early modern period, it was fairly common to bring disparate drawings by many different artists into a single volume. Giorgio Vasari had a collection of drawings that he described in his Lives of the Artists (and about which Erwin Panofsky has written an important essay). Perhaps the most famous collector of drawings is Padre Sebastiano Resta (1635-1714), whose collection habits have been studied by studied by Genevieve Warwick and others. One thing that distinguishes our album from many of comparable exemplars in European collections is that our album has been thoroughly deconstructed. Every page was removed from the volume so that we now have nothing but an empty leather binding. Additionally, most of the drawings have been cut off the pages to which they were pasted, sometimes in acts of aesthetic violence that border on vandalism – you can see in figure 1 how someone has used a razorblade to slice through the thick pages of the album to which it had been affixed. This makes the drawings incredibly fragile; they can easily be torn and damaged. However, if we are extremely careful to ensure the safety of the drawings, we can use a number of non-invasive techniques to come to a better understanding of the drawings in order to reveal when and where they were made.

    Pre-modern paper is much robust than the sort of paper we are used to using in everyday life around the university. Paper was made from linen rags which were soaked in an acid bath (often human urine) and then beaten into a pulp. That pulp was laid onto a wire mesh that gave the paper its shape and size. In the fourteenth or fifteenth century, Italian papermakers began affixing to this mesh small emblems crafted out of extremely fine wire thread; each papermaker developed his own emblem which was then “impressed” into paper and became visible only when examined against backlight (figure 2). Watermarks can help us determine when and where paper was made and thereby offer us a firm “post quem” (or “date after which”) for the drawings in our collection. Since our drawings have been removed from their backing album pages, it is quite easy to inspect for watermarks by laying the drawings on a light table (figure 3). It should be remembered that watermarks were quite small and isolated in one corner of a large, royal sheet of paper, meaning that if the sheet were cut up into, say, four or five sheets around 8.5x11 inches only one of those sheets would bear the watermark. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is rare to have a watermark in a drawing, but they are scarce enough that scholars get excited when they see one. A surprising number of our drawings have visible watermarks. In the fall of 2018 Randy Coleman, a specialist in early modern drawings from the University of Notre Dame, came to Pitt to help us work through the collection and determine a course of action for the exhibition (figure 4). He noted that our collection had a higher concentration of watermarks than he’d ever seen. My hope is that my students will be able to use the watermarks to help us determine when and where the drawings were made. Our working hypothesis is that the drawings are mainly Florentine of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. We’ll see if the material evidence bears that out. 

    However, the course also tackles the much broader and more fundamental question: How do art historians undertake “object-based research”? Because the exhibition will be finalized by students in the fall of 2019, our goal is to leave them with an abundance of object-based research that will allow them to put together a show that reveals interesting things about the Clapp drawings, their history in the UAG, and how they fit into the broader history of collecting in Pittsburgh, among other things. This means asking the obvious questions of “who?” and “when?” but it also means probing more about the collection as a whole. What is the overall quality of the collection? What about its condition? Are there any parts of this collection that cannot be safely displayed? We also want to ask some other, less traditional questions, like: how do the constraints imposed on us by studying the Clapp drawings seemingly limit the sort of questions we might ask and are there any ways we can work against those constraints? Whose voices/bodies/experiences are elided when we study such a collection of old master drawings and are there any ways to compensate for those gaps/silences while still respecting our objects of study? Are there any works within the Clapp collection that might help us illuminate those gaps? Are there other resources in the UAG and ULS collections that can do some of that work for us? 

    Our initial findings suggest that the collection is extremely uneven in its quality. Certain works, like this profile head of a man wearing a turban (figure 5) are extremely refined and delicate in their execution. The cross-hatching used to demarcate the contour of the figure marks this as one of the oldest drawings in the collection and makes it perhaps my personal favorite. Another work of extremely high quality is this God the Father from a large composition probably showing the Coronation of the Virgin executed on paper that has been prepared with a blue ground, which gives the white highlight extra pop against the background (figure 6). Many of the drawings are much more pedestrian in their execution. However, our goal is not to simply exhibit the “fine” drawings but rather to exhibition the knowledge that we have produced by engaging in object-based research. Thus, over the course of the semester we will be discovering ways to group the drawings, both fine and pedestrian exemplars, in ways that reveal something fundamental about the practice of drawing in early modern art, the history of collecting drawings, and the history of the UAG. I honestly do not know exactly what we’ll discover, but that is the joy of engaging in object-based research with our students! Stay tuned for more. 

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    Paul M. Farber, Artistic Director of Monument Lab and lecturer in Fine Arts and Urban Studies at the University of Pennsylvania


    Philadelphia’s Monument Lab reports to Pittsburgh

    Author: Kirk Savage

    William S. Dietrich II Professor of History of Art and Architecture

    “As a nation, we are in the midst of a long reckoning over our inherited monuments.” 

    So begins a report to the City of Philadelphia by Monument Lab, a team of artists, urbanists, public historians, and data experts working to “remediate” the memorial landscape. Since 2015 Monument Lab has captured national attention with research projects and artistic interventions that leverage the expertise and energy of diverse constituencies in order to address inequities in our existing monuments and imagine new solutions for the future. 

    On November 28 & 29, 2018, the University of Pittsburgh was very fortunate to be able to host Paul Farber, artistic director Monument Lab, for a series of fascinating discussions and workshops over two full days. In a lecture at Pitt’s Humanities Center, Farber walked us through the curatorial program of Monument Lab – most spectacularly in a citywide exhibition of twenty artists intervening in ten parks and sites in Philadelphia in the fall of 2017, just weeks after the tragic events in Charlottesville. Equally important, however was the research activity paired with these artistic projects. In specially outfitted shipping containers, passersby were invited to answer the question, “what is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia?” These answers, written and sketched on cards, were then scanned and tagged and entered into a database that itself constitutes a unique treasury of ideas, insights, and critiques about their city.

    Farber and his colleague Laurie Allen, Monument Lab’s Director of Research and Director of Digital Scholarship at Penn, who participated remotely, also led a workshop at the Office of Public Art attended by arts professionals and representatives of local foundations and nonprofits. We filled out cards on an “appropriate monument for the current city of Pittsburgh,” discussed the process surrounding the Stephen Foster monument, and speculated on how a Monument Lab approach might be adapted to the unique conditions of Pittsburgh.

    Finally, Farber led an inspiring session with graduate students in art history and several other departments on changing careers for humanities PhDs. As a professional who combines curatorial work and part-time teaching with research, writing, and social activism, he shared his own personal experiences with collaboration, community engagement, fundraising, and managing work-life balance.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    Introducing "Sustaining DH"

    Approximately a year following the conclusion of our first NEH Research and Development Grant, the Visual Media Workshop team (with Dr. Alison Langmead at the helm) is embarking on its second NEH-funded project.

    As some of you may recall, the first grant was dedicated to running an extensive case study of Images of Medieval Art and Architecture (http://www.medart.pitt.edu/), an early manifestation of a digital humanities project. The grant culminated in the creation of a website entitled The Socio-Technical Sustainability Roadmap (STSR) (www.sustainingdh.net), a resource for project managers interested in assessing the status and potential sustainability solutions for their digital projects. 

    With the second NEH grant, we (Dr. Langmead, Chelsea Gunn, and Aisling Quigley) will take the STSR "on the road," running facilitated workshops at carefully-selected universities across the United States (Georgia, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Utah). These two-day workshops will incorporate three major sections: 

    1. A Project Survey (considering the scope, longevity, and sustainability priorities of the project at hand)
    2. An assessment of Staffing and Technologies (considering the socio-technical infrastructure of the project)
    3. An exploration of potential Digital Sustainability Plans (incorporating the NDSA levels of Preservation, file formats and metadata, permissions and data integrity, etc.) 

    As part of this grant, we have also proposed specific mechanisms for engaging with workshop participants and other interested individuals beyond the in-person workshops, offering virtual "office hours," for example, and other resources throughout the granting period. 

    More details on all of these activities will follow in the coming months!

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    CFP, Contemporaneity Edition 8: “Yesterday’s Contemporaneity: Finding Temporality In The Past”

    Contemporaneity: Historical Presence in Visual Culture

    CFP, Edition 8: “Yesterday’s Contemporaneity: Finding Temporality In The Past” 

    In recent decades art historians across the discipline have offered new insights into how communities in the global past understood their own positions in time. For example, Marvin Trachtenberg has made the case that twelfth- and thirteenth-century European architecture articulated a form of medieval modernism. Conversely Paul Binski has argued for how the same material could be understood as not only innovative, but also firmly historicist in nature. Studies of eschatology in artworks ranging from Renaissance wall paintings in Italy to Pure Land Buddhist Mandalas in Japan have highlighted how people in the past used theology to conceptualize their own place in time in the face of an uncertain but infinite future beyond their death. Meanwhile, studies of the visual cultures that emerged under different eras of imperialism and colonialism have illuminated how local and foreign definitions of time, history, and contemporaneity could directly shape the identities of both conquered and conquering peoples.  

    Contemporaneity asks what it means to be contemporary. The term is often invoked in reference to the current lives of citizens of today’s world, but this edition seeks to highlight contemporaneity across a wider variety of historical contexts. The aim is to uncover how cultures throughout the global past have negotiated temporalities, modernities, and historicisms, to come to terms with what it means to be present in their own moment. How can both history and modernity be visualized, contextualized, or conceptualized to create a sense of contemporaneity? How have institutions created temporalities for the cultures they study, and how can a historical object or space shape a person’s perception of an entire culture’s identity or agency? What is at stake in defining a work of art’s place in time? 

    Submissions on all topics will be considered. Potential topics may include, but are not limited to: 

    -modernism, medievalism, and historicism 

    -modernity and history in a global context 

    -anachronisms, futurisms, and revisionist histories  

    -Orientalism and other uses of the temporal in cross-cultural exchange 

    -spoliation, re-use, and/or appropriation 

    -museums, the ethics of collecting and “Grand narratives” 

    -traditional or historical art and crafts and the preservation of style 

    -contemporary interventions on historical objects or sites  

    -creation myths, apocalypses, beginnings and end times 

    The deadline for submissions is October 15, 2018. Manuscripts (circa 6,000 words) should include an abstract, 3-5 keywords, and adhere to the Chicago Manual of Style. To make a submission, visit http://contemporaneity.pitt.edu, click Register and create an author profile to get started. Proposals for book and exhibition reviews, interviews, or other scholarly contributions will also be considered, and we recognize that these submissions may take many forms.

    Proposals and questions can be directed to the editors at contemporaneityjournal@gmail.com

    Contemporaneity is a peer-reviewed online journal organized by the History of Art and Architecture Department at the University of Pittsburgh. Visit http://contemporaneity.pitt.edu for more information.

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