Dissertations in Progress
Playing with Publishing: The Performance of Early Modern English Play Book Title Pages
My dissertation centers on early modern English printing of playbook title pages published from the advent of professional playing companies in the 1570s until the closure of the theatres during the interregnum of 1642. My investigation includes nearly 600 preserved playbook title pages and includes analyzing the rhetoric of attributions, acknowledgments, lengthy titles, and visual imprints (woodcuts) that remind readers of the traditions and agents involved in its creation. The title pages of early modern English playbooks warrant additional examination because the performativity of their elements are not fully represented by previous bibliographers, such as H. S. Bennett, and my dissertation aims to investigate as many of these title pages as possible because playbooks are inconsistently recognized for their unique characteristics.
An investigation of early modern playbooks is critical to understanding the unique contributions of playbooks to English publishing and literature, and that the rhetoric of title pages in early modern English playbooks warrants a closer examination to expose why the key elements of attribution, acknowledgements, titles, and images call attention to the performance of plays. Such an investigation is a counter to previous scholarship that simply categorizes title pages as a marketing tools. I do not see title pages as mere marketing tools for the sale of playbooks and promotion of printing houses, but as a visual instrument linking the performances in the playhouse to the imagined stage of the reader.
The visual elements on a playbook’s title page range from simple decorative patterns and printer’s marks to elaborate illustrations of scenes from the pages of the plays. The variety and purposes of these images range from traditional adornment of the page to sending a message to the reader that contains a visual memory of an actual performance. Images are powerful tools of storytelling and invoke a visual performance on the page, and help to remind the reader of the origin of the literary work they are about to participate.
“Causarum Cognitio”: The Architecture, Collections and Social Agency of American Athenaea
Three Case Studies: Redwood, Boston and Caltech
The concept of adult, non-ecclesiastical education evolved organically as a global phenomenon in Western Europe during the early 11th Century. Independent circles of like-minded individuals interested in reading and enrichment in the classics and the sciences gathered in small home groups which were taught by and for students. While some of these Athenaeum groups, such as the Lincei in Rome (of which Galileo was once a member) remain to the present day as private circles, others gradually evolved into major universities.
Many American Athenaea were founded in the northeast corridor of the United States, between 1731 and 1930. As in Western Europe, a number of these eventually evolved into universities.
Since the first American Athenaea were founded in relatively populated centers in the Northeast, it was not at all unusual for athenaeum members to hold memberships in more than one circle. Founding fathers Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Franklin, authors Poe, Melville, Emerson, and Hawthorne, painters Durand, Cole, and even visiting authors from London including, von Humboldt, Dickens and Conan Doyle, were often affiliated with multiple Athenaea in America as well as in Europe.
The Athenaeum caused a literal blending of kindred spirits engaged in the fields of art, literature and science. In one famous instance, the meeting of artists Asher Durand and Thomas Cole with writer William Cullen Bryant was immortalized in a painting by Asher Durand, called “Kindred Spirits,” memorializing the friendship between the three.
One exceptional attraction of Athenaea was the opportunity to encounter individuals who pursued a variety of interests. Historic figures of the Salem Massachusetts Athenaeum, for example, included such diverse personalities as Edward August Holyoke, a founder of the American Academy of Sciences; Nathaniel Bowditch, a mathematician who changed the course of American navigation; author Nathaniel Hawthorne; Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story; electric motor inventor Charles Grafton Page; and American Impressionist painter Frank W. Benson.
Fine art and antiquity collections in several Athenaea include portraits by Samuel Morse. A Boston native and inspired polymath, painter and sculptor, best known for the telegraph and the code that bears his name, Samuel Morse also painted a historical record portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette, John Adams and other luminaries from life. In New York, Morse founded the National Academy of Design in the building shared by the New York Society Library (both still extant) which also functioned as the first library of the American Congress. Several American Athenaeum museum collections were, in fact, so successful that they were eventually spun off into nearby independent museums such as the Fine Arts in Boston and the Berkshire in Pittsfield.
What can we learn from the successful Athenaea which can be applied to an engaging contemporary revival of this form and what space and responsibilities might it occupy?
My research will address this question though the comparison of three extant and successful Athenaea: The Redwood Athenaeum in Newport Rhode Island, founded in the seventeenth century, the Boston Athenaeum in Boston Massachusetts, founded in the eighteenth century and the Athenaeum at the California Institute of Technology, (Caltech) founded in the twentieth century. Caltech Athenaeum is the only Athenaeum founded on a university campus.
I shall argue that Athenaea groups functioned as incubators not only for creating an American identity through fine art and architecture, but also promoted rational discourse in science, scientific design and literature. Many Athenaea plans included scientific laboratories to permit members to conduct experiments.
I shall also argue that membership in Athenaea internationally as well as in America is not predicated on a single note of education, class, or career path. This embrace of diversity remains the key to productive and engaging rational discourse.
My dissertation will present a study focused on three thriving, contemporary institutions in order to assess their missions in terms of their legacy of philosophy and rational discourse. I shall argue that Athenaea which have broadened opportunities for discourse in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) in their development strategies may tend to impact on their success while others have not. I shall also argue that the presence of competing institutions and universities has not proven to be adverse to the success of Athenaea, as the latter serve as informal centers for the sharing of adult discourse and cultural and scientific enrichment and have long co-existed in proximity to the former.
My research will identify, compare and contrast features of three aforementioned extant American Athenaea: Redwood, Boston and the Athenaeum of California Institute of Technology. My research shall identify and discuss key features of these three which may be incorporated into plans for a twenty-first century Athenaeum, as well as examine the role of new technology in a re-envisioned institution.
You’re Just Being Sensitive: Blurred Lines of Race Humor in New Media
In the 1990s, cultural critics proclaimed that the Internet would be a great equalizer; espousing the utopian possibilities of the Internet as a place where the differences and discrimination that plagued the “real” world would vanish. But, this virtual sphere of a post-racial utopia did not come to fruition. This text examines the circulation of racist humor within this Internet, one that continues offline patterns of racist expressions. Access to emerging media alters the ways in which people interact with one another by drastically reducing the complexity associated with engaging with other people and resources in physical space, thereby similarly transforming communication around racial issues. It is significant that these transformations extend beyond the presumed serious side of racial issues, but also into entertainment, particularly humor and joke telling. This text investigates what happens at the intersection of race talk, comedy entertainment, and digital media – specifically in the rising popularity of humorous image and video memes on social networking sites at the same time as the rising popularity of discussing race through a “colorblind” philosophy.
This text presents a cultural study of historical and current representations of race-related humor in print, visual, and digital media, focusing specifically on the affordances of networked communication and sharing-based platforms that facilitate the rapid spread of racist content under the “protection” of humor, as evidence of how videos, and their components, signify meanings and communicate messages.
While there is an extensive history about the significance of race, the failings of color-blindness, the role of humor in everyday life, and why minority representation in media matters, current literature falls short of understanding the implications of post-race dialogue in digital space and its implications on the type of comedy users desire, produce, and consume.
The Survival of Hindu Cremation Myths and Rituals in 21st-Century Practice:
Three Contemporary Case Studies
The dissertation is a comparative, cross-disciplinary study of cremation myths and rituals in three distinctly different Hindu diaspora communities of Bali, Mauritius, and Dallas. The dissertation is patterned upon Arnold Van Gennep’s theories of the rites of passage rituals and ceremonies, Victor Turner’s theories on liminal persons who are “betwixt and between” two states of existence, and Mary Douglas’s view of death as “sacred-pollution” to be treated with reverence to harness pollution’s full positive impact, thus transforming the “undifferentiated chaos of death” into structural pattern for the living. Cremation rituals (persons, performance, time, objects, symbols, aesthetics, structure, and placement) act as a symbolic bridge to connect the dead from this world to the next, so that the survivors may protect themselves and harness the blessings of the deceased as an ancestor.
The dissertation (1) situates Hindu cremation rituals within the context of ritual studies, (2) identifies the structure and symbolism in each of the three iterations of the cremation ritual, (3) compares and contrasts the three cremation practices, and (4) explains the continuity and change in the three cremation rituals to identify the non-negotiable aspects of a Hindu cremation. The dissertation answers two questions: “What is the myth and ritual of the Hindu Agni Sanskar (fire rite or ritual, or cremation)?” and “What adaptations enable the myth and ritual to survive and continue outside of its original “mother” India culture, in the three distinctly different diasporic Hindu communities of Bali, Mauritius, and Dallas?” The dissertation adds to the existing discourse on a growing global Hindu identity, focusing on shared rituals of what remains of the “mother” India culture in diaspora settings?
Reverse Orientalism: The Westerner as the Other in Persian paintings of the Safavid dynasty
After Edward Said, in numerous dominant oriental discourses, many scholars have argued that in orientalist paintings, the depiction of Eastern nude or semi-nude women in private spaces such as Turkish baths and harems have aimed to fetishize and eroticize Eastern women for the pleasure of European male voyeur. It seems the exact same process occurs in the Islamic world and I aim to pursue whether such “reverse Orientalism” can be identified in the Ottoman and Safavid era and beyond.
In this regard it seems what Said and other critics of Orientalism have put forward against the West and the Western art academia is not limited to such Western circles, but is a stance widespread even in the East. This can especially be seen in Eastern paintings of the West, namely the depiction of Western women and young men in the late Safavid period in Iran. These paintings illustrate the same tendencies Said and other orientalist critics say Westerners have about the East.
Tendencies such as the fetishism of the other culture especially the other culture’s women, the objectifying of the other peoples and in general portraying the otherness of a foreign culture through depiction can be clearly shown in many examples of Safavid paintings. Hence, what Said and others have stated against orientalist tendencies in art and literature, seems not solely a western phenomenon, but rather an occurrence that is widespread even among Easterners. In my dissertation I attempt to illustrate how Safavid paintings fetishize and create an “Other” when depicting Westerners, namely Western women and young men.
In the course of the late Safavid period, sixteenth century to the end of the seventeenth century, Westerners started to visit Iran, Persian artists discovered the potential of these exotically dressed foreigners as a motif for their miniature paintings. Based on an argument that shows the creation of “Otherness” is not solely a Western colonial creation, I theorize Otherness in the arts and the academia is a product of “exoticism” of the other cultures which should not be confined to the West. Studies on Persian paintings of the late Safavid period distinctly exhibit the stylistic development and invention of new painterly compositions and motifs. The considerable prevalence of themes such as nude women, single figures instead of group scenes, and European individuals in paintings are among those characteristics that set this period apart from Iran’s past artistic tradition. Depiction of young men costumed in European dress became a significant genre in the first half of the seventeenth century in Iran. Historically speaking, this period of time in Iran is when European foreigners began to visit Persia.
In sum, I aim to explore these ideas, which I have already found connections among them through my research and studying, in paintings of the Safavid dynasty and its continuous existence in the contemporary art of Iran.
In regard to this new era influenced by encountering a new Western culture I try to answer the following questions: What was it that made young men in European dress so popular in Safavid paintings? Given the fact that in the 16th and 17th centuries of Iran, Isfahan, the capital city of the Safavid dynasty, had become a cosmopolitan center, and Persians extended a warm welcome to foreigners particularly European visitors, can one assume that the depiction of these beautifully dressed young men clad in European grab made them pleasurable and erotically desirable as exotic objects to Persians’ aesthetic taste? Moreover, does the nature of being politically dominant or more powerful have an influence on who would potentially fetishize the other culture as an exotic object for the sake of desire?
Edleeca Payne Thompson
African Art on View: Mediating Transnational Histories in FOUR METROPOLITAN ART MUSEUMS
African art collections have always presented interesting challenges with display and interpretation. Museum collections of African art, and inherent association with European colonialism, further complicate the historical contexts necessary for understanding the art. In addition, displaying African art reflects a museum’s role in shaping African cultural identity within the broader contexts of world art and cultural history. My dissertation explores the politics of displaying African art and the ways museums mediate the formal presentation of the art between its contextual significance and the meaning for which it was originally produced. Within this environment are cultivated specific transnational historical constructs profoundly integral to understanding the evolution of the display and interpretation of African art in museums. While European interests in Africa were fueled by colonialism, trade, and aesthetic appropriations leading to Modernism, American interests revolved around economic issues of human slavery, civil rights, and racism. By comparing and contrasting institutions with disparate colonialist histories, this research seeks to uncover potential approaches to the interpretation of African art outside of the historical parameters informing current formalist-driven displays.
The museums and the attendant cities selected for this study represent distinct collection foci, exhibitionary practices, audience demographics, and historical cultural contexts with respect to African art: the Musée du quai Branly, Paris; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum, Cologne; and the Dallas Museum of Art. The colonial and art historical engagement of the cities within which these selected museums reside also provides institutional structures through which the display of African art has been interpreted. Analysis of museum mapping, collections adjacency, object groupings, and attendant programming are all relevant points of departure for discussions on whose history these museums emphasize in their displays of African art. In addition, this study will evaluate methods museums have used to choreograph the visitor experience with African art through the use of object-centered and cross-cultural displays as well as those incorporating virtual technologies and social media.
I argue that displays of African art that are more inclusive of the transnational histories informing its production sharpen understanding beyond aestheticism and nullify the boundaries of institutional constructs of blackness and the African diaspora. This study seeks to offer a roadmap for museums to explore more innovative ways of displaying works far removed from their cultural contexts in order to impart deeper meaning for audiences largely distanced from them.
THE BASILICA OF SAN DOMENICO MAGGIORE IN NAPLES: THE ART, TRADITION, AND POWER OF A SACRED SPACE
This dissertation examines the art, literature, and history of the Basilica of San Domenico Maggiore in Naples, Italy, and the way in which this sacred space has been imbued with meaning by the Order of Preachers. The dissertation establishes a framework of sacred space theory and historical context of medieval and early modern Naples. It argues that places are sacrilized through a combination of person, place, and text—all three of which are evident at San Domenico Maggiore. It examines the pertinent first-person writings about the sacred space from the archives and guidebooks by both lay and Dominican authors.
The dissertation discusses the early history of the Dominicans and their medieval iconography, paying particularly close attention to Thomas Aquinas and his tenure in Naples, but also to the ways that the Dominicans and their donors used imagery derived from the history and legends surrounding Aquinas’ life—especially the years spent at San Domenico Maggiore—to decorate the space and to attract pilgrims. It explores the systems of early modern patronage of the sacred space by examining specific chapels and artworks. It examines the diffusion of the imagery of the Virgin of the Rosary in early modern Naples and the ways in which the Council of Trent influenced art-making in sacred spaces. It also provides a visual analysis of the Chapterhouse and Sacristy situated within the convent complex and demonstrate how the two spaces use Dominican and site-specific visual rhetoric to represent Dominican agency in these rooms.