Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Shawcross: Morea Chronicle

David and Irene Romano used to host an annual Corinthian masquerade party. Back in 1994 when I was David's intern in the Corinth Computer Project, I attended the party as the Chronicler of the Morea (photo left). My own interest on this fictional author rose out of the Morea Project, a field project that in the 1990s revealed a whole mess of undocumented medieval settlements. Although the Chronicle of the Morea has been a central source in the history of this region, few have entered the literary mindset of the Chronicle as deeply as historian Teresa Shawcross.

Shawcross's The Chronicle of the Morea: Historiography in Crusader Greece (Oxford, 2009) is by far the most important book on the Frankish Morea in the last decade and tops another Shawcross favorite, "Re-inventing the Homeland in the Historiography of Frankish Greece: The Fourth Crusade and the Legend of the Trojan War," Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 27 (2003), pp. 120-152. I remember reading this article in the Gennadios Library while thinking about mythical Centaurs represented on Byzantine and Frankish sculptural reliefs (such as a sarcophagus now at Vlacherna Monastery)

Shawcross's new book is divided into three major parts, preceded by a 30-page introduction that, to my mind, is the sweetest introduction to the general intellectual issues of the period. Part I, Composition, Transmission, and Reception, does all the philological hard work of establishing manuscript traditions and imagining the lost common source. Part II, Narrative Technique: Orality and Literacy, dissects the Chronicle as a text with its own structure, literary constructs. My favorite part of this analysis is the study of speech acts within the text. Shawcross makes a fundamental discovery here, that the Greek version reveals inspiration from oral performance and reception (hence justifying my own dress-up above). In contrast, the French version lacks this "oral residue" and is driven by textual structures. In Part II, Ideology: Conquerors and Conquered, Shawcross takes all her laborious textual and inter-textural readings and employs them towards a cultural reconstruction. Working strictly within the parameters of her textural analysis, Shawcross is able to prove concepts of identity, "Greek" versus "Latin." Rather than relying on contemporary cultural theories of identity and projecting them clumsily onto the 13th-15th centuries, Shawcross manages to recreate contemporary notions of ethno-religious identities. The results are astounding. There are many conclusions having to do with the creation of a vernacular histories, a Moreote sensibility and even a local resistance movement. Shawcross contextualizes the composition of the Chronicle to the development of those identities. Written in the 1320s, the Chronicle stands at a moment of crisis, a moment of transition within an established Moreot aristocracy. In short, the Principality of the Morea had established a flourishing multicultural society based on local power-centers. Despite their ethnic, religious and sociological differences, Latins and Greeks collaborated into an interesting medieval experiment, which came under threat in the 14th century when the survival of the principality depended on outsiders, the Angevin kings of Naples (on the Frankish side) and the Byzantine emperors of Constantinople (on the Greek side). Shawcross observes, for instance, that not all of the Greek in the Peloponnese supported the Byzantine Despotate of Mistra. Historians have tended to exploit the Chronicle of the Morea as a source in understanding the region's history. Shawcross has shown the flows of such strategy. Rather, we should read the Chronicle of the Morea as a document that directly confronts the 1320s identity crisis.

The lessons and conclusions of Shawcross' book are multiple and complex. She has shown that scrupulous philological and literary analysis can still yield valuable lessons from an old text. Although I am not a philologist or a manuscripts specialist, I am awed by Shawcross's technical analysis without which her conclusions would have been the usual cultural speculation that we all perform when studying this interesting period.

Finally, I thank Shawcross for publishing 12 brilliant plates illustrating manuscripts from the 13th to the 17th centuries. Among other things, the reader can inspect a wonderful variety of letter forms. I will definitely scan these pages, enlarge the opening lines and put them on my wall: "Θέλω να σε αφιγιθώ αφήγησιν μεγάλιν, Και αν θέλεις να με ακροάσης ολπίζω να σ'αρέσει." This should be the motto of all historical enterprise: "I want to tell you a great narrative, and if you want to listen to me, I hope that you like it." Another favorite quote comes from the 12th-century Theogony by John Tzetzes and illustrates the multi-cultural atmosphere of the Byzantine capital during the reign of Emperor Manuel Comnenus (1143-80) and hence before the 4th Crusade (p. 18-19). This quote is so good that I must leave it for a later posting of its own.

Shawcross's work now tops my BEST-OF new scholarship on the Frankish Morea. My list is highly subjective and only includes work that accompanied a personal "aha" moment of intellectual insight. It includes Aneta Ilieva's Frankish Morea (1205-1262): Socio-Cultural Interaction between the Franks and the Local Population (Athens, 1991), Peter Locks' The Franks in the Aegean, 1204-1500 (London, 1995), Charles K. Williams' Frankish excavations in Corinth (published in Hesperia 1992-1998), and Demetris Athanasoulis' excavations in Eleia.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Trainscape: Philadelphia-Lancaster

My daily commute (Philadelphia-Lancaster) involves one of America's most historic train routes, the Main Line built by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company around 1850. See 1855 map of the the railway below from about the time that painter Mary Cassatt's family moved from Pittsburgh to Lancaster and then to Philadelphia. Her brother Alexander became the Pennsylvania Railroad's president.
The Main Line gave its name to Philadelphia's elite suburbs but its primary objective was to link Philadelphia to Pittsburgh via Harrisburg. My commute lasts a little over one hour and covers about 68 miles of linear miles. Recently, I have started to pay close attention to the human geographies my path crosses that can be divided into nine zones: 1. booming corporate cityscape of downtown Philadelphia, 2. glorious residential neighborhoods of the late 19th/early 20th c. now depressed ghetto, 3. the prosperous early suburbs of "the Main Line," 4. a corporate park islands where the peripheral highways intersect, 5. sprawling ex-burbs of subdivisions, 6. forest, 7. small industrial towns, 8. pristine Amish and Mennonite farmland, 9. urban Lancaster. From Pennsylvania Station in Philadelphia (now Amtrak 30th Street Station) to Pennsylvania Station in Lancaster, I observe from my train window a cross-section of American history and urban politics.
As an archaeologist, I ponder ways to document this passage. On March 10, I started simply by writing down facts and thoughts in a stream of consciousness kind of way. Inspired by Bill Caraher's "Walking Home and the Phenomenology of Landscape" (Archaeology of the Mediterranean World, Mach 8, 2010), I post my first notebook entries.

What makes my commute an incredible experience is its visual primacy. The number of buildings, urban installations, signs, objects, people, and landscapes that I cross are powerfully iconic and simply beautiful. So I set myself a drawing exercise, a kind of quick-sketching as the train rushed through the landscape. On March 24, 2010, when I first tried this method, I produced the following visual notes between Lancaster and the beginning of Philadelphia's suburbs.
The next day, March 25, I've decided to regulate my process typologically. Since I am teaching a seminar on religious architecture, I decided to make note of every religious building that I could decipher from my train window. Looking only southward, I noted almost 50 churches and synagogues. One of my new tasks is to find a system to actually document the visual evidence of those buildings that are intentionally visible from the rail line (most buildings built after 1850). A continuous elevation drawing is one of the exercises I have in mind, although it would take years and years to complete. For the time being, I have decided to simply build up the database and identify all the buildings visible from my window. Using Google Maps and Google Earth, I hope to identify the actual location of those visible monuments and inspect them one by one. Sixteen of the churches that one sees immediately out of Philadelphia are actually in my neighborhood, moving into the depths of depressed West Philadelphia. The weather is getting nice and it's time to oil the chain of my bicycle.

If churches is one obvious typology, thanks to the visible steeples and towers, what would be the other interesting category to document? Here is a list of typologies that would yield a fascinating picture and that I would enjoy mapping and thinking about:

1. Churches
2. Ruins
3. Modernist masterpieces
4. Postmodernist anti-masterpieces
5. Signs and texts
6. Factories and warehouses
7. Railroad stations
8. Objects (like visible trash, garden fixtures, etc.)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Archaeologies and Travelers in Ottoman Lands

I just finished attending one of the most fascinating conferences, "Recovering the Past: Archaeologies and Travelers in Ottoman Lands." Organized by Renata Holod and Robert Ousterhout at the University of Pennsylvania, "Recovering the Past" is an 18-month long initiative, involving the conference, graduate seminars and exhibitions. Each of the 18 papers in the conference (and Holod's final comments against Orieantalism and Occidentalism) revealed a whole new discourse of scholarship. Each of the scholars came from a wide array of disciplines, history, art history, archaeology, architectural history, Near-Eastern languages, etc. Their very gathering in one space is a testament to Holod's and Ousterhout's interdisciplinary breadth and vision. I'm sure I'll address many of the papers on this blog in the next few weeks, but I would like to start with one of my favorite papers.

Holly Edwards', "Exiles, Diplomats and Darlings: Afghans Abroad in the Early 20th Century," looked closely at the Afghan royal couple Amanullah and Soraya (top) in their journey through Turkey and England in 1927. Edwards investigated the day-by-day coverage of this diplomatic visit showing the various guises that the royal couple took and how those guises were received and represented in both the Turkish and British presses. The case-study stressed the multiplicity of Easts (at least two) and reminded me of Artemis Leontis' essay, "An American in Paris, a Parsi in Athens," in Singular Antiquity: Archaeology and the Hellenic Identity in the Twentieth Century (Athens, 2008). Here Leontis focused explicitly on the transnational female subject and investigated the complex veiling/unveiling of the Indian Khorshed Naoroji, who met the American Eva Palmer Sikelianos in 1924 and traveled with her through Greece. Both projects illustrate the limits of binary categories (East/West) the moment we contemplate a globalized setting. In an ideal cyberworld, I would love to put Leontis and Edwards in the same room and listen-in to their conversation.

The problematic of dress, posing, modeling, role-playing and cross-dressing became a central theme in the consideration of Osman Hamdi Bey, the Turkish Orientalist painter and archaeologist that was the subject of the conference's session. Panelists Edhem Eldem, Emine Fetvaci and Gulru Cakmak addressed the binary straitjacket of Hamdi Bey's career. Although he cultivated himself as a cosmopolitan French artist (and dressed accordingly), his French audience forced him to pose as an Oriental. What I missed in all the discussions of Hamdi Bey's cross-dressing is a comparison of European cross-dressing. Consider, for example, the Orientalist outfits that people like Louis Charles Tiffany embraced in their eastern journeys. Images of Laurence of Arabia, etc. come to mind. Yet this male cross-dressing is a much easier appropriation to deal with: it's safely theatrical and permissibly carnivalesque. The multiple cross-dressings of the female body, however, is much more challenging. Soraya, Khorshed Naoroji and Eva Palmer Sikelianos are helping us break the East/West binary much more easily than their male counterparts.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Louis Kahn in Corinth

Michael J. Lewis has published a fascinating little article on Louis Kahn's 1932 entry for a Lenin Memorial. The competition is largely unknown from Kahn's corpus because he intentionally expunged it from his resume in order to save himself from future political embarrassment. Although Michael Lewis had studied a verbal description of the monument (donated to the University of Pennsylvania Architectural Archives), it wasn't until 2006 when a photo of the project appeared at an auction. Lewis' article also intrigued me for its reference to another Soviet competition entry by an American. In 1932, the sculptor William Zorach proposed a statue for Lenin. He built a 3-ft model of the piece and sent it to Leningrad. My interest in Zorach has peaked this last year because the Phillips Museum at Franklin and Marshall is preparing a Zorach exhibition. Michael Lewis article can be found in the most recent Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, see Michael J. Lewis, "Louis I. Kahn and His Lenin Memorial," JSAH 69 (2010) pp. 7-11. This is a great issue of the JSAH, it includes an essay by Diane Favro in reconstructing Roman funerary processions, an essay on Melchior Lorich's famous panorama of Constantinople, an essay on Bruneleschi's dome, and an essay on Walter Gropius' letters to his daughter Manon.

Louis Kahn's Lenin Memorial features two red glass-brick skyscrapers that made me think of the bright red used in his watercolor of the Temple of Apollo in Corinth. The drawing was done in 1951, when Kahn was a fellow of the American Academy in Rome. Lewis' article reminded me of another European trip that Kahn took as a student in 1929, right before the Lenin competition. I must do some further research on the details of this trip (that included a visit to Le Corbusier's office, where Kahn's childhood friend Norman Rice worked). I wonder, for example, if he made it to Greece in 1929. If he did, I wonder if he intersected with the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and architecture fellows like Richard Stillwell.

This morning, I decided to visit William Whitaker, director of the University of Pennsylvania Architectural Archives that includes the Louis I. Kahn Collection. Whitaker is a fountain of knowledge about Kahn and the architectural culture of Philadelphia in the 1920s. We had a wonderful conversation, and I'm grateful that he let me barge in to his office without preparation. He agreed that, unlike the American Academy in Rome, the American School of Classical Studies at Athens is invisible from the architectural literature despite its Architectural Fellows program. Whitaker showed me some amazing photographs showing Louis Kahn visiting Corinth, standing in front of the Temple of Apollo in 1951. Louis Kahn's visit to Greece must definitely become a chapter in my larger research project of Corinth's relationship to the avant-garde. The best study of Kahn's travel sketches is Eugene Johnson and Michael J. Lewis, Drawn from the Source: The Travel Sketches of Louis I. Kahn (Cambridge, 1996) that accompanied an exhibition at Williams College.

One of my objectives for the summer is to explore the archive of Richard Stillwell, particularly his architectural work in France (restoring Gothic ruins after World War I) and his architectural fellowship at Corinth. Stillwell and Kahn have an indirect connection, which might turn into yet another chapter of research. Robert Venturi (who was Kahn's student and teaching assistant) also studied with Stillwell at Princeton. This summer, I hope to study Stillwell's personal notebooks, especially his 1921 diary from the Architectural Restoration in France project. Stillwell seems to have been one of Georg von Peschke's closest admirer and friend in the 1920s and 30s. Stillwell's son (also Richard) will be a great source of information; in fact, he remembers meeting Peschke as a young kid in Acrocorinth. I hope to interview Richard Stillwell, Jr. this summer and visit his great collection of Peschkes. William Whitaker encouraged me to interview Robert Venturi, as well, stressing that Venturi is extremely generous with scholars.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States