Friday, November 21, 2014

Mystical K

William Penn and Benjamin Franklin have dominated Pennsylvania's historical airwaves. Their no-nonsense Protestant ethic served well the ideology of the nation as it developed into a capitalist empire. It is particularly interesting how the majority of Philadelphia Quakers became Episcopalians in the 19th century, suggesting that Quaker spirituality became increasingly incompatible with the industrial state and its needs for material representations. The Quakers mistrusted the visual arts and discouraged their practice.

The Quaker monopoly over how we construct Pennsylvania's identity has eclipsed a parallel tradition that, in contrast, embraced the visual arts as a vehicle for revelation. It grew out of radical Pietism in Germany, which established itself in Lancaster County in the 1730s. Its best known experimental community was Ephrata Cloisters. Susanna Hübner was one of the mystics residing in the Ephrata convent. Like Benjamin Franklin, she produced a book of ABCs, a collection of spiritual poetry. Hübner's letters become visual exercises of meditation as the reader is incapable of ever capturing a calligraphic whole. I have been thinking about Hübner's calligraphy, as I prepare my course on Islamic art, noting a similar spiritual strategy. Above, I have copied the letter K and imagined how Susanna would write my name, in delayed and apophatic silence.

My own college is integrally connected to Ephrata Cloister and German mysticism through Marshall College. Although its founders chose to honor John Marshall, the supreme court justice has very little to do with the college. Similarly, Franklin College honors Benjamin Franklin, who sent a financial donation for its establishment. Franklin's interests were in making sure that the Germans did not secede. The establishment of an Anglo college in the heart of a German county was a measure of realpolitik. Benjamin Franklin and John Marshall take center stage in all of my college's public relations. Lately, I have become a little annoying in trying to highlight the other tradition that has deeper organic roots to our college. I also feel that without an understanding of 18th-century German mysticism within a Baroque vocabulary, Pennsylvania arts become totally incomprehensible. Like the persona of Franklin & Marshall, the mystical art of the German tradition becomes fodder for a shallow consumption of primitivistic Christian tourism.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Deserted Greek Villages: Hackman Research Fellowship Report

This summer, I received a Hackman Research Fellowship grant from Franklin and Marshall College, which paid for my air-fare and car-rental in Greece. What follows is my report submitted to the Committee on Grants. The report offers a nice opportunity to enumerate the various activities of the two-week research and to thank Lucille and William Hackman for their support of over 55 collaborations between faculty and undergraduate students.

During my Hackman Research Fellowship (June 2014), I initiated a new project on the architecture and archaeology of abandoned 19th-century villages in Greece. Joel Naiman ('15) accompanied me on a Hackman Student Fellowship for the duration of the project, and Joanna Radov ('16) joined us for part of the project on a Summer Research Fellowship. The objective of the project was to design a long-term research methodology, while also collecting as much data as possible for a short-term publication. Radov (an Anthropology major) had completed an Independent Study on the sociology of Greek villages the previous semester, and Naiman pursued an Independent Study on historic preservation the following (current) semester. After our return from Greece, Naiman processed the data from one case-study, on the Parhhasian Cultural Heritage Park. He presented a poster "Preserving Greece’s Past: Managing the Architectural Heritage of an Arcadian Village" at the Fall Research Fair and in early-December we will coauthor a formal report to be included in the annual research publication of the Park. In Spring 2016, we hope to submit an article for review in Building and Landscapes, the national journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum. Naiman’s experiences in Greece are informing his plans to enroll in a Master’s of Science program in Historic Preservation with a future interest in cultural heritage law.

Overshadowed by neighboring temples of antiquity, the medieval and early modern villages of Greece are its most neglected archaeological heritage. Returning to fieldwork that I conducted for my PhD thesis, I revisit the archaeology of deserted villages. Much has changed since the pioneering University of Minnesota Morea Project, my introduction to vernacular architectures studies in the 1990s, where 150 Greek villages and over 3,000 houses were surveyed. Having inherited the archive of this decade-long collaborative project, I revisit the architectural data that was partially published in Houses of the Morea: Vernacular Architecture in the Northwestern Peloponnesos (1205-1950) and the villages themselves. In order to collect new data on villages, we collaborate with ongoing archaeological projects that have already established research centers in Greece. Archaeology in Greece is strictly regulated by the Ministry of Culture, which awards only three excavation and five survey permits to American scholars. Without the financial resources or infrastructure to request one of these coveted permits, we chose to collaborate with projects that have already been granted such permits. Over the course of two weeks, we visited five ongoing archaeological projects that hosted us for 1-5 days. The projects were the Athenian Agora Excavations, the Mount Lykaion Excavations and Parrhasian Cultural Heritage Park, the Eastern Argolid Archaeological Project, the Ancient Corinth Excavations and the Lidoriki Project.

At each of these sites, we collected new data on domestic architecture. This scheme fulfills two simultaneous objectives; it contributes scholarly insights to each project's unique publication agenda, while it also creates a synthetic study among all the projects collectively. Given the increasingly limited resources, this collaborative approach seems fundamental. The pooling of resources and expertise allowed us to innovate in the field of digital humanities. Flying a drone over a number of villages, we created a new and efficient methodology to map villages and reconstruct them in 3D. The drone was brought by our collaborator Todd Brenningmeyer, professor of Art History at Maryville University. At the end of our fieldwork, we participated in a workshop at the Polytechnic Institute of Athens, among a group of digital archaeologists who are experimenting with drones, balloons, and photogrammetry at other sites. The audience of Greek students and academics underscored the vitality of digital mapping. This cutting-edge technology puts our work at new pedagogical thresholds at F&M, too. Having tested it in Greece, we are drafting a set of procedures that could be applied to future case studies in Lancaster County or other regions. Building on our experiences this summer, we are creating a digital mapping lab at F&M's Innovation Zone. A dedicated computer with mapping and photogrammetric software (Agisoft, QGIS) has just been installed (November 2014) and is connected with the 3D printer. In the next year, we hope to fundraise for the purchase of a drone to be used by the faculty widely.

For the remainder of the report, I will describe the specific activities that we carried out in each of the six sites.

1. Athenian Agora Excavations. The American School of Classical Studies at Athens has been excavating the ancient Agora since 1932. In order to reveal the coveted ancient layers buried below the modern city, the American School has had to demolish an entire historical neighborhood consisting of 18th- and 19th-century houses. Before demolition, the excavators produced a detailed photographic record of the house exteriors. Using 3D visualizing software, it is theoretically possible to rebuild those traditional houses in a digital environment. We spent one day at the archives of the Athenian Agora trying out this possibility in a single residential block that contained 12 properties. We combined data from the excavation notebooks, the architectural drawings, and the black-and-white photographs and assembled all the available 2D data (ground plans and facade elevations). We did not want to waste valuable fieldwork time in the digital reconstruction, so we left the processing for a future date. The Athenian Agora Excavations is a research center that brings together American faculty and students. While at the project, we had the opportunity to interact with scholars in residence, including F&M Classics professor Ann Steiner, who had spent her sabbatical year at the Agora. Our project in the Agora was supervised by the archivist Sylvie DuMont, who has just completed a book manuscript on the houses that were torn down for the excavation. I was a reviewer for that manuscript and was encouraged by the publisher to work with DuMont in the publication process. If completed in time for the publication, our digital reconstruction of the residential block could be included in DuMont's images.

2. The Mount Lykaion Project and the Parrhasian Cultural Heritage Park. One of the chief American excavations in Greece during the last five years has been the excavations at Mount Lykaion, the mythical birthplace of Zeus. While focusing on the altar of Zeus and the athletic site as the epicenter of excavation, the Mount Lykaion project has proposed the creation of culturla heritage park that includes a large area surrounding the mountain. Contained in the park zone are a number of villages that have received little scholarly attention. A team from the University of Arizona hosted us for two days at Mount Lykaion. We photographed and drew houses from two 19th-century villages, Ano Karyes and Neda. I had visited Neda four years ago (with a 2010 Hackman Fellow) and had compiled a preliminary overview of the most important old houses. I had targeted one house to be surveyed this summer, only to discover that it had been demolished. Our 2010 photographs of the building are sadly the only record of that structure. At Mount Lykaion we were hosted by project director David G. Romano. We lived in the village of Ano Karyes along with a team of three architecture students from the University of Arizona. 

3. The Western Argolid Project. This summer was the first season of a new archaeological survey and a combined field school for the University of Toronto and the University of Colorado. The project is a pedestrian survey, which systematically collects surface pottery and models the chronological profiles of the agrarian landscape. The research area is concentrated around village Lyrkia and contains a variety of standing structures. Focused on refining the surface survey methodology for its first season, the project did not target standing architecture. We prospected the village of Lyrkia for a future work. More importantly, we prospected a peculiar domestic arrangement built on the cliffs of the surrounding mountain. Dating to the 18th or early-19th century, this rugged installation most likely served as refuge to brigands engaged in guerrilla warfare with the Ottoman feudal overlords who administered the fertile lands below. Hiking to this location and rock-climbing to the top was the hardest part of the fieldwork. We spent one day in the project. At the end of the day, we visited the town of Myloi, a railroad depot during the late 19th-century. Built by French engineers in the 1880s, the train station and warehouses of Myloi contain European architectural elements that -- we believe -- trickled down to the vernacular architecture of the period. Our day in the Argolid was directed by William R. Caraher and Demetris Nakassis. It coincided with the visit of Rebecca Seifried, a PhD candidate in Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who is writing her thesis on the deserted villages of the Mani, a region in the southwest corner of the Peloponnesian peninsula. Her insights in computer mapping and digital methodologies were invaluable.

4. Ancient Corinth Excavations. The site of Ancient Corinth has been excavated by the American School of Classical Studies since 1896. Whereas the ancient city has been the primary target of excavations, the project has also been innovating in the field of post-classical studies. The village of Ancient Corinth was itself a late-medieval settlement, which became largely depopulated after a series of earthquakes. Project director Guy Sanders, and project architect James Herbst have been promoting the integrative study of ancient and modern structures. The village of Penteskouphi was slowly abandoned in the 20th century. Constructed out of stone and mud brick, a group of eight houses are slowly deteriorating. The village has been used to train archaeologists in site formation processes, or in illustrating how buildings deteriorate. We were given a tour of Penteskouphi abandoned villages, as well as other 19th-century houses that survive within the excavation site. We spent one day in Corinth and did not collect any data. We simply took stock of the houses and photographed. The village of Penteskouphi, however, will be the next village that we hope to survey in future seasons.

5. The Lidoriki Project. The first week of our fieldwork was spent in the Peloponnese, traveling to three current projects for one or two days. The second week of our fieldwork was spent entirely in central Greece at the municipality of Lidoriki, in the region of Phocis, not far from Ancient Delphi. During the past four years, I have served as co-director of the Lidoriki Project, a collaboration with two colleagues of differing expertise. Miltos Katsaros, professor of architecture in the Athens Polytechnic Institute, brings his students to survey the region's architecture. Todd Brenningmeyer, professor of art history at Maryville University, oversees the digital mapping. The first season of our collaboration coincided with my last Hackman scholar four years ago. Back in 2010, we brought kites and helium balloons to help us document the cultural landscape and extensive rural architecture. This year, we brought a drone that supplemented the kites. The objective of the project is to provide a complete regional picture of agrarian life in this mountainous region. This summer, we surveyed three sites, corresponding two three different chronological periods, ancient Fyskos, medieval Kallion, and early-modern Aigition. The surveying procedure involved placing large targets on the ground and surveying their coordinates. These targets are visible from the drone and can be discerned in the photographs. The drone flies for about 20 minutes over the study area and captures close to 1,000 images. The images are then run through a photogrammetry software, which combines the raster data with the coordinate data and produces a 3D model. These high resolution models can be combined with the measured drawings of individual walls that the Greek architecture students are carrying out with traditional methods (paper, pencil, measuring tape).

Most of our five days in Lidoriki were spent in surveying with the drone. We also had the opportunity to test a couple of related projects, on the diaspora and on folk arts. The mountainous villages of Lidoriki flourished in the late 19th century. An economic crisis (similar to the one experienced by Greece today) lead to a mass emigration to the United States in the 1900s. Interestingly enough, the bulk of the diaspora ended up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where they transferred their pastoral skills to the industrial stockyards. In the 1970s, the Greek government built a dam to collect water that would feed the booming city of Athens, 100 miles to the east. The artificial lake submerged villages and farmland and it disrupted traditional networks, further exacerbating the rate of abandonment. The deserted village of Aigition that we surveyed by drone must be correlated to this immigration to the U.S. Using the Ellis Island archives, we have begun to correlate individuals who left their villages and moved to America. During our fieldwork, we met an elderly Greek-American on his annual summer visit to Lidoriki from Milwaukee. This personal link, we hope, will bring forth further connections between Milwaukee's current Greek community and the deserted villages they once occupied.

Finally, we had the opportunity to witness two cultural events in Lidoriki, a concert of traditional chamber music and a festival of folk dancing. Both experiences brought to life the vacant old homes. On our last day, we were also given an inside tour of a folk arts archive and museum. Our collaborators Sofia Klosa and Nikos Lakafosis, who reside in the village full time, have been collecting old agricultural tools, textiles, and handicrafts. They have remodeled an old house to store this material heritage with the hope of one day opening a Folklore Museum. WE applied the same photogrammetric methodology we used on villages to produce 3D models of the museum artifacts. We only had a few hours with the collection and photographed one wool spindle. In the future, we hope to bring a group of art historians that can survey the whole collection and produce a virtual music with 3D-images of the objects. Lidoriiki's remoteness means that, even if it opens, the Folk Museum will not be visited by too many people. A complementing website will assure the dissemination of these crafted objects. Once we have a large set of 3D-modeled objects and 3D modeled architectural spaces, we will be able to digitally reposition those domestic arts back into their original context.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States