In this episode of Dangerous History, Christianna Bonin talks with me about archives. She dials in from Moscow to discuss life under quarantine, adventures in WWII-era bunkers turned art vaults, the structure of Soviet archives and collections, Kazakh nationalism, and the impact of Stalin’s legacy on historical production today. Listen to the interview here. Recorded April 22, 2020, Christianna traces her path to her current focus on Russian decorative arts in the twentieth century through archival finds and tugs on her heartstrings she could not ignore. A dedicated scholar and a generous colleague, Christianna’s stories of the archives help illustrate the on-the-ground work of an art-and-architecture historian in her day-to-day life. Read More
On May 13, Caroline E. Murphy joined me to discuss the juridic origins of water management in early modern Tuscany, and the use of water infrastructure as a means towards territorial control. You can listen to the show here. Caroline describes her recent experience conducting research in Florence, Italy before the pandemic, and reflects on how her process has shifted now that she is back home in Toronto. We had a chance to talk for a hour or so a few days before this interview was recorded, and there were so many more topics to cover! It was nice to reconnect with Caroline, who no longer lives in Cambridge, and dive into the world of her work. An archive full of hand-written documents penned with a quill in a language I hardly know sounds incredibly intimidating; Caroline takes the challenge in stride.
Read more about Caroline on her MIT bio.
On episode four of Dangerous History on WAWD? Radio I spoke with ElDante’ Winston, who is sheltering in place with his family on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Eldante’ is a registered architect and father of two who writes about Renaissance- and Early Modern-era constructions and agglomerations. He reminds us to look behind the façade of Renaissance architecture (so to speak) and question the context in which it was built. Listen to the interview here, which aired on April 29th. The next time you pass through a European city gate, look around for the plaques and medallions that describe what once happened there. Piazzas were stages on which spectacles of power were performed; villas were fortifications; war and resource allocation have more to do with what architects we remember today than talent or genius. ElDante’ wants architects and historians to follow their own insight and question traditional narratives that simply don’t make sense. Don’t try to map modern curations onto the past, learn to see the past as it was actually lived.
During the interview, Eldante’ had a virtual background pasted behind him: the flag of the City of Chicago. It’s rather attractive, not unlike the Agentinian flag—three, alternating, baby blue and white stripes—but with the addition of four, spiky, six-sided stars in a band across the middle. Born and raised in Chicago, Eldante’ clearly has an affinity for his hometown! You can read his bio on the department homepage of HTC at MIT.
I spoke with Iheb Guermazi, who is currently living in his hometown of Tunis, Tunisia, on May 5th. Iheb looks for rational ways to write about irrational, mystical thinkers. Listen to the discussion here. In this interview, Iheb discusses the interests which lead a group of European writers to convert to Sufi Islam, the confluence of influences within the Sufi community in the Maghreb that find their focus in one particular Algerian cleric, and the impact of the resultant way of experiencing the world which effected both art criticism and politics in our own era. Within a so-called irrational system we find a practice that could help us all deal with the stresses of today. (Iheb provided the image above, a drawing from the archives of Ivan Aguéli, where he is experimenting with magic and esoteric formulas.)
I was fortunate that Iheb suggested recording the day before the show aired. The delay gave me the opportunity to edit out the sound of me crashing to the floor on my behind when I fell off the rolling suitcase in my closet that I had commandeered as a seat. I also snipped out the voice of my partner running in to ask if I were alright. However, in the interest of transparency, I left in the laughter that followed and my explanation of what had just transpired. I was also able to increase the volume of Iheb’s voice somewhat in post-production; he had been worried about a spotty internet connection but in fact it was excellent, aside from dialing down the relative volume.
Read more about Iheb on his HTC page here.
For the first episode of Dangerous History on WAWD? Radio I interviewed Nushelle de Silva, who has her own show, Museum Missives, 5pm on Thursdays. (Listen to our interview here.) My discussion with Nushelle focuses on self-discovery. How does our work connect to the world around us? Does it reflect our inner goals, hopes, and fears? As we work through the marathon of the PhD process together, Nushelle reminds us to aim high, raise our spirits, and reinsert our humanity into our professional lives.
This show aired on April 1, 2020, from inside my closet. As my first attempt at a live internet radio show, routed through both Zoom and Mixlr, it went well in the sense that it aired, but there is reverb in the audio. Nushelle has a beautiful voice that shines through nevertheless. You can read her bio on the department homepage of HTC at MIT.
My interview with Eli Keller concerns ruin. What motivates us to return, time and again, to the site of a disaster and have the strength to rebuild? What draws us to ruin, even in the midsts of happiness? Eli and I discuss the influence of the cold war and images of nuclear annihilation on architecture in the 1950’s and 60s. Recorded on the first night of Passover, April 8, 2020, we also discuss Judaic texts centered on ruin and rebuilding as a fundamental act of faith. Listen to the show.
Eli also has a show on WAWD? Radio, Kelly and Eli Smiling Through the Apocalypse, with Kelly Main. Airing Thursday nights at 7pm, they focus on issues of mutual interest highlighted by the pandemic, such as suburban planning, ecology, and ethics in the Anthropocene, and talk to interesting faculty guests from Harvard, MIT, and elsewhere about the guest’s work on that topic. You can read more about Eli in his MIT bio.
In the wake of COVID-19, MIT has closed its campus; quite a tragedy for a one of the few elite schools that maintained an open campus 24 hours per day. I’ve been recalled from France following the cessation of the Fulbright-France scholarship program, and find myself back in Cambridge, far from the archives where I had been conducting doctoral research. In the midst of all this, I suffered the loss of my mother, and as her only child, was thrown headlong into the process of managing her affairs. I spent the first few weeks of quarantine polishing silver, washing porcelain, and cleaning glassware with a microfiber cloth—items handed down from my grandparents and great grandparents, part of my new inheritance. Then the zoom calls started. The PhD students in the History, Theory, and Criticism (HTC) program got together to form a virtual “kennel,” which is what we loving call the PhD office. Suddenly we could see eachothers’ faces, and drink coffee together, and discuss what was happening in our personal and professional lives. It was a great relief.
When the M.Arch students decided to launch an on-line radio station, What Are We Doing? Radio, I wanted to take part. It was another way to connect with people, albeit in this case mostly students I had never met before. I launched a talk show airing Wednesdays at 10am Eastern Standard Time called Dangerous History, in which I interview fellow HTC students about their personal paths and their work. (Check it out here.) A few weeks later, I launched a second show, Songs for Tomorrow, which is all music and airs Friday nights at 7pm. Here is a link to my debut show, which, because the FCC does not control the internet, contains explicit songs despite airing before 10 o’clock at night.
I haven’t posted new entries here in a while, so I’m hoping this marks a shift in my online presence. I’ll post weekly updates about these two shows, and talk a little about my experiences living in Paris, which, while cut short, I’ll never forget.
Stay safe, wash your hands, and call your loved ones.
As its residents are well aware, spring time comes and goes very quickly in Manhattan. First it rains, then everything blooms at once, then it gets scorching hot. Early May is a sweet spot for temperate weather. I was lucky to spend a week in the city this May, and it did not disappoint. The townhouses in my mother’s neighborhood were covered in lilac blossoms, and the brave were out riding bicycles up First Avenue.
The neighborhood in which I came of age, the East Village, has changed dramatically over the past few decades. Retail establishments, especially restaurants, have a very brief life span—barring a few holdouts that have managed to stay relevant. I tried to patronize a shoe store that’s been in business almost forever, for example, and found a construction site instead (below middle). More significant changes have occurred closer to Astor Place and Cooper Square, where luxury towers were erected in the 2000s and the street grid was altered. There is now no road in front of my old building, just an expansive, and not very attractive, plaza. (There’s no service access in the rear either… it’s a stranded building.) While I dislike the plaza’s industrial pipe railings around clusters of dirt and grass, I did see fireflies there at twilight.Read More