Faculty Discuss Cultural Destruction in Syria on Local TV Program


Inside Politics host Pat Nolan discusses the cultural destruction in Syria with Professors Betsey Robinson, Art History and Classics, Richard McGregor, Religious Studies, and David Michelson, Divinity School, on Friday, October 2, at 7:00 pm on CBS affiliate WTVF News Channel 5, Nashville (Xfinity channel 250 and 1005).

It will also be aired via live streaming on newschannel5.com. Rebroadcast can be seen on Saturday, October 3, at 5:00 am and 5:30 pm; and again on Sunday, October 4, at 5:00 am and 12:30 pm.

Responding to a Cultural Heritage Crisis: The SHOSI Project


An overflow crowd spilled into Cohen’s lecture hall on September 22 for Brian Daniels’ sobering yet inspiring Goldberg Lecture entitled Protecting Cultural Heritage in Syria and Iraq: Lessons Learned in the Present Crisis.   

Considerable attention has been given to the ongoing destruction of cultural heritage as part of the current crisis in Syria and Iraq. While many academic responses have started the important work of documenting the extent and scale of the damage to cultural sites in both countries, there have been fewer attempts to work within a humanitarian framework in order to support Syrians and Iraqis who are undertaking emergency efforts to protect heritage at risk.

Daniels co-directs the Safeguarding the Heritage of Syria and Iraq Project (SHOSI), which aims to enhance the protection of cultural heritage by supporting professionals and activists in conflict areas, and leads a National Science Foundation-supported study about the intentional destruction of cultural heritage in conflict.

Daniels, along with Salam Al Quntar, Katharyn Hanson, and Corine Wegener, wrote an article, “Responding to a Cultural Heritage Crisis:  The Example of the Safeguarding the Heritage of Syria and Iraq Project,” that recently appeared in a special issue (September 2015) of Near Eastern Archaeology (Vol. 78, No. 3).

This article discusses the strategies employed by the SHOSI Project to assist in-country professionals and civil society activists in their attempts to protect key heritage sites. The approach combines the empowerment of Syrians and Iraqis in decision-making about their heritage while supporting them with the logistics and resources necessary to carry out emergency efforts. It demonstrates one case study of how on-the-ground protection can be achieved.

*Temple of Bel at Palmyra

Exhibit Commemorates Recently Destroyed Monuments at Palmyra


Palmyra, or Tadmor, rising out of the Syrian desert between Damascus and the Euphrates, has been called the “Bride of the Desert,” because of its spectacular geographical setting and a history of bringing diverse peoples together.  Today, Syria is widowed.

Syria Widowed:  Remembering Palmyra commemorates recently destroyed monuments at Palmyra, only one of a growing number of ancient sites devastated by ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).  On view through December 10 in the rear atrium of Cohen Memorial Hall, the exhibit was organized by Betsey A. Robinson, associate professor of the history of art, and E.B. Armstrong, a junior in the College of Arts and Science.

Working for the French ambassador to the Ottoman court, Louis-François Cassas (1756-1827) documented ancient sites in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Cyprus and Asia Minor.  He visited Palmyra in 1785, and his views and studies of the site were reproduced as copper-plate engravings in Voyage pittoresque de la Syrie, de la Phoenicie, de la Palaestine, et de la Basse Aegypte, volume 1.  Published in Paris in 1799, this volume is the source of all framed prints in the exhibit, which juxtaposes 18th-century engravings of temples, tombs, and cityscapes with photographs taken by Robinson in August 1995.

“Ancient ruins and antique prints are not the usual stuff of ‘pop-up’ exhibits, but we felt we must do something, sooner rather than later,” write Robinson and Armstrong who worked with Joseph Mella and Margaret Walker, Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery, to hang the exhibit by September 22 when Brian Daniels delivered the Goldberg Lecture on “Protecting Cultural Heritage in Syria and Iraq.”

“Relying on the power of images, we respond to ISIL not with scenes of violence and destruction but with memories of more peaceful times.  By celebrating the history and humanity encapsulated in the stones of what was an amazing place, we hope to make Palmyra, and Syria, more real and accessible to our community.”

The exhibition owes much to work done in an Honors Seminar on “Ancient Landscapes” in fall 2014.  Syria Widowed is just one among several programs planned at Vanderbilt to address current cultural, religious, political, and environmental issues in Syria and neighboring countries.

The exhibit co-sponsors are History of Art, Anthropology, Religious Studies, Islamic Studies, and Classical Studies, as well as the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, Divinity School, Fine Arts Gallery, and syriaca.org.

Limited parking is available in Lot 95 outside Cohen Hall, off 21st Avenue South on the Peabody campus and across from Medical Center East. For more information, call the department at 615.322.2831.

*Ruines d’un Arc de Triomphe, à Palmyre, from Voyage pittoresque de la Syrie, de la Phoenicie, de la Palaestine, et de la Basse Aegypte, volume 1, published 1799, copper-plate engraving.

Maria Liston to Deliver Archaeology Lecture on September 24

marialistonMaria Liston, associate professor and chair of the anthropology department at the University of Waterloo, will deliver an Archaeological Institute of America lecture on Thursday, September 24, at 6 pm at the Nashville Parthenon in Centennial Park. In her lecture, “Short Lives and Forgotten Deaths: Infant Skeletons in the ‘Bone Well’ near the Athenian Agora,” Liston, a bioarchaeologist, will speak on a remarkable find from the Athenian Agora, the excavation where she has worked with Barbara Tsakirgis, associate professor of classical studies and the history of art at Vanderbilt.

Liston pursues research as a skeletal biologist and archaeologist, focusing on the excavation and analysis of human remains and their mortuary contexts. “If you are a fan of Patricia Cornwell’s novels of forensic anthropology, you will love how Maria Liston solves the mysteries of ancient murders from the evidence of the surviving bone.” 

Since 2001 Liston has worked as the skeletal biologist in the Athenian Agora, the civic and religious center of ancient Athens. In her work there she has recently identified the oldest case of battered child syndrome known from the archaeological record. She also works in Greece with the excavations at Mycenaean Iklaina, and the new excavations in the Sanctuary of Ismenion Apollo in Thebes. She is currently publishing the skeletons from tombs found at Kavousi, Crete.  She also has directed the analysis of the remains of British and colonial soldiers at Fort William Henry, in New York.

Free and open to the public, Liston’s lecture is sponsored by the Nashville Society of the Archaeological Institute of America, the Conservancy for the Parthenon and Centennial Park, and Vanderbilt’s Department of Classical Studies and Department of Anthropology. Those who plan to attend the AIA lecture on September 24 are encouraged to call the Nashville Parthenon at 615.862.8431 to reserve a seat.

On Friday, September 25, Liston will present “Barbarians at the Gate: Victims and Perpetrators of the Herulian Sack, 267 CE,” at an informal lunchtime seminar sponsored by the departments of classical studies and anthropology.  This lecture will be held at noon in Cohen Hall 324.

From New Zealand to New York and now Nashville: HART’s new Visual Resources Curator Assistant Millie Fullmer

Book binding for a Paper Conservation course, Florence, Italy

Book binding for a paper conservation course (Florence, Italy)

Born and raised in Te Wai Pounamu, which translates “waters of greenstone” or as the European colonists creatively named it… the South Island of New Zealand (a.k.a. Aotearoa “land of the long white cloud”). I suppose I have always been a southerner of sorts. Admittedly, the last six years were spent living in New York City, cultivating a fair amount of cynicism typical of urbanites.

In my chosen career, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, with a well-known ceramic artist father, and a gallery director mother. At university Art History was a no-brainer; my other major was Religious Studies, a result of growing up in a secular country intrigued by the religiosity of my American relatives, and the fanaticism that brought about 9/11. After completing my B.A., I lived in London for a year, and then returned home to attend graduate school where I wrote my thesis “Modernism’s impact on religious art and architecture.”

My latest preoccupation is folk art and outsider artists, so I am enjoying learning about local self-taught genius William Edmondson.

Since earning a Masters in Library and Information Science at New York’s Pratt Institute, my professional experience has been limited to traditional art librarianship (Metropolitan Museum of Art’s library, Columbia University’s Avery Library). However, during my studies at the Pratt Institute I took several courses related specifically to emerging trends in digital humanities and the field of visual resources. Art librarianship and visual resources are no longer considered mutually exclusive, and in joining the HART’s Visual Resources Center I am confident this will be demonstrated under the vision of our director Chris Strasbaugh. I feel very fortunate to be working with such a supportive team, collaborating on such exciting projects as Dimli and Scalar, and exposure to faculty research. Another wonderful perk of my new employment is Vanderbilt’s many extracurricular engagements, especially gallery talks, visiting lecturers, film screenings, and perhaps the odd adventure through the Outdoor Recreation Center.

As for the city itself, Nashville has charmed me with the Frist Center, Country Music Hall of Fame, Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Museum of Art, vintage shopping, farmer’s markets, cycling trails, lakes, the Belcourt Theatre, the “Bonut” (google it), and hipster coffee to rival Portland, Oregon. Oh and I love the Fireflies here!

Mireille Lee Lectures on Archaeology of Ancient Greek Dress

mireilleleebookcoverMireille Lee, assistant professor of history of art and classical studies, delivered the Richard H. Howland Lecture on September 20 to the Milwaukee Society of the Archaeological Institute of America. Her title was The Archaeology of Ancient Greek Dress. Lee has published widely on the social functions of dress in ancient Greece, including her monograph Body, Dress, and Identity in Ancient Dress (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

Archaeology provides important evidence for ancient Greek dress, which was essential to the construction of social identities. Although no complete garments survive, preserved fragments of silk and embroideries indicate the elite status of the wearer. Jewelry, dress fasteners, toilet implements, perfume vessels, cosmetics, and mirrors are also important indicators of status and gender.

The visual sources, including sculpture and vase painting, depict men and women performing various dress practices. Although some practices, such as bathing and the use of perfumes, are common to both genders, others are specific to either men or women. The visual sources demonstrate other aspects of identity: age and social role are often indicated by hairstyle, whereas ethnicity is also conveyed by means of garments and body modifications. Although dress is often considered a mundane aspect of culture, Lee argues that dress provides unique insight into ancient Greek ideologies.