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Art History awarded Mellon Foundation grant to develop and host Sawyer Seminar

The College of Arts and Architecture’s Department of Art History in collaboration with the College of Liberal Arts has been awarded $225,000 by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support a Sawyer Seminar entitled “Transmission, Containment, Transformation: A Comparative Approach to Architecture and Contagion in Early Modern Cities.”

The Sawyer Seminar, which will be held during the 2021-2022 academic year, will explore the concept of contagion in its literal as well as metaphorical senses in relation to global early modern architecture.

Global in scope and comparative in methodology, the Sawyer Seminar will feature lectures, colloquia, workshops, exhibitions and performances all designed to examine the means by which cities responded architecturally to real and perceived physical, social and cultural threats.

The timely project will prioritize historical examples while also seeking to understand better how today’s built environment is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and to the popular resurgence of metaphors of social and cultural contagion.

Head of the Department of Art History, Elizabeth Mansfield, will serve as the lead investigator. A steering committee that includes College of Arts and Architecture professors Madhuri Desai, Amara Solari, Marica Tacconi, Robin Thomas, and Daniel Zolli will provide scholarly expertise and diverse intellectual perspectives.

The College of Liberal Arts will be represented on the steering committee by professors Jyoti Gulati Balachandran, Faisal Husain, Daniel Leonhard Purdy, Matthew Restall, and Amanda Scott.

“A Sawyer Seminar on the intersections between urbanism and discourses of contagion, containment and conversion could not be timelier,” Mansfield said. “There is renewed attention being paid to the role of the built environment in the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19 and we look forward to collaborating with our Liberal Arts colleagues to engage with the history of contagion in relation to these environments.”

The collaborative programing for the Sawyer Seminar will begin in the fall of 2021 and will focus on transmission by examining the port cities of Naples and Istanbul and the sacred cities of Mecca and Banaras.

Spring 2022 programming will examine containment in Venice Ghetto and Jamaican Plantations; quarantine in Mexico City’s Basilica of Guadalupe and Venice Hospitals; and confinement and evasion in Maroon Societies and Ragusa.

The programming will feature Thursday lectures, Friday colloquia, emerging scholars’ workshops, roundtables on contemporary architecture and design in relation to COVID-19, digital humanities mapping workshops, exhibitions and performances.

“In the College of Liberal Arts, we often talk about the value of cross-disciplinary work and the successful Sawyer Seminar proposal was the product of engagement and sharing of ideas across geographic scholarship that usually does not intersect,” said assistant professor of history, Amanda Scott. “The Sawyer Seminar is a clear statement about the excellent work coming out of our university, and how this work is strengthened through collaboration across the colleges.”

Additional seminar details, including an open call for graduate and postdoctoral fellows will be released in the coming weeks.

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