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profile-picNancy Um

Associate Professor

Office: Fine Arts 307
Phone: (607) 777-5864
Specialization: Visual culture, built environment, urbanism, and material exchange around the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean littoral; Islamic art and architecture; Yemen; early modern commerce and cross-cultural exchange; domestic and commercial architecture.

Nancy Um received her M.A. and Ph.D. in Islamic Art and Architectural History from UCLA. She joined the art history faculty at Binghamton University as an assistant professor in 2001.

While teaching broadly in the archaeology, arts, architecture and urbanism of the Middle East and South Asia, her research examines the visual culture and built environments of trading communities around the Indian Ocean rim in the early modern period. Her book The Merchant Houses of Mocha: Trade and Architecture in an Indian Ocean Port (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009) explores the question of how maritime trade saturated the visual and built world of 17th and 18th C Yemen, with a focus on the Red Sea port city of Mocha, which was known internationally for its trade in coffee. In it, she examines the nature of Arab domestic and commercial architecture, critical issues in port city urbanism, and the politics of difference and spatial practices within city space.

Currently, she is writing a book-length study, tentatively entitled, The Material World of the Overseas Merchant during Yemen's Age of Coffee: Ceremonial Receptions, Gifts, and the Tools of Commerce, 1700-1750, which explores the materially-oriented routines and social practices that wholesale merchants participated in as requisite rites of commercial initiation or to sustain their trading privileges in early modern Yemen.

She has conducted field and archival research in Turkey, Yemen, the Netherlands, and England. She is the recipient of a number of research fellowships, including those from the Fulbright program, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Getty Foundation, and the American Institute for Yemeni Studies.

She will be a Scholar in Residence at the Getty Research Institute for its annual research theme, Connecting Seas: Cultural and Artistic Exchange, in 2013-14.

Selected Publications

"Foreign Doctors at the Imam's Court: Medical Diplomacy in Yemen's Coffee Era," in Transcultural Networks in the Indian Ocean, 15th-18th centuries: Europeans and Indian Ocean Societies in Interaction, a special issue of Genre: Forms of Discourse and Culture (forthcoming, January 2014).

"Order in the 'Arbitrary': The Distribution, Content, and Temporal Cycles of English Merchant Tribute in Eighteenth-Century Yemen," Journal of Early Modern History (forthcoming, 2014).

“Reflections on the Red Sea Style: Beyond the Surface of Coastal Architecture,” Northeast African Studies 12:1 (2012): 243-271.

“Greenlaw’s Suakin: The Limits of Architectural Representation and the Continuing Lives of Buildings in Coastal Sudan,” African Arts 44:4 (Winter 2011): 36 - 51.

“From the Port of Mocha to the Eighteenth-Century Tomb of Imam al-Mahdi Muhammad in al-Mawahib: Locating Architectural Icons and Migratory Craftsmen,” Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 41 (2011): 387-400.

The Merchant Houses of Mocha: Trade and Architecture in an Indian Ocean Port. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009).

"Eighteenth-Century Patronage in Sanaa: Building for the New Capital in the Second Century of the Qasimi Imamate," Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 34 (2004): 361 - 375.

"Spatial Negotiations in a Commercial City: The Red Sea Port of Mocha, Yemen during the First Half of the Eighteenth Century," Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 62:2 (June 2003): 178 - 193.

Recent Lectures and Conference Papers

"Chairs, Writing Tables, and Chests: On the Postures of Commercial Documentation in the Early Modern Indian Ocean," Early Modern Objects in Motion, Getty Research Institute and the USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute, May 11, 2013.

"The So-Called 'Indian Wedding Chair': Unresolved Narratives of Dispersal in a Cosmopolitan Woodworking Tradition," Middle East Studies Association Annual Meeting, Denver, CO, November 17, 2012.

"English Gifts in Yemen: Merchant Tribute and the Social Protocols of Trade in the Early Eighteenth Century," Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies Lecture Series, Binghamton University, April 11, 2012.

“The Calligraphic Arts of India: Three Manuscript Pages in the University Art Museum,” Binghamton University Art Museum, March 15, 2012.

“Negotiating Land and Sea: The Urban Form of the Port City of Mocha, Yemen,” Annual Meeting of the Association for American Geographers, New York, February 24, 2012.

“Coffee, Cash, and Gifts: Merchant Tribute and the World of Exchange in Eighteenth-Century Yemen,” School of Social Sciences, Arts, and Humanities Seminar Series, University of California, Merced, January 26, 2012.

“The Legacy of Ottoman Architecture in Yemen: Strategies of Monumentality and Invisibility at the Southern Edge of the Empire,” Pepperdine Art History Society, Pepperdine University, November 14, 2011.

“Imported Constructs: Viewing Red Sea Architecture from the Sea,” The Social Life of Port Architecture: History, Politics, Commerce, and Culture, Centre for Port and Maritime History, University of Liverpool, June 24, 2011.

“Suakin after its Heyday: The Legacy of Architectural Drawing and the Dynamics of Local Preservation in Coastal British Sudan,” Viz Cult Lecture Series, Department of Art History, Binghamton University, April 13, 2011.

“1636: From the Edge of the Mediterranean World to the Center of the Global Coffee Market: Yemen after the First Ottoman Era,” Asia Inside Out: Period, HK Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Hong Kong, December 20, 2010.

Dissertations and Theses Supervised

Hala Auji, “The Printed Word and the American Syria Mission: Exploring Books and their Readers in the Arab World, 1860-1900.” Ph.D. dissertation, Binghamton University, in progress.

Raed Al Tal. "Structures of Authority: A Sociopolitical Account of Building in Jordan." Ph.D. dissertation, Binghamton University, 2006.

Aynur De Rouen, "Change And Continuity: An Analysis Of The Socio-Spatial Fabric Of Teşvikiye-Nişantaşi, 1945-1960," Ph.D. dissertation, Binghamton University, in progress. (co-advisor with Barbara Abou-El-Haj)

Anwar Ibrahim, "Politics, Controversy and Design in Post 9/11 American Mosques: Al-Noor Mosque, Dublin, Ohio and the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, Roxbury, Massachusetts," Ph.D. dissertation, Binghamton University, in progress.

Deniz Karakas. "Clay Pipes, Marble Surfaces: The Topographies of Water Supply and Waste Disposal in the Outskirts of the Early Eighteenth Century Ottoman Capital." Ph.D. dissertation, Binghamton University, 2013.

Lalaine Bangilan Little. "Made in Japan? Questioning the Collaborations underlying Namban Art." M.A. Thesis, Binghamton University, 2008.

Lalaine Bangilan Little, “Portable Devotion: Philippine Christian Visual Culture, 1521 – 1815.” Ph.D. dissertation, Binghamton University, in progress.

Maria Salva, "Twentieth Century Transformations In Iranian Ta'ziyeh: Religion, Modernism, And Revolution," M.A. Thesis, Binghamton University, 2013.

Shriya Sridharan. "Srirangam's New Antiquity - Negotiating the Hindu Temple's Divine and Historic Pasts in a Global Present." Ph.D. dissertation, Binghamton University, 2012.

Meiqin Wang. "Confrontation and Complicity: Rethinking Official Art in Contemporary China." Ph.D. dissertation, Binghamton University, 2007.

Recent Courses Taught

Undergraduate Lecture Courses

Introduction to Art and Architecture of the Asian World (100-level)

Royalty, Kingship and the Court: Arts of the Ottomans, Safavids and Mughals (200-level)
Culture, Dwellings, Design (200-level)
Gilded Pages: Calligraphy, Illumination and Illustration in the Islamic World (300-level)
Cairo: Islamic Architecture and the City (300-level)

Graduate Seminars

The Sultan's Palace

The Art of the Gift: Material Culture and the Logic of Reciprocity
A World of Goods: Medieval and Early Modern Commodities in Cross-Cultural Perspective
Houses on the Move: Vernacular Architecture in Transhistorical and Transregional Perspective
Art in the Age of Discoveries: Visual Culture and Maritime Trade, 1500-1800




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Last Updated: 7/31/13