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Karen Barzman

Barzman to serve as fellow at Newberry library

by Eric Coker

Karen Barzman, associate professor of art history, will spend the spring semester as a fellow at The Newberry, one of world's most renowned research libraries.

"I'm thrilled to have this fellowship because it comes from an extremely prestigious institution," she said. "It's an institution that has a venerable history."

Established in 1887, The Newberry is an independent library located in Chicago that specializes in early modern European history and art history. It contains more than 1.5 million books and 5 million pages of manuscripts.

Barzman will take residence at The Newberry in January 2013 and stay until June while finishing a book about Venice and Dalmatia. Funding for the fellowship is provided by the National Endowment of the Humanities and is extremely competitive. For example, only three NEH-Newberry fellowships are available for the 2013–14 academic year.

As part of the fellowship, Barzman will not only have her own office at The Newberry, but will participate in research seminars with other fellows.

"It's designed specifically as a research institute," Barzman said of The Newberry. "Rather than having open stacks or closed stacks, there are open rooms that have collections of books. It is really conducive to scholarly research in an intimate setting."

Barzman is now working on the final chapter of "The Limits of Identity: Venice, Dalmatia and the Representation of Difference," a book that examines shared identity in 15th- 16th- and 17th-century Venice.

"I'm interested in common threads that are stretched to their limits," she said. "The book essentially focuses on this notion of 'Venetian-ness' as measured against Venice's neighbors at the edge of the empire. Venice wasn't interested in amassing a lot of land. It wanted coastal territories where it could establish ports to extend its mercantile reach."

Those neighbors on the eastern side of the Adriatic Sea — Islamic Ottomans — were part of one of the most unstable borders in the early modern world.

"This was the western-most point where Christian Europe came up against the Islamic world," Barzman said.

Compounding the instability was the fact that lines were not drawn onto maps until the 18th century, Barzman said.

"Before the 18th century, they were constantly negotiating these borders by going out on horseback or mule," she said. "And the border was rugged terrain. It was mountainous. ... The Venetians didn't know what to do with this kind of land. It didn't conform to the urban or agrarian economics they were familiar with. It became like a blank space to them."

People in this area professed allegiance to both sides (Christian Venice and the Islamic Turkish Empire) depending on how it helped them."

"It was their version of the Wild West, where just about anything goes," she said.

Barzman is interested in how this "cartographic blind spot" was mapped and she will use some of The Newberry's 500,000 historic maps for her research.

"The Newberry is well-known as one of the most important map collections in the world," she said. "That's what drew me to The Newberry."

"The Newberry is excited about my project because it is about mapping the Balkans. It's the cartographic representation of an area that even today is so fragmented."

Barzman, who served as director of the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (CEMERS) from 2006–11, spent part of the fall researching the libraries and archives of Venice, thanks to a grant from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.

She also spent a weekend on the Adriatic coast in Croatia, touring a number of small towns. Among them was the port city of Buccari (the Italian name for modern-day Bakar).

"Buccari was well-known as an unregulated hub for human trafficking and the sale of contraband goods — in the minds of Venetians, a disreputable and dangerous place in a barbarous land notwithstanding its proximity to Venice itself," she said. "Venetian merchants frequented Buccari; and as it figured in Venetian geo-political strategizing, it's key to my study of the limits of identity."

Barzman said she left Venice and Croatia with "more material than I'd imagined and will be heading off to The Newberry laden with exactly what I needed for the book."

Besides studying maps, Barzman anticipates looking at early newspaper and diplomatic reports from the era and doing a lot of writing. She hopes to have a completed draft of her manuscript by fall 2013 when she returns to teaching at Harpur College.

"I like to bring my research interests into my teaching," she said. "I think that keeps it more dynamic for me and the students."

For Barzman, the fellowship at The Newberry is a special recognition for both her and Harpur College.

"This is one of the most important honors and distinctions I have ever received in my career," she said. "There's no doubt about it. It places me in a very important arena of exchange with other scholars from other disciplines. I think it will bring a lot of prestige to Binghamton University, too."

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Last Updated: 3/1/17