School of Historical Studies

Ellsworth Kelly: Volume I

by Yve-Alain Bois 

Spectrum I (1953) (Credit: Ellsworth Kelly/Editions Cahiers D'Art)

Cataloguing unexpected avenues of inquiry

Ellsworth Kelly likes to recall the incident in which a child, pointing at the five panels of Painting for a White Wall, enumerated their colors from
left to right and back. It was at this moment that the artist realized that what he had wanted to do in this painting was to “name” colors.

The idea that a juxtaposition of color rectangles was the visual equivalent of a suite of color names had two components, both related to an essential property of language, namely its infinite permutational capability. When the child enumerated the colors of Painting for a White Wall in both directions, he produced a permutation on what linguists call the syntagmatic level (in an enumeration, to take the example of the child’s utterance, the sequencing of the terms is of no grammatical consequence: “black, rose, orange, white, blue” is as correct grammatically as “blue, white, rose, orange, black”—or, for that matter, “blue, rose, black, orange, white,” or whatever word order). Investigating this aspect of the comparison between colors and linguistic units is what the artist set out to do in Red Yellow Blue White and Black, Red Yellow Blue White and Black II, and Red Yellow Blue White and Black with White Border.

Near and Distant Neighbors: A New History of Soviet Intelligence

by Jonathan Haslam 

In October, Jonathan Haslam gave an Institute lecture, which asked: "What is Putin up to and why?" (Credit: Dan Komoda)

A vantage point into the story of the present

Mikhail Gorbachev defied every expectation at home and abroad by permitting the Berlin Wall to be breached in November 1989. He had finally allowed the imbalance of military power in Europe, which had stood provocatively and overwhelmingly to Soviet advantage since 1945, to be broken unopposed. Behind all this lay a basic truth: Moscow had effectively already given up the ideological struggle. The Russia reborn in 1992 had to confront the unexpected need to substitute at short notice raw patriotism for a long-outmoded belief in a global ideal, all in the face of falling living standards and full conscious­ness­­—not least via MTV, now beamed freely into city apartments—of what the West could offer in return for betrayal.

Aramaic and Endangered Languages

by Geoffrey Allan Khan 

A Christian Aramaic speaker in Georgia talks with Geoffrey Khan. (Credit: The Times of Israel/Miriam Shaviv)

While buying vegetables in the market one day, I heard the owner of the stall speaking a language that turned out to be a dialect of Aramaic. This whetted my appetite and I subsequently arranged to meet an elderly man who spoke Aramaic in his small apartment in the area of Jerusalem known as Qatamon. This meeting turned out to be a life-changing experience for me. I realized on that day that I was sitting in front of one of the last surviving speakers of a dialect of Aramaic. Aramaic was one of the major languages of the ancient Near East. Since the Middle Ages it has largely been replaced by Arabic, but it survived as a spoken language in a number of Jewish communities in the mountainous regions of northern Iraq, south-eastern Turkey, and western Iran down to modern times. Spoken Aramaic also survived to modern times among Christian communities in the same regions and also in a few villages in Syria. Over one hundred dialects of Aramaic were spoken in the Middle East in the first half of the twentieth century. The Jews adopted Aramaic when they were exiled to Mesopotamia in antiquity by the Babylonians, and some remained there. What I was hearing that day were the surviving cadences of the language of the ancient Jewish exile.

Designing the Digital Ottoman Project

by Amy Singer 

With a vision to enrich and advance the field of Islamic and Near Eastern studies, Sabine Schmidtke (far left) and Amy Singer (right) are among the DOP participants compiling the pages of Ottoman history. (Credit Andrea Kane)

What makes a digital Ottoman project different from other digital projects and why isn’t it a straightforward endeavor but rather one that will probably take several years to develop successfully? And why isn’t there one already? Why would twenty-four people need one week together even to figure out where to begin? The Digital Ottoman Platform (DOP) workshop convened at the Institute June 8–12, 2015 to establish a transnational digital space in which to create, collect, and manage source materials, datasets, and scholarly work related to the Ottoman world. The goal is that these resources will be transparently and reliably authored, referenced, and reviewed to ensure that scholarly standards of research and publication are maintained for materials created and made available. The site, its materials, and its datasets will be sustainably managed to serve the global community of scholars, many of whom will also have contributed to the platform from their own research. At the same time, the space will be accessible to students, researchers, and readers worldwide.

To “Write as I Paint My Pictures”: Paul Gauguin as Artist-Writer

by Linda Goddard 

Gauguin’s collaged images and text, seemingly artless (like a scrapbook), carefully project a particular self-image. (Credit: RMN Musée D'Orsay/Herve Lewandowski)

Self-portraiture on the margins of colonial power and local resistance

“When Paul Cézanne wants to speak ... he says with his picture what words could only falsify.” In The Voices of Silence (1951), French author and statesman André Malraux expressed his view that the Post-Impressionist painter could only “speak” with paint, not with words (his letters, according to Malraux, amounted to no more than a catalogue of petty-bourgeois concerns). This gives a fair idea of the reaction that a painter who tried their hand at writing could expect in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But what did this mean for artists who wished to respond, verbally, to their critics, or for whom writing and painting were equal components of an interdisciplinary practice?

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