September 2015 Archways

Faculty News


Call someone an iconoclast today and you’re most likely thinking she’s a rebel, a nonconformist, an individualist.

But back in eighth-century Byzantium, you would have meant something quite different. Derived from the Greek word for image-breaker, an iconoclast was someone who believed that religious icons were idolatrous.

“From 726 to 843, the veneration of icons was officially banned in Orthodox worship,” explains Alicia Walker ’94, an assistant professor of history of art at Bryn Mawr, “and Byzantine Iconoclasm spurred theological reflection on the corporeal versus spiritual nature of Christ and the saints.”

A specialist in gender issues in the art and material culture of Byzantium, Walker is particularly interested in the impact of these religious debates on Byzantine attitudes about human bodies, especially women’s bodies. For her current project, Christian Bodies, Pagan Images: Women, Beauty, and Morality in Medieval Byzantium, she has received a Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowship, awarded annually by the American Council of Learned Societies.

“Prior to Iconoclasm,” explains Walker, “women affiliated themselves with pagan goddesses in direct ways—for example by wearing jewelry and clothing decorated with images of Athena or Aphrodite.” After the Iconoclastic period, pagan goddesses and other female figures continued to appear in works of art but not on objects worn by Christian women.

In looking at the transformations in Byzantine conceptions of the female body and attitudes toward adornment, Walker aims to shed light on how both Christian and classical traditions contributed to the regulation of women’s corporeal morality and the formation of female selfhood in medieval Byzantium.

The Charles A. Ryskamp Fellowship, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, supports scholars embarking on ambitious, large-scale research projects at critical stages in their academic careers.

Davidson Testifies

Dan-DavidsonProfessor of Russian and Director of the Russian Language Institute Dan E. Davidson testified before Congress recently on the need to support international exchange, research, and training programs. “U.S. national security and global competitiveness depend on our ability to understand and engage peoples with diverse histories, cultures, politics, economies, and languages,” Davidson testified.

Speaking before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, Davidson recommended funding for programs under the State Department’s Educational and Cultural Affairs. Commenting on two existing programs—the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study and the Future Leaders Exchange—he described them as creating “real access to opportunity in countries where, in the past, such opportunities were available only to political elites…[T]hey represent American values and ideals in action.”

Davidson singled out three initiatives that are making a major difference: support of transparent, merit-based scholarship and university admissions testing in Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, and Ukraine; support for the European Humanities University, operating as a Belarusian university-in-exile since being forcibly closed in 2004; and the Title VIII research and training program for U.S. scholars studying East Europe, Russia, and Eurasia.

One-Way Ticket

Archways_Faculty_SaltzmanSeats went fast for the trip to the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series. The critically acclaimed exhibition features Lawrence’s iconic series of 60 panel paintings depicting the Great Migration, the multi-decade mass movement of African-Americans from the rural South to the urban, industrialized North.

Rendered in pencil, ink, and tempera paint on hardboard, the panels in the cycle chart that voyage with a visual language at once spare and dynamic, classical and proto-cinematic.

“In a year framed by Ferguson and the death, in police custody, of Freddie Gray, Lawrence’s Migration Series takes on a renewed historical purpose and urgency,” says History of Art Chair Lisa Saltzman, who organized the trip. “An epic pictorial project, the 1941 cycle documents and dramatizes a critical period of our national inheritance, one tinged as much by hatred as by hope. Black lives matter. And Lawrence’s paintings are as vital now as they were then.”

Archways_WalesA recent Bryn Mawr Travel tour of Wales, led by Associate Professor of English Kate Thomas, brought alumnae to the original Bryn Mawr. Thomas (left) was joined by her partner, Associate Professor of English Bethany Schneider, on the trip—and in the local pub for a pint and some pub grub.