11 Chapters
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The U. S. in the Nineteenth Century

Henry Glassie Indiana University Press ePub

Returning to the American story, we can envision a moment of unity, the most coherent instant in American history, when after the Revolution segmentable houses with symmetrical facades and closed interiors could be found from one end of the new nation to the other. That is as modern as things ever got.

In his excellent introduction to American architecture, Dell Upton comments correctly that the nineteenth century has been studied less well than the centuries that precede and follow it. One reason is that scholars seem to believe that the directions apparent in the eighteenth century continue through the nineteenth. Another is that, with the nineteenth century, there is a sudden flood of paper with words printed on it, and historians can relax at home, reading written texts that are easy to understand instead of the architectural texts that give them fits. But there is absolutely no alternative to fieldwork, to direct and patient study of real buildings in great numbers. The written texts of the nineteenth century are pertinent, but, alas, the story conveniently constructed out of them violently misrepresents the reality.

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Introduction The Place In-between

Sandy Prita Meier Indiana University Press ePub

On the Swahili coast of east Africa, monumental stone demarcates the border zone between the African continent and the Indian Ocean. Since at least the twelfth century locals have built luminously white coral stone houses, tombs, and mosques to transform wild coastlands into ordered civilization. Kilwa, a powerful port city in the fourteenth century, was famous for the glowing whiteness of its stone façades. Its harbor palace complex, known as Husuni Kubwa (figure 0.1), once dominated the coast of east Africa, its vaulted pavilions, domed halls, and hundred-plus rooms covering nearly a hectare on a promontory overlooking the Indian Ocean. Aluminous white lime plaster, made of shells and coral, covered its walls, reflecting the light of the sun so that its grandeur could be seen from great distances by incoming ships. Kilwa’s networks connected the societies and economies of mainland Africa with the maritime world of the western Indian Ocean, and a key function of its waterfront architecture was to structure the exchange of ideas, goods, and also people across vast distances. It was an architecture of mercantile mobility whose style mirrored the built form of oversea emporia, especially those of the Arabian Sea.

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4 At Home in the World: Living with Transoceanic Things

Sandy Prita Meier Indiana University Press ePub

Swahili coast interior design and ornament invites an extended exploration of the meaning of objects when their “life” is shaped by transoceanic circulation. As we have seen in the case of Zanzibar, its modern palaces existed at the intersection of new and old building cultures. Sultan Barghash deployed a multiplicity of forms and technologies to manufacture architectural theaters of triumph and pleasure. His project was part of a larger nineteenth century phenomenon: the desire to transform east Africa’s port cities into strategic sites of imperial power and capitalist modernization. This chapter presents a more intimate analysis of the social lives enacted within the architectural spaces of the Swahili city. I explore the reasons why imported ornament and objects captured the imagination of Swahili coast residents for centuries and how the impact of industrial modernity intensified the local desire to collect things from overseas.

People give meaning to objects by arranging them in relationship to other things. The production of meaning therefore has a physical effect on the material environment, since such arrangements change how we experience a particular room or material landscape. When an object comes to rest in a new place it also expresses a new idea or concept. Through its arrangement in real space it will become commodity, artifact, art, souvenir, or relic. How objects take on different values and meanings as they move through time and space is now often called the “social life of things,” after Arjun Appadurai’s seminal edited book of the same title, published in 1988. But it is people who set this life in motion through various actions upon things, including trading them, buying them, or placing them on altars or graves. In a sense the agency of things is always constituted by someone’s actions. Scholars such as Patricia Spyer and Nicholas Thomas, among others, have complicated our understanding of human–object relationships by foregrounding how the act of appropriating things from a foreign society simultaneously consolidates and displaces existing systems of signification.1 The moment of displacement from one context to another brings the thing into sharp focus: it presents the object laid bare, before it is assimilated and before it transforms and is transformed by its new context. When objects are displaced, we become particularly aware of their physical presence and materiality. They stand out. This is especially the case with trade objects that circulate across physical borders and move into vastly different cultural settings. Because they are exotic or foreign they tend to retain something uncanny and untranslatable about their form, even long after they have come to rest in their new homes. We can apprehend them as a thing, or we see their pure presence, outside of the cultural meaning projected onto them, more easily. This thing-ness is exactly what was cultivated as an aesthetic in the interior spaces of the Swahili coast. The Swahili culture of things celebrates the ability to displace objects and values across great distances.

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8 - Heterotopias of the Normal in Private Worlds

Fehérváry, Krisztina Indiana University Press ePub

IN 1997, I met a local journalist who wrote for the steel mill newspaper. When I explained my research to her, she immediately understood it to be about the relationship between one's living space and one's sense of self in the world. She referred me to an article she had written on a new local handyman business that specialized in refurbishing panel apartments. I reproduce the first part of it here, as it gives articulate form to narratives and expressions in regular circulation during the late 1990s in Dunaújváros, a narrative that will feel familiar to the reader of this book. It is a narrative of recent history and of the expectations for and disappointments in the system change. It is also a narrative about the resilience of the idea that transformations to one's home can produce transcendent transformations to one's life. And finally, it is a narrative that hints more broadly at the emerging relationship between one's private home life and the wider sociopolitical and economic order. The title of the article? “My home, my castle!” (Kozma 1995).

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1 - Normal Life in the Former Socialist City

Fehérváry, Krisztina Indiana University Press ePub

In the mid-1990s in Dunaújváros, half a decade after the fall of state socialism, long lines once again formed in front of shops, but now for lottery tickets. An editorial on the front page of the local newspaper attempted to articulate the sentiments of the people standing in these lines, people still living in concrete apartment blocks, whose standard of living had declined rather than improved in the tumultuous years since the incursion of market capitalism.

Most people know…that unfortunately in this world it takes a lot of money for a full life. If you want to update your library, travel, see the world; if you want to have a livable home, drive a normal car, and occasionally have a respectable dinner—for these you need a small fortune. (Dunaújvárosi Hírlap, June 3, 1997)

Throughout my fieldwork, people used terms like “livable,” “normal,” and “respectable” to refer to services, goods, and material worlds that met their expectations of life after the end of state socialism. New telephone systems, automatic teller machines, twenty-four-hour convenience stores, and courteous sales clerks were amenities that many Hungarians associated with the dignity accorded respectable citizens of a “First World.” In contrast, they understood obsolete technologies and infrastructures, corruption and rude behavior, and the frantic pace of everyday life to be vestiges of a discredited socialist system. Scholars have reported similar uses of “normal” throughout central Eastern Europe and the Baltics during this period, as people used it to refer to things that were clearly extraordinary in their local context, but were imagined to be part of average lifestyles in Western Europe or the United States.

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