Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Architecture’ Category

Framing Sukkot: Tradition and Transformation in Jewish Vernacular Architecture

Just in time for the holiday that is at its center, I am happy to trumpet the publication of Framing Sukkot: Tradition and Transformation in Jewish Vernacular Architecture by Gabrielle Berlinger. Framing Sukkot is the third title in the Material Vernaculars series and it is appearing in the world just as the Jewish holiday of Sukkot is about to begin for 2017/5778!

Here is how Indiana University Press introduces Professor Berlinger’s new book:

The sukkah, the symbolic ritual home built during the annual Jewish holiday of Sukkot, commemorates the temporary structures that sheltered the Israelites as they journeyed across the desert after the exodus from Egypt. Despite the simple Biblical prescription for its design, the remarkable variety of creative expression in the construction, decoration, and use of the sukkah, in both times of peace and national upheaval, reveals the cultural traditions, political convictions, philosophical ideals, and individual aspirations that the sukkah communicates for its builders and users today.

In this ethnography of contemporary Sukkot observance, Gabrielle Anna Berlinger examines the powerful role of ritual and vernacular architecture in the formation of self and society in three sharply contrasting Jewish communities: Bloomington, Indiana; South Tel Aviv, Israel; and Brooklyn, New York. Through vivid description and in-depth interviews, she demonstrates how constructing and decorating sukkah and performing the weeklong holiday’s rituals of hospitality provide unique circumstances for creative expression, social interaction, and political struggle. Through an exploration of the intersections between the rituals of Sukkot and contemporary issues, such as the global Occupy movement, Berlinger finds that the sukkah becomes a tangible expression of the need for housing and economic justice, as well as a symbol of the longing for home.

As I noted in discussing the edited collection Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds last fall, it is my hope that many readers will purchase a beautiful paper or hardback edition of Framing Sukkot, thereby helping support the work of a great university press. One of the things that makes IU Press great is its commitment to building strategies for free and open access to scholarly writings. The Material Vernaculars series, co-published with the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, is part of that commitment. So, first let me note that you can buy copies of the book from a range of online booksellers, including Amazon and the IU Press itself. Secondly, let me show you where the free digital edition of the book lives. Hopefully by the time Sukkot ends, people around the world will be reading this great new book.

To access the free PDF version, click on the image below or go to this URL

Once you are there, click on the “View/Open” link as shown in the image. Clicking should enable you to download a copy of the book.

Dr. Berlinger is an Assistant Professor of American Studies and Folklore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she is also the Babette S. and Bernard J. Tanenbaum Fellow in Jewish History and Culture within the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies. In addition to the new book, you can find a moving Sukkot-oriented post by Dr. Berlinger on the IU Press blog.

Check out Framing Sukkot!

Don’t Miss the Great Mathers Museum Building Debate


Built in the early 1980s, the Mathers Museum of World Cultures building is an example of Brutalist architecture, a modernist style reviled by some and revered by others. Two Indiana University historians with a research expertise in architecture fall squarely into one camp or the other. Eric Sandweiss, the current chair of the Department of History, and Michael Dodson, the current chair of the Dhar India Studies Program and a faculty member in the Department of History, have agreed to participate in a spirited debate on the relative beauty (or lack thereof) of the Mathers Museum building. In doing so, they will provide general insights into contemporary architecture and the contrasting and competing ways that beauty has been embraced, complicated, or rejected as a criterion for the evaluation and understanding of the built environment. The debate will be free and open to the public, and is sponsored by Themester 2016: Beauty, an initiative of the IU College of Arts and Sciences and the Office of the President.

See also the Themester and Museum events pages for this big event.

Paul E. Buchanan Award from the Vernacular Architecture Forum (Recognizes Great Not-Books and Not-Articles)

Award Committee Chair Nora Pat Small recently noted for me the Paul E. Buchanan Award from the Vernacular Architecture Forum (VAF). What is so cool about this award is that it recognizes outstanding work in vernacular architecture studies that takes one of many forms that are NOT books or articles. Check out the award information page and the list of past winners. Then send your nomination materials to Professor Small at Eastern Illinois University.

Tipi: Heritage of the Great Plains

I am very pleased to note the publication of the exhibition catalog Tipi: Heritage of the Great Plains. This book has been published by the Brooklyn Museum in cooperation with the University of Washington Press on the occasion of an exhibition of the same name that has been organized by the Brooklyn Museum and that will travel to the Autry National Center for the American West in LA and the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. It is a beautiful book on a topic that long been of scholarly and general interest. The project has been organized by and the catalog edited by Nancy B. Rosoff and Suzan Zeller of the Brooklyn Museum. I am taking special notice of the book here because it includes contributions from three of my close friends and collaborators.  Daniel C. Swan and Michael P. Jordan (Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History) have published a chapter titled “Tipis and the Warrior Tradition,” which focused on their collaborative work with Kiowa people and organizations and Christina E. Burke (Philbrook Museum) has published a chapter on “Growing Up on the Plains,” which explores child raising and associated material culture among the Native peoples of the Plains in the context of the tipi as vernacular architecture.

Berlinger’s Chapter in the Collection-Jews at Home

Congratulations to Gabrielle A. Berlinger on the publication of her article “770 Eastern Parkway: The Rebbe’s Home as Icon” in Jews at Home: The Domestication of Identity, volume two in the Jewish Cultural Studies series edited by Simon J. Bronner and published by Littman. The book is beautifully made and carefully edited. Gabi’s article is a fine study of Jewish architecture in a complex context. Find the book on the publisher’s website here.

Jon Kay Wins Warren Roberts Prize

Congratulations to Jon Kay, Director of Traditional Arts Indiana, who has been awarded the Warren Roberts Prize from the Pioneer American Society/Association for the Preservation of Artifacts and Landscapes. Learn more here.

Cashman on the Visual Culture of Northern Ireland

Congratulations to Ray Cashman, who has just published an article in the Journal of Folklore Research (JFR) interpreting the verbal and visual culture of Northern Ireland. JFR is as toll access journal, but I can pass on the abstract and encourage everyone to track the article down in print or behind the pay wall.

Murals, graffiti, flags, and annual commemorative parades are common in urban Northern Ireland where Irish Catholic nationalists and British Protestant unionists use these vernacular forms of custom and material culture to reiterate their differential identities in terms of ethnicity, denomination, and politics. Rural areas, on the other hand, present a very different visual scene with far fewer public visual displays broadcasting political messages and affiliations. Nevertheless, this lack does not necessarily signify that rural dwellers are somehow less politically minded or more peacefully integrated in comparison to their urban counterparts. Moving beyond the visual scene alone, we must pay attention to how rural dwellers contextualize their seemingly unmarked environment through oral legendary and personal narrative. In particular, the oral traditions of one rural, majority-nationalist community in County Tyrone demonstrate significant differences between urban and rural ways of imagining and internalizing the Irish Catholic nationalist cause. Many urban murals, for example, focus outward, gesturing to a secular, cosmopolitan, and international consciousness, while the Tyrone landscape—as contextualized by oral tradition—focuses inward on the local, autochthonous, and sacred. Despite advances in an on-going peace process, this rural, radically emplaced vision of the Irish nationalist cause may well have significant staying power.

Ray Cashman (2008 ) “Visions of Irish Nationalism.” Journal of Folklore Research: An International Journal of Folklore and Ethnomusicology. 45(3):361-381.

Teri Klassen on Depression-Era Quilters and their Uses of Domestic Space

Congratulations to Teri Klassen on the publication of her new paper “How Depression-Era Quiltmakers Constructed Domestic Space: An Interracial Processual Study” in the journal Midwestern Folklore (Klassen 2008). This fine peer-reviewed paper draws upon research reported in her M.A. thesis (Klassen 2007) exploring neglected aspects of the wider social history of quilting in the United States.

Klassen, Teresa Christine

2007 Historical Ethnographies of Quiltmaking. M.A. Thesis, Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, Indiana University.

Klassen, Teri

2008 How Depression-Era Quiltmakers Constructed Domestic Space: An Interracial Processual Study. Midwestern Folklore. 34(2):17-47.

Gabrielle Berlinger Defends M.A. Thesis

Congratulations to Gabrielle Berlinger who completed her M.A. in Folklore in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University today with a very successful oral exam covering her studies in general and her thesis project “Ritual Interpretation: The Sukkah as Jewish Vernacular Architecture” in particular. Her well recieved thesis is an ethnography of Sukkot observance in Bloomington, Indiana, with an emphasis of the physical structures built and used by families and community organizations here. A significant contribution to research on Jewish material culture and to the study of Jewish life in the smaller communities of North America, the study is also a pilot project for future examinations of the topic in other communities elsewhere in the world. Her committee was uniformly pleased with her efforts and I am very proud to have served as her chair. Well done.

Gabrielle Berlinger Wins Essay Prize

Congratulations to Gabrielle Berlinger, who is the co-winner of the student essay prize awarded annually by the Jewish Folklore and Ethnology Section of the American Folklore Society, in collaboration with the Committee on the Anthropology of Jews and Judaism of the American Anthropological Association. A graduate student in the Indiana University Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, Gabi won with her essay “770 Eastern Parkway: Brooklyn Brownstone, Sacred Space.” The paper is part of her larger research project, which seeks to understand the nature and significance of contemporary Jewish architectural practices. According to prize committee chair Simon Bronner: “The committee praised its exploration of an emergent tradition and its construction by a folk group.” The paper, which looks at the worldwide replication of the Brooklyn building that is the headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement, is now slated for publication in the Jewish Cultural Studies book series.

Sharing the 2007 prize with Berlinger is Irit Koren of Bar-Ilan University, whose essay is entitled “The Power of Discourse: Issues of Gender and Social Control Regarding Changing the Jewish Wedding Ritual.”

During AY 2006-2007, Berlinger served as editorial assistant for Museum Anthropology. This semester she is pursuing her own research and coursework with the help of a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship.

The Jewish Folklore and Ethnology Section of the American Folklore Society is devoted to studies of Jewish folklore, folklife, and ethnology. It cooperates with the Committee on the Anthropology of Jews and Judaism of the American Anthropological Association. The Committee for the Anthropology of Jews and Judaism is a committee of the General Anthropology Division of the American Anthropological Association. Its purpose is to promote communication and cooperation among anthropologists interested in the study of Jews and Judaism.

%d bloggers like this: