Abigail Balbale of Bard Graduate Center introduces the Objects and Power: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Medieval Islamic Material Culture Symposium on Friday, April 11, 2014.

In the medieval Islamic world, as elsewhere, objects could both reflect and help constitute leaders’ conceptions of power. Yet Islamic material culture and its political implications have traditionally been studied in distinct ways in different fields, and are rarely discussed in comparative ways. This symposium will bring together several of the leading scholars of Islamic material culture from around the world for a series of interdisciplinary conversations about the relationships between people in power and the objects they produced, commissioned or collected. These objects, ranging from coins to textiles to portable luxury goods and religious relics, presented rulers’ visions of righteous authority to their courts, subjects and rivals. Objects could link rulers to past dynasties or to other contemporary figures. As they moved through time and space, often by diplomatic exchange or by diffusion into other segments of society, objects accrued new meanings and powers. This symposium will bring together art historians, archaeologists, historians and scholars of Islamic studies to historicize objects that played important roles in the construction of power in medieval Islam.


Peter N. Miller
Dean and Professor, Bard Graduate Center

Abigail Krasner Balbale
Bard Graduate Center

Mariam Rosser-Owen
Asian Department (Middle East), Victoria & Albert Museum
“Artistic Patronage and Political Legitimacy: The Case of the ‘Āmirid Regents of al-Andalus, c. 970-1010”

Jochen Sokoly
Art History and Gallery Director, Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar
“The Blessed Robe: Caliphal Benevolence at the Fatimid Court”

Coffee Break

Stefan Heidemann
Islamic Studies, Universität Hamburg
“Images of Power: Currency of Fame and Currency of Daily Use”

Lunch Break

Timothy Insoll
Archaeology, University of Manchester
“Objects and Power in the Archaeology of Sub-Saharan African Islam”

Coffee Break

Panel Discussion: Texts as Objects, Objects as Texts

Roy Mottahedeh, History, Harvard University

Abigail Krasner Balbale
Bard Graduate Center

Tamer el-Leithy
Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies, New York University

Finbarr B. Flood
Institute of Fine Arts and Department of Art History, New York University

Chase Robinson
Interim President and Distinguished Professor of History, City University of New York Graduate Center


This symposium is made possible by Seran and Ravi Trehan.

The symposium is free. It will take place at the Lecture Hall at 38 West 86th Street, between Columbus Avenue & Central Park West, in New York City.

RSVP is required.

Please note that our Lecture Hall can only accommodate a limited number of people, so please come early if you would like to have a seat in the main room. Registrants who arrive late may be seated in an overflow viewing area.

To live-stream this and other special academic events at the BGC, please visit BGCTV, our online live-streaming channel.

To join the discussion remotely via Twitter, either with questions or comments, please use the Twitter hashtag #BardGradCenterTV. During the symposium, the faculty convener will review this feed and ask the speakers questions drawn from Twitter.