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profile-picBarbara Abou-El-Haj

Associate Professor Emeritus
(only working with current students, not accepting new applications) 


Barbara Abou-El-Haj recently retired from the Department of Art History after nearly thirty years of service to the University in which an entire generation of students passed through her lectures and seminars and in which her teaching and research added immeasurably to the national and international visibility of the program. Professor Abou-El-Haj came to Binghamton from UCLA, where she completed her doctorate working with the renowned historian of medieval and modern art, Karl Werckmeister. The dissertation she wrote under Werckmeister’s supervision became her 1994 book, The Medieval Cult of Saints: Formations and Transformations, which exposed the fierce competition between cults that characterized the political struggle to preserve property and privilege, especially in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. There were also path-breaking articles on Bury St. Edmunds Abbey, Santiago de Compostela, and Reims and its cathedral that appeared in leading publications such as Art History, The Art Bulletin, and Gesta and extended her examination of feudal conflicts, art production, building programs and the suppression of social dissent. These writings decisively shifted the field of medieval art history away from its long established comfort zone of ritual, liturgy and the sumptuous expression of spirituality. The summation of her radical revisionist perspective will be her book, Lordship and Commune: A Comparative Study of Building in Reims and Amiens, long in preparation and currently nearing completion. Exacting in its reading of the historiography, scrupulous in its use of primary sources, and trenchantly committed in its analyses, Barbara’s work keeps alive a tradition of the social history of art in the United States that traces its origins back to the 1930s but burst into life again in the 1970s when Barbara was a doctoral student grappling with the challenges of graduate study and the care of her two daughters, Marriam and Sarra. Active as she was in CEMERS as well as the Fernand Braudel Center, Barbara’s departure from Binghamton leaves a big hole in the heart of the department and in the global reach of our program. We wish her a happy, healthy and no doubt hard-working retirement in Plymouth, Massachusetts, where she has recently moved with her husband, Rifa’at Abou-El-Haj.


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Last Updated: 11/3/14