Mar 08
1310 Sterling Hall

Steve Houston

Dupee Family Professor of Social Science, Director of Early Cultures, Brown University
Resizing Reality: Scale and Sumptuary Privilege among the Classic Maya

Making something large or small confers practical and symbolic benefits. It enhances (or reduces) visibility; it makes grand (or diffident) claims about an image, text or object; and it instates (or deflates) social privilege. Scale and size distinguish those trying to control such properties. This talk considers the sumptuary codes and scale orientations of the Classic Maya, a set of literate peoples living in and around the Yucatan peninsula over a thousand years ago. Recently deciphered texts reveal much of their courtly world, as probed here through text size and placement, god effigies, mortuary panels, and carved lintels. Where nobles strive, where kings regulate, subtleties ensue, and visual tensions inflame.

Stephen Houston, Dupee Family Professor of Social Sciences, Brown University, specializes in Classic Maya civilization, writing systems, and indigenous representation. He has been a major participant in the decipherment of Maya script. The co-founder of Ancient Mesomerica, a leading journal in the field, Houston is also the author of, among other publications, The Temple of the Night Sun, The Maya (with Michael Coe), and The Life Within: Classic Maya and the Matter of Permanence, winner of a PROSE Award in 2014. He co-curated a show, Fiery Pool: The Maya and the Mythic Sea, exhibited at the Peabody–Essex Museum, the Kimbell, and the St. Louis Museum of Fine Arts. Houston has received a MacArthur Fellowship, along with fellowships and grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Science Foundation, Dumbarton Oaks, the Clark Art Institute, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2011, the President of Guatemala honored him with the Grand Cross of the Order of the Quetzal, that country's highest distinction, and, in 2013, the Peabody Museum, Harvard University conferred the Tatiana Proskouriakoff Award. In 2015, Houston held an Ailsa Mellon Bruce Senior Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art. His current projects concern the central role of young men in Classic Maya text and image, now out as The Gifted Passage, from Yale University Press, the lives and roles of Maya sculptors, the study of LiDAR imaging from the Maya region, and reports on two large-scale excavations, at the dynastic center of Piedras Negras, and at El Zotz, Guatemala.

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