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Home » News » Professor Paul Niell Developing Caribbean Architecture Digital Humanities Project

Professor Paul Niell Developing Caribbean Architecture Digital Humanities Project

Published December 8, 2016

With the support of a Planning Grant from the Council for Research and Creativity, Professor Paul Niell has spent much of 2016 traveling throughout the Caribbean to develop and promote a new digital humanities project, Caribes: Virtual Research Interface for Caribbean Architecture and Cultural Landscapes. Professor Niell, who specializes in the architecture and culture of the Caribbean, is collaborating on the database project with other FSU faculty and library staff, particularly Prof. Richard Urban of the College of Communications, Visual & Performing Arts Librarian Leah Sherman, and Micah Vandergrift of the Office of Digital Research and Scholarship at Strozier Library. The database will ultimately house digitized historical documents such as plans, maps, drawings, and architectural photographs of now vanished structures. The aim of the project is to provide a tool for researchers to gain quick access to a wide range of architectural artifacts distributed in time and space in the region.

Historical photo of a Puerto Rican house 1898

Coffee picker’s house, Guanaco, Puerto Rico, c.1898

Professor Niell’s travels this year first took him to Puerto Rico in the spring, where he met with the Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), Francisco Rodríguez, along with faculty, library staff, and students. He also met with other important figures in Caribbean architectural education in Puerto Rico, including Jorge Rigau, practicing architect and former Dean of the Polytechnic University in San Juan and Enrique Vivoni, professor of architecture and director of the architectural archive at UPR. While on the island, Niell also consulted with archivists at the General Archives of Puerto Rico and specialists at the Puerto Rican Cultural Institute to assess the state of digital collections and discuss various potential partnerships. In addition, he embarked on an extensive and systematic campaign of architectural photography in such Puerto Rican cities and towns as San Juan, Bayamón, Ponce, Mayagüez, Coamo, Guayama, and San Germán, among others.


Palace of Diego Columbus, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, 1509-10

In the summer, Prof. Niell traveled to the Dominican Republic, where he received extensive source material for Caribbean architecture from practicing architect Gustavo Moré and from the director of the archive of the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo. As in Puerto Rico, Professor Niell used his time to document many buildings and urban spaces in Santo Domingo’s colonial zone. This urban area, built in the early sixteenth century and recognized by UNESCO in 1991 as a World Heritage Site, is the oldest Spanish colonial site in the hemisphere. One of the major structures there is the Palace of Christopher Columbus’s son Diego, which was completed in 1510. Santo Domingo also became the residence of Hernán Cortés for almost eight years before his assault on the mainland empire of the Aztecs.

Culminating his 2016 travels, Niell went to Jamaica in November where he met with Patricia Green, Head of the Caribbean School of Architecture at the University of Technology in Kingston. He also conferred with historian James Robertson of the University of the West Indies, Mona campus, who has written extensively about Jamaican architecture.

Puerto Rico street, 1898

Principle business street of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, c.1898

The project now moves into a building phase in which a prototype is being designed as a template for presentation to potential supporters, such as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Council of Learned Societies. The project team is need of student assistance for dealing with metadata, images, and organization. If you would like to be involved with this up and coming Digital Humanities initiative at FSU, please contact Paul Niell at