Dr. Paul Niell spent five weeks this summer as an invited researcher of the Institut national d’histoire de l’art (INHA) in Paris, France. He was part of the research program “Paradis perdus: colonisation des paysages et destruction des éco-anthroposystèmes” [“Paradise Lost: Colonization of Landscapes and Destruction of Eco-Anthroposystems”]. Dr. Niell’s research focused on the work of French naturalist Auguste Plée (1787-1825), who traveled to Puerto Rico in the early 1820s and produced a range of drawings of the island’s architecture and urban landscapes, providing historians with an important document of the period. Niell conducted research in the library of the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Richelieu), and the Archives Nationales at Pierrefitte-sur-Seine, among other collections. He also spent much time in the art history library of the INHA, the largest such library in the country, and is now working with library staff to develop their collection in Colonial Latin American and Caribbean art and architectural history.
While in France, Dr. Niell also presented a paper on his research at the annual Festival de l’Histoire de l’art held at the Château de Fontainebleau, a palace southeast of Paris that was occupied and developed by the French monarchy from 12th to the 19th century. At the University of Tours, Niell was able to meet with Capucine Monfort, a doctoral student that he co-advises. Montfort is writing a dissertation on the Academy of San Alejandro, an institution that opened in Havana, Cuba in 1818. In addition, five weeks in Paris afforded Dr. Niell access to many architectural sites, urban landscapes, and monuments of great interest and relevance to historians of the Ibero-American city. Parisian ideals of Beaux-Artes city design were adapted by engineers and architects in such cities as Havana, Mexico City, and Buenos Aires.
Dr. Niell is currently co-editing a special issue of the journal Arts with his former doctoral student, Emily Thames, titled “Black Artists in the Atlantic World.” Arts is an open access journal of MDPI, and the issue has been partially published, with more contributions on the way.
Niell has also submitted an edited volume for publication with Routledge titled Architecture and Extraction in the Atlantic World, 1500-1850, co-edited with Luis Gordo Peláez of CSU Fresno, and he is working on an edited volume with Stella Nair of UCLA from the Forgotten Canopy series of conferences last year at the Clark Memorial Library in Los Angeles.
Right: The 19th-century Galerie Vivienne, site of the Institut national d’Histoire de l’art. Paris, France. June 2023. Above: Conference room at the Festival d’Histoire de l’art. La chapelle de la Trinité, Château de Fontainebleau, France, early 17th century. Photos by P. Niell.