Dr. Paul Niell focuses on the art, architecture, and material culture of the Hispanophone Caribbean in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He is interested in a wide range of critical and theoretical literatures, including colonial theory, material culture theory, cultural landscape studies, and critical heritage studies. He teaches courses on African Diaspora art, Spanish Colonial art, and Caribbean architecture in the department’s Visual Cultures of the Americas program.
On the revival, use, and reception of Greco-Roman classicism in late colonial and early national Latin America, he is co-editor with Dr. Stacie G. Widdifield of Buen Gusto and Classicism in the Visual Cultures of Latin America, 1790-1910, published by the University of New Mexico Press in 2013. This revisionist anthology approaches the neoclassical phenomenon in the art and architecture of this period by examining the discourse of buen gusto (good taste) in societies from New Spain/Mexico and the Caribbean to South America. In these various global settings, good taste appears not only as an aesthetic reference, but also an imperial/national modality for shaping perception and a socio-cultural dynamic of self-creation.rence, but also a modality for shaping perception and a socio-cultural dynamic of self-creation.
His single-authored book, Urban Space as Heritage in Late Colonial Cuba: Classicism and Dissonance on the Plaza de Armas of Havana, 1754-1828, was published by the University of Texas Press in May 2015. This work considers the commemoration of Havana’s foundational site in the late colonial period through the lens of critical heritage studies. According to national legend, the Spanish conquistadors founded Havana, Cuba, under the shade of a ceiba tree whose branches, according to local tradition, sheltered the island’s first Catholic mass and meeting of the town council (cabildo) in 1519. The founding site was first memorialized in 1754 by the erection of a baroque monument in Havana’s central Plaza de Armas, which was reconfigured in 1828 by the addition of a neoclassical work, El Templete. Viewing the transformation of the Plaza de Armas through a critical heritage framework, this book investigates how Cuban colonial society utilized this foundational narrative to valorize a range of seemingly conflicting claims to the site. The monuments appear to reify Spanish imperial sovereignty in Cuba as they simultaneously could be said to underpin a local sense of place and cultural authenticity, civic achievement, and social order. The works also operated to disinherit non-Spanish populations including those of African descent, including free blacks and those enslaved laborers exploited in the plantation complex.
His other publications and projects include “Architecture of Colonizers/Architecture of Immigrants: The Gothic in Latin America from the 16th to the 20th Centuries,” a 2015 special edition of the journal, postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies, co-edited with Richard A. Sundt of the University of Oregon that offers the first comprehensive treatment of the appropriation of European Gothic style in Latin America. He was co-curator with Lesley A. Wolff and Michael D. Carrasco of the exhibition Decolonizing Refinement: Contemporary Pursuits in the Art of Edouard Duval-Carrié (Museum of Fine Arts, Florida State University, February 16-April 1, 2018), a groundbreaking exhibition at FSU that set the work of renowned Haitian artist, Edouard Duval-Carrié into dialogue with the material culture of the southeastern United States. He is currently collaborating with Dr. Luis Gordo-Pelaez of CSU Fresno in co-editing the volume, Architectures of Extraction in the Atlantic World.
Professor Niell is co-organizing three conferences for the 2022/2023 core program of the Center for 17th and 18th Century Studies of the Clark Library at the University of California, Los Angeles, in collaboration with Dr. Stella Nair of UCLA, titled, “The Forgotten Canopy: Ecology, Ephemeral Architecture, and Imperialism in the Caribbean, South American, and Transatlantic Worlds.” This conference series will bring together scholars from a wide range of humanities disciplines as well as Indigenous Knowledge Bearers to examine the under investigated histories of ephemeral architecture and their relationships to human-environmental development and imperial processes post-1492. This project arises, in part, from the topic of Dr. Niell’s second single-authored book project, Bohíos at the Urban Edge: Ephemeral Architecture and Empire in the Hispanophone Caribbean, for which he has received the support of the Council for Research and Creativity at FSU, the American Philosophical Society, the Carl and Marilynn Thoma Foundation, and the Society of Architectural Historians.
Jennifer Baez, “Painting the Miracles of Altagracia: Art, Piety, and Memory in Hispaniola.”
Emily Thames, “Empire, Race, and Agency in the Work of José Campeche, Artist and Subject in Late Spanish Colonial Puerto Rico (1751-1809).”
• Plantation Architecture and Landscapes of Florida and Beyond
• Art and Nationalism in Latin America
• Caribbean Architecture and Material Culture
• Spanish American Baroque/Architecture and Space
• Visual Cultures in Early Spanish America/Transculturation
• Visual Cultures of the African Diaspora
• Spanish Caribbean Architecture and Cultural Landscapes
• Spanish Colonial Art: The Habsburg Period, 1492/1506-1700
• Spanish Colonial Art: The Bourbon Period, 1700-1821/1898
• Visual Cultures of the African Diaspora
• Undergraduate Seminar: Buen Gusto and Classicism in Latin America
• Undergraduate Seminar: Architecture, Landscape, and Environment in the Modern Caribbean