Dr. Paul Niell specializes in Spanish Colonial art, architecture and visual culture, c. 1500-1840, and the material culture of the African Diaspora with an emphasis on the Caribbean region. His theoretical and methodological interests include material culture studies, decolonial theory, sensory theory, vernacular architectural history, cultural landscape studies, and heritage studies. He teaches courses in the art history department’s Visual Cultures of the Americas program.
On the revival, multiple uses, and multivalence of the Greco-Roman classical tradition in late colonial and early national Latin American contexts, he is co-editor of Buen Gusto and Classicism in the Visual Cultures of Latin America, 1790-1910. This anthology presents a revisionist view of 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 as not only an aesthetic reference, 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 and considers the commemoration of Havana’s foundational site in the late colonial period through the lens of heritage studies. According to national legend, the Spanish conquistadors founded Havana, Cuba, under the shade of a ceiba tree whose branches 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 new perspectives in heritage studies, this book investigates how late colonial Cuban 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. In addition, Prof. Niell demonstrates how these commemorative works drew upon cultural landscape elements of the African Diaspora in Cuba.
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 is 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. Prof. Niell is currently collaborating with University Libraries at FSU to design a digital database for the documentation and study of Caribbean architectural history, a project named Caribes: A Digital Database and Virtual Research Interface for the Study of Caribbean Architecture and Cultural Landscapes.
Dr. Niell is currently at work on a new project examining domestic architecture, colonial society, and material culture in nineteenth-century Puerto Rico. This research has been funded by multiple internal grants at FSU as well as the American Philosophical Society. In support of this project, he is planning a vernacular architectural history field school and study abroad to Puerto Rico in summer 2019.
• 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