Itohan Osayimwese ’97 Awarded New Directions Fellowship

Itohan Osayimwese ’97, an associate professor of the history of art and architecture at Brown University, has been awarded a New Directions Fellowship from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The fellowship, awarded annually to just a dozen U.S. researchers, allows mid-career faculty to pursue studies outside their primary subjects and dig deeper into cross-disciplinary research.

Osayimwese’s current project—Between Barbados and Boston: Histories of Migration and the Built Environment—is focused on the evolution of Barbadian architecture after emancipation as well as the impact of Barbadian emigres on urban landscapes in North America. Archaeological research will be key to analyzing how properties were developed and used over time, she says.

To develop expertise in the theories and methods of historical archaeology, she is using the fellowship funds to pursue coursework at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, intern at a cultural resource management firm, participate in an archaeological project in Barbados, and attend a major Caribbean archaeology conference. 

In the below Q&A, the Growth and Structure of Cities major talks about her research, her undergraduate experience, the impact a Bryn Mawr education has had on her career, and more.

Tell us about your research.

In Barbados, the inequitable structure of plantation society placed more pressure on land than it did elsewhere in the Caribbean and propelled significant migration to North America and the U.K. Remittances transformed the built environment of the island by financing land purchases and the construction of houses that proclaimed their status through style, scale, and materials. Through these land purchases, the black majority of Barbados were able, for the first time, to partake in the intergenerational transfer of land and accumulation of wealth associated with social mobility. 

But emigres also purchased property and built houses in destination cities like Boston and Toronto. These properties are, arguably, as much part of the landscape of Barbadian migration as remittance houses on the island itself. Distinctive Anglo-Caribbean modes of using domestic space and approaches to property ownership are what bridge migration’s transnational geographies. 

Your undergraduate thesis also focused on Barbados. Is there any through line there?

There is certainly a through line. At Bryn Mawr, I became interested in “other” architectural histories and the process of their “othering.” My first effort was my undergraduate thesis on postmodern architecture in Barbados. During my graduate studies, I continued to pursue this interest in so-called non-Western histories but explored other parts of the postcolonial world (South Africa, West and East Africa). In my newest project, I am returning to the Caribbean, which continues to be marginalized in architectural history scholarship.

What was the impact of Bryn Mawr and the Cities program on your professional trajectory?

My Cities background taught me to value interdisciplinary perspectives. My Cities coursework in urban history, urban studies, anthropology, and art history combined with my minor in English at Bryn Mawr shaped my subsequent graduate studies at Rice University School of Architecture, where I wrote a master’s thesis on post-apartheid spatial strategies for overcoming the legacy of apartheid in South Africa. 

I continued to work in an interdisciplinary vein grounded in postcolonial theory in my doctoral studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where I wrote a Ph.D. dissertation on German colonial architecture and urbanism. 

Finally, my undergraduate mentors at Bryn Mawr, Gary McDonogh and Barbara Miller Lane, continue to inspire and actively support my work.