Prof. John Haskins' Slide Collection

Department of Art History
University of Pittsburgh

This project is partly sponsored by the University Center for International Studies and the Russia and East European Studies Program at University of Pittsburgh. The project includes two parts: one is this web site which contains over 150 slide images, another is digitized slide images which are currently stored in the Fine Arts Server of the Department of the History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh. All the contents are for teaching and research purpose only, copyright reserved.

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John F. Haskins, Professor Emeritus, died on December 20, 1991. He joined the Faculty at the University in 1964, following five years at Columbia University. He retired from Pitt in 1987. He was internationally known for his research in the ancient art of Central and Eastern Asia. His studies focused primarily on the arts of nomadic peoples living between China in the east and the Caspian Sea in the West. Under his professional spell the ancient nomads of the Asian Steppes came alive. He understood their languages, their cultures and their lifestyles.

A member of five learned societies and a frequent lecturer at professional meetings, he conducted his research with the aid of two Guggeneim fellowships and others from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Council for Learned Societies. As a scholar, John was a true pioneer. The field of Central Asian art and archaeology had barely hatched when he began graduate work at the Institute of Fine Arts (NYU) in 1948. He became a student of the great Hungarian scholar, Alfred Salmony, who was the first to bring the art of the nomads to western audiences.

John was not content to catalogue and arrange materials from existing collections, but instead decided to tackle newly excavated materials at a then little-known site called Pazyryk, and in unprecedented fashion, he insisted on going to see them. This was in 1958--imagine the dismay of the Soviet officials when they found him, without official consent, riding into these sites on a range pony! This kind of unexpected, unauthorized behaviour characterized his scholarship--he chose unchosen topics, he read neglected texts (in 13 languages), he asked unasked questions and came up with unexpected interpretations. Who were the royal occupants of these tombs at Pazyryk? He told his students that they were the ancient yueh-chih mentioned by Chinese historians and, inceasingly, current archaeological evidence supports his thesis against a myriad of others.

In order to do this research, he had to read all the languages along the routes of Central Asian migration, as well as those of the authers and excavators who worked in these areas; he traced the movement of images and the etymology of tribal names across the geographical expanse. Who were the Huns, the Avars, the Celts? The Celts were a people, a celt is a tool, he frequently reminded his students. What did the Chinese say about these horse riding barbarians, the yueh-chih? Were these the massagate who so fascinated Herodotus? Haskins thought that they were the same people.

During his tenure at the University of Pittsburgh, John Haskins taught 27 different courses and directed seven dissertations, but the staple of his diet were his two courses on the art of the migrations. The impact of his work is international. He is twice revered in China: first, for his role as a Flying Tiger, who defended the Chinese from outside invasion in the Second World War, and the second, for writing on questions having to do with the Chinese's own ancient history. In 1963, John published an article on a Chinese site called Shih-chia-shan (Stone Fortress Hill), in Yunnan Province in southwest China, where he was stationed during the War. This article drew a connection between the early inhabitants of Yunnan and the nomads--and it was among the first assigned to Chinese students of archaeology after the Cultural Revolution and the lifting of the ban on western scholarship.

It was John Haskins' research model which shaped the conference sponsored by the Fine Arts Department in April 1991, on the Chinese and their northern neighbors. Assembled were scholars from diverse backgrounds--archaeology, anthropology, art history, linguistics, and history--and diverse nationalities--the Soviet Union, the United States, Canada, Japan, The People's Republic of China, Taiwan, Germany, and England. John, of course, gave a paper. Many attendees were his old pals, some were his old adversaries, many were his students, some were the next generation of scholars from China and the USSR. The work which went on at the conference was in itself a tribute to his contribution to the field, and th volume of essays produced by those discussions will be dedicated to his memory.

John Haskins was a rare person in the United States who taught this material from Central Asia at the graduate level after the death of A. Salmony in the late 1950's. The holdings in our library on this material are available together are in few other libraries. The gift of his personal library and papers to the University will even more deeply bind the study of nomadic material to the University of Pittsburgh, and a set of new titles on Chinese art and archaeology will be assembled by the Fine Art Library in his memory. These gifts ensure that others will follow the scholarly interests which engaged John for so many years. (K. Linduff)

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