Nancy Um is professor of art history at Binghamton University. She received her MA and PhD in art history from UCLA. Her research explores the Islamic world from the perspective of the coast, with a focus on material, visual, and built culture on the Arabian Peninsula and around the rims of the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. Her first book The Merchant Houses of Mocha: Trade and Architecture in an Indian Ocean Port (University of Washington Press, 2009) relies upon a cross-section of visual, architectural, and textual sources to present the early modern coastal city of Mocha as a space that was nested within wider world networks, structured to communicate with far-flung ports and cities across a vast matrix of exchange. Her second book, Shipped but not Sold: Material Culture and the Social Order of Trade during Yemen’s Age of Coffee (University of Hawai’i Press, 2017), explores the material practices and informal social protocols that undergirded the overseas trade in 18th C Yemen. Her articles have appeared in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, African Arts, Northeast African Studies, Journal of Early Modern History, Genre: Forms of Discourse and Culture, Art History, and Getty Research Journal. She has received research fellowships from the Fulbright program, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Getty Foundation, and the American Institute for Yemeni Studies.


BA Wellesley College



Shipped but Not Sold: Material Culture and the Social Protocols of Trade during Yemen’s Age of Coffee, Perspectives on the Global Past Series. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2017.

The Merchant Houses of Mocha: Trade and Architecture in an Indian Ocean Port, Donald R. Ellegood International Publications. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009.

Edited Volumes:

Guest Editor with Anne Regourd. “From Mountain to Mountain: Exchange between Yemen and Ethiopia, Medieval to Modern.” Chroniques du manuscrit au Yémen, Special Issue 1 (Installment 1: 2017, Installment 2: 2018, Installment 3: forthcoming).

Guest Editor with Carrie Anderson. “Coordinates: Digital Mapping and Eighteenth-century Visual, Material, and Built Cultures.” Journal18: a journal of eighteenth-century art and culture 5 (Spring 2018).

Guest Editor with Leah R. Clark. “The Art of Embassy: Objects and Images of Early Modern Diplomacy.” A special issue of the Journal of Early Modern History 20:1 (2016).

Selected Articles:

“Nested Containers for Maritime Journeys: Aromatic Gifts around the Late-Seventeenth- and Early-Eighteenth-Century Indian Ocean,”West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture 25:2 (Fall-Winter 2018): 199-223.

“The Many Narratives of the kiti cha enzi: Unresolved Strands of Dispersal and Meaning around the Indian Ocean.” In World on the Horizon: Swahili Arts across the Indian Ocean. Exh. Cat. Ed. Prita Meier and Allyson Purpura, 146-162. Urbana: Krannert Art Museum/Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2018.

“Aromatics, Stimulants, and their Vessels: The Material Culture and Rites of Merchant Interaction in 18th-century Mocha.” In On Art and Exchange in the Islamicate World during the 17th and 18th Centuries. Ed. by Sussan Babaie and Melanie Gibson, 56-67. London: Gingko Library, 2017.

“Mocha: Maritime Architecture on Yemen’s Red Sea Coast.” In ‘Architecture That Fills My Eye’: The Building Heritage of Yemen. Exh. Cat. Ed. Trevor H.J. Marchand, 60-69. London: Gingko Library, 2017.

“Chairs, Writing Tables, and Chests: Indian Ocean Furniture and the Postures of Commercial Documentation in Yemen, 1700-1750.” In Objects in Motion in the Early Modern World. Ed. D. Bleichmar and M. Martin, 122-35. London: Wiley Blackwell, 2016.

With Leah Clark, “The Art of Embassy: Situating Objects and Images in the Early Modern Diplomatic Encounter.” In “The Art of Embassy: Objects and Images of Early Modern Diplomacy,” ed. N. Um and L. R. Clark, a special issue of Journal of Early Modern History 20:1 (2016): 3-18.

“Bridging the Mediterranean and Gujarat with the Turn of a Page: Picturing the Dimensions of Maritime Travel in an Extra-Illustrated Nineteenth-Century Book about India.” Getty Research Journal 8 (2016): 239-46.

“Foreign Doctors at the Imam’s Court: Medical Diplomacy in Yemen’s Coffee Era.” In “Transcultural Networks in the Indian Ocean, 16th-18th centuries: Europeans and Indian Ocean Societies in Interaction.” Ed. Su Fang Ng, a special issue of Genre: Forms of Discourse and Culture 48:2 (July 2015): 261-88.

“1636 and 1726: Yemen after the First Ottoman Era.” In Asia Inside Out: Changing Times, vol. 1. Ed. E. Tagliacozzo, H. Siu, and P. Purdue, 112-34. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015.

“Order in the ‘Arbitrary’: The Distribution, Content, and Temporal Cycles of English Merchant Tribute in Eighteenth-Century Yemen.” Journal of Early Modern History 18:3 (2014): 227-53.

“Reflections on the Red Sea Style: Beyond the Surface of Coastal Architecture.” Northeast African Studies 12:1 (2012): 243-71.

“Greenlaw’s Suakin: The Limits of Architectural Representation and the Continuing Lives of Buildings in Coastal Sudan.” African Arts 44:4 (Winter 2011): 36-51.

“From the Port of Mocha to the Eighteenth-Century Tomb of Imam al-Mahdi Muhammad in al-Mawahib: Locating Architectural Icons and Migratory Craftsmen.” Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 41 (2011): 387-400.

“Spatial Negotiations in a Commercial City: The Red Sea Port of Mocha, Yemen during the First Half of the Eighteenth Century.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 62:2 (June 2003): 178-93.


College Art Association
Middle East Studies Association
HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory)

Nancy Um

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