Conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe Class of 1992.
Hosted by Will Bachman.

Episode: 27

Kerry Dean Carso, Professor of Art History

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Show notes

After completing a B.A. in English and American Literature and Language at Harvard, Kerry Dean Carso earned her M.A. in American Studies at Boston University where she also finished a Ph.D in American Studies. Kerry pursued a career in teaching and is now a professor and the Chair in the Art History department at SUNY, New Paltz, NY.

Key points include:

  • 05:03: Architectural history as her major field
  • 24:45: Historical follies discovered
  • 38:20: Influential professors at Harvard

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Kerry Carso, Will Bachman


Will Bachman  00:01

Hello, and welcome to the 90 T report conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe class of 1992. I’m your host will Bachman and I’m here today with Carrie Dean carso, who you might have known in college as Carrie Dean. Carrie, welcome to the show. Thanks for having me. Well, so let’s start by telling me about your journey since Harvard.


Kerry Carso  00:25

Well, after we graduated, I didn’t go very far. I became a proctor. So I was a freshman proctor for three years. And I lived in Strauss. And I loved it was great. And while I was doing that, I was directing the prefect program. I don’t know if you remember the prefect program. I think it’s defunct now. But I did that. And then I also had a job first at Radcliffe College, in their development office. And then I went over to Harvard and worked in in development there, and then back to Rackleff. So for three years, I was doing that sort of as my professional job, and also living in Strauss and advising students, and I loved it. But I really wanted to go to graduate school. So I ended up going to Boston University. And while I was at BU, because I had that experience as a proctor, I was able to become a senior resident assistant while I was doing my MA and PhD in American Studies at Boston University. So I lived there for four years in a dorm with students. And I also love that I really enjoyed it. You can see a theme here that I did not want to leave college, because I loved it so much. So of those three states. So I’ve been in New Paltz now for 17 years, and Professor of Art History. I’ve been chair of my department a couple of times, and just finishing a short chart term as chair at the end of this month. And I really, I love it. One of the great things for me is that I’m an Americanist. And one thing I’m really interested in is the art of the Hudson Valley. And so I get to teach a course with that very name, the art of the Hudson Valley. And a lot of my research research has to do with New York state, New York City. So I’m going like this. It’s kind of like the dream job, the ideal job for what I can offer in the way scholarship. And I’ve written a couple of books. And also just being having access to the resources that I need. And also I just, I love the area. And I have great students and colleagues. So I feel like I won the lottery, you know, it’s hard to get an academic job. And I knew that when I applied to graduate school, everyone was telling me back in the early 90s, you know, you had you have to have a plan B because you might not eventually get the, you know, the tenure track job. So the fact that I have one, I’m a full professor. Now my husband is also a professor. We just feel really lucky that we can live under the same roof. We have a family of two kids, two boys. So that’s what I’ve been doing since college. It’s been great. I’m really really happy.


Will Bachman  04:49

A lot to explore there. So, first, let’s go back and tell me about what was your research For your PhD, what did you focus on?


Kerry Carso  05:03

Well, I was doing an interdisciplinary PhD. So the it’s an it was an American Studies. So in American Studies, you have to specialize in a major field. And then in my program that you have to do to minor fields. So I went in thinking I was going to do literature, because I was an English major at Harvard. And but I knew I wanted to do interdisciplinary stuff. But I went in thinking I do literature, but when I got to be you, the director of the American Studies program, said to me, I had gotten some funding for the, for the fellowship, and he said, you know, in your second year, you’re going to start teaching or to be a teaching fellow. And, you know, we really need you to be an art history, not literature. And I thought, Okay, well, I was planning to do interdisciplinary work with literature and architecture and painting. But teaching art history was not what I had that, imagine that I would be doing that. So I basically that first year, I loaded up on art history courses, so that I could, you know, learn as much as I could. And I became a teaching fellow in history in my second year. And at that point, I really started to get interested, especially in architectural history. And so I had taken a class with a professor, his name is Keith Morgan. And I really loved him, I loved what he was teaching. And I really, I really enjoyed his class. So I approached him and I said, instead of doing literature as my major field in American Studies, can I do architectural history? And he said, Oh, well, you’re gonna have some catching up to do. And you have to work harder. And it’s like, you know, tell me to work harder. So problem there. So I did that. And I switched and did architectural history as my major field. And then I did literature as a minor field, and also another art history field that was more about painting as my other field. So that was what I was studying at BU, and what a great place to study art history and architectural history. I ended up teaching my first courses on my own in the BU summer school, but then also at Harvard. So I went back to Harvard and taught in the Harvard summer school for two summers when I was in graduate school. And the course I taught was the architecture of Boston. And it was, I mean, it was just a great class, I also taught a similar class at BU. And I felt like in graduate school, that was my little cottage industry was going around to different schools and teaching the architecture of Boston I taught a similar course at Simmons, and I was a teaching assistant at Brandeis for the course. So it was great at Harvard, though, in particular, because the the class net and the Sackler Museum, and so it was, you know, one day we would be in the classroom. And then for every one day we were in the classroom, we’d be outside doing a walking tours, either of Harvard or of Boston. And so that’s the perfect way to study architectural history. It’s like if you went to Florence, to study the Renaissance, you would be out there walking on the city and going to museums. And so those were great experiential courses that I got to teach. And I was so thrilled to be back at Harvard, again, to teach those courses. And I just did that for two summers. But that kind of launched me in the field of art history, it field of art history as an architectural historian.


Will Bachman  08:33

That sounds what an amazing course walking tours for. So a lot of people on this podcast have mentioned one of their favorite professors at Harvard was John stilgoe, who of course, talks about the vernacular built landscape, common landscape, when in the architectural history of Boston that you taught, to what degree was it focused on the sort of elite kind of architectural gyms that you know, are in the guidebooks or the the everyday humdrum kind of architecture that’s often maybe ignored? Like, give us a bit of the flavor of some of the things that you taught in your architecture Boston course?


Kerry Carso  09:17

Well, I really do both. You know, there are really two kinds of architectural historians that it’s always not a neat divide. But there are the high style, people who study the famous, famous named architects, and then the people who are doing vernacular architecture, everyday architecture, and material culture studies. When I went to bu bu American Studies is very strong in both areas, and there. They have a preservation studies program to be you. And so great scholars and teachers working in the field of vernacular architecture, as well as the high style stuff. So I always did both because I was trained in both areas. So we were learning about Charles Bulfinch, the very well known American early American architect. But also we were looking at you know, earlier than Bulfinch, you know, all these first period, houses in New England that you know, the saltbox house, the clapboard houses of the 17th and early 18th century. So that is more vernacular architecture. So I guess I was doing both it probably that particular class was probably a little more skewed to high style architecture. But, you know, is everything, everything, and that’s the great thing about these classes that when I first took an architectural straight up architectural history class, it was like it turned, it lit my brain on fire, I mean, I would walk through the city and be able to identify styles, and periods and understand where a building came from kind of in the historical continuum, and I had never been able to do that before, or had never even thought to think that that was important. We all spend our lives and buildings, but we often don’t think about that, or wonder why does it look the way it does? Or why is it situated to where, where it is, or all those kinds of questions. And so when I first started, started studying it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, it was really exciting to me. Because I had never, I had never thought about it before. And now when a student comes to me at the end of one of my architectural history classes and says, I can’t go to New York and walk around anymore without just analyzing everything and telling my friends about everything. And the same is true when they go to museums, you know, now they can walk and take one of my classes, and they walk into the met in New York, and they can recognize, oh, this is Italian Baroque, this is an Italian Baroque painting, that and I get really excited about it, that is very fulfilling for me as a teacher. Because I think it’s important, you know, it’s it’s important to know what’s around you and to be aware of it. And it’s also fun. So I always say to my students, art history is fun, and it should be fun. Because it’s, you know, it’s, it’s just kind of inherently something I think that you can all enjoy and appreciate and experience together.


Will Bachman  12:16

Now, when I was at Harvard, I wanted to take a course in architecture, but could never fit it into my schedule. And always feel a mist kind of feel that there’s a been a gap there. For someone who is, would like to have that kind of insight that your students have of how to walk around a city and identify styles. What would you say is would you recommend any particular books or walking tours or approach or or website or guidebooks of how could someone start getting that if they wanted to start three decades late?


Kerry Carso  12:51

That’s a good question. Because I don’t really know that much about resources like that. Only because I teach it. So I guess number one, if you can find a course online, that you could take or audit a class at your local University, if you wanted to get the foundational stuff like you take an intro course, you could probably do that anywhere. I know, at our school, we have people from the community who audit art history classes pretty regularly. And some of them, you know, they come back again, and again. And again, they might as well be getting a second BA, by the time they’re done, they take all of our classes. So that would be one way to do it. We also have a Lifetime Learning Institute at our school, where faculty will teach in various subjects, and it’s for senior citizens. So that would be a way to do it. And then I’m sure every city has various podcasts and guides that you could use, I have a former student who does this in, in Rhode Island, and like Providence, and Newport. And she She’s a professional tour guide, she has worked for tour companies, but she started her own business, taking people around. So I think I mean, you could always do the online thing, take a class, but I think the best way to experience it is in person. So if you can find a guided tour of the city with someone knowledgeable, that is really the way to go. Because then you’re seeing especially with architecture, because it’s three dimensional and you can move through it. It’s not the same as looking at it you know reproduction of a painting and you should always look at paintings in person too. But with architecture it’s kind of really fundamental that you get in see the building in person and try to go inside. So I would say if you have if you can if you go to a new city and you can find a walking tour with with someone who knows the city really well that would be the ideal way I think to study urban architecture and that way. All right.


Will Bachman  14:45

So you at the you they they say oh, teach art histories or architecture, listen to the bone up on it, and then you end up doing architectural history. Tell us about you know, keep keep Keep going with that story. Sounds like you landed at a place where you’re focused on the Hudson School of Art bring us forward in the in the path.


Kerry Carso  15:11

Well, the great thing about being in New Paltz is because it is like, you know, like I said, I’m a teacher or the Hudson Valley and I would say to my students, if you are taking a class in Florence, Italy, you wouldn’t just stay in the classroom, you would go to View feet, see and go to various museums and Florence. And so we do some field trips and are able to go like in New Paltz. I don’t know, if you’re familiar with there’s a site historic site called his historic Huguenot Street. And it’s, they call themselves the oldest street in America. But it’s a street where Huguenots came to settle in the Dutch colony of New York, which later became an English colony and the architecture survive. So we always go there. I was taking my students there. We have a museum on campus, the Dorsky Museum, so I take them there. And we used to do other field trips to places around the Hudson Valley. So that’s something that like I said, it’s important we take bus trips to New York every semester except during COVID. But normally we would the whole department does that. And so the great thing about being in New Paltz, like I said, is that it dovetails with, with the research that I’m doing, so I’ve written two books. I first got your books. Yeah, yeah. My first book was called American Gothic art and architecture in the age of Romantic literature. And it was about the influence of Gothic literature, especially Gothic, not British gothic novels on American architects and painters and artists in general, in the 19th century. And so that actually came out of my, my undergraduate thesis if you can believe such a thing. But back when I was in college, and I was an English major, I took my my junior tutorial with a woman named Carol endeavour who was a graduate student in English Department. And she worked going to do detective fiction, because that’s what I was interested in. And she said, Well, you gotta read some gothic novels. And I read a novel called The mysteries of Udolpho, which is by Anne Radcliffe. It’s a late 18th century novel. It’s really long. And I loved it so much, it was all about, you know, this kind of damsel in distress. This young woman who was imprisoned in this castle, and it was all made up, but it’s sort of a pseudo pseudo medieval castle. And what interested me was really architectural spaces. And these mysterious spaces where these unexpected things could happen, ghosts could appear. And so I was really drawn to the architecture and that’s what led me to go to BU and do interdisciplinary work because I was interested in literature and architecture. So when I was at BU, I was kind of, you know, I done a lot of British gothic literature as a as a an undergraduate. My thesis was about architectural space and gothic novels. And so when I got to BU, I wanted to do something like that. But I was in American study, so I was no longer doing the British stuff. But I found a way to take what I knew about the British gothic novels and see how they then crossed the Atlantic and become popular in the United States, especially among these architects who were reading the gothic novels. And their clients. were reading these novels and they wanted to live out the experience of what it would be like to live in a, you know, a gothic manor house, or a gothic castle. So the Gothic Revival style became popular in America in the 1830s, and 40s. And so, so it was, so I actually took a lot of the work I had done as an undergraduate in my thesis, and then moved it over to an American context. And so that was what I wrote about in my, in my first book, which was published in 2014. And then more recently, a year ago, my second book came out, which is called follies in America history of Garden Park architecture, which was published by Cornell University Press. And this is not about the Gothic so I’m still interested in Gothic stuff, but in this book, I’m looking at these little buildings called Follies. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of a Foley or what it is a lot of people I think are unfamiliar with the term in terms of how it’s used in architecture, but these are small scale buildings that are garden ornaments, or Belvedere is buildings that provide a beautiful view that are usually in landscape settings. And they originate in the 18th century in English aristocratic gardens where these aristocrats would build purpose built ruins and little castle towers and little temples in their gardens. As a you know, a lot some have sometimes had these buildings, offered political calm Santeria social commentary. More often than not, they were just the architecture of pleasure, you know, it was just a place to find some respite from the sun or have a cup of tea. And what they did was draw people through the garden and you felt like you were, you know, moving through this space and drawn to these buildings. And it was it wasn’t like anyone was dictating where you would go, you were kind of exploring, when, in fact, of course, a landscape gardener had designed it that way to draw you through. So the follies act as little guideposts that pull you through the landscape. And so I get it’s an English tradition of the picturesque tradition, and landscape design. But again, I wanted to see well, how does that how does that work itself out here in the United States, United States, especially in the early republic period. So there’s a folly in Cooperstown, New York, where my husband is from called Kingfisher tower, which is on the cover of my book, that when I first laid eyes on it, I thought that is an honest to goodness folly, like the ones that you would see in England. It’s, it’s Neil medieval, it looks like a little miniature castle. And yet there it is just on the side of Sega Lake. What is that building? What is it doing there? I was so fascinated. And there wasn’t really much written about Kingfisher tower. So that became the impetus for me writing this book is to find out, what’s the story behind Kingfisher tower? And are there more towers and other kinds of follies like Kingfisher, and other places in America. So it turns out, there’s tons of them. So that was great. So I found lots of examples. Some of them aren’t in existence anymore. Some of them are vernacular, some of them are high style. One that I think would be pretty well known maybe to people listening into yourself will is the Belvedere Castle in Central Park. Sure, I’m sure that’s a pretty well known example, it’s a Belvedere so meaning it provides a view, and it looks like a castle. And it’s, it’s like a folly, it kind of anchors your experience of the landscape, and allows you to look at the landscape on those different terraces from different viewpoints. And it, you know, the whole idea is, it’s historicized, it reminds you of the Middle Ages. And so it has all these kinds of connotations that are launched in your brain when you look at it. So that one is in my book, too. And that’s what I argue in the book is that the Belvedere Castle, is sort of an example of a democratizing impulse in America, where you have an aristocratic building type that is then plopped down into a public park that was meant for all people. And so then everyone gets access to the view, you know, and in the view, inherent in the view is, is power and being able to kind of look out at a vast landscape. And so yeah, the Belvedere Castle is probably the most famous or recognizable of the follies that I talked about in that book. So all of this research I’ve been doing on these books has just been a hugely fulfilling part of my career as a professor, I just feel very, very fortunate that I have a job where we’re expected to do a certain amount of research, it’s not, you know, I’m not at a research a big research university, but to get tenure. And to get promoted, you have to do some research, so there is support for it. And then I can bring that research back into the classroom and enrich my classroom discussions with my students, because I’m an active scholar. So that’s, I love doing I love writing. When I graduated from high school, and my yearbook under my picture, where you put what you want to do with your life, I put writer and I had no idea what kind of writer I wanted to be, you know, whether it was going to be a journalist, or you know, I like to write essays, not really fiction, you know, more like essays and things like that. I never would have guessed that I wouldn’t be a professor because I wouldn’t have occurred to me to do such a thing. But a professor like me, I’m also a writer, you know, so it allows me to do the thing that I love, and also then teach, which I also love doing. So I do, I just feel I always pinch myself, because I feel like I’ve got such a great job, or that combines all the different things I’d like to do. And you know, I’m getting paid to go to museums. So you can’t beat that.


Will Bachman  24:23

Tell me about one or two stories behind one of these follies that you uncovered as you were doing this research, just you know, something that surprised you or just kind of random or, or struck your curiosity behind like the creation of one of these, I imagine that you looked into who built them and why and when and so forth.


Kerry Carso  24:45

Yeah, I guess I’ll talk about Kingfisher tower. That’s the one that really got me interested, you know, and it is a high style building in that. It’s, you know, it was designed by a well known New York city architect Stan Hardenberg for the Clark family. So Edward Clark was the was the client in this case. So Clark was the lawyer for the singer selling machine company back in the mid to late 19th century. And his wife was from Cooperstown. So they spent a lot of time in, in both New York City and Cooperstown. And so Clark took Hardenberg up from New York and Hardenberg is well known for designing like the Plaza Hotel and the Dakota Building. And Clark had done landscape, sorry, land development in New York City as well. So he brought this architect up from New York to design this little building. And immediately, people started calling it Clark’s folly. Because if that was the whole, the whole idea of a follow, the reason why they’re called follies is that regular people look at them and say, That’s ridiculous. Why do you need a little miniature castle? It’s a useless building. It’s frivolous. It’s silly. A lot of times they’re eccentric, these little buildings. And so people started calling it, you know, Clark’s folly. And he got a little outraged and wrote something in the newspaper, where he talks about himself in the third person, but he actually wrote it, but he’s justifying why Mr. Clark did this. And he basically says that, you know, he’s trying to, you know, bring a certain amount of culture to Otsego Lake and to make a point of interest along the shoreline. And it harkens back to what James Fenimore Cooper said about Cooperstown, which is he would complain that there wasn’t enough culture there. Because when when Cooper was living there, you know, it had been a pioneer of frontier town under his when his father first established Cooperstown. And so it was still really out there in the middle of nowhere. And so he felt like he brought some Gothic Revival and actually made some changes Cooper did to his house in Cooperstown to make it look Gothic. And that was after he had travelled to Europe. And so the idea was, they’re bringing these European architectural traditions, to the United States to kind of, you know, quote, unquote, civilize the nation. And so one of the big themes in my book is about nationalism, you know, and so the period I’m looking at, especially in this follies book is 1817 76 to 1876. So the first 100 years of the nation’s history, and the big thing that’s going on is that in the culture, cultural arena, American artists, writers, architects, they’re, they’re trying to basically elevate American culture, and try to make it on par with Europe, you know, and so that was a tough hill, in the 19th century. And so that’s what Clarke is trying to do is like, I’m gonna bring this little miniature castle, and plop it down here so that you’ll understand European architecture. And the story is that he actually, it was built in 1870s. And it was during there was a panic in 1873 financial panic, and so it brought work to the town and it gave people jobs. So that was another thing that was an aristocratic idea that, you know, building these follies meant that you could put somebody to work building your silly little folly. So I find Kingfisher tower to be a really interesting example of, of an American trying to do this very aristocratic thing in the United States.


Will Bachman  28:25

And then, yeah, like, how was the tower used? Did you? Was it just purely to look at or did he hang out there and read a book or something or, you know, or host friends sleep over what?


Kerry Carso  28:37

Well, that’s the thing about follies is they’re not meant. In the end, you have to think that there’s people define the term folly in different ways, but the way I would define it is they’re not meant to be lived in. They’re not houses, you know, they tend to be structures where you really do just use them for pleasurable activities. So this particular one is a Belvedere so you can it’s a tower so you can climb up in it. That was something that it would have been used for. But also I think, for Clark, it really was to be looked at it was a landscape ornament. And that side of Sego Lake is very natural looking like there’s a lot of development on the other side of the lake, but the side that Kingfisher is on. There’s really nothing around there. There’s a little Swiss chalet house that Clark also built. It’s kind of hidden behind the trees. It’s on private property is still owned by the Clark family. So you can’t go there. No one could go and visit it now. You basically can ride by it on a boat if you’re on the lake. And so that’s what it’s meant. You’re meant to look at it. It really is that kind of folly. That is really a punctuation mark. It’s a it’s a sign of civilization and otherwise natural area. And that is often the case with these follies that I found is that there was one at Niagara Falls called terrapins tower, which was built in the 1830s. And it was meant to look like a lighthouse. And it was the most ridiculous thing, because why would you build a lighthouse? On Agra falls? Right? Nobody is navigating the river there, right. But it was my theory and my book, what I propose, what I argue in the book is that it was built as a lighthouse. Because at that time in the 1830s, the American government was building lighthouses up and down the East Coast, to compete with Europe again, because Europe had a pretty complicated system of warnings for mariners, these lighthouses. And the US had to keep up. And so the government built all these lighthouses. And so it was a sign of the federal government. It was like a symbol of the of nationalism. And so why wouldn’t you build a build a lighthouse that symbolizes America at this point where you’re right between America, and of course, Canada is right there. And so it’s on the, on the, on this border. And, and Niagara Falls was seen as the most beautiful place in America. And Europe had nothing like Niagara Falls. And so it became also a symbol of nationalism. And so it’s just fascinating. They built this lighthouse. And one writer in the 19th century was joking around saying no light was ever in that building, except the light of a cigar. Because the guys who owned it, they were brothers, and they would charge money. And you could walk out on their little bridge that they built and climb up into the tower, then they charge like 25 cents or something. And you would thereby get an even more spectacular view. And they were literally this tower, if you look at you could just Google it, because there were tons and tons of illustrations and stereo graphs made of this tower in the 19th century. So it has a huge visual culture legacy. It was torn down in I think, the 1870s. But for about 50 years, it was the thing that you would do at Niagara Falls, you would go up into this tower, have this spectacular view. And I read one guy’s diary where he was talking about how his wife didn’t want to do it because she was afraid, because you’d walk out on this wooden bridge right over the water and climb up into this tower. And literally the tower was trembling and shaking from the water rushing by. And so much so that when they they, the people who owned it ended up blowing it up with dynamite, and it toppled off into the falls because they were building a different tower. And they didn’t want the two towers to compete with one another. So the story goes, but people thought that it must have just been swept away, because that’s how, you know, exciting and nerve wracking It was to be in this this Terrapin tower. So that was another example of one that was very popular. If you look at tourist guides from the 19th century, everybody talks about going to Terrapin tower, because it was the thing you did at Niagara Falls. And it’s just funny because nobody knows about it now because it’s gone. But I have a lot about that in my book too, because I just thought that was a great example. And speaking of John stilgoe, he I cite him in my book. I did not take any classes with him, unfortunately. But he does appear there in my footnotes


Will Bachman  33:16

with the with Kingfisher tower, did its some degree kind of continue to meet its original purpose, you know, 100 years later, and that drawing, you know, in getting listed in tourist guides and so forth, and I don’t


Kerry Carso  33:31

think so no, yeah, no, I think most people don’t know too much about it. Because from the shores of Cooperstown, you can barely see it. The best view you could get of it really in a place where you’d be allowed to go as a person who doesn’t own a property on the lake would be at the center of the art museum. You could go out on the lawn and be able to see it across the lake. But really, the only way to see it is to take a boat ride and they do have tourists boat rides that go by it. But you know, you’re not gonna really go to Cooperstown and see it like on T shirts much. I don’t know that. You know, it is privately owned. And if you were to try to get to it from the road, you can’t really even see it from the road unless it was winter. And there were no trees and you were really looking for it. I’ve been there because I was in touch with the owner when I was working on this book. That’s Jane Clark. And she allowed me she gave me permission to go and photograph it and everything. But otherwise, no, it’s not a tourist attraction. I would say most people don’t even know it’s their visitors. People in Cooperstown know it’s there, of course. But if you were standing like right, you know, in the village of Cooperstown and you walked to the lake, you can barely see it. It’s just this tiny little building. You need some good binoculars to get a good look at it.


Will Bachman  34:47

It seems to me that impulse towards building the quote unquote Folly is still alive in our own day right in a slightly different form. Sometimes like it’s Almost the same impulse, perhaps behind, you have some neighborhoods where the people go crazy decorating their house for Christmas, and it becomes a tourist attraction and people drive through and stuff like that similar thing of wanting to create some visual thing to look at.


Kerry Carso  35:16

Yeah, and I think during the pandemic, I mean, I personally know people who built things like they’re like follies in their yards, because everyone was doing self, you know, doing improvements on their homes, and building fire pits and things like that. But I know what someone who took an old chicken coop that was on his property and turned it into a folly, you know, without even knowing much about the folly tradition, US actually very interested when I told him but about my book, he’s like, I’m reading your book, because I just built something like this in my yard. And so I think a lot of people, you know, another I have a chapter in my book about summerhouses. And I think today, most people wouldn’t know what that like in the 19th century, that term was used today, we would call it a gazebo. So I have a chapter about gazebos, which are still very popular. I mean, you can buy premade gazebos and shop it into your, into your property. And that is something that was very popular in the 19th century, a lot of times people you know, they would build their own made out of twigs and branches and tree trunks, on fashion them themselves and what’s called the rustic style. And they would blend in with nature. But it would be a place to go you know, and relax and maybe read a book and have a snack or some tea and be able to be indoors and outdoors outdoors kind of simultaneously. It’s kind of like an extension of the veranda. You know, the porch, except it’s in nature more even more in nature than a porch is. So I think, you know, in the last chapter of my book on follies I talk about my editor want me to kind of bring it up to date, like what’s happened since because my book goes through 1876. He said, what’s happened since then. So I have a chapter where I look at more, you know, late 19th and early 20th century and kind of bring it up to the present. And there’s actually been a lot of exhibitions in the world of architecture, having to do with follies in the past 20 or 30 years follies have kind of had a resurgence within architectural theory circles. And also, I think even more generally. So that was something I looked at, at the very end, I could write a sequel to this book so easily because there are so many examples. And every time I do a book talk, somebody will come up to me and say, you know about this folly. And it’s usually some building I don’t know about, you know, because it’s 20th century, and I stopped at 1876. Because there was plenty to write about through that period. But I, you know, I’ve been collecting all these examples of follies in the 20th century. And there’s probably another book or two there. For whoever wanted to tackle that. I don’t know that I’m going in that direction. But there’s a lot of material there.


Will Bachman  38:01

That’s amazing. In this section of the show, I ask about, were there any courses or professors at Harvard that particularly still resonate with you? And I think you already mentioned some, some of your your academics but in any other ones that you’d want to mention?


Kerry Carso  38:20

Yeah, actually, so there was my I mentioned my junior tutor, who’s Carolyn Devere. And then my thesis advisor was another graduate student in English department named Cheryl Nixon. And the two of them had a huge impact on me. When I took the junior tutorial, that was when I had the light bulb moment, figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. I was sitting on a Friday afternoon with Carolyn, in the basement of the English department having our one on one tutorial, which was a year long tutorial. It was like total bliss for me. I’m sitting down there, and I just had this moment I said, I want to be like her. I want to do what she does, which is we were sitting there, we had read a novel together, you know, that was our reading for the week. And then we sat there and discussed it. And I thought, this is something you can do, like, is there a way to make this what you do for your, for your life, you know, for your career? And she said, Well, yeah, you could be a professor. And I and you know, of course, it was tough, because at that time, the job market was terrible. And it’s 100 times worse now. So I am lucky that I’m not on the job market now. But it was pretty bad in the early 90s, especially in the field of literature. So I remember along the way, a lot of people said to me, you know, you might not get a job as a professor have a plan B. So I always had Plan B’s that I was ready to deal with. But it was at that moment where I realized this is what I want to do. And then how I figured out I liked art history was totally random. I took a Latin literature and arts B course called the monuments of Japan. And I took it because I had you know, it was a cool For a class, we all had to take something in that area. And I had taken a class in Japanese history. And I was interested in Japan generally. So I thought, Okay, I’ll just, you know, just take this course. And I loved it. And especially the architecture it was, it was It wasn’t just about architecture, but there was a lot of architecture. And that was when I kind of realized, you know, between my interest in the architectural spaces and the gothic novels, and then studying buildings, actual buildings, I thought, wow, I mean, I was too late to be an art history major. By this time, this was my junior year. But my senior year, I took a course I took, I took the art history survey that was about painting and sculpture and such. And then my senior year of my last semester, I took the architectural survey. That was like the second half of survey Renaissance to the present. It was just on architecture was with Neil Levine. And so between the monuments of Japan, I can’t remember the professor’s name for that class and Neil Levine’s architectural history class, I was absolutely sold. And I realized, I mean, it really changed my life that I, you know, some, sometimes students complain with my students, I had to take Gen Ed courses. Gen Ed courses are wonderful, because they open your mind up to things you never thought you would be interested in studying. I took that class and you know that, you know, the monuments of Japan. And it really, it really pushed me in a different direction. And so then when I got to be you, I thought I’d be doing literature and architecture. And then I told you what happened to me, I was like, now you’re teaching art history. And so it kind of it made me feel confident that I could actually do this and kind of switch my field into something different from what I had studied as an undergraduate, as an English major, but I still love literature. And what’s great is now I get to do this interdisciplinary work, why I bring in literature and painting and, and architecture, and philosophy and culture and all these different things together into my work. And so that class was those those two classes, those two architectural history classes were very important. And just wonderful courses.


Will Bachman  42:09

Was there anything outside of class and outside of academics at Harvard, that has shaped you or continued to be important for you, either activities or things you went to or people that you met?


Kerry Carso  42:24

The big one for me was the prefect program. So I mentioned that I was the director of it right after college. But when I was in college, I became a prefect was probably sophomore year. Do you remember the prefect program?


Will Bachman  42:36

Well, I don’t actually don’t.


Kerry Carso  42:39

Yeah, cuz, you know, it was one of those things that I know it probably depended on how active a prefect you had in your entryway, when you’re a first year students. So prefects were sophomores, juniors and seniors who were assigned to a freshman entryway. And the idea was that they would help the proctor you know, have study breaks and activities, and they were supposed to help the first year students, you know, with orienting them to Harvard. So it was kind of like being an orientation leader that lasted all year. And the program was, you know, it’s dependent on how active your prefect was, you know, but when I was a sophomore, I became a, I think it was sophomore year, I became a prefect again, I think Junior by the time I was a senior, I don’t know exactly how long it did it for by the time I was a senior, I was on the prefect program steering committee. And I really loved it. It was one of the freshman Dean’s Office programs. And so I did that and that was how I ended up being coming a proctor, a proctor, a freshman proctor because I you know, I realized I could do this. I was a summer school proctor for two summers. I lived in in Thayer and Wigglesworth in the summers and then eventually in strives for three years. So I had done that, because I wanted to live at Harvard and I was working you know, I had various jobs and also as a, as a summer school Proctor, you got to take a class for free. And so I took advantage of that I took a class on French for reading knowledge, because I knew I wanted to go to graduate school and I took actually, I audited the architecture of Boston, which several years later, I was teaching. So that was kind of weird. But anyway, so I had so being in the prefect program then allowed me to become a proctor. And being a proctor was important because I got free room and board for three years. And I was working, as I mentioned at Radcliffe and Harvard, so I basically just had income, you know, I didn’t have any expenses. I didn’t have a car. I was able to pay off my student loans and, and live right there in Harvard Square. And so you know, I was a student, you know, a student for four years and a proctor for three so for a total of seven years. As I ate Harvard food,


Will Bachman  45:03

you survived.


Kerry Carso  45:05

I somehow live to tell the tale. But it was, for me it was perfect because I wanted to take a break after undergrad and then go to grad school. And then when I went to grad school, I became a senior resident assistant actually met my husband at SR ra training. And so that changed my life. But I was able to do that for four years. So I didn’t have to pay rent in Boston while it was grad student. That’s amazing. So it was a total of seven years. at BU, I didn’t have a dining hall plan, I had a kitchen. But, you know, for all those years, I lived in Cambridge and Boston for free. So that for me as someone who I’m not independently wealthy, that that meant a lot to me and allowed me to, to do what I loved, which was all the things I’ve been describing to you to like, really sink my teeth into academics. I have been in school basically, my whole life, you know, I’ve never really had a break. And I’m still very happy to be doing this. So this is the life of the mind. And this is what I like to do teaching, researching, writing. And so kind of all throughout that time. So the prefect program was the key, pre professional thing that I did. And I only mentioned one other thing actually well, because I don’t know if any of your other interviewees will mention this. But I wanted to say how important Radcliffe was to me. So, when I first started at Harvard, you know, I needed to get a job and I did all the jobs that everybody does. I worked in Adam’s House dining hall. You know, I was a file clerk, I worked in the queue, that Quinsey house in the library there, I did all those different things. But I one point, I needed to get a new job. I did not like working in the dining hall. And I saw on one of those boards, you know, a little flyer that said, if you want for the Radcliffe phone Athan, and I was like, Huh, what’s that? Let me go check that out. So I got a job as a phone Athan caller so I was calling alumni and asking them to donate to Radcliffe College. And that then led me to eventually when I graduated from Harvard, I got a job at Radcliffe and development. Along the way. I did a Radcliffe internship. For a full summer I worked in the communications office there. I did an externship where for spring break my senior year, I went and lived with a rock, Radcliffe alumna who was the Dean of Moravian College. And I lived in her house with her and just shouted at her at work and at home for a week. And so I learned about what it’d be like to be a dean, and a professor. And all those experiences I had at Radcliffe were really important to me. And I think most of our classmates did not really take advantage of what Ratcliffe offered, in part because it was kind of like, well, Harvard students, what’s this Radcliffe thing is a remnant of the past. We don’t need Radcliffe. I really took advantage of the things, the things that they offered at Radcliffe, I had some wonderful mentors there, who really helped me. And so I just wanted to give a little shout out to Radcliffe, you know, Radcliffe College doesn’t exist anymore now as the Institute for Advanced Study. But that experience of having women role models and professional positions. I also wrote for the Radcliffe news, which was like, it was a, it was the, you know, the Communications Office, little newspaper that they produced. So it was a, it wasn’t like a real news. It wasn’t like the trims and you know, it wasn’t investigating things, but it was more like a PR kind of thing. But I did that. And I went and reported on events, you know, went to a lecture and wrote up a thing about it. And all those things were, you know, I never went into the, you know, I did development for three years. But I knew I wasn’t going to do it for the rest of my career. But it you know, it was something I did. And it allowed me to then stay at Harvard to be a proctor because you had to have an affiliation to do that. And so all my experience at Radcliffe, I really treasure it. It was really meaningful to me. So I want to mention that as well as the prefect program.


Will Bachman  49:04

I am so glad that you gave Radcliffe a shout out. That’s yeah. It’s a great view that a lot of people maybe didn’t have all of the opportunities and what they did. Carrie, if anybody wanted to follow up with you or learn more about your research, where would you point them online?


Kerry Carso  49:23

Well, it’s pretty easy to find me because I am a college professor. So my email address if you just Google me you’ll find me at SUNY New Paltz. I do have a website at New Paltz. It’s faculty dot new car so I’m on Instagram at KD car so and Twitter at Carey Dean carso. So pretty easy to find if anyone’s looking for me.


Will Bachman  49:47

Fantastic. Carrie, thank you so much for joining us today. And listeners. If you go to 92 report comm you can sign up for the email where I’ll let you know about the latest episode. And if you’re inclined to give the show a five star review on iTunes it does help others discover the show Carrie once again thank you so much for joining


Kerry Carso  50:08

thank you well and thank you for doing this it’s really fun