studying a Sasanian silver plate at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, June 2018 / wearing a blouse that I embroidered with the same image on this plate

My name is Betty Hensellek and I am an art historian and archaeologist of Iran, Central Asia, and the Steppe. My research projects investigate cosmopolitanism across Central Eurasia, addressing how and why material culture enabled systems of transcultural communication. My first book project, Fashioning Central Eurasia, explores how dress and fashion shaped social interactions and intertwined communities stretching from the Caucasus Mountains to the Tarim Basin in the age of the Great Silk Roads. My second book project on silver vessels and banqueting will likewise explore the vast territory of Central Eurasia as an interconnect world. The online database, Eurasian Silver, is my foundational research for this upcoming book project.

I also have a keen interest in provenance research and the later lives of objects, modern and historical receptions of ancient monuments, and the history of archaeology and collecting under the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. On this website, I provide summaries of my past and ongoing research projects, as well as a list of current publications with relevant links to full articles or the publisher’s website. If your institution is not subscribed to the e-journal or e-book, send me a quick email.

Education

I received my PhD from the Department of the History of Art at Cornell University in 2020 for a doctoral dissertation entitled, “The Age of the Polychrome Kaftan: Sartorial Systems of Central Eurasia (400-900 CE).”  From September 2017 through August 2019, I was the Sylvan C. Coleman and Pam Coleman Memorial Fund Fellow in the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Before arriving at The Met, I began working on my dissertation in Saint Petersburg, Russia, at the Institute for the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences and worked with the collections at the State Hermitage Museum (2016-17). In 2014-2015 I was a DAAD Visiting PhD Student at the Seminar für Orientalische Archäologie und Kunstgeschichte, Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg in Germany.

I received an MA with distinction from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University (2013), and a BA in Art History and a BFA in Fine Arts from the University of Cincinnati (2011). 

Beyond Academia

Outside of my academic career, I am an avid creator, runner, and pup parent.  A large part of my identity is that of a maker; I have a passion for creating and upcycling all sorts of things. I often challenge myself by limiting the set of resources I use, which, perhaps, stems from my childhood. Back in the 90s, my father, who immigrated to the United States from Germany in the decade prior, recounted to my sister and me daily how capitalism has made societies so wasteful (die Wegwerfgesellschaft!). He would preach to us that nearly anything can be repaired or reused. Ironically, my mother loved to shop but that did not mean the items had to be new. We would frequent garage sales and consignment shops, and ‘cruise by’– to use her exact words– the trash piles of the wealthy suburbs. Our loot might include a dress to alter, or an old piece of furniture to strip down and completely reinvent with a new coat of varnish, upholstery, or color. Beyond my ever-growing IKEA Ivar bookcase wall, much of my home today is filled with reworked treasures.

a footstool and chair that I recently reupholstered; I brought the fabric back from Turkmenistan last year / the 1950s footstool belonged to a childhood neighbor, and the chair was once used in a cafeteria of a hospital where my mother worked in the 1970s

I also learned from my mother how to sew. Though I believed that homemade clothes were an embarrassment throughout much of my high school and undergraduate years (isn’t this the case for all teenagers?), I now adore them and make most of my clothes myself. I describe my fashion design work in more detail on a separate fashion page.

wearing a fully handmade outfit: a jacket of shibori- and batik-dyed cotton, paired with batik-dyed cotton shorts

I love nature and being outdoors (so much so that my primary writing desk is on my balcony in the warmer weather months!). Like clockwork, I run and hike in the evenings and on weekends; if there is snow, I wear ice cleats, if there is blazing 95-degree heat, I carry 2 liters of water in my running pack. Alongside long individual runs, I enjoy participating in organized trail races with my sister and friends.

while visiting archaeological sites in the northern Caucasus, Gleb and I pause for a selfie with high winds and Mt. Elbrus in the background

I now live with my husband, Gleb, in Raleigh, North Carolina. We love traversing the globe together, routinely to Russia and Germany to see our families and friends; sometimes to places I need to visit for my research or a conference; and occasionally to pure vacation destinations, which, more often than not, involve mountains. We are proud pup parents of a borzoi, whom we named Altaika. She loves hiking and exploring as much as us!

Altaika

hiking with 4-month old Altaika in Umstead State Park