From sprawling palaces to contemporary art galleries, eighteen of our first- and second-year students were immersed in the history of art in a London J-Term course offered by professors Craig Eliason and Heather Shirey. This study abroad version of Introduction to Art History, a popular course taught regularly on campus, focuses on London’s rich cultural offerings and its multicultural history. Museum and gallery visits, experiences with architectural sites, and meetings with contemporary artists were coupled with lectures, discussions, and student-led activities for an engaging exploration of the city and its art.
London was selected as an ideal site for this course because of the depth and breadth of its art collections and its rich architectural history. Students visited and conducted research on buildings such as Hampton Court Palace, Westminster Abbey, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and some of London’s famous train stations and bridges. Visits to the museums and galleries such as the National Gallery, the British Museum, White Cube, and the Tate Modern allowed students to engage with art from all over the world, produced in the ancient times and right up to the present moment. Class meetings with researchers, curators, and artists provided students with opportunities to learn about the working lives of professionals in the field. Moreover, visits to museums and galleries challenged students to do more than just admire works of art for their beauty. Focusing on the social and political context of London, the course asked how and why these works of art are all housed in British collections, even when their origins often lay in places such as Greece, Nigeria, and New Guinea. To that end, the course explored the legacy of imperialism and scrutinized the mission of the museum in a modern global metropolis.
This course was intentionally designed for our first-year students with all levels of experience in art history. Students who had little or no previous experience abroad gained confidence and new perspectives. Navigating a new cultural context together allows students to form a very strong bond. It is likely that the bonds of friendship among students in the program will last throughout their years at the University of St. Thomas and beyond.
The January 2014 class has a Facebook page with more details: https://www.facebook.com/USTarthistorylondon?ref=hl