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Graduate students in History of Art Robin Kim and Linda Leeuwrik, with Professor of Art History Dale Kinney, and Ben Anderson.

Key to the Past

 

The strength and liveliness of education in the humanities at Bryn Mawr has flourished in the presence of its nationally and internationally known graduate programs.

A $441,600 challenge grant awarded to the College in June by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) will help the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences offer new opportunities for interdisciplinary study to graduate students in three of its most storied departments: Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology; Greek, Latin and Classical Studies; and History of Art. The grant, which requires the College to raise matching funds of $1.76 million—$135,000 of that before January 31, 2005—will provide an endowment and bridge funding for curricular innovation, graduate fellowships, museum and library internships, and visits by distinguished scholars.

“The three departments together offer a unique perspective on the Western tradition, focusing on the origins, history, and transmission of classical art, literature, and aesthetics from Ur to present-day America,” according to Dale Kinney, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and Professor of History of Art. “These departments have always been collegial and have a history of interdisciplinary collaboration. This relationship was formalized in 2001 with the creation of the Graduate Group, whose mission is to offer a form of graduate education that prepares future scholars and teachers to shape the intellectual landscapes of the next generation, without losing the rigor of inquiry and intellectual values that inform the traditional disciplines for which we are already known.” The departments remain autonomous and each continues to offer its own M.A. and Ph.D. degrees.

“One cannot have powerful interdisciplinary work without the participation of strong departments, but interdisciplinary work enhances those departments in turn through intellectual cross-fertilization among scholars, and by making students aware of multiple methods and kinds of reasoning,” says Graduate Group Director Barbara Lane. Professor Emeritus of History and Andrew W. Mellon Professor Emeritus in the Humanities, Lane is the founder and former Director of the College’s earliest and longest running interdisciplinary undergraduate program, Growth and Structure of Cities.

“This breadth is particularly important at the present day, when new theories of interpretation (feminist, semiotic, post modernist) have proliferated in all areas of humanistic study, while at the same time new models of scholarship drawn from geography, economics, environmental studies, sociology and anthropology are becoming ever more relevant to every kind of humanistic study,” Lane says.

The grant and matching funds will support four initiatives, designed to enrich graduate training in the three disciplines represented in the Graduate Group with distinctive multidisciplinary opportunities:

Interdepartmental graduate seminars on shared topics or critical theories.
• Two new fellowships for graduate students who have the skills to work in more than one discipline.
• Internships that partner Bryn Mawr with several Philadelphia-area museums to educate students in the analysis and care of material culture.
• Visits by distinguished scholars whose research embraces multiple areas of specialization.

 

Rich collections—and students who are interested in them
At Bryn Mawr, where Latin graffiti are a common sight and the annual Greek Play is a venerable tradition, ancient art and literature can seem very close to home. An exhibition in Canaday’s Rare Book Room of books and prints, “Before Antiquity: Marvels of Rome,” shows the fascination that ancient times have exerted on the modern mind, from the 14th century, when the Italian poet Petrarch strolled the streets of Rome identifying the sites of ancient history and literature, through the 18th century, when the German scholar J.J. Winckelmann promoted an ideal of ancient Greece. Curated by Benjamin Anderson, a second year graduate student in History of Art with a particular interest in art of the classical world, the exhibition runs through December 17.

The Rare Book Collection has more than 45,000 volumes. A major portion of this collection consists of books printed between the late 15th and the 18th centuries dealing with the classical tradition, including first and early printings of classical, patristic, and humanist texts and early works on classical literature, art, architecture, and iconography.

“Bryn Mawr has unexpectedly rich collections of early modern antiquarian studies—the sort one would expect to find at a school established in the 17th or 18th centuries, not in the 19th,” says Anderson, who held a Friends of the Library summer internship with Special Collections. “Working through these books was as much a lesson in the history of Bryn Mawr as in European intellectual history. Names like Lily Ross Taylor, Charles Mitchell, and Phyllis Pray Bober kept cropping up on gift acknowledgements. Ultimately the difficulty was in selecting only 50 or so volumes to display. Bryn Mawr is unusual not only by virtue of having these books, but by having faculty and students, undergraduate and graduate, who are still interested in them.”

GSems: cross-training
Among the most exciting joint endeavors are the interdepartmental seminars (GSems), co-taught by faculty in at least two and usually three departments. With a planning grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Group has already developed several successful seminars, including one on Rome as a perduring place and as a leitmotif in Western thought, “Ruin and Recovery,” and one on gender as a critical tool “Gendering the Past” (see sidebar on page 4). GSems offer opportunities for students and faculty to compare the critical approaches and knowledge bases of their home disciplines to those of other, cognate fields.

“The art historian who knows the Odyssey as the source of a popular film (O Brother, Where Art Thou?) may not be prepared to take a seminar in ancient Greek, while the classicist who commands the poem in the original might be lost in a seminar on film history or theory,” Kinney says.

“The role of the Graduate Group is to bring these students together in a seminar that allows each to exercise her/his particular expertise within a common framework (for example, theory of authorship), while also learning about the methods of other disciplines from colleagues.” Participation in at least one GSem will be a requirement for all Ph.D. students in the Graduate Group beginning with the entering class of 2004.

“Coming to terms with theory and interpretation has been one of the first tasks of the GSems,” Lane says. “Many theoretical models focus around the question ‘what is a text?’ This is a question that can be asked with great fruitfulness of the imagery of a painting, of a piece of classical writing, or of an artifact from the distant past. To date, actual or planned seminars on theory, gender ideas, and the notion of birth and becoming in Western thought, have dealt with such issues.

“Equally, for each of these types of study, questions such as what is the relationship between culture and art, or between politics and/or society and types of material artifacts, can and should be fruitfully addressed. We are scheduling seminars that will deal with such issues as well.

“Lastly, the role of historical understanding in the pursuit of humanistic studies of all types is of paramount importance, and often tends to be neglected in graduate programs at other institutions. Our three graduate departments are of course uniquely positioned to deal with issues of classical survival and revival, since these have been themes in their curricula more or less from the start.

“I think Bryn Mawr’s Graduate Group may well represent the first, or one of the first, graduate enterprises to embrace the challenge of asking these kinds of questions,” Lane said, “because the College’s small size and excellence of faculty and students make possible precisely the kind of collegiality and intellectual interchange that true interdisciplinarity needs in order to grow and flourish.”

Exceptional students
Kinney observes that while most current and many future students will continue to want to earn single-discipline degrees, the Graduate Group will also encourage more extensive cross-training.

“A few students will have the skills and the ambition to distribute their coursework equally among two departments or even all three,” she says. “We wish to attract such exceptional students by offering special fellowships targeted to those with the necessary preparation: the art historian with good enough Latin to take courses in classics, the archaeologist sufficiently knowledgeable about art history to take seminars in Renaissance or neoclassical art; the classicist with a background in painting or film.”

Object-based internships
The year-long object or material-based internships will take advantage of Bryn Mawr’s own strong collections of art and artifacts as well as the rich concentration of collections and curatorial expertise throughout the Philadelphia region. Each year, two advanced graduate students will intern both at the College and at a partner institution, with the understanding that they will share their newly acquired knowledge with other students, both graduate and undergraduate, through mini-seminars or demonstrations in subsequent years.

The internships will be awarded on the basis of proposals for significant projects involving Bryn Mawr’s own collections in one semester and the collection of a partner institution in the other. Interns will have a Bryn Mawr faculty mentor and will also be supervised by collections specialists at the College and at the other institution (the institutions will rotate according to the applicants’ qualifications and interests). Danielle Rice, Assistant Director for Programs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, wrote that the PMA welcomes this initiative because it complements “our eagerness to train young professionals and to benefit from their fresh and innovative perspectives.” The other institutions involved are similarly enthusiastic, says Kinney.

The College’s art and archaeology collections comprise approximately 40,000 objects categorized as fine art, archaeology, ethnographic art, decorative art, applied art, and photographic art. (More information on the College Collections can be found online). Historically, undergraduate and graduate students have worked as collections assistants for the art and archaeology collections and have created unique and scholarly exhibitions from the Collections.

Visiting scholars
The fourth initiative will be visits by distinguished scholars who will be in residence for up to a semester—long enough, Kinney says, to become familiar with individual students and their work. Visitors, who might include curators as well as scholars, will be chosen by the Group’s director and steering committee, in consultation with students and faculty.

“These four initiatives will enable us to teach our graduate students about the common roots of the disciplines of archaeology, classics and history of art in the study of western civilization,” says Kinney. “We hope to expand the awareness of our discipline-based students of the subject matter and methods of cognate disciplines, and we also aim to complement classroom instruction with hands-on experience of artifacts and other nonverbal modes of expression.”

For more information about the NEH Challenge, contact: Ruth Lindeborg ’80, Campaign Manager, at relindbo@brynmawr.edu or (610) 526-5211. For information on the Graduate Group, contact Dale Kinney at dkinney@brynmawr.edu or (610) 526-5072.

Refusing simplistic answers: the interdisciplinary Graduate Seminar
Assistant Professor on the Rosalyn R. Schwartz Lectureship, Catherine Conybeare, who specializes in early Christian literary culture, is director of graduate studies for the department of Greek, Latin, and classical studies. “I love graduate teaching,” Conybeare says. “Every seminar I’ve taught here has been incredibly stimulating, whether it’s taken me back to material I thought I knew well already, or prompted me to engage with new texts.” In addition to graduate-level courses for her department, Conybeare has been team-teaching GSems.

Last spring, she offered “Gendering the Past” with assistant professor of archaeology Peter Magee, whose research interests include the archaeology of Arabian pre-history. “Needless to say, our take on that expansive gerund, ‘gendering,’ was very different, and the readings ranged from discussions of archaeological evidence for gender-based task differentiation to Judith Butler on Antigone,” Conybeare says.

The theory-driven seminar began with a survey of major critical inquiries prompted by attention to gender, focusing especially on the issues raised in the 1970s across academic disciplines by the question, “What about women?”

“We also asked the question, ‘what’s worth looking at?’, ” says Conybeare, “considering different types of evidence that until recently had been thought to be beneath notice—for example, ‘non-literary’ forms of writing like the Vindolanda tablets from Roman Britain (composed by and for soldiers, merchants, women and slaves) and graffiti, or overlooked sources of women’s writing like mortuary rolls or inscriptions. We went on to pair readings addressing contemporary critical concerns with case studies of ancient data. For example, bell hooks’ work on social class was paired with Sumerian evidence for womens’ legal status. By the time we reached Daniel Boyarin’s work on the ‘feminized’ persona of the Jew in history, he was energetically criticized by the students for making simplistic assumptions about what this persona might entail.

“The students—drawn from each of the Graduate Group’s departments—were incredibly engaged with the seminar: informed disagreement raged, which delighted us—it was exactly the atmosphere which we had intended to create. Peter and I disagreed several times on our approaches to the readings, and on how we assessed their importance: we would argue out the issues in class, and this seemed to lead the way for the students, as we had hoped. We do agree, after all, on the importance of gender theory as such, of the sort of questions it has opened up, and of its refusal to accept simplistic answers. We succeeded in playing out this refusal in the classroom.”

Next spring, Conybeare is delighted to be taking on another GSEM, ‘Birth and Becoming,’ this time joining a colleague who specializes in film studies, Assistant Professor of History of Art Homay King. “In this seminar, we’ll address the notion of natality—a comprehensive challenge to the obsession of the Western philosophical tradition with death and the afterlife,” she says. “Recent feminist scholarship has shown that this view of life has its source in long-held masculinist presuppositions. These scholars have suggested that we turn instead to birth. How might birth serve as a new structuring metaphor for living, thinking, and creating?”

(See this issue for On Course: Classical Studies 220: “Writing the Self,” also taught by Conybeare.)

 

Return to Winter 2004 Highlights


 

 

 

 

 
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