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Journal of Visual Culture

Undergraduate Projects:

Laura Adams
Chloe Barnett
Bridget Costello
Elizabeth Damore
Hannah Flack
Molly Finnegan

Mariana Martin
Daria Ovide
Abigail Perkiss
Lauren Rosenblum
Debbie Wang
Maxim Weintraub
Petra Williams-Lescht

Graduate Projects:

Maya Balakirsky
Deborah Barkun
Andrea DeGiorgi
Zlatan Gruborovic
Elizabeth Martin
Michael J. McClure
Sara Morasch
Jeanne-Marie Musto
Kim Peters

Deborah Barkun

What is now the town of Lincoln in Lincolnshire, England was settled more than two thousand years ago and, in the first century C.E., it became the capital of the Roman province that covered eastern England.   Flourishing during the medieval period as an inland port and a center of wool production, the town was visited by pilgrims and became home to several communities of friars.   They were drawn to the region by its cathedral, the third largest in England, consecrated in 1092 and reconstructed one hundred years later in the Gothic style.   Today, its looming towers still command the view above a medieval town center making Lincoln a valuable destination for an aspiring art historian particularly interested in the later Middle Ages.   During the summer of 2005, I spent eight weeks working in the Lincoln Cathedral Library, which gave me the rare opportunity to live in this region of extraordinary history while assisting with a project that would itself expand my knowledge of medieval culture and art.     

The libraries of the Lincoln Cathedral contain manuscripts that date as far back as one thousand years.   The Medieval Library was built in the 1420's and is now used for regular exhibitions of books and manuscripts.   The Wren Library, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and completed in 1675, houses an important collection of early printed books.   My project was to create a computer database classifying the woodcuts from the library's holdings of incunabula and early printed books .   It is estimated that around five hundred of the books printed before 1535 contain woodcuts.   I compared these images with those catalogued in Edward Hodnett's English Woodcuts, 1480 to 1535 .   This involved digital photography of the woodcuts and the creation of subject fields to enable cross-referencing.

The librarians arranged a visit to the Cathedral Works Department where we were shown around the stonemason's workshop and were allowed to see pieces of the Dean's Eye rose window on the light box.   I attended cathedral concerts, Shakespeare plays, and a study day in the Wren Library.   On the weekends, I traveled to London, York, Nottingham, and Haworth (the home of the lovely Brontë sisters).   I took a trip to Cambridge with the library staff and visited King's College Chapel and the Wren Library at Trinity College.

My summer work inspired my choice of thesis topic - I am now writing on a subject involving fifteenth and sixteenth century woodcut images.   But, what I learned from my internship that was most lasting came from my experience of the cathedral itself.   I remember seeing Lincoln's towering West Front for the first time, not over the rooftops of the town but as a image projected in a darkened Bryn Mawr classroom. Until I spent a summer in Lincoln, I had not truly realized that its Gothic monument was in fact still the center of so many lives.   In the morning, choir men walked their dogs around the circling drive and stonemasons walked the roof.   Organ music often drifted into the cloister where students from the Minster School took their lunches. Many of my co-workers, as children, had played rowdy games dangerously close to the chapter house windows. In the short time I'd spent working in the cathedral library, I grew to love this town in eastern England and was fortunate to be among those people whose faith and care had sustained this place for more than a thousand years.  

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the Department of the History of Art summer research grant allowed me to devote time to research the first chapter of my dissertation, which focuses on the work of AIDS activist art collectives. During four research trips to New York, I worked in the Manuscripts and Archives Division of the New York Public Library. The Archives Division maintains several collections central to my research, including the Day Without Art (NYPL) Collection, the Gran Fury Collection, the Royal S. Marks AIDS Activist Video Collection, and the records of the Estate Project for Artists with AIDS. This material has framed my larger project, which addresses how shifting conceptions of sexual, national, and artistic identity have shaped artistic responses to the AIDS crisis in North America. I also examine how these shifting conceptions and responses influenced the work of former collaborative artists like David Wojnarowicz, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, AA Bronson, and Zoe Leonard.

Generally, I am concerned with intersections of personal expression and political activism, and private mourning and public commemoration that emerged from this milieu. By analyzing the relevant Archives Division collections, I have gained clearer insight into the ideas and motives of AIDS activist art collectives, and the social, cultural and political contexts that galvanized the development of these groups.