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University of Edinburgh

Fine Art

Case Study Report, September 2003

Dr Richard Williams: R.J.Williams@ed.ac.uk


Links

Case Study Update, Nov 2004
Background Report 1
Background Report 2
The Contemporary City Course Outline and Architecture and Modernity Course Outline
The Contemporary City Bibliography
Architecture and Modernity Bibliography

NB. For pdf versions of the course outlines and bibliographies please go to the GLAADH Resources section and then choose Initiatives Course Materials or Initiatives Bibliographies and scroll down the index.


Report

Setting

The project officially began in June 2002, although it recuperated a number of previously uncodified elements of practice in teaching during the 2001-2 academic year. The initiative leader has been on sabbatical leave during 2002-3, which has slowed progress, but a great deal of work has been done sinec May 2003.

Who were the staff and students involved? Dr Richard Williams, lecturer (Contemporary Art) and students from 2nd to 4th years on all courses taught by Richard Williams (BA History of Art, History of Art Joint Honours, MA Fine Art)

What was the problem which was being addressed? There were two specific problems: (1) Broadly, the narrow way modernism has been taught in both art and architectural history. There is a tendency to present it as a highly determined position, rulebound, puritanical and moral. The project sought to broaden the range of references to modernism, to complicate it as a philosophical position, and to challenge the dominance of certain narrow, western European or North American interpretations of the term. (2) The under-representation of Latin American material in art history teaching in the UK. The use of Latin American material, specifically that of architectural modernism in Brazil and México and Brazil was a way of addressing problem (1).

What resources were in place already or contributed to the development? There were two important resources: (1) The School of Art, Culture and Environment already had an excellent collection of architectural journals, and (to a lesser extent) books on the subject. Some book ordering was necessary, but much could be done with existing materials, especially as what was aimed for was a revision of existing courses rather that new courses outright. (2) Unusually for a British department Art History at Edinburgh has a long and very distinguished tradition of teaching in non-western areas. The project had the full support of existing staff as a means of entrenching this tradition.

Were any new resources acquired? (1) Some new books in the field of Latin American art, costs included within existing budgets. (2) A CD-ROM of 50 images of architecture and public sculpture, available to students on the School. (3) Approximately 200 slides of the same, added to the School collections.

Description

What did you do? (1) From October 2001: incorporated Latin American material into existing courses. (2) June 2002: developed rationale for new courses, reported at GLAADH meeting (3) March 2003 drafted new courses (4) May 2003, research visit to Mexico City to photograph key examples of architectural modernism and their contexts; also extensive photography of three pre-columbian sites (Tletalolco, Teotihuacan, Xochicalco) (5) June 2003 produce CD-ROM of 50 photographs for distribution to departments with an interest in Latin American art.

How did you do it? (1) New material incorporated straightforwardly into existing courses. Relatively open format of the courses meant that re-validation was not necessary. New material often introduced in an informal way - eg. in seminars, to illustrate a point. Students made some use of Brasília slides in conjunction with RW once they realised the usefulness of the material. (2) Researched Brasília and proposed Mexican material in relation to questions of modernism. (3) Drafted new courses (4) Research visit of approx. 10 days to Mexico DF. Mostly done alone, though a colleague at UNAM supplied practical information and organised visit to Xochicalco. (5) CD-Rom produced by main university library, after consultation about format with staff in History of Art.

Why did you do it that way? The initiative was envisaged as part of a larger process of development, with the ultimate aim of identifying Edinburgh as a department with a specialism in Latin American art. It was not envisaged therefore as a complete project in its own right, but a step in a process. All the work was incremental, building on existing resources and teaching practices, rather than building entirely new ones. No radical changes were envisaged; the emphasis was on what could be reasonably achieved by one person working within existing frameworks.

What constraints or support did you find? The project did not seek much support from either the department or the university, but received very useful informal advice from the departmental slide librarian, from staff with an interest in digitisation, from the departmental photographer, and from the department of special collections at the university main library. All material work (making slides, copying them onto CVD, making course materials) was done in-house using existing resources and personnel.

There were two main constraints on the project. (1) The project coincided with the project's leader's sabbatical year, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, during which he was writing a book. Time management proved surprisingly difficult: although in theory time was more flexible than normal, the pressures of research made it hard to commit enough time early enough in the project. But the main problem here was the fact that new course material could not be effectively tried out during the time of the initiative. (2) Continuing uncertainty over the overall framework of the curriculum. The project coincided with a period of major structural change in the university, in which departments were amalgamated into schools, faculties into colleges, and terms abolished in favour of semesters. This made some of the project's original proposals unrealistic - such as the aim of creating a stand-alone course about modernism in Latin America. However, the fluidity of the curriculum made wider change in the medium term much more likely: the project leader will be actively working to introduce material developed on the initiative into a wide range of curriculum developments from 2004-5.

How much time was expended? 2 weeks Mexico DF and preparation. 2 weeks curriculum design.

What preparations did you need to make? The main preparation concerned the research visit to Mexico. Aside from travel arrangements, a list of principal sites was drawn up, and an itinerary. No great problems were encountered.

Evaluation

How is it going/how did it go? - Still in progress

What's the source of your evaluation? (1) Teaching remains to be properly assessed, but the prehistory of the project, in October 2001, suggests a positive outcome. (2) The 35mm images produced are of excellent quality. At least 100 will be added to the department's slide collection during July.

What difference has it made? (1) It has codified an important area of teaching that had previously only been covered in an informal way. (2) It has introduced material into the curriculum that was previously considered marginal. (3) More generally, it has complicated the idea of modernism for students.

Has it had an appropriate impact on learning? Experience is still limited, but the prehistory of the project (October 2001) suggests that the material gathered is memorable and instructive, and will have a major impact on the way architectural modernism, and modernism in general, are understood.

What were the problems you encountered, and how did you fix them?(1) Coinciding with a sabbatical period, it has not been easy to tie in the initiative with direct teaching experience, although informally it has had an impact. (2) The university underwent a major structural change.

What would you have done differently? I would, ideally, not have had the work coincide with a sabbatical. Otherwise, no change

Was it worth it? Yes, absolutely.

Is it continuing? Yes. Curriculum developments under the forthcoming semesterised system will make increased use of the material. The real legacy of the project will be curriculum development from 2004-5 onwards, particularly in conjunction with Architecture, with whom we now belong in the School of Art, Culture and Environment.

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