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GLOBALISING ART, ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN HISTORY

 
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21 March 2003

The October Gallery, Bloomsbury, London

In January 2002, departments of art, architecture and design history across the U.K. submitted bids for GLAADH funding to initiate or continue projects aimed at diversifying the curriculum. Following up the Workshop last June (2002), the 10 successful Initiatives met with the GLAADH team again in March 2003 to share insights, discuss progress and review strategies. Five areas of common practice were identified for discussion and the Initiatives presentations were grouped accordingly:

Expanding Resources - Museum-Based Work

Delegates at the second GLAADH Initiatives Workshop, March 2003

Adding New Resources

Creating New Courses

Reviewing Existing Courses

New Research - New Topics

GLAADH Conference


After a warm welcome from Professor Catherine King of the Open University, the workshop kicked off with presentations by Thomas Dowson (Manchester University) and Rose Cooper (Sheffield Hallam University). For more detailed information about each of the projects please go to their individual reports.

Expanding Resources - Museum-Based Work
Both Dowson and Cooper have introduced new courses and modules to their curriculum that draw extensively on museum resources. Dowson has developed a level 3 course focused on the socio-politics of African art with recourse to the objects and letters within Manchester Museum's collections and archives. Meanwhile, Cooper is half-way through the pilot-run of a new module, 'Transculturation', which draws heavily on collections held by the Sheffield Museums and Galleries Trust. Working with curators of archaeology and visual culture, students have access to objects on display and in storage, presently focusing on materials donated by a Sheffield woman gathered as a missionary in the Arctic circle in the early 20th century. Students are encouraged to review different methodological approaches, from anthropology to design history, to raise their awareness of the complexities entailed in the interpretation of objects. Other collections are also being explored in anticipation of an increase in student numbers, and the museum's forthcoming temporary closure.

The productive institutional and departmental engagement of rich local resources provoked discussion around the pragmatics of collaboration, and the establishment of good working relationships. This "minefield of tact and diplomacy", as King put it, is often powered in the short-term by individuals, but as Fynes (De Montfort University) observed, is based in the long-term on the mutual clarification of agenda and terms.

Both Dowson and Cooper foregrounded the need for built-in flexibility, given that calendars as well as agendas on both sides of a collaboration are subject to change. While universities can benefit from working with museums, Dowson also stressed the need for museums to recognise the benefit and importance of engaging tertiary and higher education. Possible platforms for long-term university/museum collaborations might be such annual festivals and exhibitions and events programmes as the national 'Black History Month'.

The question of assessment also came up particularly in modules that encourage students to work in teams. While Cooper is combining journal keeping with seminar presentations and research reports, Dowson is considering the possibility of group assessment by presentation of a temporary exhibition at the museum. Professor Craig Clunas (University of Sussex) pointed out that even if the exhibition is disastrous, students gain from the experience of presenting their work to a critical audience. Another suggestion made in response to this idea was that individual students could curate a temporary exhibition on paper, thus side-stepping serious practical issues of funding and time-scale.

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Adding New Resources
Following the retirement of a colleague specialising in Chinese and Japanese art and design, Mike Harrison and Jonathan Day (University of Central England) have sought to address difficulties in replacing teaching expertise by developing their own skills and research. Having used GLAADH funding for staff development and to build up resources they have been able to create joint-delivered, highly popular Chinese and Japanese modules, thereby retaining the diversity of the curriculum and circumventing the problem posed by the loss of a specialist.

Sharing the principle that the curriculum can be expanded (or cultural diversity maintained) without recourse to specialists, Paul Shakeshaft (Anglia Polytechnic University) has adopted a strategy that was recommended by Evelyn Welch at the GLAADH Workshop, November 2001 to insert or "shoe-horn" non-western topics into existing modules. At level 1, where the expertise - or lack of - was felt to be less of a question, the reconfiguration of an introductory module on 20th century sculpture as 'Objects In Space' has been the most successful. GLAADH funds contributed towards basic books. A level 2 module which runs through a variety of visual theoretical approaches now includes ethnological texts, and an assignment that compares possible approaches to 'Western' and 'non-Western' objects. For Shakeshaft, modular changes at level 3 have been impeded by a lack of expertise.

All the projects clearly engage questions around the histories, politics, practices, and policies of collection and display. To what extent should course titles reflect thematic concerns, and/or in some way point to the specificity of materials engaged?(For example Susan Pui San Lok reflected on the use of the term, 'Transculturation' rather than 'Inuit Material Culture' as a course title and what the implications of this might be.) At the workshop Clunas posed a question about the advantages and disadvantages of geographically and historically delimited subjects (citing his own 'Art & Society in China 1400-1700') and theoretical, concept-based alternatives. He went on to suggest the strategic advantages of shifting away from the 'expert's parameters', usually determined by geography and period, to broader course titles which can be seen to offer up flexibility in terms of content and staffing. While the apparent lack of expertise in teaching at higher levels was recognised as an issue, it was agreed that the importance of 'legitimising' areas of interest at earlier stages cannot be overstated. In the long-term, APU is looking to appoint somebody with non-Western interests; however, needs remain for equally long-term funds towards resources and staff-development, at APU and elsewhere.

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Delegates at the second GLAADH Initiatives Workshop, March 2003

Creating New Courses
Shona Kallestrup (University of Aberdeen) reported that the introduction of new courses on Central and Eastern European Art and Design at the Universities of Aberdeen and Glasgow rested on the development of a web-based image resource developed by the two institutions together with St. Andrews. The latter university already offered a course on Central and Eastern European Art, but this too has been enriched by the new resource. The resource has made material available that cannot be found anywhere else and provides enough visual and textual information on which to found a course. The course is still presented through lectures and seminars, which draw on the image resource, but students are able to refer to the resource online and interact with it in a number of ways.

A different kind of collaboration has been explored by Stephanie Pratt (University of Plymouth) for a new module, 'Collecting and Exhibiting Cultures'. Working with a visual arts tutor to devise ways of engaging and assessing a diverse constituency of art history and practice-based students, some of whom have been resistant to material, Pratt was open to suggestions to combat this problem. She is also exploring possibilities for further collaborations with six other staff members, as well as ways of developing the department's relationship with the Royal Albert Museum.

Both presentations highlighted strategies for inter- and intra-departmental collaboration, as ways of overcoming shortages in staff and resources. The pooling of data online might, as King suggested, prove particularly "transposable", while Emma Gieben-Gamal (Open University) highlighted issues relating to the availability of long-term technical provision for a web resource and issues of web-hosting between institutions. Although Cooper (whose students submit their journal entries online) did not find webCT to be in any way time-saving, and Dowson asserted the need for student / tutor contact, the Aberdeen case demonstrated persuasively the success with which a web resource can meet specific needs. Staff and students circumvent the question of technical support by seeking relevant training, gaining valuable transferable skills in the process.

Richard Williams (University of Edinburgh) raised the question of the 'Fine Art / Art History conflict' where, in Pratt's case, practice-based students sometimes experience difficulties with critical and historical frameworks, yet are keen to engage with contemporary theory. Observing the tendency for students in combined groups to separate along disciplinary lines, Pratt wondered if the solution might be to devise two different types of course work for different constituencies. Simon Ofield (Middlesex University) suggested that Pratt could "flip the course" in order to engage students from the outset by beginning with their interest in theoretical concepts, not to privilege theory over history but to offer, as Clunas put it, a "historiography backwards".

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Delgates at the second GLAADH Initiatives Workshop, March 2003

Reviewing Existing Courses
Fran Lloyd (Kingston University) emphasised the advantages of team-implemented changes to existing modules from level 1 to MA. GLAADH funds, supplemented by additional funding from the University, has afforded staff time to develop materials and resources that mutually reinforce, rather than duplicate each other. Lloyd suggested that a team-taught approach has facilitated a flexible and pragmatic embedding of cultural diversity within the curriculum that does not depend on individual expertise and is capable of adapting to student needs. A more thorough consideration of resources has also structured module changes. One module in particular, 'Exploring Contexts', is notable for its heavy structuring around visits to both local and London-based resources, ranging from inIVA (institute of international visual arts) to the Kingston's Bentall Shopping Centre. The department is currently looking to feed such new research into a web resource for staff and students.

For Richard Fynes (De Montfort University), GLAADH has validated the pursuit of research interests which have directly affected the reconfiguration of modules. Broad conceptual and thematic frameworks such as 'cultural identities' and 'contemporary crafts' have allowed, for example, the integration of studies of representations of Gandhi, 'home' as a site of identity, and South Asian jewellery. Like staff at Kingston, Fynes has also re-engaged with local resources - building up an excellent relationship with the museum Belgrave Hall, visiting local Asian jewellery shops and incorporating material he has developed for other modules into his art history teaching. He has also encouraged members of PRASADA to feed their research into art history teaching and a number of PRASADA members are now taking sessions within the revised modules. In addition to this, Fynes is also developing a new image resource encompassing Belgrave Hall objects and PRASADA archive material. Having looked into existing De Montfort based image projects, he has found new software outlay to be unnecessary, advocating a measured approach as beneficial to the process of gathering and refining materials and agenda.

Both Clunas and King remarked upon the shift away from delivering 'straight' historical material and information, towards thematic frameworks which have historical material at their core, as well as better management of staff research and student interests. A further issue raised though barely pursued in the discussion was the question of the student constituencies for whom such 'globalised' or 'culturally diverse' materials are devised. For Fynes, the ethnic make-up of students should not be a factor in determining course content. Why should 'Asian / foreign / other' subjects be aimed at 'Asian / foreign / other' students?

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New Research - New Topics
The move from the BFI to Birkbeck of the latter's MA teaching in film and television three years ago has triggered a reappraisal of its heavy Western bias. Mike Allen (Birkbeck College, University of London) outlined the repositioning of an established course on 'Women and Film' to 'Perspectives in World Cinema'. The effect of sidelining the "pulling power of certain teaching figures" in terms of attracting students is yet to be gauged, although the reconfiguration of the course in its first run has already generated very good feedback. Additionally, a proposed MA in World Cinema in collaboration with SOAS is in development, and the potential for streamlining courses and resources between Birkbeck's Department of History of Art and Film, and its School of Further Education, is being explored.

Film is also being investigated by Richard Williams (University of Edinburgh) as a resource for a new module on modernism and architecture, currently in the planning stage. Williams' objective is to integrate Latin American material into the teaching of ostensibly Western material. Rather than segregating the former as a specialist area, the course will be structured around a series of case studies that consider Latin American contributions to and contestations of the Western modernist canon, challenging, for example, notions of the 'rational' and 'reactionary'. The course will be supported by a good journal collection and new books. As with most of the projects, this rests of the development of new research resources. A research visit to Mexico City has generated a large body of slides, and another research trip will provide more images which will eventually be digitised. The possibility of translating non-English language resources is also being followed up.

While specialist expertise at higher levels of teaching is necessary and desired, the desirability of specific courses being identified with single 'authors' was briefly debated. Addressing Williams' and others' concern not to fence off subject areas, Clunas observed that the strategic embedding of culturally diverse material "digs in deeper", making changes that are then difficult to undo; in Lloyds' words, such changes effect a significant "paradigm shift". Dowson, however, warned against "integration" becoming a means of "assimilation". When might such strategies of diversification lead not to greater visibility but invisibility? When might invisibility become, in fact, a desirable objective?

GLAADH Conference
The Workshop came to a close with ideas and debates around the futures of the GLAADH Initiatives in full flow. The GLAADH team would like to thank all the participants for a stimulating and thought-provoking day of discussion, and very much look forward to reconvening for the forthcoming GLAADH conference on Friday September 19th, 2003 at Goodenough College, Mecklenburgh Square, London WC1N 2AB.

Globalising Art, Architecture and Design History?
Debating approaches to changing the curriculum in the UK

Recent QAA and RAE reports noted that art history teaching and research in the UK focuses mainly on western art traditions and visual culture. Since its inception in 2001 the GLAADH project has been seeking to address this imbalance. It is now providing resources and information through a website, as well as supporting new initiatives at Universities across the UK. The GLAADH Conference will bring together subject specialists with lecturers to share information and discuss best practice in the field.

The conference will address issues surrounding the prevailing canon, curricula content and use of resources as well as the implications of changes that are already underway. The discussion will take the form of plenary debates chaired by leading scholars, followed by concurrent sessions where representatives from the 10 GLAADH Initiatives will discuss methodology, theory and practice.

The Conference will be free of charge to all representatives of the 47 Universities that offer Art, Design and Architecture History degrees. GLAADH will also cover travel, subsistence and accommodation for the night of Thurs 18 September for one member of each department.

To read the updated Initiatives' Progress Reports in full, please go to Initiatives Case Study page.

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