As a culminating requirement for their major, art history students take an in-depth look at historically important works and sites in a "senior capstone" seminar. Remarkably, the course includes a fully funded, weeklong trip, often overseas, for students to visit some of the sites and works they study in the classroom.
"The capstone is an opportunity for students to have advanced conversations about art and landmarks they've only seen second hand in the classroom," said Professor of Art History Shaw Smith. "Visiting the art and the architecture on location provides them with context of scale and geography."
Each spring semester nine to twelve art history majors take the seminar. This year's edition traveled to Paris. Each student selected one topic related to historically significant sites there, and presented an on-location talk about their selected sites to classmates.
"Essentially, students take turns being tour guides," said Smith. "I'm always thrilled by how energetic and well-prepared they are."
The overseas component usually takes place over spring break or Easter near the completion of the course, and is led by one of the college's three art history faculty members– Professor Smith, Professor Larry Ligo and Professor Nina Serebrennikov.
The seminar's overseas study was first included in the capstone course in 1998, when Professor Smith led the group. A parent of one of Smith's art history students was so impressed by their child's experience abroad that the parent has anonymously funded the abroad component ever since.
Traveling has included tours of study in Paris, London, Vienna and Panama. "It's incredible that we've been able to include the travel component for 15 years now," said Smith. "Students have the privilege of experiencing famous works of art and architecture first hand, which is completely different from learning about them through digital projections or a textbook."
The destination cities are typically rich in notable historic landmarks. "What amazed me about the Louvre was how massive and magnificent it was," said Bess Dickens'13, who presented that famous Parisian art gallery to the class. "You really can't conceive of the magnitude of the place when you're reading about it."
Students give a post-trip class presentation upon their return to share photos, fun facts and reflections on their experience. "The ability to speak about a place after having actually been to it gives you so much more to talk about," said John David '13. He presented on the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, a large Parisian garden with sinister origins.
David said, "Knowing that it had once been a hanging ground and a place for sewage and carcasses gave our visit an eerie feeling."
"I look forward this course each time it's my turn to teach it," said Smith. "Students are always so enthusiastic, the travel's exciting, and I learn something new every time."