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Art History Introduces "Site-Seminars" to Enhance Hands-On Learning

First Site-Seminar Took Students to Venice; Trip to Mexico City Coming in the Spring

The following article first appeared in the Fall 2010 Art History newsletter.

Though we have all adapted to teaching with PowerPoint in the classroom, nothing is more effective than teaching in front of original works of art. It is our good fortune to be located in Dallas/Ft. Worth, home to numerous museums and private collections of international stature whose galleries and storage rooms are regularly available to our students. This year, to enhance student skills working with actual art objects, we introduced a “site-seminar,” an annual opportunity to work in situ with artifacts and monuments for which students will spend three months in the classroom preparing.

In fall 2009 Professor Lisa Pon’s graduate seminar on “Art, Architecture, and Visual Culture of Early Modern Venice” concluded the semester with 10 days in Venice. Her eight students were in residence at the new Venice Center for International Jewish Studies along with faculty and students from UC Santa Cruz, Wake Forest, and the University of Venice. The focus was an in-depth exploration of the Jewish Ghetto, which had been established in 1516, through readings, site visits, and lectures by Professors Shaul Bassi (University of Venice Ca’ Foscari) and Donatella Calabi (University of Venice Institute of Architecture). The students also learned the history of one of the world’s great libraries, the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, from its director emeritus, Marino Zorzi. The trip’s culmination took the form of student presentations about and in front of Venetian monuments they had spent the semester studying, such as Titian’s tomb in the Frari Church and the Doge’s bucintoro. “It was remarkably gratifying to see the students taking charge at the sites they had been studying all semester for their final papers,” said Professor Pon. “On the one hand, they were confident in their ability to use the research and thinking they had carried out at SMU; on the other, they instantly understood how many more answers and questions were raised by examining the site in person…a huge step in their growth as art historians.”

The next site-seminar is scheduled for spring 2011 when our distinguished new endowed chair in art history, Professor Roberto Tejada, takes a group to Mexico City. 

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