With the rise of the digital revolution, hand-made artifacts are losing ground, yet several Dartmouth students have taken the time to appreciate an art of the past. Through the creation of embellished travel journals—complete with artifacts and sketches—16 students from the 2008 Art History Foreign Study Program (FSP) recorded their impressions of culture, art, and life in Rome, Italy. Thirteen of these journals are on display in the Sherman Art Library through Dec. 3.
Kimia Shahi ’09's journal, with sketches of Caravaggio’s The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew (left) and a portrait by Sebastiano del Piombo. “Sketching is a wonderful way to really learn about a piece of art, and I was thrilled with the chance to work on site in Rome," she says.
Associate Professor of Art History Angela Rosenthal, Caroline Cima '10, and Meghan McDavid '10 partnered with Exhibitions Designer Patrick Dunfey of the Hood Museum of Art to create an exhibition that captures the experience of students abroad.
Rosenthal assigned her FSP students the travel journals as a way for them to engage in a cultural tradition that dates back to the 18th century, when in the tradition of Grand Tour travel aristocrats and intellectuals journeyed through Europe and chronicled their encounters with artistic masterpieces.
"Much of what we know about Italian culture and the arts of that period derives from such journals. I wanted to continue this tradition," says Rosenthal.
Rosenthal says the journals added another academic dimension to the FSP. The sketches the students were required to execute brought them insight into the choices architects and artists make during the creative process.
"Once you make a drawing of a building," Rosenthal says, "you understand the logic. You all of a sudden learn to see."
Rosenthal adds that the journals also helped the students digest the fast pace of the program, allowing them to retain more. "We see a lot on this program: countless churches and other buildings, public sculptures, fountains, and collections. We have to absorb a lot, and a lot of this blurs. But by recording it, months later you can revisit the experience," she says.
McDavid says that Rosenthal's encouragement to make the journal her own helped shape her FSP experience. "It got me to really look at Italy in a way that I have never before," she says.
The journals include personal sketches of artwork and historical monuments, and the students' reactions following their first direct encounter with many of these pieces. Entries also include accounts involving life in Italy. Some students included receipts from meals, tickets from concerts and subway rides, and even postcards to embellish the detailed accounts penned in their journals.
Rosenthal instructed the students to construct the journals as memoirs that could one day be published. She encouraged them to include everyday activities and events, since those are integral to the experience of encountering another culture. "I believe that history is not just what existed in the past, but also what we record and communicate about the past," she explains.
Cima admits that she was initially skeptical, but came to appreciate the project.
"At first it seemed tedious, but it became a fantastic keepsake," she says. "Besides simply to articulating a personal experience, it's the best way to share what we learned in Rome."
"It's a unique thing, what we created, and what we got out of it was also a connection to other authors from throughout history who have done the same thing," Cima says. "And now others can view the journals and connect with us."
McDavid also notes how proud the students were of their artistic accomplishments. "I'm really glad that people can see the journals, because they are all very personal, and that is the strength of the experience," McDavid says.
This was Rosenthal's first time directing the Art History FSP, and she expects journals will become a part of the program's curriculum. "Having witnessed how attached students got to their travel journals, I would certainly repeat the assignment in the future," she says.
By ASTRID BRADLEY '09
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Last Updated: 12/17/08