Back to the Classroom — Thursday

Posted in teaching resources by Editor on August 26, 2010

Susan Dixon wraps up our responses to Julie Plax’s syllabus for an undergraduate course on the eighteenth century. Tomorrow, this special ‘teaching week’ concludes with Julie’s syllabus for a graduate seminar on the French Rococo.

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Susan M. Dixon is Associate Professor of art history at The University of Tulsa. She is interested in the history of archaeology as practiced in Rome, ca. 1500-1900. She has published on Giovanni Battista Piranesi and is currently working on a monograph about Rodolfo Lanciani.

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This is a grand experiment, to have us as a group consider what constitutes a good eighteenth-century art survey, and I thank Julie for her courage in providing us fodder. How each of us might choose to dish up the century’s artistic production for student consumption will necessarily reflect our own tastes and fascinations. The freedom we have in that regard is staggering, not having the weight of a textbook like Hartt’s (Italian Renaissance) or Wittkower’s (Italian Baroque); we are without a table d’hôte. Julie’s lecture topics give her the opportunity to cover the most well-known works of art as they help flesh out major issues by which many define the century, i.e., reflections on aesthetics and taste, definitions of public versus private space, sea changes in economic, social and political structures, and the tension between rational science and religion. It is just what one wants a survey class to be, a nice smorgasbord.

I respond here in a way that I hope a good colleague would respond to me, by suggesting readings that have worked for her, or even lecture topics that he thinks I should not neglect. I think one can sometimes get more value by not choosing the reading that presents the broad view (designing the lecture to provide that), and rather using readings that are more focused in scope and more critical in approach. If the readings are chosen well, they can act to expose students to various methodologies, something that could help them navigate the literature when researching. The tricky part, however, is choosing readings that challenge without alienating, as Jennifer pointed out yesterday.

To be brief, if Julie and I were having coffee and cake right now, I might say to her: “how about . . . ?”

Under Nature, David L. Hays, “’This is not a Jardin Anglais’: Carmontelle, the Jardin de Monceau and Irregular Garden Design in late 18th-Century France,” in M. Benes and D. Harris, eds., Villas and Gardens in Early Modern Italy and France (Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 294-326. I like this because even though it’s about a quirky garden that might not be taught in a survey course, it engages with perceptions of what makes a French vs. an English garden. If this is too far off the mark, there’s also Michel Conan, “The Coming of Age of the Bourgeois Garden,” in J. Dixon Hunt and M. Conan, eds., Tradition and Innovation in French Garden Art (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), pp. 160-83. It’s a nice foil after the students have seen Versailles and even Stowe. The piece ends with a question: “how did changes in landscape garden forms contribute to the construction of the sphere of intimacy in the bourgeois families of the first half of the 19th century?”

Under Grand Tour, Bruce Redford, Venice and the Grand Tour (Yale University Press, 1996), perhaps chapters 1 (who’s touring) and 2 (what they learn on the tour). Both are easy reading. It might be nice to pair them with a quirky article by Ilaria Bignamini on the Italian “take” on the Grand Tourists.

Under Religion, I would look at Jon Seydl, “Contesting the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Late Eighteenth-century Rome,” in Andrew Hopkins and Maria Wyke, eds., Roman Bodies: Antiquity to the Eighteenth Century (British School at Rome, 2005).

I’m sure my predisposition for social history is showing about now. Anyone want to join us for coffee?