Students in the Garden of Notre Dame Cathedral
Kristina McCue is an Art History student in her junior year at the College of Art and Design. She recently joined fellow classmates for Paris at the Crossroads (IAHIS 3710) during the Spring 2016 semester. This course offers an experiential component as the class travels to Paris during Spring break. The course, which is team-taught by Art History Professor Stuart Steck and History Assistant Professor Kimberly Lowe, will be offered again next Spring semester in 2018.
Paris at the Crossroads explores the evolution of contemporary French identity and culture since the late 18th century. Students experience a complete immersion into French culture during the study-abroad portion. The opportunity to explore Paris and its sites offers students the chance to discover the origins of French identity on a first-hand basis – an opportunity not always available from a traditional classroom course.
“During the classes preceding our trip to Paris we studied the history of the city, particularly focusing on France’s influence on world art and culture, and its distinct architectural developments,” Kristina explains. “Experiencing Paris’s rich history and cultural atmosphere in person really helped me connect everything we’d learned in class with visual authentication, creating a more vivid and lasting impression compared to regular culture and history courses.”
“An obvious memorable experience in Paris was visiting the Eiffel Tower and taking the elevator to the top of the observatory. Images cannot quite capture the visual impact of the intricacy and enormity of its structure,” recalls Kristina. “Another place that was very impressive was Versailles, particularly its Hall of Mirrors. The Hall was meant to intimidate visitors entering the palace, so to best appreciate its impact you have to walk through it and experience it in person.”
Outside the La Maison Rose in Montmartre
The course provides an interdisciplinary perspective that goes beyond art and design. Students participating in the class come from multiple majors and hold varying interests. Students visit both smaller local landmarks like La Maison Rose in Montmartre as well as historical destinations like the Louvre and Notre Dame Cathedral. The flexibility of the study-abroad component allows students to truly explore Paris in a way that addresses their individual interests.
Sondra Christenson and Kristina McCue relaxing at the Palais Royal
“My favorite aspect of studying abroad for this course was the amount of freedom we were given [while in Paris] to explore our individual goals and interests in the city,” says Kristina. “I personally enjoyed visiting the major art museums. Olympia by Manet was one of my favorite works that we studied. Seeing it first-hand in the Musée d'Orsay and how it is intended to be displayed was more impactful than viewing it in a textbook.”
This experiential experience has led to further opportunities as Kristina demonstrates. “I applied for an internship at the MIT List Visual Arts Center and having had this earlier experience in Paris made me stand out among other applicants.” Showing that learning outside the classroom may provide benefits beyond academic experience.
Photos courtesy of Stuart Steck and Kristina McCue.
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