The blog’s back

I was shocked – shocked! – to see that my last post on the History of Art department blog was way back in February. You’ll all be able to imagine what’s been getting in the way. If I say I’ve been on extended and simultaneous crash courses on online learning, remote team management, risk assessment for Toronto-based over-80s, and year 6 Maths, RE, History, DT and SPAG (don’t ask), that gives you a taste. You’ll all have been ‘learning’ a great deal too I’m sure! I do hope you’ve been keeping a safe and well as possible and are starting to feel like there might be light at the end of this long tunnel.

The life art historical goes on, and I’ve got lots of departmental and Birkbeck news to share.

The Murray seminars continue online beginning this week, thanks to the stellar efforts of Laura Jacobus. Remember to register in advance and you’ll receive a link to join. Federico Botana is a very good speaker, so do tune in.

21st May:  Federico Botana, A gift for Giuliano di Lorenzo de’ Medici?  The Aritmetica by Filippo Calandri 

Register at:

Two more Murray seminars are happening later this term:

10th June: Clare Vernon, Bohemond’s Enigma: Crusader Architecture in Norman Italy

7th July: Gabriele Neher, Leonardo and Cats

To get advance notice of Murray seminars, including a link for registering, write to with ‘SUBSCRIBE MURRAY’ in the subject line

Arts Week, the School of Arts’ annual May showcase of research and creativity, has reemerged as Arts Weeks (note plural), launching today (!), 19 May, with the author Deborah Levy in conversation. More here, and over the next few weeks.

The April graduation ceremonies, at which many of our students, especially postgraduate students, were meant to be donning their robes and caps and basking in the admiration of their families and friends, have been postoned to the week of 2 November. More here, and here’s a taste of what’s to come (though it may be one at a time for the cap tossing):

Delighted to be able to convey some good news from the department. Two of our colleagues have been awarded coveted Leverhulme Research Fellowships for the 2020-21 academic year. Dorigen Caldwell is pursuing a project on ‘Piety, Patronage and Politics in Early Modern Rome’ and Mara Polgovsky-Ezcurra’s project is ‘The New Life: A Cultural History of Cybernetics in Latin America’. Testament to both the strength and breadth of the department’s research! And more strength and breadth in a project led by Patrizia Di Bello, ‘Women Photographing Architecture: The Royal Photographic Society, knowledge sharing networks and changing gender roles (1890-1939)’ which has received a Training Grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The department also had a bumper crop of nominations for the Birkbeck Student Union 2020 Awards, as well as two colleagues shortlisted, and one overall winner! (Pretty impressive for a small department). Suzannah Biernoff emerged victorious as Best Dissertation Supervisor – hurray Suzannah!! Kate Retford was shortlisted for Best Lecturer/Seminar Teacher, and Charlotte Ashby was nominated in that category as well. Warm congrats to all – so well deserved!

You may have heard in the news (if you can bear to turn it on) that universities are struggling, and expecting a downturn in new students in 2020-21. I just Zoomed into a meeting with the higher ups where there was cautious optimism and general relief that applications to study here starting in September are still very healthy indeed. If any students are flexible and resilient, it’s Birkbeck students! We all miss our usual lively open evenings, but they’re still going on online, and you can listen to recorded presentations on our programmes in your own time (available here when you scroll to the bottom) as well. Tonight, 19 May, you can join Patrizia Di Bello at 6pm for an Information Evening focussing on our MA, PG Certificate and PG Diplomas.

And there are upcoming information evenings on

17th June, 6pm, MA/PG Certificate/PG Diploma (with Kate Retford):

25th June, 6pm, Graduate Certificate (with Charlotte Ashy):

Finally, please be in touch with news and contributions for the blog. I won’t promise regular posts for the rest of this term, but I will attempt to get a couple more posted.

I’ll leave you with one of the many funny and creative tweaks on the art historical tradition that have come about in the past couple of months (thanks to Suzannah Biernoff for spotting this).

A mural by street artist Lionel Stanhope on a bridge wall in Ladywell, south-east London, Photograph: Matt Dunham/AP

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Teach outs and a History of Hanging

Many of you will know that there is a University and Colleges Union strike going on nationally. You may have seen pickets yesterday and today at UCL and elsewhere. Birkbeck lecturers are also going on strike from Monday. The full strike dates are:

Monday 24, Tuesday 25 and Wednesday 26 February

Monday 2, Tuesday 3, Wednesday 4 and Thursday 5 March

Monday 9, Tuesday 10, Wednesday 11, Thursday 12 and Friday 13 March

Thursday 19 and Friday 20 March.

If you’re a current student and have classes on any of those days, please look out on your email to see whether your classes are cancelled. If you were planning on attending research or information events in the department or elsewhere in Birkbeck on these days, also keep your eyes open for cancellations. There is a useful list of FAQs issued by Birkbeck here. If you were planning on attending the Open Day on Saturday 22 February, it is still going ahead.

During the strike, there’ll be pickets outside of the School of Arts and the Main Building, and you can come and speak to members of academic staff there and learn more about the strike. There’ll also be ‘teach out’ events happening outside SOAS and Birkbeck main building, to which all are welcome – you can get more info here: Bloomsbury Teach Outs WEEK 1 (2).

Meanwhile do check out the Centre for Museum Cultures website for some exciting upcoming events:

Sarah Ferrari (whom some of you will know as one of the leaders of the department trip to Venice last year) is giving a Murray seminar with a Museums theme: ‘Provenance matters: acquisitions of Venetian Renaissance art in Northern Europe between the First and the Second World War‘. Monday 16 March 5pm, Keynes Library

Susanna Avery-Quash is Honorary Research Fellow in the department, and Senior Research Curator in the History of Collecting at the National Gallery. She is part of two events coming up next term. She’ll be speaking about ‘A History of Hanging! 200 Years of Display at the National Gallery’ on Friday 1 May, 6-7.30pm, Keynes Library (booking link on CMC website).

Frederick Mackenzie, The National Gallery when at Mr Angerstein’s House, Pall Mall (exhibited 1834). Victoria and Albert Museum.

And there’s a very rare and exciting opportunity to go behind the scenes at the National Gallery to see the Conservation Studio, Library and Archive, with Dr Avery-Quash and Head of Conservation Larry Keith on Friday 5 May, 5-7pm. Book soon, because places are limited and are bound to go quickly.

Anna Jamieson, who is doing a PhD in the department on imagery of women and madness in the 18th and 19th centuries, has recorded a podcast on ‘reflecting madness in art’ for the excellent series ‘Art Matters’ hosted by Art UK. Have a listen!

Millais, John Everett; Ophelia; Tate;

And remember to have a look at and listen to a new programme on Michelangelo and how the artist has been presented over the years by the BBC. Michelangelo: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, features interviews with both our own Dorigen Caldwell, and Birkbeck BA and MA alum Leslie Primo. Available on the iPlayer for 25 more days!

Finally, the call for applications for our annual research fund for MA and PhD students is out. The London Art History Society (check out their website for all their many art historical activities) generously donates an amount to Birkbeck every year which allows us to support student research.

You can apply for a bursary of up to £300 if you are an MPhil/PhD student, and £150 if you are an MA student. This money must be used to support your research, and can include travel to archives, accommodation, photography, etc. You apply with an e-mail or an e-mail with a word document attached – there’s no application form. Please set out the rationale for undertaking the research clearly, and explain what it will be contributing towards (e.g., a chapter of a PhD thesis, or an MA Research Project, etc), be precise about what you will be spending the money on, and provide proper costings of the expenses to be incurred. The deadline for applications is Monday 16 March 2020; 23:59. Please send your applications to Jack Redden (


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Telly viewing tip and Liminal London

It’s that survey time of year again: your chance as Birkbeck students to give your feedback on your experience here. If you’re in your final year of a BA programme, you’ll have received (several) emails from the National Student Survey, which is the big one, the results of which are publicly available, and paid close attention to by the government’s Office for Students. Please do take the time to fill it out (and don’t forget to collect your reward: a £15 Ethical Shop or Waterstones voucher!) There are also internal Birkbeck surveys for all other students, undergrad, postgrad, and PhD, and we are very eager to have as many people as possible fill those out. You can find links to all the surveys here, along with info about how we’ve changed things in the past in response to your feedback. I’m also always very happy to have feedback on any aspect of your programmes and Birkbeck experience – you can email me directly at

A tip for your weekend viewing: One of our own will be on the small screen this Sunday 16 Feb at 9pm on BBC Four (and streamable on the iPlayer after that). Dorigen Caldwell, Senior Lecturer in Italian Renaissance Art in the department, has contributed to ‘Michelangelo: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly‘ and she offers us here her insider’s view of the process of doing art history for the telly:

‘Michelangelo’ is part of a series of programmes looking at ‘Art on the BBC’ – which sets out to investigate how art – and particularly ‘great artists’ – have been discussed in BBC arts programming over the years. The pilot episode focused on Leonardo da Vinci, and the other episodes in the first series are looking at Michelangelo, Picasso and ‘The Nude’. In discussions I had with the director, there was a clear desire to take a critical look at how these big artists and themes had been treated in programming that was more often than not fronted by white men, and tended to perpetuate a fairly traditional narrative. Whether or not the final programmes will really deconstruct that narrative is hard to tell, as I wasn’t involved in the conceptual process, and I’m guessing that my contribution will amount to little more than a few minutes. I was interviewed for the programme over a year ago, and haven’t seen it yet myself, but it was quite fun to do, and the director seemed genuinely interested and enthusiastic about Michelangelo. Apparently there’s another series planned, so you might see some more familiar faces take part in that…

Annie Coombes, Professor of Material and Visual Culture in the department, gave a lecture last week in the Department of Culture and Aesthetics at the University of Stockholm. Her lecture, Decolonizing the Monument/Rethinking the Memorial,’ looked at how the increased demand on many university campuses for institutions to address colonial amnesia and to actively decolonize the curriculum has focused on municipal statuary – with the call for iconoclastic removal ironically transforming them from neglected and banalized remnants of former colonial glory into hyper-visible symbols of colonial power. Using examples from Kenya, Spain and South Africa, her lecture considered the ways in which various visual and cultural strategies might be said to perform the requirements of either a monument or a memorial – a living symbolic commemorative structure – in the contexts of particularly violent pasts targeting civilian populations.

The Keiskamma Guernica, 2010, Mixed media, Hamburg, South Africa. Photo: Robert Hofmeyr

A reminder of the upcoming lecture by the School of Arts’ Professor Dame Marina Warner next Wednesday 19 February 6pm in Clore, as part of the lecture series marking 100 years since the College officially became part of the University of London. Marina’s lecture is entitled ‘The Map is not the Territory: Re-imagining Place, Reweaving Story’. More information and a link for booking here. A plug for the department: our own Kate Retford is leading on the School of Arts’ contributions to both this anniversary (100 years in the University of London) and the upcoming 200th anniversary of the foundation of Birkbeck in 1823.

Next Friday 21 February two of our PhD students, Jo Cottrell and Alistair Cartwright, have organised a brilliant-sounding day of talks on the theme of Liminal London: Real and Unreal Spaces of the 20th-century Metropolis, sponsored by the Architecture, Space and Society Centre. Academics and writers will explore the existence of heterotopic sites and other spaces straddling the real and the unreal throughout London in the twentieth century. Papers will examine spaces that exist between the public and the private, and the heteroclite communities that have gathered there, considering how such spaces have fostered modes of cosmopolitan life, and helped overcome – or alternatively reinforced – inequalities of race, class, gender and sexuality. 9.30-6 in Keynes Library, followed by a drinks reception, music and poetry. Spaces are limited, so don’t forget to book using the link above.

Birkbeck has just announced an exciting new opportunity: the Diversity100 PhD Studentships. Five generous PhD studentships (fees and stipend) are available across all areas of research represented at Birkbeck for BAME students. We are concerned at Birkbeck with the lack of representation by Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students at doctoral level. Compared with other institutions, our BAME students form a relatively high percentage of overall student numbers, but the proportion of BAME students at PhD level is significantly lower. In this context, Birkbeck is offering five studentships for PhD students starting their studies in Autumn 2020. These scholarships actively address under-representation at the highest level of research, and encourage BAME students to consider academic research in all disciplines. Successful candidates will have a strong academic background and/or exceptional research potential. More information at the link above. The closing date for applications is 11 May 2020.

There are still a few places available on the Study Trip to Budapest (11-15 May) with Kasia Murawska-Muthesius and Stefan Muthesius. Really worth looking into this, I mean it!

The British Council Venice Fellows have been announced for 2020: George Townsend, a PhD student in English (co-supervised with History of Art) and Foteini (Claire) Saramanti, a student on the MA Text and Performance. The Venice Fellowships, which are awarded every year, fund two students from the School of Arts to travel to Venice and work as part of the team at the British Pavilion of the Venice Biennale or the Venice Architecture Biennale. Many congratulations to both of them!

And warm congratulations too to Patricia Yaker Ekall, who is a student on the BA History of Art, and one of the 2019 Venice Fellows. She’ll be heading back to Venice in summer 2020 to take up one of the very competitive internships at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, following in the footsteps of Danilo Reis, an recent graduate of the BA History of Art. The Birkbeck invasion continues…


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Europeans in London, Women in Washington

So, it’s Brexit day. The best way I could think of to mark it was celebrate Birkbeck and the department of History of Art as sites of openness, diversity and cosmopolitanism, via some stats: Birkbeck has 12125 students, of which 1840 are EU nationals and a whopping 5158 declare a nationality other than British. In our department, of 372 students, 51 are EU, and 124 are of non-British nationality. We have an international group of staff from 4 continents, and we work on material from across Europe (including Italy, Austria, Poland, Czech Republic, the Nordic countries, France, Kosovo, and Turkey, as well as the UK) and across the world. It’s also worth saying that we’re a department that is committed to understanding and interrogating British culture, in all its complexity and messiness. No simple answers here!

Here’s a work by a European in London about 150 years ago, to contemplate as the witching hour of 11pm passes:

Camille Pissarro, Lordship Lane Station, Dulwich, 1871

Jennifer Tucker (Wesleyan University, Connecticut) was a visiting professor at the Birkbeck Institute for Humanities recently, connected to the department’s History and Theory of Photography Research Centre. She’s been in touch to share this fascinating and topical piece from the online magazine Art Net. It’s about on a controversial recent episode of censorship involving the US National Archives and a photo of the 2017 Women’s March in Washington.

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 21: Protesters walk during the Women’s March on Washington, with the U.S. Capitol in the background, on January 21, 2017 in Washington, DC. Large crowds are attending the anti-Trump rally a day after U.S. President Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th U.S. president. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The annual Burlington Magazine Contemporary Art Writing Prize (£1000 – not bad!) is open for entries, with a deadline of 6 April. More here. (Warning – age discrimination: you have to be 35 or under to enter…)

A reminder of some upcoming talks:

3 February, 5pm, Keynes Library: the Murray Seminar in Medieval and Renaissance Art welcomes James Hall, who’ll be speaking on ‘Embattled Exclusivity: the Aesthetics and Politics of Michelangelo’s Attack on Flemish Painting’.

6 February, 6pm, Keynes: The Centre for Museum Cultures presents a joint talk by curator and researcher Bergit Arends and Louise Lawson, Conservation Manager for Time-Based Media at Tate. They’ll address the complex issue of ‘Time-based media in the museum: conserving and activating performance’.

7 February, 6pm, Keynes: The Architecture Space and Society Centre hosts its annual Thinker in Architecture lecture.  Emma Cheatle (University of Sheffield) will be speaking on ‘Feminist Ethnography and “writing-architecture-nearby”’.

Finally, I have some sad news about one of our students that I wanted to share, since many past and current MA students will have known her. Karen Childs passed away on January 19th after a long battle with cancer. Karen was a student on the MA History of Art starting in 2014-15. Those of you who encountered her will I’m sure agree that she was an exceptionally friendly, curious and brave person, as well as being extremely elegant. Turns out she also contributed to advances in cancer treatment as a pioneering participant in a study at the Royal Marsden hospital, as you can see in this piece from BBC news (with a characteristically upbeat Karen featured).

Karen’s family has let us know that all are welcome to come and remember her at the funeral in St Alban’s on Monday 10 February. Please contact me (Leslie Topp: if you would like details.

Here’s a photo of Karen:


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Twas the Season of the Country House

Handing you over to Prof. Kate Retford, for a special blog post. Many of you will know Kate as previous head of department and the originator of this blog; she teaches across the programmes in the department, is author of The Conversation Piece (Yale and Paul Mellon Centre, 2017) and many other publications on eighteenth century art, and is currently programme director of the MA History of Art. Over to you, Kate!

For me, the Autumn term 2019 was all about the British country house! Recently, my research has been concentrating on these sites, such a dominant aspect of British ‘national heritage’. The membership of the National Trust has now topped 5 million: 22 million visits were made to their historic house properties in 2017. As I’d begun thinking about my new country house research project, I’d decided it would be a good idea to develop an MA option on the topic, so ‘The Country House Experience’ module ran for the first time in the Autumn term. A close relationship between research and teaching is always beneficial for everyone concerned, and this course paid great dividends. It got me reading around the subject broadly, and thinking more deeply about certain topics than I had before, and the discussions I had with the group of engaged and informed Masters students who signed up for the course were fascinating. We moved from talking about difficult legacies of slavery in the country house to the recent turning of attention towards servants’ quarters and service wings; we discussed key moments such as the birth of the National Trust Country House scheme in the 1930s, and the Destruction of the Country House exhibition at the V&A in 1974, when visitors were greeted with a tumbling portico and a dramatic soundtrack as part of an emotive plea to halt demolition of properties, and the dispersal of collections.

The highlight of the ten weeks module was a day trip to Audley End in Essex, run by English Heritage: a great success thanks to the generosity and expertise of its Curator, Dr. Peter Moore. Peter was kind enough to look through our course materials ahead of the visit, and then take care to show us spaces and objects in the house which chimed with particular issues of concern. He also spoke openly and engagingly about the joys and challenges of looking after a historic house property, and took us into various parts of the house not normally seen by visitors. We got to look at works of art on racks in the stores, and also went up to the attics where Peter got out a rich variety of archival material for the students to handle (carefully!) and read. One object which really stuck in everyone’s minds was a late nineteenth-century cookery book, handwritten by Avis Crocombe, head cook at Audley End. Mrs Crocombe, we were fascinated to learn, has become a youtube sensation – check out her recipes online!

I also headed up to Manchester at the start of December for a conference on ‘The Houses of Politicians’, exploring the myriad and complex ties between politics and the country house in the long eighteenth century. Speakers came from Canada, and the US, but we also had a triumvirate of representatives from Birkbeck! As well as me, there to moderate a session, Fiona Candlin took part to speak about her ‘Mapping Museums’ project in a paper engagingly entitled: ‘When is a historic house a museum? (and why might it matter)’. One of my PhD students, Juliet Learmouth – currently working on women and eighteenth-century town houses – was also there to give a paper on Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, and the highly political town house she built in the early eighteenth century: Marlborough House, now home to the Commonwealth Secretariat. As part of the conference, Juliet, Fiona and I joined the other delegates on a trip out to Wentworth Woodhouse, currently being restored by the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust. It was a memorable sunny winter’s afternoon: not only were we given a guided tour around the interiors, but we were also taken onto the roof, able to see the enormous timber structure without its slates, and were escorted round what one colleague dubbed ‘the urn hospital’!

The restoration work being done at the property is impressive and ambitious, but we also heard from a deeply committed team of volunteers, as well as the CEO, about how the project is working as an important regeneration project, focused on the local community, with plans for the site as a wedding venue, conference centre, hub for small businesses etc. To find out more, have a look at their website.

Then, in the final week of term, the Birkbeck Eighteenth Century Research Group  and the Architecture, Space and Society Centre filled the Keynes Library to capacity for an afternoon symposium on the English country house. The weather was awful, it was election day, but so many people turned out that we ended up running around the building in search of more chairs. Jon Stobart from Manchester Metropolitan spoke about the themes of comfort and family through objects in the eighteenth-century house; Abby van Slyck, over from Connecticut College in the US, shared her new research on the Swiss Cottage at Osborne House, a playhouse constructed for Victoria and Albert’s children while I talked about my new work on the marketing of the country house as a ‘family home’, set up in opposition to a ‘museum’. The papers worked well together, we managed not to think about what was happening in the polling stations for a couple of hours, and it was a great way to wrap up my term of country houses.

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Lots to look forward to

Welcome back! The Spring term has begun – and with luck, by the end of it, it’ll actually start feeling and looking like Spring.

For some memories of nicer weather and a beautiful place (as well as a fascinating account of how contemporary art can trigger debate on all sorts of things), do have a read of a new blogpost on Birkbeck comments. It’s by BA History of Art student Patricia Yaker Ekall, who was one of two Birkbeck British Council Venice Fellows in 2019, allowing her to spend a month in Venice in September, working at the British Pavilion of the Venice Biennale. Patricia, in addition to being a student, is an active arts and style journalist – you can read more from her here.

And speaking of Europe… David Latchman, the Master of Birkbeck, wrote to all staff before the holidays (but after the election), and I thought I’d share part of his message with you: ‘the results of the election now firmly set the course for a Brexit which I know is a cause of concern across the College community. My message on this has always been clear but it is important to say it again. We are committed to welcoming and supporting staff and students from the European Union and across the globe. We are firmly committed to the breadth and scope of our international academic collaborations. I know you will join your voice to mine in making that message direct, heartfelt and real for our EU colleagues and our EU students.’ It is heartfelt and real: in History of Art we hugely value our EU colleagues and our many many EU students and look forward to remaining a department that nurtures these connections well into the future.

And now, because I know you’re all eager to know what’s coming up this term to keep you busy and stimulated, here are the events that have been announced so far for this term:

28 January, 5-5.50pm, Keynes Library: a session for all those interested in finding out more about the 2020 Department study trip to Vienna, which will take place 30 March – 3 April. Details will be emails to all BA, Graduate Certificate, PG Cert, Dip and MA students soon. (And for those with the Central European art and travel bug, a note that the Budapest trip, offered as part of the Cert HE, but open to all, still has places.)

3 February, 5pm, Keynes Library: the Murray Seminar in Medieval and Renaissance Art welcomes James Hall, who’ll be speaking on ‘Embattled Exclusivity: the Aesthetics and Politics of Michelangelo’s Attack on Flemish Painting’. There are further Murray Seminars coming up on 25 February and 16 March – more details in subsequent blogs.

6 February, 6pm, Keynes: The Centre for Museum Cultures presents a joint talk by curator and researcher Bergit Arends and Louise Lawson, Conservation Manager for Time-Based Media at Tate. They’ll address the complex issue of ‘Time-based media in the museum: conserving and activating performance’.

7 February, 6pm, Keynes: The Architecture Space and Society Centre hosts its annual Thinker in Architecture lecture.  Emma Cheatle (University of Sheffield) will be speaking on ‘Feminist Ethnography and “writing-architecture-nearby”’.

18 & 20 February – the series of School of Arts Employability workshops continues, with really good sounding panels of alumni working in various sectors, including visual arts, museums, media, the creative industries, and the civil service. See here and here for details and booking links.

19 February, 6pm, Clore lecture theatre – 2020 marks 100 years since Birkbeck became part of the University of London. There’ll be a series of lectures marking anniversary, including this fascinating and timely one by the School of Arts’ Dame Marina Warner: The Map is not the Territory: Re-imagining Place, Reweaving Story

21 February, 9.30-6, Keynes library – The ASSC and two of our PhD students have organised a one-day symposium called Liminal London, exploring real and unreal spaces of London in the twentieth century.

26 February, 6pm, Keynes – The Eighteenth Century Research Group welcomes Geoff Quilley from the University of Sussex, who will be speaking about ‘The Economy of Human Life: Arthur William Devis’s Representations of 1790s India’.

6 March, 6.30pm, Keynes – Birkbeck’s Rome Lecture Series returns with a programme of lectures on Raphael in Rome, beginning with Philippa Jackson on ‘Raphael’s Death in 1520: Fact and Fiction’


Next up on this blog: a guest post by Prof Kate Retford, on her term with country houses.

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Central European explorations (and all the best of the season)

It’s been a longish gap since my last blogpost – somehow I always imagine the end of term as a time of graceful winding down and time for review and reflection, and it ends up being a mad dash for the finish line.

Anyway, now term is over I can draw a breath and let you know about various exciting and interesting things.

The destination for our 2020 department study trip has been announced: the glorious and fascinating Central European metropole of Vienna. The trip will take place 30 March to 3 April. More will be sent out to current students at all levels in the new year about how to secure your place on the trip, and about a session being scheduled to meet the trip leaders and ask questions. I can tell you now a bit about the two people leading the trip. Niccola Shearman has just completed a one-year lectureship in the history of art department at University of Manchester, where she led a very successful field trip to Vienna for them. She is an expert in German Expressionist art; after a career as a teacher, she recently completed her PhD at the Courtauld. Miloš Kosec is an architect based in Llubljiana, Slovenia, who recently completed his PhD in contemporary architecture at Birkbeck, and who knows Vienna – both contemporary and historical – well. They’re in the process of devising a really interesting and rich trip. The departmental study trip, which is free for current students, is generously supported by the Murray Bequest, which, in addition to paying the co-leaders, funds bursaries for help those students who need it to defray the travel and accommodation costs. More on that soon! You can read more about the departmental study trip here.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna – one of the world’s best collections of early modern art

And speaking of Central European metropoles, our Certificate programme in History of Art features a brilliant week-long study trip to Budapest, 11-15 May, led by Kasia Murawska-Muthesius. Kasia (ably assisted by Prof Stefan Muthesius) has led numerous excellent and extremely popular field trips to cities all over Europe, but this is the first one to Budapest. There are just a couple of places left. Like all our Certificate modules, the Budapest trip can be enrolled on as a one-off module with no entrance requirements. For more on cost and enrolment see here and download more details here.

A message for MA alumni: The deadline for signing up to take MA options in the Spring term on a non-credit-bearing basis has been extended to 6 January. There is the usual fascinating range of options available. Download further details here.

And for those of you considering applying for a MA, PG Certificate or PG Diploma in the department, there are now two Youtube videos of about 20 minutes each outlining details of the programmes’ structure, special features, student experience and more. You’ll hear Leslie Topp (yours truly) and Sarah Thomas explaining the programmes with slides, and then an online Q&A session with more information. (The beginning of my video has a techno-dystopian vibe as you’ll see, but stick with it and it settles down quite reassuringly.)

Links to the videos:

History of Art, History of Architecture, History of Photograpy programmes (Leslie)

Museum Cultures Programmes (Sarah)

Mara Polgovsky-Ezcurra, Lecturer in Contemporary Art, was in Liverpool last week leading a hands-on workshop at Tate Liverpool engaging with the links between collage and activism. ‘Art and Politics: The Workings of Collage‘ asked: What is the relevance of art to discuss power and its abuses, the relationship between beauty and Empire, the ways the past affects our vision of the present? It addressed these questions through precipitative and creative engagement with the work of Argentine artist and human rights activist Leon Ferrari (1920-2013). Ferrari gained international visibility for his unparalleled capacity to stir up debate and explore ways to make art relevant to society at large. He practiced drawing and sculpture, yet collage became the primary form of expression that he used to approach art and politics. The workshop aimed not just to come to know and understand Ferrari’s art but also to link it to issues of the present. Participants made a collage meant to be not just artistically pleasing but politically significant too.

Postcards featuring the work of Argentine artist Lucila Quieto (b.1977). Photo: Jordana Blejmar

Looking forward to next term, Mara has organised an event with the Centre for Museum Cultures that will be of interest to all with an interest in contemporary and performance art, as well as Museum Cultures and BA History of Art with Curating students. ‘Time-based media in the museum: conserving and activating performance’ brings together the academic and curator Bergit Arends (University of Bristol) with the Conservation Manager for Time Based Media Conservation at Tate, Louise Lawson. They’ll be discussing the challenges and opportunities of archiving, conserving and activating works that exist primarily in time.

Finally, a sneak preview of the Spring and Summer programme of Murray Seminars in Medieval and Renaissance Art. All talks are in Keynes library at 5pm:

27th January: James Hall on Michelangelo and Flemish aesthetics

25th February:  Federico Botano on a 15thC Florentine manuscripts

16th March:  Sarah Ferrari on an Italian Renaissance subject tbc

14th May Lucy Donkin on a medieval subject tbc

10th June   Clare Vernon on a crusader mausoleum

9th July  Gaby Neher on Leonardo da Vinci and cats

Happy Holidays! Back in 2020.


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Faces and enigmas, nuclear landscapes and country houses

What really struck me in putting together the blog this week was how rich and diverse our research culture is – and this richness and diversity is very much on display over the next couple of weeks.

At the next Murray Seminar on Medieval and Renaissance Art, on Weds 4 December at 5pm in the Keynes Library, our own Laura Jacobus will be speaking on ‘Faces and Enigmas: maker-portraits by Giotto and Giovanni Pisano’. During the later middle ages, the questions ‘who makes an art-work?’ and ‘what is a portrait?’ had no simple answers.  The person who commissioned a work of art could be seen as the person responsible for its creation, and the person we call the artist could be regarded as just one of the means employed to make it. The word ‘portrait’ was not in use (at least not in its modern sense), and images of people were not expected to look like anyone recognisable. Giotto and Giovanni Pisano were two of the most famous artists working in Italy in the years around 1300 and they wanted recognition in every sense of the word. But how? Come and find out – all welcome and no need to book.

The Architecture Space and Society Centre has a veritable cluster of events over the rest of the term:

This Thursday 28 November, 6pm, room 106:  Vandana Baweja (University of Florida) is speaking on the German émigré architect and expert on tropical architecture Otto Koenigsberger and what it means to talk about global histories of Modernism.

Friday 6 December, 6pm, room 106: A conversation between artist Susan Schuppli (Goldsmiths, Centre for Research Architecture) and architect David Burns (RCA, School of Architecture) on ‘Apocalyptic Archives: Nuclear Landscapes and Material Histories‘.

Thursday 12 December, 3-5pm, Keynes Library: A mini-symposium on the English country house from the 18th century to the present, with our own Kate Retford, Abby Van Slyck (Connecticut College) and Jon Stobart (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Then on Friday 13 December, 10-5pm in the School of Arts Cinema, there’s a day workshop aimed at post-graduate students, co-hosted by the History and Theory of Photography Research Centre, the ASSC and the Birkbeck Institute of Humanities on ‘Photography, Space and Violence‘. It features talks by Birkbeck’s Steve Edwards and Sean Willcock, BIH visting fellow Claire Zimmerman (University of Michigan) and Alberto Toscano (Goldsmiths), alongside student presentations.

You’ll remember all those photos of our happy graduates in a recent blog. Well now you can read about two of them in detail, including the fact that they’re married to each other. Check out this post about two of our students on the Birkbeck events blog.

In staff news, Professor Annie Coombes gave a talk last month at the Art Institute of the University of Plymouth as part of their ‘Beyond Contact: Postcolonial Approaches to Art’ Series. In ‘Decolonizing the Monument/Rethinking the Memorial‘, she grappled with crucial and timely issues of colonialism and memory.  As a counterpoint to the rise of the nationalist right (again) in Europe, the United States and elsewhere in the world, there has been an increased demand on many university campuses, for institutions to address colonial amnesia and to actively decolonize the curriculum. Public statues were also key components of this process, particularly the removal of monuments dedicated to the “heroes” of the colonial period. Using examples from Kenya, Spain and South Africa, Prof. Coombes considered the ways how the violent past targeting civilian populations can be remembered today. She also investigated alternative forms of collective memory which enable a shared and more organic engagement with our history. You can read more about her talk here.

Sarah Thomas‘s book Witnessing Slavery: Art and Travel in the Age of Abolition (Yale University Press), mentioned in past blogs, was, very excitingly, shortlisted for the Apollo Magazine Book of the Year.

You also might be interested to know that there are academics working in other departments in the School of Arts who are leading art historians, working on areas with strong links to the work in our department. Carmen Fracchia, for instance, is Reader in Hispanic Art History in the Department of Cultures and Languages. Her new book ‘Black But Human’ Slavery and Visual Arts in Habsburg Spain, 1480-1700 has just been published by Oxford University Press.

A reminder to give your feedback to your student reps in time for the staff-student exchange meetings that they’ll be attending next week (Cert HE, BA and Grad Cert on Weds 4th; PG Cert, PG Dip and MA on Thurs 5th). Please see the emails sent out by our admin team ( with email addresses for your student reps. You can also find their names and emails in the UG and PG student handbooks under ‘The Student Voice’.

We’re offering two really interesting modules, taught by two of our most popular lecturers, starting in January – these are open access Cert HE modules, so anyone can simply enrol. There are still places, but they’re going fast!

Art and Society in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Prasannajit De Silva) – Tuesday evenings 6pm

Central European Modernism: Berlin to Belgrade (Kasia Murawska-Muthesius) – Tuesdays 2pm

Finally, I’ve been alerted to an interesting-sounding talk TOMORROW 27 November at 7pm by the preeminent art historian Griselda Pollock at the Jewish Museum, on the artist Charlotte Solomon, who is the subject of a current exhibition at the museum. There are still tickets available, with concessions for students.

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Spring term MA options: Special post for graduates of our MA/PG Certificate and PG Diploma Programmes

As announced previously in this blog… For the first time in 2019-20, we are opening up places on our MA options to our MA (and Postgraduate Certificate and Postgraduate Diploma) graduates, in response for demand for further personal enrichment and professional development. We are now announcing the Spring 2020 list of options available. If you completed the MA in 2019 but have not graduated yet, you are still eligible. We hope you’ll find the following offer attractive and stimulating, and we would love to have your feedback.

What to expect

  • You will be taking these modules alongside seminar-size groups of current MA students. The overall number will not normally exceed 18. You’ll be given access to all preparatory readings and other resources, and will be part of the seminar along with the rest of the group. As you’ll remember from your own studies, doing the reading in advance is crucial to your own and everyone else’s experience of the seminar, so we ask all participants to commit to coming to class prepared.
  • You will be included on any class visits to sites and collections.
  • You will have access to the Birkbeck library and its online resources, as well as to the module’s Moodle page, for the duration of the module.
  • You will probably be asked to do a non-assessed presentation, but you won’t be asked to do the assessment (final essay) for the module.

How to sign up

  • The list of options available in the Spring term 2020 is available to download at the bottom of this post, with dates and times. You can opt to take one or more than one, as long as the times don’t clash.
  • Places on each module are limited, so please rank your choices in order of preference.
  • Places will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, so send your ranked choices (including an indication of how many you would like to take) to as soon as possible and no later than 13 December.

Cost: £650 per option module.

MA History of Art and Museums options for MA graduates Spring 2020

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Second blogpost of the day – pleas and opportunities

And now for part 2:

Some pleas first.

If you’re a current student you’ll have been receiving emails asking for volunteers to be student representatives. Huge thanks to all those who’ve come forward. We are still in need of volunteers from our post-graduate programmes in Museum Cultures, History of Art, History of Architecture, and History of Photography. The student rep role is a vital and rewarding one. You are the person who other students go to with feedback on their programmes, which you then bring to two staff-student exchange meetings per year. A staff-student exchange meeting, which is attended by programme directors and administrators and by yours truly as head of department, is a really meaty and useful affair, during which students set the agenda and lots of issues of real relevance to your studies – from assessment and communication to placements and classrooms are discussed. Don’t worry if you’ve never done anything like this before – there’s training and online resources available from the student union. Being a student rep is your opportunity to get to know other students on your courses, and to have an impact on your studies and how they’re run and organised. If you’re interested, please contact our admin team on

Another excellent way to get involved and meet other students is by helping out with the department’s student society, the History of Art Society. A small group of students is starting to put together a programme of events for this year – watch this blog for more. But they’d like more people to come forward to be part of the society steering committee. Students on all of our programmes, undergraduate and postgraduate, are welcome. If you’re interested, please contact Tammi on

And now for the opportunities!

Installation by Cathy Wilkes, British Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2019

The School of Arts is delighted to announce an exciting opportunity to all current students – this year’s round of applications for two Steward-Research Fellowships at the Venice Biennale 2020, running between 18 May and 29 November 2020. The Biennale alternates between an art and architecture focus; in 2020 it’s architecture’s turn. The successful candidates will be responsible for making their own travel and accommodation arrangements, but will be given a travel grant of £1600 for a period of one month towards these and other expenses. The successful candidates will work four days per week over a one-month period as an invigilator in the British Pavilion, and on the remaining three days they will focus on their own research project. The British Pavilion will be presenting The Garden of Privatised Delights – the exhibition will engage in the current debate around ownership and access to what we perceive as public space. The curators will transform the British Pavilion into a series of immersive spaces, offering a fantastic opportunity for students, researchers and early stage career artists to engage in the process. Students from all programmes across the School of Arts are encouraged to apply. There is a briefing session about the Fellowships led by Laura Broderick and Ros Fraser, the Fellowship’s Programme Managers from the British Council, on Thursday 21 November at 6pm-7.30pm in CLO B01 [Clore Management Centre, Torrington Square, Bloomsbury, London, WC1E 7JL]. We shall also be joined by one of last year’s Fellows. Our guests will be available to answer any questions you might have about the Fellowships. Applications are due by 2pm on Friday 29 November. Please, send them to For any queries please contact Dorota Ostrowska at The Info Pack is also available on this link.

For the past three years we’ve been sending students to Venice on these fellowships. You can read great blog posts by the two 2018 fellows, Uli Gamper and Danilo Reis.

My brilliant and innovative colleague in the School of Arts, Mari-Paz Balibrea, organises the Arts Employability Programme. You are warmly invited to come along if you want to explore your options for employment after you have completed your degree and are wondering what kind of work you can do with a degree in Arts. I’m hoping some of you were able to go along to the Careers workshop and the Industry and Alumni Panel last week. Upcoming events include: Going Global Workshop, 15 January (very topical – working abroad, working in Europe after/despite/around Brexit, changes to regs around working in the UK for international students); Industry and Alumni panel, 18 February; and Global Talent panel, 20 February. See the posters around the School of Arts building for more. Booking links will be available closer to the date.

You may not know that Birkbeck has a partnership with the renowned Institute of Contemporary Arts. The ICA offers a limited number of Blue Memberships to Birkbeck students. Perks of this membership include free entry to their important programme of exhibitions of contemporary art, discounted tickets to films, talks, concerts and performances, with no booking fees; free monthly Members’ film screenings in their beautiful cinemas; and a 10% discount at the Bookstore and Rochelle Canteen (very yummy). Please sign up here.  More information on the ICA Blue Membership and the list of member benefits can be found here.

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Happy graduates and events, events, events

Last week I got to do one of my favourite things, which was to go to graduation. For the head of department and other (un)lucky academics it does mean dressing up in extremely warm academic gowns and silly hats and sitting still for 90 minutes on the stage clapping a lot and worrying about whether you turned your mobile off. But seeing our students walk across the stage looking extremely pleased and very justifiably proud makes it worth it, and the best bit is the milling around in the reception afterwards talking to students and their families and friends. The November graduation is mostly BAs and Graduate Certificates (MAs get their chance in April), and at each one there are always also PhDs, which are really very special. Nothing like the look of relief and happiness on the face of a graduating PhD student!

Some photos of the happy graduates in question:

Reading week is now well behind us and we’re back with a vengeance. Events and opportunities galore (plus a couple of pleas). In fact… there is so much to tell you about that I’ve decided to do a two parter. Events and some news below, followed by opportunities (and pleas) in a separate post.

This evening at 6pm in Keynes Library, the Centre for Museum Cultures hosts our own Dr Kasia Murawska-Muthesius. She’ll be speaking on a topic of great art historical, museological, and political relevance as well as significant personal resonance for her in a paper entitled ‘The Critical Museum Debate Continues‘. The project of the Critical Museum – the art institution which uses its own resources, including its collection, its range of activities and its “auratic” space, for encouraging and hosting the debates on the issues that are crucial for contemporary societies  –  was one of the boldest and socially most significant battles undertaken by Piotr Piotrowski, when invited to run the National Museum in Warsaw in 2009 (with Kasia herself at his side as deputy director).  The Critical Museum project, formed part and parcel of Piotrowski’s long-standing campaign against the prevalent discourses of contemporary art history and, in particular, against the hierarchical artistic geography, eulogising masterpieces, and marginalising the arts of East Central Europe. However, it was not just the art historical canon which was the target. Piotrowski’s museum was devised, first and foremost, as a forum, as an active agent in the public sphere, the venue for exhibiting art and discussing society, deliberately contributing to the process of defending democracy and its values, digging up difficult memories, juxtaposing conflicting narratives, empowering the disempowered, with a special attention given to the rights of minorities. The paper will discuss the origins and the premises, as well as the aftermath of the Critical Museum project. More information and booking link here (or if you don’t have time to book, just go along.)

While we’re on the topic of Museums, on Monday 18 November Sarah Thomas, lecturer in the department and director of the Centre for Museum Cultures, will be giving a lunchtime talk in the Sainsbury Wing Theatre of the National Gallery on ‘The legacies of slave ownership on art museums in Britain’. All welcome – further information and booking here.  This talk follows on from a recent workshop that Sarah co-convened in September with Dr Lucy Peltz from the National Portrait Gallery (and honorary research fellow at Birkbeck). It brought together thirty museum professionals and scholars to discuss current research on the cultural legacies of slave-ownership. This was an opportunity for curators, educators and researchers from art museums across the UK to consider strategies and practical methodologies to deal with the legacies of slavery and slave-ownership, and to discuss what it might mean to ‘decolonise’ the art museum. It’s been an eventful time for Sarah, whose bookWitnessing Slavery: Art and Travel in the Age of Abolition has also recently been published by the Paul Mellon Centre and Yale University Press.

Then tomorrow (Tuesday 12 November, 5-6pm in Keynes Library) you can hear the latest research on another kind of institutional identity crisis, this one from the middle ages. For the next Murray Seminar we welcome Michael Carter, Senior Historian at English Heritage, speaking on ‘Relics and monastic identity in late medieval England’. The speaker analyses the importance of relics in the construction of monastic identities in late medieval England. He will focus on two Benedictine (Battle and Whitby) and two Cistercian (Hailes and Rievaulx) abbeys. He will demonstrate that these monasteries used relics to promote and sustain their wider religious role until the time of the Suppression, and that relics were also used to affirm relations between religious houses. Relics and the development of local liturgical observance will also be discussed. Calling upon relic lists, chronicles, heraldry, wills and extant material remains, Michael will also give an idea of the broad range of sources available for the study of the cult of relics at English monasteries, and show that significant material remains unexplored or capable of reinterpretation. The talk is a work in progress, and presents preliminary findings from a projected large-scale study into relics and monasteries in the two centuries before the Suppression. Booking link here, or just go along.

And as previously noted in this blog two more of our research centres have rich programmes of events scheduled across the rest of the term. The History and Theory of Photography Research Centre is hosting several scholars from across the pond this term, including Andrés Mario Zervigón (Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey) giving the paper ‘Fully Visible and Transparent: Zeiss Anastigmat’ on Wednesday, 20 November 2019, 6-7:30pm in Gordon Sq room 106. Then on Monday 9 December 2019, 6-7:30pm, also in room 106, Charlene Heath (Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto, Canada) will be giving a paper of equal interest to photography and museums people, ‘To Circulate and Disperse: Jo Spence, Terry Dennett and a Still Moving Archive’.

The History and Theory of Photography Research Centre is also involved in hosting the launch of a special issue of the journal Memory Studies devoted to Ottoman Transcultural Memories, co-edited by a team including our own Gabriel Koureas and Colette Wilson. The launch will be on Monday 25 November, 2-4pm in Keynes Library, and will include a short presentation on the special issue and a Q&A, and very excitingly, a musical performance by Suna Alan, one of the contributors. More information and a booking link below.

Ottoman Transcultural Memories Launch Flyer

There are also all the Architecture Space and Society Centre events coming up (Otto Koenigsberger and Global Histories of Modernism on 28 November; Apocalyptic Archives on 6 December and the English Country House on the afternoon of 12 December) – more details here and in future blogs.

Opportunities and pleas to come, as promised.

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Enrol! Book! demands, demands…

Now that all the inductions, orientations and introductory lectures are well behind us, I hope you’re enjoying getting your teeth into the substance of your studies. If by any chance you haven’t yet enrolled, you’ll know from the multiple reminders I’m sure you’ve received that there’s a deadline to enrol of 31 October (why does that date sound familiar?) The sooner the better for enrolment, in order to make sure you don’t lose access to moodle and other essential resources. If you’re having any problems enrolling, and/or would like to talk to someone about payment of fees and financial issues, the best place to turn is the Student Advice Service.

I had a quick visit to Manchester University last week to give a talk on ‘Modern Architecture and Antisemitism in Vienna’, in which I discussed two key buildings by the architects Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos, and how they were shaped by the particular political and economic forms of antisemitic agitation in the banking and clothing industries of the early 20th century. The talk was based on some research I’ve done recently for a contribution to the book Design Dialogue: Jews, Culture and Viennese Modernism. While there, I made a pilgrimage to the Manchester Art Gallery to see Ford Madox Brown’s amazing Work. There’s nothing like standing in front of an artwork that you have seen so many times in reproduction…

Speaking of being in front to paintings, one of our PhD students, Melissa Buron, has curated a major exhibition on the French (and a bit English) painter James Tissot: ‘Tissot: Fashion and Faith’. It opened at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco earlier this month and moves on to Musée d’Orsay in Paris in March 2020. Melissa was also an MA History of Art student at Birkbeck and is completing her PhD on Tissot and the Visual Language of Spiritualism, supervised by Prof Lynda Nead.

The exhibition is a major reassessment of the artist’s work and will demonstrate that even in his most glamorous and fashionable society paintings there is a rich and complex commentary on topics such as nineteenth-century culture, religion, and politics. Throughout his life Tissot experimented with major trends in contemporary art, but his work resists classification and traditional labels. We congratulate Melissa on this major achievement and are booking our Eurostar tickets now!

The History and Theory of Photography Research Centre has announced its Autumn programme of talks, which are free and open to all.

The first is on 20 November, 6-7:30pm in Gordon Square room 106.  Andrés Mario Zervigón (Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey) will be giving a talk entitled ‘Fully Visible and Transparent: Zeiss Anastigmat’. In 1890, the famous Jena Glass Works of Carl Zeiss released the Anastigmat photographic lens. The innovative device advanced a chapter in optical technology; thenew lens offered a consistent field of focus across the photographic plate. But why exactly had Zeiss developed its expensive mechanism and what drove photographers to buy it? This paper suggests that the consistent focus and varied depth of field that the Anastigmat provided were not in and of themselves the desired goals of the improvements, but that they were instead visible signals of a pictorial model that makers and consumers had been seeking since the public introduction of photography in 1839. The goal was a transparent realism that remained stubbornly external to the medium, an illusionistic standard that had largely been mediated by painting since the renaissance and was now apparently possible in photography as well.

Justine Varga, Overlay, 2016-18.

Later in the term, on 9 December,  we can look forward to Charlene Heath (Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto, Canada) on To Circulate and Disperse: Jo Spence, Terry Dennett and a Still Moving Archive.

Later this week , on 25-26 October there’s a conference on issues in contemporary art at the Courtauld Institute which may be of interest.

And don’t forget to BOOK YOUR PLACES for the Murray Lecture next Friday 1 November, 6pm: T.J. Clark on ‘What Cezanne Saw in Pissarro’, followed by a drinks reception, which is always a fun event. There are still seats (free of course), but they’re going fast. Book here.

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The Murray Lecture, T.J.Clark, and more

Welcome to the new academic year! Brilliant to see all the new faces at the inductions, and familiar faces as well in the classroom this week.

We’re delighted to welcome Dr Clare Vernon as Lecturer in History of Art before 1700, replacing Zoe Opacic, who is on leave this year. Clare is an expert on the medieval art and architecture of Southern Italy, and she will be teaching on both the BA and MA programmes. In addition to Zoe, three other colleagues are on research leave during the academic year 2019-20: Suzannah Biernoff, Annie Coombes and Lynda Nead.

A crucial date for your diary: Friday 1 November 6pm.  That evening we welcome a renowned art historian whose books many of you will have had the pleasure of reading.  T.J.Clark will be giving the Peter Murray Memorial Lecture on the topic of ‘What Cezanne Saw in Pissarro’. Professor Clark, an enormously engaging speaker, will be asking new questions about these familiar artists. Here’s the blurb: ‘After four or five years of aggressive and original achievement as a painter, Cezanne apprenticed himself to Pissarro in the 1870s, working side by side with the master.  Why?  What did he see in Pissarro that he thought essential to understand?  What couldn’t he emulate?  In what ways does the difference between the two artists matter to the art we call ‘modern’?’ The Murray Lecture is held every other year in memory of Peter Murray, the founder of Birkbeck’s History of Art Department, and is generously supported by the Murray Bequest. We’ll be in the Clore Lecture Theatre and there’ll be a wine reception following the lecture. Please join us, and remember to book your tickets here. The Murray lecture often sells out, so don’t forget to book.

Here’s a photo of Cezanne and Pissarro meeting – I think they’re the ones holding their hats.

As usual the term features a rich panoply of events to attend:

The Centre for Museum Cultures has three talks scheduled this term. Thomas Ardill, Curator of Paintings, Prints and Drawings at the Museum of London will unpack the process of curating the Secret Rivers exhibition there, 21 October 6pm in Keynes Library. Our own Kasia Murawska-Muthesius will speak on 11 November 6pm in Keynes about a project she has both written about and been personally engaged in, the Critical Museum initiative, led by the late Piotr Piotrowski, which shook up the museum world in Warsaw and beyond by imagining a museum that would use its own resources, including its collection, its range of activities and its “auratic” space, for encouraging and hosting the debates on the issues – including many controversial ones – crucial for contemporary societies. Their last event of the term, on 13 December, 5pm, takes place in the V&A – Jacques Schuhmacher, the V&A’s Provenance Curator, will provide a behind-the-scenes tour of the exhibition ‘Concealed Histories, Uncovering the Story of Nazi Looting’ (places for this are very limited, and booking will open closer to the time.) Booking links for the other two events are here.

The Murray Seminars have been announced and the first one is coming up on 16 October, with Petr Uličný on The Origins of Renaissance Architecture in Bohemia. Seminars take place at 5pm in the Keynes Library (Room 114), unless stated otherwise.  Talks finish by 5.50pm to allow those with other commitments to leave, and are then followed by discussion and refreshments.  These talks are, like the Murray Lecture, supported by the Murray Bequest in memory of the Department’s founder Peter Murray, and are open to all. No booking required. More on the upcoming programme here.

The Architecture Space and Society Centre has two symposia coming up that on the face of it present a stark contrast, but in fact share the goal of taking a building type as the starting point for a wider cultural, artistic and architectural analysis. Factory World: Architecture and Industrialization over Time and Space, on 31 October, explores new research on factory architecture and images of factories between the Industrial Revolution and the present day, and across several different countries. And on 12 December, we’ll have three speakers from the UK and US addressing the complexities and afterlives of The English Country House, in an event co-organised with the Birkbeck Eighteenth-Century Research Group.

The ASSC is also hosting not one but two visiting scholars this year, both from outside of the UK. Anne-Françoise Morel joins us from KU Leuven in Belgium, taking up the Belgian Chair at the University of London. Claire Zimmerman comes from the University of Michigan as a Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities visiting scholar. You can find out more about them and their planned activities here.

We had a very successful weekend opening the School of Arts Building on Gordon Square for Open House London on 21-22 September, with 371 visitors being guided through the building by a brilliant (and often hilarious) group of History of Art students, current and past. The result was many enlightened and delighted visitors. Some comments: ‘Brilliant! I had no idea there was that much history and that many stories behind these doors!’; ‘The tour really knitted together the history of the building, the lives of those who lived here and the modern development and use of the building. It was awesome to tread in the spaces which Keynes trod.’ ‘So many different stories! Film Studies to Bloomsbury ballerina!’; ‘A wonderful tour – I never knew how many different things were hiding inside this building! Thanks to the guide for bringing everything to life.’ And for readers of French: ‘Magnifique batiment, rempli d’histoire et de fantomes inspirants.’ Finally, a word from one of our tour guides, Lisa Thefaut (MA History of Art): ‘it was brilliant to get such a positive response from the visitors on the tours. Everyone seemed to love time travelling to moments in the history of Gordon Square and finding out about the cultural significance of this diverse space from the 19th century to the present day.’

On the topic of the School of Arts building… you’ll have noticed it’s looking a bit rough around the edges. From around April 2020, it’ll be undergoing a major renovation, though we’ll carry on using it during that time, with a third of the building being closed for use at a time and those of us with offices in those parts of the building moving in to share with colleagues during the construction. More communications on the elements of this that might affect students as we get closer to April.


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