Welcome to the new academic year!

A very warm welcome to the new academic year in the History of Art department at Birkbeck College! Some of you will be reading this blog for the first time, so I shall introduce myself , and the purpose of these postings. I’m Dr. Kate Retford, currently Head of the Department, and also Senior Lecturer in Eighteenth and early Nineteenth-Century History of Art. When I became Head of Department, I wanted to set up this blogsite for current staff and students, to advertise the many activities which take place in and around the School of Arts every week, and to spread the word about what members of the department have been getting up to. It’s addressed to students across all our programmes: Cert HE, BA, Graduate Certificate, MA and MPhil/PhD, and I do urge you all to subscribe using the box on the right. I promise this won’t open you up to still more of the spam with which we all have to contend(!) – it just means that each post will come direct to you via email, and you won’t have to remember to keep an eye on this site.

I write a post about once a fortnight, but I also like to feature pieces by students and staff. In a couple of weeks’ time, for example, I’m looking forward to sharing an account of the School of Arts’ appearance in the recent Open House weekend with you all, written by a student just finishing the MA History of Art programme: Michael Clegg. Please do get in touch if you’d also like to contribute something – perhaps an account of an exhibition you’ve been involved in? The tale of how you came to be studying History of Art at Birkbeck? I’ll be delighted to hear from you!

This blog isn’t the only place where you can find out about everything going on in and around Gordon Square. You can also hear about upcoming talks, seminars, conferences, exhibitions in the Peltz gallery, and what will be featuring in Arts Week (held every May) by following tweets from the department (@BirkbeckHoA), and from the School of Arts (@birkbeck_arts). A number of members of staff also tweet – including Fiona Candlin (@FionaCandlin) and Leslie Topp (@LeslieTopp).

entrance cropped

So, we’re rapidly approaching the official first day of the new academic year, next Monday (3rd October), and it’ll be great to see those who’ve already been studying on our programmes again, returning after the summer vacation. I do hope everyone got to have a good break (along with reading, work on dissertations and the like of course!), and is feeling refreshed and ready for the new academic year. For those on taught programmes, the first class of each module is always fun, when everyone gets to meet other students on their new course, and to find out what they’ll be learning about over the coming term(s).

And it will be very nice indeed to welcome our new students! I’ll be at the BA induction evening tonight (Wednesday 28th September), the MA induction evening tomorrow (Thursday 29th September), and will come along to say hello to our new MPhil/PhD students on Thursday 6th October. I do hope you all settle in well over the next few weeks and enjoy your first experiences of studying with us – getting to know each other, as well as those of us on the academic staff, and my colleagues in the administrative team. We very much pride ourselves on being friendly and approachable, and I do encourage you to come and talk to us about any teething problems, or any difficulties as you get used to your programme of study. This is an exciting time, but it’s also a challenging one. You may be returning to study after a period away from education. This could be your first formal academic experience of the History of Art. You’ll probably be moving up a level from previous studies. Please do talk to our administrators – to your module directors (about any issues to do with a specific course) – and, above all, to your Personal Tutors.

All new students are assigned a Personal Tutor when they join us, on induction evening, and that person is there to advise on any issues arising during a programme of study – from general points coming up in essay feedback, through to personal or professional problems which can affect one’s work. Please do keep in touch with your Personal Tutor throughout your time with us. Your allocated member of staff will probably be on research leave for at least part of your programme, if you are here for more than a year, in which case you will be assigned to one of their colleagues, whilst they are away. If at any point you want to double check who your Personal Tutor currently is, then you can always do so on your ‘My Birkbeck’ page.

I want to end this first blog by also welcoming some new members of staff to the department. Dr. Peter Fane-Saunders is coming to us from Durham, as Lecturer in the History of Architecture, 1400-1800, covering Professor Mark Crinson who is currently away on a BA/Leverhulme Fellowship. Dr. Isobel Elstob is also joining us, from Nottingham, as Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Visual Culture, whilst Dr. Suzannah Biernoff is on leave, on an ISSF/Wellcome research award. Very nice to have you both with us! Meanwhile, Dr. Leslie Topp’s duties for the Autumn term will be covered by a colleague who will be familiar to many of you: Dr. Kasia Murawska-Muthesius, whose specialisms include Caricature, and Russian and East European Art, and who led our 2015/16 field trip to Paris.

Steve Edwards

Very excitingly, we also have a new Professor joining us permanently in the department this term: Professor Steve Edwards! Steve comes to us from the Open University, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome him to the History of Art department, and the School of Arts at Birkbeck. His will be a familiar name to so many reading this blog. His expertise centres in contemporary art, art and social theory, and particularly the history and theory of photography. His Photography: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2006) is the ‘go-to’ text in this area, and his 2013 book on Martha Rosler: The Bowery in Two Inadequate Systems  (Afterall, 2013) is a skilful melding of formal, contextual, and theoretical art historical analysis. It provides a seminal reading of this key photo-text experiment, which adds to our understanding of it as a documentary project, by exploring its broader position within conceptual and neo-avant-garde work of the period. Steve will be joining Dr. Patrizia di Bello and Professor Lynn Nead in the History and Theory of Photography Research Centre, bolstering our already substantial teaching and research expertise in this area. It will be a great pleasure to introduce Steve to our new, and continuing students, over the next few weeks.