Ranging from ‘Quality Assurance Mechanisms’ to Diamonds and Giotto….

I hope everyone’s Spring term is going well so far? It’s been a busy few weeks for the Department. Lots of marking – and we’ve been continuing work on our Careers and Employability programme, putting the finishing touches to our upcoming series of masterclasses with alumni, for example. An email went out to all students a couple of days ago, so I do hope that lots of you have been signing up for these valuable opportunities to hear from, and talk to, people who have developed fascinating careers in the Arts: Sonia Solicari, Director of the Geffrye Museum, in a couple of weeks’ time (Monday 13th February); Alice Payne, Head of Content at Art UK (Tuesday 21st February); and Jacqueline Riding, freelance art historian, author and historical consultant (Tuesday 28th February).

We’ve also been bustling about, preparing and submitting materials for an upcoming Internal Review, due to take place in late March. This is a process which every department in the College goes through every four years – as one of what’s known as our ‘quality assurance mechanisms’. It’s not the most catchy label(!), but these are the vital ways in which we constantly monitor our programmes of study, check that everything is working as well as possible, and think about ways to improve and develop what we do. Quality assurance mechanisms include some things you’ll be familiar with as students here – the module questionnaires we ask you to complete at the end of every course, or the Staff-Student Exchange meetings we hold in the Autumn and Spring terms, for example. They also include some things you might not be as aware of – the role of external examiners in checking our processes and results at every level of study, for example, or the paperwork we need to get approved when we want to develop a new module, or change one we’ve taught before. The Internal Review at the end of this term will begin with the panel – three colleagues from other Schools in the College, and an external specialist in History of Art – meeting with a range of our students, to chat with them about their experiences here. I’ll be emailing some of you over the next week or so, to ask if you would be able to take part in this process – and we’ll all be very grateful indeed to those who agree!

Another of these quality assurance mechanisms that’s very much on our minds at the moment is the National Student Survey – now open for responses from all final year undergraduate students. Birkbeck runs a range of surveys, which are crucial for this process of reflecting on what we should be doing more of, and what we can improve – but the NSS results are also vital for prospective students, considering where they might like to study.

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I have lots of upcoming events to tell you about, but a couple of pieces of news first.

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while will be familiar with the name of Gary Haines, I’m sure! Gary is one of our research students in the department, working on cultural perceptions of the blinded British soldier in the first world war. He’s written for the blog in the past about Access, Birkbeck and our Disability Office, and also about his valuable work with Crisis, the national charity for single homeless people. I’ve been in touch with Gary this week, and was delighted to hear that he’s recently been appointed as Archivist at the Museum of Childhood – congratulations Gary! Inevitably, I have asked him to write another piece for us about this post – but, in the meantime, he’s tipped me off about a fun event, coming up at the Museum on the evening of Thursday 23rd February: an East London Quiz Night. Book your place if you fancy seeing just how much cockney rhyming slang you really do know!

The other piece of good news I wanted to share is a new publication from one of our new Professors: Steve Edwards. This is an edited volume, containing some 32 articles and essays by Adrian Rifkin, about art, urbanism, music and popular life in France and Britain over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As well as being editor, Steve has provided an extended introduction for Communards and Other Cultural Histories, in which he considers the key theories and disciplinary formations which underpin Rifkin’s essays.

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Onto events, and there are a couple of important ones coming up later this week. This Thursday, 2nd February (6-7.30pm, room B04), we will be welcoming Professor Marcia Pointon, giving a lecture entitled Robert Harris’s Photography at De Beer’s Kimberley Diamond Mine 1875-1890. This is co-hosted by the Departmental postgraduate seminar series and the History and Theory of Photography Centre. Professor Pointon’s name will be familiar to many of you, and we have been lucky enough to welcome her as a speaker at Birkbeck before – she came to give the Peter Murray Memorial Lecture some years ago. As someone who specialises in portraiture, I have many of her books on my shelves: a very well thumbed copy of Hanging the Head: Portraiture and Social Formation in Eighteenth-Century England, for example, and her Portrayal and the Search for Identity, published by Reaktion in 2013. One of Professor Pointon’s many other interests is in gems and jewellery – the subject of her Brilliant Effects: A Cultural History of Gem Stones and Jewellery (2009), and a theme which will be developed in her new book, soon to be published: Rocks, Ice and Dirty Stones: Diamond Histories. Thursday’s lecture is a key opportunity for our postgraduates to hear Professor Pointon’s very latest work in progress.

healing-spaces

Then, this Friday, 3rd February (2-5pm, Keynes Library), the Architecture, Space and Society Research Centre, together with the Centre for Medical Humanities, will be hosting the next in their ‘New Books’ series. This event will mark the recent publication of a collected volume entitled Healing Spaces, Modern Architecture and the Body (Routledge, 2016). The book explores the various ways in which architects, urban planners, medical practitioners, and others have applied modern ideas about health and the body to the spaces in which they live, work, and heal. The coeditors – Dr Sarah Schrank (Professor of History at California State University, Long Beach) and Dr Didem Ekici (Assistant Professor in the Department of Architecture and Built Environment at the University of Nottingham) – will be joined by Caitjan Gainty from Kings College London as respondent. The event is free, but you do need to book your place.

The final event I want to bring to your attention isn’t until Thursday 2nd March, but I’m sure it will soon get booked out – so reserve your place now! Birkbeck is currently extremely fortunate to have T.J. Clark as a Visiting Professor, with the Birkbeck Institute of the Humanities. Professor Clark will be asking ‘What can Art History Say about Giotto’? – get onto Eventbrite now to make sure you find out!