Welcome to the new academic year!

I’m Leslie Topp, and I’ve just begun a three-year stint as Head of the Department of History of Art, taking over from my colleague Kate Retford, who set up this blog and who’ll be a hard act to follow. You can find out more about me here. I’ll post something newsy about developments and events in the department every two weeks. You can add your email on the right of this message to get updates sent straight to your inbox.

A warm welcome to all our new students, and welcome back to those of you who are continuing. Inductions happen this week and next, and classes begin next week – I hope that on balance you’re feeling excited, though anxiety’s bound to come into it too. The beginning of term always takes me back to that stomach-churning combination of anticipation and dread that accompanied the first day back at school.

It’s a particularly big moment for our new international students and if you’re one, welcome to London and Birkbeck! It’d be lovely to see you at a party the School of Arts is putting on to welcome you on Friday 13 October 5-8pm. You can reserve your place here. 

Our activities for the year kicked off earlier this month with the School of Arts building opening to the public for Open House London on 16-17 September. and we had more visitors than ever: 427 in total! Our team of student volunteers did us extremely proud, leading group after group around the building on 25 tours over the two days. Some of the visitor comments: “Loved the talk about the squares + the history of this particular building.” “Excellent tour – extremely informative.” “Totally unexpected.” “Contemporary & traditional architecture at its best!” “The stories bring it to life.” If you yourself would have liked to have gone on a tour but missed out, you can learn more about our building by watching this short film made by the Derek Jarman Lab last year.

This week already we have a study day on the theme of ‘Enshrining the Miraculous Image in Renaissance Italy’ on Thursday 28 September 10am-1pm in the Keynes Library. Birkbeck colleagues Dorigen Caldwell and Robert Maniura will be speaking, alongside speakers from University of Reading and the Courtauld Institute. We are grateful to the Murray Bequest for their generous support.

The Architecture Space and Society Centre has two fascinating events coming up this term: a talk by Douglas Spencer, author of The Architecture of Neoliberalism, on 27 October 6pm, and a symposium on ‘Architecture of Energy’ on 3 November, 1-5pm, featuring speakers from Edinburgh, Liverpool, Leicester and Goldsmiths universities, as well as from Birkbeck.  More on these and past events on the centre’s website.

Department staff members have been busy blogging and podcasting over the summer. Take a look at/have a listen to:

  • the new Mapping Museums blog. Mapping Museums is four-year project led by Fiona Candlin that will produce the first authoritative database of museums that opened and closed during a period of rapid expansion and change, and will provide the first evidence-based history of independent museums and their links to wider cultural, social, and political concerns.
  • a podcast by Laura Jacobus about her recently published discoveries about the advent of facsimile portraiture in Italian art
  • Steve Edwards’ current series of blogposts for the Fotomuseum Winterthur (Switzerland),  The Fire Last Time: Documentary and Politics in 1970s Britain’, in which he considers the meeting of the political Left with photography in Britain in the 1970s.

We also like to celebrate the achievements of our current and past students in this blog (so do contact me please with news: l.topp@bbk.ac.uk). Dr Amelia Smith, recently graduated from the PhD programme, has just published a book based on her PhD, which was co-supervised by Birkbeck and the National Gallery. The book is entitled Longford Castle: The Treasures and the Collectors, and it will be launched at the National Gallery on 13 October.

Finally, we celebrate the department’s 50th anniversary in 2017-18, under the banner ‘Opening Up Art History: 50 Years at Birkbeck’ with a series of talks, workshops, an exhibition, and a party! You can see the details here, but more on that in the next post.


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