The Research Forum / Andrew W. Mellon Foundation MA

The Research Forum / Andrew W. Mellon Foundation MA fostered integrated interdisciplinary exchange through the collaboration of scholars teaching a course closely based on their research interests. The collaboration allowed for the exposition and transmission of different methods and approaches. The Research Forum / Andrew W. Mellon Foundation MA Special Option courses were co-taught by Courtauld teachers with specially appointed Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Visiting Professors.

Traditions in scholarship are thoroughly embedded in traditions of teaching. By teaching together, the scholars involved had the occasion to closely scrutinize their own definitions as to how knowledge is structured and transmitted and tested methods of exposition against each other. Given the amount of writing demanded of Courtauld MA students and the close supervision of their projects, students were not only exposed to new material and ideas, but were expected to practice different forms of study and expression.

The goal of the programme was to enable a deep level of interaction. The project further enabled the research of the collaborating scholars by relieving them of other teaching duties. Additionally, the appointment of a Postdoctoral Fellow as an affiliate of the course with the responsibility of assembling an annotated course bibliography or bibliographic database that was published on this website, added both to the research profile and to the impact of the programme. The Fellow taught one course, which represented a training opportunity for the Fellow as well as supporting the seconding of the Courtauld teacher to the Forum MA. The appointment of one or two teaching assistants in association with the course, also necessary to the seconding of the Courtauld teacher, further expanded the involvement of younger scholars in the project.

The Visiting Professors also participated in other research seminars, and present their work in public lectures and seminars.

Past Programmes

Taught by Dr Scott Nethersole in collaboration with Andrew W. Mellon Foundation/ Research Forum Visiting Scholar, Dr Frederica Pich (Lecturer in Italian, University of Leeds), a specialist in Italian literature, and in the dynamic relationship between words and images in lyric and chivalric poetry.

Taught by Professor Katie Scott and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation / Research Forum Visiting Scholar Dr Samuel Williams, an anthropologist in the Department of Anthropology, Princeton University, who has carried out research on art and history in the Ottoman Empire, and recently completed his PhD dissertation on ‘The Twenty-First Century Bazaar – Economic Transformation in Three Historical Istanbul Marketplaces’.

Taught by Rebecca Arnold and Heather Norris Nicholson.

Focusing on the role of non-fiction film and documentary photography as a source for fashion, dress and body, the Mellon MA for 2013-14 sought to re-evaluate the visual history of this key period. By starting from images of the ‘everyday,’ that show dress as it was actually worn, we can begin to consider the impact of developments in film and photography on fashion. This connects with fashion’s representation in magazines, including Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and the work of designers and manufacturers, such as Claire McCardell and Jaeger. The course, based on a collaboration between a fashion historian and an expert on non-fiction film, comprised a unique analysis of American and European identity during the interwar and war period.

Non-fiction film, including home movies, documentary footage and newsreels, represents a rich and exciting resource for fashion history, especially when looked at alongside contemporary photography. It reveals the relationship between sight and touch and connects to memories and sensations beyond the visual. It also exposes movement, gesture and styling and enables us to question how the availability of such imagery impacts on fashion.

The film amateur confounds traditional notions of authorship, audience and agency. A growing interest in amateur filmmaking and photography, as historical record and aesthetic practice, is reflected in both new scholarship and the work of archives. Drawing on this material, the course explored the ways in which new technologies have been used to document private and public experiences of daily life. We will consider how developments in equipment, film stock and the use of colour have all shaped filmmaking practice, in terms of access, mobility, and also notions of realism and spectacle.

Case studies were used to consider relationships between looking, seeing and being – as evidenced through the links between and developments in readymade clothes, photography and non-fiction film. We will discuss what these media forms tell us about people’s perceptions of themselves and others, and how clothing can construct and alter appearance.

The course will analyse how these images connect to body image, identity, ways of seeing, and modernity.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation MAs are innovative Options in which a visiting scholar from another discipline enters into dialogue with a member of the faculty at The Courtauld Institute of Art. They are offered for only one year. This particular Mellon MA course focussed on America and Europe as sites of rapid developments in non-fiction film, documentary photography, picture-based magazines and readymade clothes during a period of flux – 1920-1945. Extensive online resources were combined with visits to museums and archives, such as the V&A and BFI, to study key examples first hand.

Taught by Dr Joanna Woodall and Dr Eric Jorink.

The Southern Netherlands and later the Dutch Republic were not only famous for their art production, but at the centre of the fundamental reconfigurations of knowledge that took place in Europe during the early modern period. Cities such as Antwerp, Leiden and later Amsterdam were ‘hubs’ attracting merchants, printers, artists and scholars from all over Europe.  Old as well as new models for knowledge were not only debated but also made visible and even made tactile. Moreover, it was in the Dutch Republic that the revolutionary philosophy of René Descartes was conceived and first published. This course will be particularly concerned with the role of visuality and visual materials in these exciting developments.

This Mellon option for 2012-13 explored the fascinating questions of what knowledge was in the early modern period, and how its foundations were shifting. While some artists were engaged in representing the Garden of Eden, the Ark or the Temple on paper and canvas or in wood as a model of knowledge, others became fascinated by the influx of unknown information for the East and West Indies and other parts of the world. Illustrations – schemes, abstractions, or images done after life – played an increasing role in the debate about the New Philosophy. Rembrandt’s Anatomy lesson of Dr Tulp was one of the many paintings in which knowledge was questioned and constructed, as were Vermeer’s Cartographer and Astronomer. Cabinets of curiosities – by far the richest in Europe – were productive sites of knowledge, where words and things were connected, often displaying previously unknown naturalia andartificialia. Another major theme was be the changing relationship between visual materials and the authority with which they were invested. Rather than separating ‘works of art’ from ‘scientific’ illustrations and materials, the course will encompass paintings, drawings and prints by canonical artists alongside, for example, the illustrations to Descartes’ Discours, original drawings by Maria Sibylla Merian and even anatomical preparations.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation MAs are Options in which a visiting scholar from another discipline enters into dialogue with a member of the faculty at the Courtauld Institute. They are offered for only one year. Dr. Eric Jorink is an expert on Dutch scientific culture of the early modern era. He is Researcher at the Huygens Institute for Netherlands History (Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences) in The Hague and the author of Reading the Book of Nature in the Dutch Golden Age, 1575-1715 (Brill 2010).

Taught by Prof Mignon Nixon with Prof Juliet Mitchell.

This course was conceived as a dialogue between art and psychoanalysis on questions of war protest. It focuses on art produced in response to American wars in the period after the Second World War, heralded as a time of sustained peace and prosperity after two world wars fought with the declared aim “to end all war.” Often, the wars in question—in particular the Vietnam War, the first and second Gulf Wars, and the Afghanistan War—have been portrayed as military interventions intended to preserve or restore this “post-war” condition of peace. Psychoanalysis was used to reflect upon artistic resistance to “wars of peace.” Our proposition will be that artistic responses to these war situations work to expose the unspoken, or even unconscious, motivations for war in the name of peace, and to galvanize social awareness, or raise consciousness, about the underlying trends in this mode of imperial aggression.

The course began by looking briefly at the idea of “post-war” art, a category that persists in art-historical scholarship today, and at the cultural fantasies, and corresponding repressions, that shaped this period in art—for example, the liberatory rhetoric of “expressionism” and the stereotype of the “happy housewife,” later interrogated by Betty Friedan. Louise Bourgeois was a key figure for this discussion.  Another central question for this part of the course was the extent to which post-war ideals are predicated on the repression of guilt and mourning. Noting, for example, that 2010 was the first year the United States government sent an official representative to the commemoration of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, we will consider art works, some produced recently, which examine historical amnesia of this event.

The course focussed closely on art produced in opposition to the Vietnam War. Nancy Spero’s War Series (1966-1970) and Martha Rosler’s Bringing the War Home project (1967-1972) offer primary instances of anti-war work. We also looked at work that eschews violent imagery in favour of promoting peace. The performance works of Yoko Ono and Yayoi Kusama are pivotal in this regard. Among other projects to be explored in this part of the course are works by Yvonne Rainer, Carolee Schneemann, May Stevens, and such groups as the Art Workers’ Coalition and Women Artists in Revolution. The role of an emergent feminism in shaping war resistance will be a significant theme.

The course also considered recent artistic interventions in war discourse, for example, Silvia Kolbowski’s After Hiroshima Mon Amour (2008) and Rosalyn Deutsche’s critical study Hiroshima After Iraq (2010). The role of women in the military, as investigated in relation to the first Gulf War by Mary Kelly (Gloria Patri, 1992) and more recently by Coco Fusco (A Room of One’s Own: Women and Power in the New America, 2006), was another point of focus. Another was the sexualisation of violence as a manifestation and weapon of war. Here we looked, in particular, at some recent work of Thomas Hirschhorn and compared his use of illicit war photography to Nancy Spero’s earlier exploration of fantasies of sexualized violence in the War Series.

The course drew extensively from Juliet Mitchell’s recent writing and ongoing research on questions of war in the context of her work on siblings (see Siblings: Sex and Violence, 2003). Professor Mitchell took part in the course throughout the year, with a particular focus on directing discussions of psychoanalytic texts and bringing psychoanalytic methodologies to bear on the material. She also took a role in advising students on their research. The course was conducted as a dialogue between disciplines. The potential of art and art history to challenge and enrich psychoanalysis was as significant as the potential of psychoanalysis to illuminate art’s critical engagements with war, considering texts in psychoanalysis from Freud to the present day (including selections from the work of Melanie Klein, Wilfred Bion, Franco Fornari, D.W. Winnicott, and Juliet Mitchell). The course readings also drew upon art-historical and critical literature, artists’ writings, and other writings on war.

Taught by Dr Sarah Wilson and Visiting Professor Boris Groys (Professor of Slavic and Russian Studies at NYU). Dr. Anthony Gardner was the 2010-2011 Research Forum / Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow.

Taught by Prof Julian Stallabrass with Visiting Professor Malcolm Bull (Ruskin School of Drawing, University of Oxford). Dr Stephanie Schwartz was the 2009-10 Research Forum / Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow.

Taught by Dr Caroline Arscott and Visiting Professor Vanessa Ryan (Brown University); and Arts in Exile in Britain 1933-1945: Politics and Cultural Identity taught by Dr. Shulamith Behr and Visiting Professor Sander Gilman (Emory University). Dr. Charles Miller was the 2008-2009 Research Forum / Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow.

Studying dress history in combination with non-fiction film has been a challenging and exciting undertaking during the past year. The students have benefitted hugely from this opportunity to explore connections between the ways clothing practices connect with amateur and documentary film developments during this key moment in the history of each discipline. This is a new area and we have been able to situate ourselves at the forefront of its study – something the students have been very much aware of through their work with Andrew W Mellon Foundation/Research Forum Visiting Professor (Mellon MA) Heather Norris Nicholson and Andrew W Mellon Foundation/Research Forum Postdoctoral Fellow (Mellon MA) Sara Beth Levavy. Their expertise in British amateur film and American newsreels brought a dynamic element to the course, and pushed the boundaries of the ways we might explore dress and fashion of the period.

Through study of a wide range of primary material – from extant examples of dress, to documentary photography and a wide variety of film clips, students were able to consider the ways representational tropes were impacted by technological change and how this paralleled approaches to design and manufacture of readymade fashions in the interwar and war periods. Visits to, for example, the V&A and Museum of London’s dress storerooms to study items at close quarters, enabled them to examine the types of everyday dress they had seen in Pathe newsreels and amateur footage of sports events and seaside holidays. This provoked lively discussion about the relationships between movement and dress, gesture and spectatorship and the haptic/optic sensuality of film, image and dress.

These enquiries were further supplemented by the study trip to Washington DC, which Sara Levavy also took part in. This extended collaborations beyond the classroom, and into the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History, to look at contemporary advertising, for example, and to the Library of Congress, to look at Toni Frissell’s documentary and fashion photography.

The course’s unique mix of tutors and students meant we were able to analyse connections between non-fiction film and fashion in depth. This was furthered by the Spring 2013 Friends Lecture Series, Documenting Modernity: Fashion, Film and Image in America & Europe, 1920 – 1945, which provided a wider forum for discussion and exposure to new research by internationally renowned scholars, including Charles Tepperman (Assistant Professor of Film Studies, University of Calgary) and Bryony Dixon (Curator of Silent Film, BFI National Archive). These talks enabled students (and tutors) to engage directly, talking to the invited lecturers about their work, and hearing how the audience responded to this new area of art history. The Study Day, Documenting Fashion: Re-thinking the Experience and Representation of Dress (May 2014), framed these ideas in relation to the ways film and image enable us to experience dress, and included talks by well known scholars and curators. We partnered with the Fashion Research Network to organize the event and this served to develop the course’s collaborative spirit still further, to include panel discussions formed of doctoral students from The Courtauld, Royal College of Art (RCA) and London College of Fashion (LCF), to consider thematic links across theory and practice.

The students responded with great enthusiasm to all aspects of the course and led the Study Day’s afternoon interactive session. We asked all participants to bring something with them that showed how they document their own dress. Each MA student led a small group to consider what had been brought up in papers and discussion earlier in the day, and develop this in relation to each audience member’s own subjective experience of dress. This was very successful and led to lively discussion of the ways dress and image connects with the senses and emotions, as well as memory and personal history.

Studying on the course has encouraged a strong community spirit amongst the students and we therefore decided to set up a blog  to provide a public platform for work done on the course, as well as by my PhD students and by me. This has proved very popular and reflects the connections the students have made with each other, with the wider Courtauld community, and their desire to share ideas. The Mellon MA has been fundamental to this, as a group process and in the content of the blog. Many posts are drawn from the students’ assignments, and visits, as well as being inspired by lectures and the study day. The blog will provide a strong and ongoing legacy of the work they carried out, and will be passed on to future generations of students to explore their work in another context and disseminate it to a wider public.

The students have worked incredibly hard throughout the year, taking a professional approach to their studies and adapting well to the rigours of studying on a cross-disciplinary course. They have embraced the new insights available through the marriage of fashion with non-fiction. This has included an excellent Virtual Exhibition by Jessica Draper on extant dress, film and documentary imagery of 1930s aviatrix, and dissertations by Jennifer Potter on dancer Irene Castle’s image and use of fashion to further her public persona, and a study by Fruzsina Bekefi of a rare female-focused 1930s Sci-Fi film. The work produced has been of a very high standard, with four Distinctions achieved overall, and one very high Merit.

Students have also undertaken a variety of internships during the course, again, a sign of their commitment to using their knowledge and to developing transferrable skills. Fruzsina interned at IB Tauris publishers, Julia Rea undertook paid research for fashion journalist Bronwyn Cosgrave’s latest book project, Jennifer worked at Dulwich Picture Gallery and Daniel Blau gallery, as well as acting as a Registry Student Ambassador for the Courtauld. Jessica did research for a historically themed film. They have excellent prospects for their future careers – Jennifer has already obtained a year-long internship at the Getty Foundation, Fruszina has an article due for publication with the Journal of Fashion, Style & Popular Culture and is working with me on a display from the History of Dress collections for Somerset House’s Winter Festival, three aim to return to do PhDs after gaining more work experience next year. Overall, the Mellon MA has provided an ideal foundation for idea exchange, for pedagogical collaboration and discussion, and for an inspiring and productive exploration of the exciting potential of interdisciplinary study of this kind.

Rebecca Arnold

July 2014

In the course of my months at The Courtauld Institute of Art, I have benefitted greatly from the Institute’s lively academic program, its community of scholars and students, as well as its extraordinary location in central London, walking distance from several key cultural and research centers.

My primary responsibilities while at The Courtauld have been to instruct an advanced undergraduate course titled The Spectacle of (Popular) Media and to assist in the instruction and leadership of an interdisciplinary Master’s level course titled Documenting Fashion: Modernity, Film and Image in Europe and America, 1920-1945. My undergraduate course was taught in the autumn term; the MA course continued to meet through March of 2014. It was a particular pleasure to teach The Spectacle of (Popular) Media to Courtauld undergraduates, as this was, for many of them, their first exposure to the study of the twentieth century as an intellectual pursuit. It was, therefore, especially rewarding to be able to introduce to them not only an entirely new historical framework, but also to be able to include media that are not necessarily otherwise part of the art historical canon (such as film, newspapers, comics, and animation). I would like to think that this approach also was appreciated by my students, more than half of whom chose to write their BA dissertations under my tutelage. Each of these students pursued a research topic that they first encountered through the material introduced to them in my course (American and French documentary photography, Ashcan School painting, and structuralist filmmaking).

As part of the MA course, Documenting Fashion, I participated in the regular class meetings as an auditor and instructor. As such, I was able to supplement the content of the seminar conversations through the perspective of my expertise, pre-WWII American film history. Because I was a member of the instructing team for this interdisciplinary course, I was privileged to join the group on their research trips around London (to Tate Britain and the National Portrait Gallery as well as to special collection viewings of period clothing at the Museum of London) as well as abroad, to Washington, DC. In Washington, we were able to visit the special collections of the Library of Congress and the National Museum of American History. It was a pleasure to be a part of the MA course, through which I was able to get to know both the students and instructors in the course, all of whom have proved to be excellent colleagues.

Dr Rebecca Arnold, the primary instructor of Documenting Fashion also served as my research mentor throughout my time at The Courtauld. In that capacity, Dr Arnold provided advice and guidance as I began the process of the revision of my PhD thesis into a book manuscript. Such advice and guidance included regular meetings in which we discussed how to approach the project as a whole as well as how to craft the very specialized document of a book proposal. Dr Arnold read multiple drafts of my book proposal, Immediate Mediation: A Narrative of the Interwar American Newsreel, which is now under review at the University of California Press. Now that the proposal is completed, I have begun the work of revising the original text, excerpts of which will be modified for submission and publication as journal articles.

In addition to my teaching responsibilities, while at The Courtauld I have done my best to maintain a busy schedule of conference and symposium attendance, both within the Institute and beyond its walls. Early in the autumn term I participated in the Modern and Contemporary section’s lecture series wherein I presented a paper titled The Newsreel, the Daredevil, and the Cameraman: Character and Play in the Interwar Newsreel. This paper, written as part of my work to revise Immediate Mediation was attended by several members of The Courtauld’s academic staff, as well as students at all levels of study (BAs, MAs, and PhDs) and was followed by an extended and interesting set of questions and answers.

Since my arrival in London, I have attended several conferences and symposia, in addition to giving a guest lecture about newsreels and the military to a class at Texas Tech University. In particular, I spoke at the British Association for American Studies annual conference in Birmingham (‘Constructing the Contemporary: American Interwar Newsreels and the Patchwork of the Everyday’) and at a recent study day at the Institut national d’histoire de l’art in Paris (‘There was Always a Monkey: Humor and Distraction in the American Interwar Newsreel’).

This spring I also took part in the 9th Orphan Film Symposium. The Orphans Film Symposium (hosted this year by the EYE Film Institute in Amsterdam) is an important bi-annual international event at which scholars and archivists present and discuss recent archival discoveries and restorations across moving image media (including, for example, film, television, and animation, as well as digital image technologies). Orphans provides a critical platform in which scholars and archivists can come together to assist in and support each other’s work, as well as to learn about new developments and research in the field. Not long after the Orphans Film Symposium concluded, I attended the British Silent Film Festival Symposium, a two-day conference of current research followed by special film screenings specifically designed for the event.

One of the most important academic bodies with which I am associated is an international group called The Newsreel Network (TNN), and in the spring I attended and presented a paper called ‘Reporting Reflecting: How We See Ourselves in News’, the content of which was discussed as part of the British Library’s Newsroom blog. TNN is a singular group of academics from around the world, all of whom study newsreels as part of their research programs. Hosted this year by the Danish Film Institute in Copenhagen, this year’s TNN meeting focused on The Concept of News and was several days of lively discussion and debate about newsreel study. At this year’s meeting, TNN resolved to compile and publish a book of collected essays by its members that reflect the varied spectrum of work currently undertaken by this singular group of scholars.

Over the course of the year, I have used the research collections in London resources such as the British Film Institute and the British Library in order to further advance my book project. In my final weeks at The Courtauld, it is my aim to complete the article draft I began this spring (‘The Newsreel, the Daredevil, and the Cameraman: Character and Play in the Interwar Newsreel’) in order to submit it for publication in a journal.

Sara Beth Levavy

July 2014