Each year, professors in departments ranging from Classics to Economics teach hundreds of students in the largest classroom on campus: the Middlebury College Museum of Art. Discussing art produced throughout history and around the globe offers students perspective on the topic at hand—and space to reflect on their own place in today’s complex world.
MuseumLab, an experiment in interdisciplinary education, invites the public to engage in similar explorations. Eight professors have selected pieces from the museum’s collection to catalyze conversation in their current classes. In turn, visitors are encouraged to contemplate the questions sparked by the juxtapositions in this “learning laboratory,” which supports courses in American studies, art history, comparative literature, English and American literature, environmental studies, gender studies, history, neuroscience, psychology, and religion.
Below are brief descriptions of a few of the courses making use of the museum’s collections this fall as well as images of some of the works of art we’ve installed in this exhibition to support their avenues of inquiry.
Unruly Bodies: Black Womanhood in Popular Culture
This course examines representations of black womanhood in popular culture, analyzing the processes by which bodies and identities are constructed as dangerous, deviant, and unruly.
Kara Elizabeth Walker (American, b. 1969), Buzzard’s Roast Pass, from Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated), 2005, offset lithography and silkscreen on paper, 53 x 39 inches. Collection of Middlebury College Museum of Art, gift of Kathy and Richard S. Fuld, Jr., 2008.015.02.
Photography in the Middle East
This course, through the lens of 19th- and 20th-century photographs of the Middle East—by indigenous studios as well as European and U.S. photographers and artists who traveled to the region—examines how photographs visually construct notions of race, gender, class, religion, and cultural otherness.
Shirin Neshat (American, born Iran, 1957), Fervor Series, 2000, gelatin silver print, 17 7/8 x 22 1/4 inches. Collection of Middlebury College Museum of Art, purchase with funds provided by the Contemporary Photography, Film, and Video Acquisition Fund, 2006.018
Feminist Engaged Research
In this class students learn how to produce original feminist research—how to craft research questions, write a literature review, choose relevant methodologies, and collect and analyze qualitative data.
Mikael Owunna (American, b. 1990), Four Queer African Women in the Snow, 2017, photograph, 24 x 36 inches. Collection of Middlebury College Museum of Art, purchase with funds provided by the Foster Family Art Acquisition Fund, 2019. Photo: © Mikael Owunna.
God and Love in the Ancient World: India and Israel
This course will explore questions of god, love, and expression through the study of poetry, narrative, prayer, and epic from two ancient classical civilizations: Brahmanical India and Biblical Israel in its Ancient Near Eastern context.
Anonymous (Egyptian), Fayum Portrait of a Woman, Egyptian, Hadrianic period, c. 2nd century CE, encaustic on wood, mounted on a modern backing, 12 11/16 x 7 x 5/16 inches. Collection of Middlebury College Museum of Art. Purchase with funds provided by the Christian A. Johnson Memorial Art Acquisition Fund; gift (by exchange) of Wilson Farnsworth, George Mead, and Henry Sheldon; purchase with funds provided by the Walter Cerf Art Fund, 2016.088.
History of Africa to 1800
This course will explore Africa’s complex and diverse pre-colonial past. Themes include development of long-distance trade networks, the linkages between ecological change and social dynamics, the formation of large pre-colonial states, and the transatlantic slave trade and its impact on social and economic relations within Africa.
Anonymous, Kota-Obamba Reliquary Figure, from Gabon, probably 19th century, wood and metal, Height: 16 1/8 inches. Collection of Middlebury College Museum of Art, purchase with funds provided by the Middlebury College Museum and Visual Arts Council, 2019.
Sensation and Perception
Focusing primarily on the underlying mechanisms of vision and audition, this course—through identifying perceptual limitations and investigating how mental processes such as attention and emotion affect our perceptions—explores how our brains construct detailed representations of our world.
Richard Anuszkiewicz (American, b. 1930), Spectral Cadmium, 1968, serigraph on paper, 26 3/4 x 26 3/4 inches. Collection of Middlebury College Museum of Art, purchase with funds provided by the Friends of Art Acquisition Fund and a matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1976.150.
Maritime Literature & Culture
This course focuses on a variety of literary works, both fiction and non-fiction, in which the sea acts as the setting, a body of symbolism, an epistemological challenge, and a reason to reflect on the human relationship to nature.