About the first seminar


This website was designed in my seminar, ARTH 515: Utamaro and his Contemporaries, taught in spring semester 2016. In this seminar we made close studies of selected prints that were recently given to the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts in the Van Pelt Library. My colleagues and I have been working with the librarians and curators to build the collection to support teaching from real materials, and over the past three years we’ve received three substantial collections of Japanese prints, a combined total of over 700 works (both in hand and promised), and over 500 volumes of related research books. This kind of support, we believe, is vital in training the next generation to become astute interpreters of visual materials.

This seminar was designed to give students the opportunity to work directly with selected prints, to catalogue and interpret them, and to develop this online catalogue. Thus, this course was designed to bring together object-based learning with digital innovations, and this website to serve as a forum to present student research and build web-design skills.

The course assignments were designed to build upon one another and to teach essential skills: cataloging, giving presentations, and scholarly writing. The first task was an attribution problem: each student was assigned two uncatalogued prints and asked to determine the artist, title, date, and all other data, and, after corroboration, to post that data to our WordPress site. (As you can see in the print catalogue section.) To develop our interpretive skills further, we also looked at related works at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, analyzing these for condition, quality, and production. Their second major task was a five-talk on one print for our public symposium held on March 19 (see the blog entry). This short form of analysis became the basis of the short catalogue entries they posted to the site. We closed the class with 20-minute conference-style presentations and by adding further documentation online, such as bibliography and comparanda. Throughout they worked on designing and implementing the website.

Building the website together offered the students the opportunity to share their experience as well as to demonstrate their intellectual ownership of the material in a larger forum. I believe this gives them a greater stake in the research outcomes. I asked for some feedback and here’s what some of what they said about building this website:

-the website extends our engagement beyond class with research that will go out into the world
-the process of building the website and giving the public presentations gives our work relevance, where the work has an afterlife
-using WordPress gives us a chance to develop a new skill and makes us more attuned to our audience
-and working with a real collection in the library gives us the opportunity for a professional experience

I’m hoping to continue adding to this website with future classes and hope that visitors to the site enjoy the students’ terrific work.


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