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How Museums Make Meaning: Study Away J-term 2020

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Oxford England Study Away
December 4, 2019

Museums collect and interpret objects, and the stories they tell with their collections articulate cultural identity and values. Based in the historic university city of Oxford, this J-term 2020 class will explore how museums make meaning. Students will study numerous examples of contemporary museum theory and practice, engage with local professionals, and participate in museum-based learning opportunities. Site visits will include internationally significant collections like Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum and the British Museum in London. Additional short trips will focus on the interpretation of landscape as history at Stonehenge, and on the representation of national culture at the National Museums in Cardiff, Wales.

Oxford aerial viewProfessor of Art & Design and Chair of the department, Heather Mathews, leads the course. Students will have the opportunity to see art in person that has been previously studied in classes on PLU’s campus—a very exciting prospect. The study away class includes both art majors and minors as well as students enrolled in PLU’s International Honors (IHON) program.

This experience will encourage students to take a critical look at the way that museum collections and exhibitions are intertwined with things like national cultural identity, political goals, and education. Students are challenged to be curious about the ways that art, architecture, archaeology, and history are utilized by cultural institutions. Dr. Mathews also hopes her students gain tools to be critical viewers of other kinds of visual information to better help them sift through the images we are inundated with on a daily basis.

Student skateboarding in OxfordDr. Mathews believes study away is important because it gives Lutes the opportunity to live within another culture, even for a short time. She says, “Although we’re going to an English-speaking country, the food, language, etiquette, politics, and more are all quite distinct in the UK. Studying away encourages us to see things from a different perspective, and it can help us develop empathy and understanding.”

When the students are traveling around the United Kingdom, they will be sure to try a variety of international cuisines as well as traditional scones with clotted cream and proper tea, and Welsh cakes. “The UK’s history of immigration means a wealth of food from around the world is available there, and I really hope that students take advantage of that,” says Dr. Mathews.

Students traveling abroad this J-term will be sure to have a scholarly, active, immersive experience. Museums will become the classroom, a rare and delightful opportunity. The School of Arts and Communication and the Department of Art & Design are excited to work with our partners across campus, like the Wang Center for Global and Community Engaged Education, to provide high-impact educational opportunities for Lutes such as this study away course.