CentreTerm 2015: Students study the convergence of past and present in Vienna, Prague and Budapest
Though taught in destinations spanning the globe, CentreTerm courses abroad are all connected by the idea that there is no better way to learn than on location. In the case of Associate Professor of German and Humanities Ian Wilson’s course Introduction to the Cultural History of Central Europe, this means visiting the very places where history was made and continues to inform life today in this region.
The class will travel to Vienna, Budapest and Prague in order to analyze the dialogue between past and present that characterizes Central Europe. Students will develop their understanding of Central European culture not just by reading about it but by actually experiencing it.
“Through explorations of the cities and their architecture, and visits to palaces, castles, churches, synagogues and museums, we are looking for ways the three cities tell their own stories and remain vibrant spaces where culture continues to be produced while maintaining connections to the past,” says Wilson.
As part of this “on-site discovery” approach so crucial to courses taught abroad, the class plans to visit places such as Prague’s Jewish Quarter, the Hungarian Parliament, the Vienna State Opera House and the Nazi-era concentration camp Theresienstadt.
In addition, the last few days of the trip will be spent in Vienna collaborating with Assistant Professor of Art History Jay Bloom’s “Art, Empire and After” abroad class. Wilson says students from both classes will share what they have learned so far and then work together to explore subjects such as art collected by the Habsburgs and architectural expressions of 18th-century absolutism.
The course will culminate in a final paper in which students must argue for the importance of one of the three cities in relation to the broader cultural history of Central Europe.
Ultimately, Wilson hopes his students will cultivate a more sophisticated understanding of not just Central Europe’s past but its present and future too.
“I would like students to gain both a deep appreciation of the specific case of Central European cultural history but also to have a model for understanding how a European culture develops, revises, maintains and repudiates its sense of ethnic or national identity over time,” he says.
Moreover, Wilson believes the compressed nature of CentreTerm fits quite well with what this course is intended to be—an introduction.
“The brief period can only offer a glimpse of a region, but its intensity lends itself to focused engagement with one topic within a region,” he says.
“A CentreTerm course abroad, then, is just a beginning in many ways, but it should be a breathtaking, exciting one.”
Learn more about CentreTerm abroad.
by Caitlan Cole
Photo: Ian Wilson and his Introduction to the Cultural History of Central Europe class from the top of Budapest’s Castle Hill, in front of the Halászbástya, known as the Fisherman’s Bastion.