Mark Rasmussen, Charles J. Luellen Professor of English, taught a new course as part of the Centre-in-Strasbourg program this past fall, titled “Museums and European Culture.” The final project asked students to design a museum on a topic of their interest and to describe, in detail, an exhibit in the museum.
“The previous spring while co-directing the London program, I had taught a course on London museums, and I thought that a museums course would be especially well-suited to Strasbourg,” Rasmussen said.
“Both Strasbourg, and the surrounding region of Alsace, possess museums that are surprisingly rich in art and local culture,” he added. “In addition to historical, archeological and fine arts museums in Strasbourg, the region holds one of the great art museums of Europe, the Musée Unterlinden in Colmar, which houses the famous Isenheim altarpiece, as well as my own favorite museum in the region, the Humanist Library in Sélestat, where a great but musty collection of Renaissance books has been brought to life by a recent renovation that uses state-of-the-art digital technology to make the books ‘pop,’ giving visitors a vivid experience of the past.”
Given these wonderful resources, Rasmussen had two main goals in the course.
“First, I wanted the students to learn about the culture of Strasbourg, Alsace, France and Europe through their visits to museums in the region and in Paris,” he said. “And second, I wanted them to become more critically informed visitors of museums, not only experiencing the substance of a museum’s collection but also analyzing how that collection is presented to visitors and what messages the museum might be trying to convey. Thinking critically in this way might help students derive life-long pleasure and learning from museums.”
History and economics and finance double major Injee Hong ’21 (Belle Mead, New Jersey) was initially drawn to Strasbourg because of its unique location on the border of France and Germany.
“As a history major, I was interested in studying the identity crisis of the Alsace region, where Strasbourg is located,” Hong said. “I also wanted to study abroad in Strasbourg, because I wanted to easily travel to other parts of Europe. Centre’s study abroad program gives students the opportunity to travel to other countries on travel weekends, which I was extremely grateful for. In the end, I was able to visit Belgium, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands.”
“My biggest takeaway was that museums are often used as a means for nations and institutions to exhibit their values to their visitors,” she explained. “For example, I learned about how important the concept of ‘patrimony’ is to the French and how they display this to the rest of the world through their museums. I was able to see this play out when our class visited Paris and had the opportunity to visit three of the most important museums there and really, in the world–the Louvre, the Museé d’Orsay and the Centre Pompidou.”
Hong said she is grateful for the opportunity to have visited these places with some of her best friends and Rasmussen.
“His insight on the organizational structures of museums, such as the hierarchy of curators and boards of directors, as well on specific pieces of art, such as the Isenheim Altarpiece in Colmar, France, was so thought-provoking and appreciated,” she shared. “Before I took this course, I would have definitely considered myself someone who enjoyed going to museums. However, after taking this course, I have an even deeper, richer appreciation for what they teach society and act as liminal spaces that allow people to escape everyday life.“
For her final project, Hong decided to design a Korean art museum that focused on art from the 19th and 20th centuries.
“When thinking about what kind of museum I wanted to create, I found that no substantial art museum exists in the U.S. that solely focuses on Korean Art,” she said. “Therefore, I wanted to design a museum dedicated to Korean art, which is something I have developed a passion for. Dr. Rasmussen challenged us to think creatively about different elements of our ‘imagined museum,’ such as floor plans, lighting and gift shops. The assignment was so different than any other final project or paper I had done in the past, but I really enjoyed challenging myself to think creatively, while still applying everything we had learned in the semester.”
“In all honesty, I would love to visit some of these ‘imagined museums’ one day—I hope that I will,” Rasmussen concluded. “But the true value of the creative assignment was in allowing students to connect personally with the material we’d studied. And since that material included the rich history and local culture of the place where they had lived as participants in the 29th year of Centre’s Strasbourg program, this struck me as study abroad at its best. I look forward to seeing the ‘imagined museums’ that the next group of Strasbourg students will design later this spring.”
by Kerry Steinhofer
March 3, 2020
Header photo: Centre students visit the Centre Pompidou in Paris during the Centre-in-Strasbourg program. Left to right: Lily Murphy ’21, Hannah Drury ’21, Cole Verhoven ’21 and McKinley Rush ’21. Photo by Grace Kelly ’21.