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Cambridge-Columbia Symposium, 3 March 2017: a review

last modified Mar 20, 2017 11:07 AM

From Thursday 2nd - Saturday 4th March 2017, the Cambridge History of Art Department hosted a small group of Art History graduates from Columbia University. The academic apogée of their visit was a day-long symposium in the graduate seminar room in which six Columbians and five Cantabrigians presented papers on their research. Parenthesising this event was formal hall at Pembroke College on the night of the 2nd, a graduate reception and dinner in St Johns College on the 3rd, and a tour of the chapel, roof and paintings of Kings College on Saturday the 4th. The symposium has been running for several years, alternately hosted by either Cambridge or Columbia. The purpose of the exercise, generously supported by Dr John Weber, is to pool the research capital of the two institutions’ art historical postgraduate community and incubate fruitful friendships.

I was one of the Cambridge speakers and entered into the fray with few preconceptions. Overall, our time with the Columbians reflected the diversity and intellectual curiosity of the individuals involved and was enormous fun. On social and academic levels, there is no doubt that many of us will stay in touch. The papers themselves were fascinating, all centred on this year’s theme of ‘Materiality’. I was struck by the continuity of this conceptual theme in all the papers presented - across wide-ranging cultures and times, from elephant and walrus ivories to Lady Mary Curzon’s Peacock Dress and the ‘Plastic Tableaux' films of Georges Méliès, as well as the clear passion of the speakers for their chosen fields of study. The day was a reminder of the vigour of art history as a discipline and the huge benefit of encountering material beyond one’s usual chronological stamping ground.

- Amy Jeffs