Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Entries Tagged as '2010 Holly'

Building an Empire, Silver Dish by Silver Dish

September 14th, 2010 · 3 Comments

We’ve already talked about the elitism that we’ve seen in museums such as the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery, and I’m sure that everyone has at least a passing familiarity with the debate over the Elgin Marbles. (If not, Stephenie wrote a small book about it a few days ago, so just keep scrolling down the page.) I don’t want to beat the imperialism theme over the head too much, so I’ll try to take a different angle here. What has struck me about so many of the museums that we’ve visited has been the vast collections of stuff housed within their walls. Isn’t this the point of musuems? you might ask. Well, yes. But I feel like the size of the collections and the way that they are displayed here just screams “materialism” more loudly than any museum that I’ve visited previously.

Apart from the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum is the best example of this. The array of exhibits in this museum is incredible–everything from fashion to theatre, jewelry, micromosaics, sculpture, medieval art, and every silver dish ever manufactured in the British Empire. Wandering through (the floor plan made absolutely no sense to me, so I just walked around), my eyes started to glaze over because of the sheer number of artifacts displayed. In the silver rooms, for instance, there were cases packed so tightly with pieces that there was not enough room for display cards; interested viewers had to pick up a card that was chained to the outside of the case. And underneath all of these cases, which took up a pretty substantial area, were drawers full of more pieces that didn’t fit in the displays. It was insane. The V&A had some amazing pieces, but the opulence and materialism on display there were astounding.

Although some of the other museums that I visited were much smaller and were actually house museums, I noticed this same glorification of materialism. The Sir John Soane Museum is a wonderfully eccentric home that Soane, a nineteenth-century architect, designed specifically to hold his collection of artifacts and his “cabinet of curiosities.” It’s really neat to walk through and see all of the peices that he has hiding in the nooks and crannies of his home (one room has extendable walls that fold out from the permanent walls. There are currently sketches by J.M.W. Turner that are displayed on these hidden walls). His collection includes several pieces of Greek and Roman statues, wonderful works of art by Hogarth and Canaletto, and even an Egyptian sarcophagus. But again, I got the sense that there were just so many things packed into such a small space. And I had to wonder, like Stephenie, how he came by all of these treasures and why he needed a room full of Roman busts. It seemed as though he had collected all of these things simply because he could. Thankfully he had the foresight to turn his home into a museum so that his collection would be accessible to the public to come and learn from it, but the thought still lingered.  The Wallace Collection left a similar feeling, although a large portion of the collection housed there comes from other parts of Europe.

I firmly believe that these huge, opulent collections are only possible because of Britain’s imperial past. They had access to so much of the world, and they had the power and the weapons to take artifacts from all of these places (even if the Elgin Marbles were supposedly sold legally). As the strongest nation of the nineteenth century, Britain was able to amass all of the silver found in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and all of the pieces of sculpture housed in the Soane. The money was there and the artifacts were ripe for the taking, so materialism (and I think fascination with exotic cultures, especially with the Orient) naturally followed. I’m not trying to say that this is right or wrong, and Americans as a whole definitely value the consumer and material wealth. It’s just what has really struck me from the museums that I’ve visited.

Tags: 2010 Holly · Museums

Breaking the Rules of Englishness

September 5th, 2010 · 3 Comments

When people at home learned that I was going to be studying in Europe all year, many of them said something along the lines of, “Oh, watch out, they hate Americans.” The incredible sense of encouragment and support that I took from this statement aside, I was a bit worried and started reading Kate Fox like it was the Bible of Englishness. Now that we’ve been here for a bit, however, I’ve noticed some variations in English behavior and have witnessed some interesting responses to my American-ness.

It’s true that hardly anyone talks on the Tube and people rush by each other in the streets seemingly without giving notice of their fellow travelers. Kate Fox’s rules seem to be holding true. At the Hard Rock Cafe, however, all of those rules were thrown to the wind. We’ll start in the bar—the bartenders, two young men, were clearly showing off and attracting attention to themselves and their drink-pouring abilities. At one point, one of the waiters even jumped on a bartender’s back. They were *gasp* boasting. Granted, they had already had a few drinks themselves by this point, and one of them assured me that he was going to drink more later when I tried out the “And one for yourself?” rule. The rule-breaking then continued with our server, who had no problem at all pulling up a chair to our table, poking gentle fun at us, putting her arm around someone’s shoulders, etc… She was much more dynamic and got much more personal than I expected. I don’t know if Fox’s rules are more relaxed at Hard Rock because it’s such a tourist attraction, or if it’s because the atmosphere just attracts more outgoing people. I don’t believe that the fact that we were a large group of young Americans played a part in this interaction, though.

Most people whom I’ve interacted with simply nod and smile a bit when they hear my American accent, as if to say, “American–that’s why it’s taking her so long to count the proper change.” Two instances gave me a lot to think about, however. I was at a sandwich shop one night, and the cashier asked me where I was from. We started talking a bit, and it turns out that he not only knows where Pennsylvania is, but has the dream of traveling from the East Coast to the West Coast someday. He’s been working in England for seven years in order to save money to get to America. He’s originally from Brazil, but has lived and worked in most countries in Western Europe, making his way westward. He was so positive about the States, and he gave me a pound off of my sandwich for talking to him. I’m thinking that he was just excited to find someone who would talk to him about something other than the weather. I saw this need to reach out to a friendly stranger in the British Museum, as well. I was standing in front of the Rosetta Stone, listening to the podcast, when someone tapped me on the shoulder and asked where I was from. Completely un-English behavior! Woah. I said, “the States,” because most people who have asked me that have been British, but this guy looked at me like I was an idiot. “Which state?” he asked. He explained that he’s from Missouri and is here on his quarter-life crisis with his father, and was in need of something to do. His father’s contribution to the conversation consisted of, “New England! Ah!” It was a very odd interaction, and, being pretty shy, I was taken aback. But again, I think that they were just really excited to talk to someone who would have a conversation with them, and bonus! spoke in an American accent.

I’m interested to see if this kind of interaction continues as I’m here for longer, and I especially want to see if they continue in Norwich. I feel that they’re possible in London because there are so many tourists and a larger population of non-native Brits.

Tags: 2010 Holly

A topic other than elitism

September 3rd, 2010 · 2 Comments

Since so many people have already written about the elitist tendencies of the National Portrait Gallery’s collection, I won’t spend any more time on that aspect. What I found interesting was the change in what types of figures were included throughout the years covered in the collection.  In the Tudor rooms, only members of the royal family or other important government/magisterial figures were displayed (several of whom seemed to be Elizabeth’s “favorites…”). By the time of the Restoration, more portraits of social or artistic figures were included, and by the time of the Romantics, there were more portraits of philosophers, artists, writers, poets, social activists, etc… than there were of strictly governmental figures. The best explanation that I can come up with for this is the (late) arrival of the Renaissance in Britain during the Tudor reign, which gave rise to popularity for artists, playwrights (cough, Shakespeare, cough), and the like. This movement into non-political realms then continued with the Enlightenment and the growth of both the middle class and leisure time, so people were able to focus more on literature, philosophy, and science.

I really enjoyed the Gallery (except for maybe the twentieth-century room, and the self-portrait done in blood. Weird.), but I feel as though the collection was a very safe one. Almost every portrait seemed to be of someone who has had a positive effect on Britain’s image. There were no portraits (or very few) of political dissidents or very radical thinkers, nor were there any images of people who weren’t perfectly coifed and dressed. This may be due in part to the availability of portraits; I have no idea what sort of resources the museum has been able to draw on. I do think, however, that the collection could acknowledge that Britain’s history involves some ugliness (beyond some of the fashions in the paintings).

I focused on the portrait of Jane Austen, done by her sister, Cassandra because a) she’s my favorite author and b) it’s a very awkward portrait. I mean, it’s the only known image of Austen that was done from life, and she looks seriously pissed off.  (Image from National Portrait Gallery, http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/largerimage.php?sText=Austen&search=ss&OConly=true&firstRun=true&LinkID=mp00179&role=sit&rNo=1)

Austen is turned away from her sister and her arms are crossed, which makes her seem very closed, as if she did not want to sit for her portrait. Since Cassandra never finished the sketch, this may have been the case. Her lips are pursed and her nose seems slightly wrinkled, giving her a definite look of annoyance. Friends and family remarked that hte portrait captured a little bit of Jane, but that Cassandra had more or less missed the boat as far as a real likeness goes. I think that this was probably because drawing was considered a proper and genteel activity for women during the Regency Period, and Cassandra may have just been practicing on her sister.

This portait is especially interesting to me after the time that I spent at the Jane Austen Centre yesterday. In the museum, there was another portrait of Austen, done by a modern artist, Melissa Dring.  Dring took Cassandra’s portrait and descriptions of Austen from the written accounts of people who knew her in order to come up with this new image. I think that her eyes are twinkling a bit too much here, but at least she doesn’t look so ticked off.

Tags: 2010 Holly · Museums

Two Very Different Cultural Celebrations (or, why “Billy Elliot” should be on the syllabus)

August 30th, 2010 · 1 Comment

Today I saw two very, very different sides of “Britishness,” one at the Notting Hill Carnival and the other at a West End performance of Billy Elliot. I was under the impression that the Notting Hill Carnival was supposed to celebrate the West Indian cultural heritage of the immigrants who came to the Notting Hill area in the 1960s and onward, but barr a lot of flags and glitter, I sort of missed the cultural celebration part. I got the celebration, definitely, but I was expecting much more emphasis on West Indian music, crafts, etc… Instead I heard a lot of American rap, dodged a lot of people drinking, and saw too many people wearing spandex and feathers who should really have rethought the spandex. Really, really rethought the spandex. Don’t get me wrong–the costumes in the parade were absolutely stunning, and the food was fantastic. It just seemed as if culture was put on the backburner so that drinking and partying could dominate the day. Kind of like Saint Patrick’s Day in America–a bunch of people dig up their Irish heritage (or fake their Irish heritage) in order to drink more for the day. Definitely very interesting to see, but kind of disappointing as a cultural learning experience.

Directly after leaving the carnival, however (which took some fancy navigating), I went into the West End to see Billy Elliot, which was so many types of amazing. As I was watching the show, I was struck by what a different type of cultural celebration it was–it concentrated exclusively on British working-class culture, particularly in Northern England. Stephenie, Matt, and I were talking during intermission about how much we could tie our readings into the show’s themes, and also about how we were really enjoying seeing a show that was so “British.” Lee  Hall, who wrote the screenplay for the film with Jamie Bell and then adapted it to the stage, had a piece in the program in which he talked about how creating a show that was true to the working-class culture that he came from. We’ve concentrated a great deal on immigrant populations to England, which is definitely an important and dynamic topic, but we haven’t really addressed white British culture too much. Billy Elliot centers around the coal miners’ strike during the Thatcher era and, allowing for theatrical exaggeration, is a really interesting look into the lives of working-class families in that situation. Some of the themes presented in the play really resonate with our readings, as well. Billy, a twelve year-old boy, wants to break with the family tradition of coal mining by going to ballet school, so his family has to learn to cope with his aspirations. His older brother spends an entire scene talking about keeping the family together and how hard it is to uphold family values in the face of economic desparity and change, which somewhat mirrors the immigrant experience. It’s a different look at what was happening in England during the 1980s, and I found it really interesting. It opened up the picture of British identity a bit more. And the music and choreography were stunning. I think that I overused the word “fabulous” by quite a bit. Yes, it’s touristy, but it’s an amazing show and could also be used as an interesting counterpoint to our discussions of immigration. Just be prepared to be singing the songs for a few days afterward.

Tags: 2010 Holly · Theatre · Uncategorized

Shepherd’s Bush Market

August 28th, 2010 · 7 Comments

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We spent the morning at Shepherd’s Bush Market in the area of Shepherd’s Bush, near Hammersmith. To get there, we took the Tube to Shepherd’s Bush station, a modern and pretty elegant-looking building. Once we were at the station, we actually had trouble finding the market. There were no obvious signs near the station, and the first person whom we asked had no idea what we were talking about. We took a wrong turn and wandered through a very new shopping and restaurant development in the same style as the station, but could not find the actual market. Someone did direct us, however, and we found the entrance.

When we entered the market, we readily realized why this place was little known.  The Shepherd’s Bush Market is no more than a narrow strip of walking space, about the length of a city block and no wider than an average road, jammed with shops on either side.  As we ventured into the market, inspecting the market’s goods and snapping photographs, we drew strange looks from shoppers there, who were invariably first generation immigrants, mostly from the Middle East.  Popular items in the market were the necessities, food and clothing accounting for over half of the market’s goods.  This suggests that, unlike other popular London market destinations, Shepherd’s Bush caters predominantly to the area’s immigrant community and their day to day shopping needs, rather than to tourists and day shoppers out for a bit of fun.  Of the food shops in the market, halal butchers were the most prevalent.  In immediate area surrounding Shepherd’s Bush Market, the same type of commerce thrived, with more halal butchers and restaurants and a few money exchange centers scattered about. Despite a heavy immigrant influence within the market, residential areas surrounding the area were largely native and seemed more affluent.

One aspect of the neighborhood that really struck us was the proximity of the local, immigrant-centered market with an enormous, modern shopping center. The Westfield Shopping Center, which opened in October 2008, is supposedly the largest shopping center in Europe. Inside we saw hundreds of people shopping at stores that ranged from Prada and Gucci to Nike and Adidas to H & M and other [slightly] more inexpensive stores. The mall was so big that there were several interactive map kiosks that would map out routes to certain stores for people. To read more about the mall, see Westfield’s website, http://uk.westfield.com/london/centre-information/about. Most of the shoppers here seemed to be white, probably native British. Both the shoppers and the elegant, silver architecture were a stark contrast to the colorful and cosmopolitan nature of the much smaller market. It seemed very strange that such a huge concentration of high-end stores was right in the middle of an area of so many immigrants. It did not match the streets around the market at all, but we noticed that there seemed to be more commercial development taking place on the other side of the mall.

Tags: 2010 Benjamin · 2010 Holly · 2010 Luke · Markets

A Walk around St. Paul’s

August 26th, 2010 · 1 Comment

To get to St. Paul’s Station, we took the Tube from Goodge Street Station to the Tottenham Court Road Station, and then stayed on the central line for a few more stops until we arrived at St. Paul’s. It took us a little over ten minutes to get from the hotel to Saint Paul’s, including walking down 169 steps after we decided to skip the escalator. The Tube was very easy to navigate, although the map certainly came in handy. Holly, whose town has absolutely no public transportation, was impressed by how orderly everything was—people paid strict adherence to instructions to “mind the gap” and to keep right if they weren’t moving on the escalator, so as to let those in more of a hurry pass by.

St. Paul’s proved to be a very popular station, probably because it offers access to many London landmarks and museums, including St. Paul’s Cathedral, for which it is named. It is also within walking distance of the Tate Modern and St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, as well as several office buildings. Walking around the area around the station, we realized that St. Paul’s is a gateway to the City proper. 

Just beyond the station lies St. Paul’s Cathedral surrounded by beautiful old buildings that resembled a postcard image of London. We decided that the cathedral itself was the best monument to highlight, as it is such an iconic part of the London skyline and is a standing monument to Sir Christopher Wren’s work.

The area outside of the cathedral was teeming with tourists, most of whom did not display much religious inclination. There were a number of people milling around inside of the cathedral, but very few were actually there to pray or worship, and they were secluded at the front of the church.

There were also several groups of tourists outside of the church, and we were surprised at how informally they treated the area. One tour guide even jumped onto a statue of John Wesley and put his arm around the statue while he talked to the group.  In general, people seemed to be more intent on taking pictures than on listening to the tour guide or reading the plaques (of which there were very many) that explained the significance of St. Paul’s. History was emphasized, however, with all of the plaques in the area. There were several statues on the cathedral grounds that commemorated religious figures, including St. Paul’s cross, which was supposedly erected first in 1191. On the other side of the station, we found Christ Church Greyfriars, another Wren creation, which was partially destroyed. The ruins of the knave have since been turned into a garden. This section seemed more business-y than the area immediately around St. Paul’s Cathedral, however.

On the walk back from Saint Paul’s Cathedral, we chose to walk down Newgate Street, which soon turns into High Holborn.  Along this stretch, Baroque style architecture, characterized by ornate marble carvings and columns predominated. 

Soon enough, we walked upon the Holborn circus, a tiny traffic circle with a statue in the middle,.  Finding the subject of the statue was made difficult by the traffic moving quickly around it, however, we later found the statue to be of Prince Albert.  As we moved toward New Oxford Street, the architecture tended to be more of the modernist variety, with the odd Victorian building, and Georgian style architecture becoming more predominant in Bloomsbury.

Tags: 2010 Holly · 2010 Tyler