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Bowes Museum, Nov 2018 Workshops

Ralph Roberts

Back in June, I wrote a blog for the Age of Revolution project that detailed my visit to the Bowes Museum in County Durham. The Bowes Museum is one of the University of Kent’s partner locations, and part of its collection is a series of painting, prints, and objects related to Napoléon and the Napoleonic era. During my first visit I met with the museum’s Education Co-ordinator, Julia Dunn, to devise a workshop that could be delivered at Bowes for upper key stage 2 and lower key stage 3 children (approximate ages 10-12). It was hoped that we could develop a workshop that encouraged children to think about who Napoléon was and why he was an important figure, as well as to give them an opportunity to express themselves artistically using Napoleonic imagery as an inspiration. Early in November, I got the opportunity to return to the museum to see the first of these workshops in action – I was very excited to see the fruits of our labour! The workshops were led by Julia, while I was there to observe and to assist if necessary.

Upon arrival, the children were asked to colour in the French Tricolore, and to note what they already knew about Napoléon in the middle band. In most instances, this was limited to the fact that he was French, with a reasonable number of children having some awareness that he was a military figure. In short, the vast majority knew only some basic facts about Napoléon. This was perfectly understandable – I doubt that I even had that knowledge of Napoléon at age 11! It also offered a good opportunity to gauge how much the children had learned at the end of the day, to see what resonated with them and how effective the workshop had been. Interestingly, a few of them stated that he was short, which provides an example of how pervasive the myth of a diminutive Napoléon is! Once we had some idea of what the children knew about the subject, it was time to head to the galleries to begin a journey into the life of “Little Corporal”, led by Julia dressed as a “French wench” (her term, not mine, I hasten to add!).

The first stop was the John and Joséphine gallery on the first floor of the museum, which is dedicated to the founders of the museum, John and Joséphine Bowes. Before learning about Napoléon himself, the children were able to find out why there was a museum in Barnard Castle that had some pictures and objects related to a French political and military leader. It helped to provide context for the children’s visit to the Bowes Museum, and to give an indication that Napoléon’s importance and influence is widespread, including within the United Kingdom. As an aside, one of the rooms in this part of the museum contains a fabulous series of paintings by Nicholas Gabé based on the French Revolution of 1848. Though not a particularly well-known artist, Gabé captures the spirit of the subject brilliantly: his work The Barricade at Porte St Denis, Paris 1848 evokes comparison with Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, with a fearless woman leading the revolutionaries amid a pitched battle. Well worth a look if you ever have the opportunity to visit the Bowes Museum!

After learning about the museum’s founders, it was time for the children to enter the open space of the picture galleries to trace the life and career of Napoléon Bonaparte. The children were given a biographical overview of his life and times, and Julia chose some of the children to portray the key figures in the narrative. Thus, we had a Carlo and a Letizia as Napoléon’s parents, and subsequently one pupil was transformed into Napoléon, complete with military jacket, bicorne, and sabre! The first focus of Napoléon’s military career was his campaign in Italy, and specifically in Venice, as the museum’s possession of Canaletto’s Regatta on the Grand Canal provided a fantastic backdrop to the tale of Napoléon’s plundering of Venice and his denudation of the Bucintoro, the Doge’s ceremonial barge visible in the painting. Having a visual aid such as this was useful in helping the children understand that Napoléon’s ventures were on a grand scale and involved traveling to distant places to achieve his goals. To get a sense of this aspect of travel, the children marched, led by their Napoléon, into the next gallery, chanting the revolutionary slogan of Vive la France as they went. It was quite a sight to behold, and one hopes we haven’t planted any ideas in their heads should the political climate remain unstable in 10-15 years’ time!

Having finished their brief march, the children were greeted by the grand image of Napoléon as Emperor, one of Anne-Louis Girodet de Roucy-Trioson’s 26 identical portraits. With the aid of copies of some of the nineteenth-century prints held in the museum’s archive, the children were given an overview of the 17 years from Napoléon’s coronation in 1804 to his death on St Helena in 1821. It is to Julia’s credit that she was able to give the children a sense of this in one morning session, given that many historians have written entire books about this period and have still acknowledged that much more is to be said. The children were given a sense that fortunes can change in a short space of time, hence why Napoleon was able to return for his “hundred days” before being defeated at Waterloo and exiled on a remote island where any possibility of return was eliminated. At the end of the morning session, students were given the chance to sketch something from the gallery, related to Napoleon, to use for a printing exercise in the afternoon. It was fascinating to see what resonated with different individuals: whereas some were taken with the figure of Napoléon himself, others preferred more natural images such as a boat on the ocean, similar to one that would have taken Napoléon to his final resting place.

After lunch, Julia led a discussion on what the children thought might have happened had Napoléon been able to launch a successful invasion of Britain and incorporate it into his empire. This encouraged children to think about what it might have been like to live in a state occupied by Napoléon, and to consider how our own national history has been shaped by the fact that this did not occur. While counterfactuals are contentious in academic history, for students of this age it was ideal for encouraging critical thinking about the importance of events and how our modern world is shaped by causality. One pupil in the first group made the link between Napoléon’s endeavours and the subsequent world wars, and how the Europe that Napoléon left behind was influenced by him and how it might have altered had he been able to invade Britain. For somebody 10-11 years old, this was a fantastic point to make, and is a testament to how Julia’s engagement with the topic had influenced the children in attendance. The discussions also brought up other questions about what it means to be British, and how these things might be affected by a figure such as Napoléon. It was great to hear the students come up with abstract ideas based on a topic that most knew very little about beforehand, and that is a testament to Julia’s delivery, the skills they have developed in their schools, and their own natural inquisitiveness.

Gabe, Nicolas Edward; The Barricade at Porte St Denis, Paris 1848; The Bowes Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-barricade-at-porte-st-denis-paris-1848-44402

Before the final activity, the students were asked to write down everything they could remember from the workshops, so that we could compare what they knew by the end of the session with what they knew coming into it. Most of the children were able to recall a good number of details about Napoléon’s life, with those pertaining to his family and their roles in developing and maintaining the Empire being commonly recalled. The children wrote their recollections on the back of the flags they’d made earlier – in many instances they were running out of room due to how much they’d remembered! It was certainly pleasing for Julia, their teachers, and myself to see how much they’d learned over the course of the day.

The sessions concluded with a printing exercise, whereby the children copied their drawings from the galleries onto a polystyrene plate and used paint and rollers to transpose the images onto paper that they could hang up in their classrooms at a later date, if desired. The children enjoyed the activity, and it was certainly beneficial to break up the historical elements with some practical activities. The children all produced fantastic images in the end, even those that were stuck with someone as unartistic as I am to supervise! Hopefully the finished prints have served as a fond memento of the day for all the children involved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To summarise, it was fantastic to be able to return to the Bowes Museum and witness the workshops take place, and I am grateful to the University of Kent for enabling me to go back. I would like to thank Julia Dunn for shaping and delivering the workshops, and for making them a success for the Age of Revolution project. The feedback from both schools involved was fantastic: both schools rated the workshop as “excellent”, and the teachers were pleased with the variety of activities available to the children and the enthusiasm with which they were delivered. Most of the children that attended had never been to the Bowes Museum before, so it is wonderful that the Age of Revolution project has enabled them to visit this wonderful location and see the art and the artefacts first-hand. I’m glad to say that our collaboration with the Bowes Museum is not over: we are currently planning outreach and digital elements to this project, to be developed and delivered in the first quarter of next year. I am very much looking forward to working with Julia and her colleagues on these aspects of the project; another Kent student, Will Jarvis, will be involved, and we’re both looking forward to what we can achieve in partnership with the Bowes Museum. If we can hit the same heights as the workshops have, I should think we’ll all be delighted!

‘Up Close and Medical’ at the British Dental Association – 27th October 2018

by Jonathan Burton

I think it’s fair to say that London is not at its best in late Autumn. The weather’s cold, the sky’s grey and the air’s damp, three things hardly calculated to show the city off to it’s best. Yet on the 27th October myself, Becky and Jessie, ably assisted by Becky’s daughter Jasmine decided to brave the capital’s cold climate to attend an event held by the British Dental Association to represent the Age of Revolution project.

 

 

 

 

 

The object of the event was to help the public (particularly children) engage with medical history. Hence the fact that as well as our good selves, there were representatives from a variety of museums present as well; some representing a specific subject like the Royal College of Nursing or the Florence Nightingale Museums whilst others were more general such as the Science Museum and the Wellcome Collection. All these museums had a variety of great objects that you could pick up and handle, ranging from cake stands made by mental health patients to old surgical instruments used for a variety of gory operations. Hence a further reason for our attendance; not only were we their to spread the word about the project but also to spy out any useful objects to further our online collection. Our task: to sweet talk the museums present to try and persuade them to engage with the project.

 

 

 

 

As it turned out, the task was far easier than I had anticipated. Jessie, Becky and I found the various collections eager to help and we made lots of useful contacts. Seven-year-old Jasmine also played a key role, handing out leaflets in between collecting stickers from the various stands. I was particularly keen to engage with the Old Operating Theatre, as I’m hopefully going to be working with them to produce some short educational videos. Therefore, I was eager to see if they had any artefacts that could be used to give the videos some visual stimulus.

 

 

 

 

The staff were very obliging and showed me a range of relevant objects; particularly intriguing was the drill used for trepanning, which in simple terms means drilling into somebody’s skull to relieve the pressure or to release evil spirits. How anybody survived having a hole the size of a very large marble being made in the top of their skull is beyond me, although I was assured that the pain was minimal as soon as the surgeon had broken through the skin. I was even more surprised the next day whilst in conversation with a friend of mine who lectures on nursing at Canterbury Christ Church. According to her, they still use very similar equipment in hospitals to this day (although not for releasing evil spirits)!

Beyond the Barricade – Private viewing

We kindly invite you to attend the Private View of Beyond the Barricade on 27th of September.

Beyond the Barricade exhibition takes place from 28th of September to 30th of November at Studio 3 Gallery (University of Kent).

With a great honour, Beyond the Barricade has been supported by the nationally funded project, the Age of Revolution, in partnership with Waterloo 200.

Based on the spirit of the French Revolution, Beyond the Barricade brings artists from various nations together to look at different dimensions of revolutions. By documenting past upheavals and recent events, the exhibition aims to present artistic creation as a form of social and political action.

Details of the Private View
Thursday 27 September
18:00-20:00
Studio 3 Gallery, Jarman Building, The University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7UG
-with live performance and live spray painting
-beverage and snacks are provided

Beyond the Barricade highlights

  • Featuring artists: Thirsty Bstrd, Jimmy Cauty, Daniel Etter, Peihang Huang, Gavin Jantjes, kennardphillipps, Marina Naprushkina, Ahmet Ögüt, Keith Piper, Miss Pokeno, Jamie Reid, Warren Richardson, Francesco Tuccio, Art of Maidan
  • Various art medium: Painting, Photography, Video, Installation art, Art Prints.
  • Multiple events: Chalk Movement, Talks, Screenings, School Visit.

Please confirm your attendance of the Private View by clicking RSVP.
We would kindly like to note that the RSVP will be received until 20 September.

For more information, please visit our Facebook page “Beyond the Barricade Exhibition” and Instagram account “beyondthebarricade2018”.

If you have any questions about the event please email macurating@kent.ac.uk

Best wishes,
MA Curating group

 

 

How to Sum Up the Age of Revolution in c.20,000 words?

In the past two months, I’ve been attempting the impossible: to summarise the most significant things that happened during the Age of Revolution, and to explain and justify why these things were important and how they connected to one another.

Age of Revolution Theme Summaries & Key Messages BJM

It’s been quite a writing challenge – we’re habituated to having quite a lot of control over our subject area, or speaking internally to one another about research sub-fields, and to concentrate on archival finds and quite detailed debates and issues in one place, time, or theme. It’s also required a bit of courage – every generalisation in large sweeps of history is so vulnerable to objections, caveats, corrections, and critique. And inevitably, so much of this stuff is – to use the perennial escape line for historians – “not my field.” But there are good reasons for grappling with the macro, and chewing cud in other people’s fields, as well as having to be selective. These cut to the core of what history is, or should be, about. Fundamentally, if the history we produce is not usable and purposeful – if it cannot be articulated and understood, and made relevant to people and classrooms today – then the enterprise risks not only losing popular and state support, but also leaving the big picture painting to those who haven’t necessarily trained in the discipline.

The figurative system of human knowledge proposed in the Encyclopedie, with its three branches of “memory, reason, and imagination.” The Encyclopedie was a bit more challenging than my thematic overview, constituting a groundbreaking multivolume work over two decades that crystallised many aspects of the Enlightenment, and aspired to “change the way people think” according to its principal editor, Denis Diderot.

Thankfully, colleagues within the Age of Revolution team have ridden to my rescue, so thanks to them for the many inflections and tweaks this has gone through. I now submit it, as the Declaration of Independence put it, to the “Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions.” And feel free to comment on it, correct it, and chew it over. Hopefully some of it will be useful as the various teams in the project think more deeply and fully about many of the historical themes and developments, and how we can explain and vivify them in museums and classrooms.