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Field Trips

March 1, 2012   

There’s nothing cooler than learning about something and then seeing it in person. When I was younger—elementary- and middle-school-aged—my classes took field trips almost constantly: to museums, performances and the like. Back then, my peers and I were just excited, really, to step outside of the classroom setting for a day. We viewed field trips less as supplements to our curricular studies than as breaks from our typical study schedules. Whether we knew it or not, though, the early encounters we had with source materials shaped the way we learned, dramatically.


Last week, my English class, called Anglo-American Modernism, took a field trip of sorts. Our sessions usually take place in a classroom on Burke Library’s second floor, but we ventured, instead, to the library’s Special Collections, where Special Collections Librarian Christian Goodwillie and Associate Director and Curator of the former Emerson Gallery Susanna White exposed the class to texts and works of art related to the work of Ezra Pound and the Vorticist movement. Pound was a student at Hamilton, and as a result, the College has in its possession several books that he owned, as well as early copies of his work and related texts. Holding books that Pound once held in my own hands and seeing his notes in the margins of some of his most influential readings changed my perceptions of him as a figure and of his writing.


I can think of countless other moments when primary sources brought class material to life for me, but the effects of a few experiences resonate with me especially deeply. At the end of an eighth-grade course on Holocaust studies, visiting the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC' was an experience I cannot and will not forget; to this day, I can still conjure an image of the piles of shoes once worn by victims. Standing before Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon at MoMA after studying the hyper-canonical work intensely in a high school art history course was transformative, as well. The painting makes you feel tiny—in part because of its grand scale but also as a result of the imposingness of the female subjects.


Pictures in textbooks and videos on YouTube can reproduce images and experiences for students, making them efficient and effective teaching tools. But there’s something to be said about the worth of a firsthand experience with a text, object or image. As performance artist Marina Abramovic, who visited the Hill on Wednesday evening and whose work I had studied in an art history class (Modernism and Postmodernism) last semester, put it, “You have to be there.”