Students delve into British research


From left, Alexandria Jackson '15, Bella Young '14 and Ama-Bemma Adwetewa Badu '15.

Travel with MCLA over the spring break provides not only an opportunity to see the world; it offers students first-hand learning not possible in a classroom. In the case of Dr. Rosanne Denhard's "Arts of Medieval and Renaissance Britain" course, a visit to the United Kingdom gave 14 undergraduates a rare opportunity: to do on-site research in Britain.

In the UK, these students worked on significant, long-term, extended research projects which they later presented in a special session at this year's Undergraduate Research Conference (URC) at MCLA.

In addition to literature, Denhard's class allows for an exploration of the human experience through a broad range of arts, including theatre, music, visual art, architecture, dance and fashion.

"Everything interconnects and often overlaps, because we are constructing ways to understand the people of past in order to understand who we are today," Denhard said.

For first-time traveler Devon Philbrick '16 of Townsend, Mass., the experience of engaging with another community on a different continent was "richly rewarding and eye-opening."

He explored the life of medieval philosopher William of Ockham, and created a work of fiction based on his writing.

"The travel to the UK allowed me to contextualize my research, and additionally gave me the extraordinary opportunity to work with one of Ockham's 14th century manuscripts at the British Library. I do not believe my presentation would have been possible without this experience," Philbrick said.

Catherine Obrzut '14 of Ware, Mass., (left) accessed the British Library's collection of old texts.

"I was able to see things like the copies of Shakespeare's folios, the Luttrell Psalter, even the Magna Carta! Getting all this firsthand information really allowed me to step into my project from a new perspective and understand something I've always loved in a new, exciting way," Obrzut said.

According to Denhard, being in the presence of, and having the opportunity to interact with these artifacts of the past, is a powerful experience for any scholar or artist; something her students were profoundly aware of.   

In addition to enjoying York, Kurtiss Keefner '14 of Great Barrington, Mass., whose research focuses on the cultural and religious influences behind the development and creation of various Viking works of arts, arms and armor, said the best part of the trip was the Viking exhibit at the British Museum.

"Reading and learning about something in class can be rewarding in itself, but actually going to and experiencing the places and periods you are researching is something entirely different," Keefner said.  

For Ama-Bemma Adwetewa Badu, a surprising aspect of the trip was watching the play, "The Knight of the Burning Pestle," which was lit by candlelight. "That aspect of it was mesmerizing and it drew me into the play. I've watched numerous plays and musicals, but nothing I've seen has ever been put together the way that play was," she said.

For her research, "Flowers and Gardens as Symbols and Emblems of Female Power during the English Renaissance," she visited gardens, as well as the National Portraiture Museum and the National Gallery to view some of the paintings she studied.

"Nothing is better than seeing the true colors and texture of a painting up close. A garden can only come alive when you're in it, and actually smelling and seeing everything," she said.

Like Philbrick, Alexandria Jackson '15 of Pittsfield, Mass., had never flown on a plane before. She particularly enjoyed Westminster Abbey.

"I was anxious to get to Poets' Corner. Standing over the floor stones of C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, Lewis Carroll, and Laurence Olivier - as well as Jane Austen's wall tablet - was an amazing experience. I could have spent hours reading each plaque and studying every statue," Jackson said. "This trip brought the topics I have been studying for years to life."