Saturday, July 27, 2013

In review

    Now that I am back in the US, I wanted to reflect back on my six weeks at Oxford. What an amazing summer! I am so happy that I went on the Shackouls Honors College Summer Study trip, and I thought I would unpack some of my favorite memories of my time studying at Oxford and exploring the nearby areas.
    My tutorial was conducted in the usual style of Oxford students. I studied C.S. Lewis under Dr. Michael Ward. We met once a week, during which time I would read the essay I had written over the week. 
    Dr. Ward would critique the essay and share some of his knowledge of Lewis’ work, and then set out my essay prompt for the next week. 
    The first week Dr. Ward’s understanding of Surprised by Joy literally left me speechless and if all I learned the whole of my tutorials came from that first week, I could consider it worth it. If you have recently read Surprised by Joy, I would love to talk with you about it. 
     I gained such a tremendous amount of respect for Dr. Ward, especially after the last tutorial. The assignment for the last tutorial was to read his book analyzing the Chronicles of Narnia. If you ever get the chance to read Planet Narnia, give yourself plenty of time and prepare to have your mind blown. I accumulated several books on Lewis while I was in Oxford which were really exceptional; C. S. Lewis: A Life and Planet Narnia.
    More important than souvenirs, the memories I collected from my Oxford trip are so fulfilling; I look over the pictures and happy tears come to my eyes. I am happy; not only because of the wonderful opportunity to see such a fantastic part of the world but also because of the experiences and friendships I found along the way.
    I will always remember arriving in the UK and us girls bumbling in the bathroom thinking If we are experiencing culture shock in here, what is it going to be like for the rest of the trip? Bathrooms are not universal. 
    I remember going to Stratford to visit Shakespeare’s hometown and dodging rain by standing under the eaves of hundreds of years old store-fronts. 
    I remember our WISC supper clubs hosted at various friends flats, and making brownies as pasta boiled in both flats across the hall from one another. 


    I remember Jade crying in front of the Arc de Triomphe de l'√Čtoile in Paris out of sheer happiness to be near the place Audrey Hepburn had been. 
   Clayton literally scaring us to death with his demon faces and noises the night we all got together to watch the College World Series championship game. 
   Jenni lisping about going to the Hogwarts studio because of her complete excitement. 


  Steven and Natalie keeping us all from getting lost in Paris with their careful knowledge of the Metro. 
   Field showing us how it is possible to be completely brilliant and humble at the same time. 
   The time I got lost in London for about fifteen minutes without a cell phone. 
   When we walked the lane C.S. Lewis took during his steps of conversion at Magdalen College and followed it up with tea and biscuits. 
    The pride I had in giving exact change in pounds and pence. 
    Seeing little kids riding their scooters everywhere. I think it must be impossible to be a child in the UK and not have a scooter. 
   Pimms at the Summer Eights. I could go on and on. So many memories.

    Of course I brought back tshirts and postcards and European candy. I found some little bit of memorabilia for each of my family, and even more for myself.  But the best things I brought back are the memories that I created studying and exploring the UK. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Shrunken Heads in Oxford

Most great museums have an object or two that invites debate—an item that has garnered political or ethical interest. When it is considered that museums were usually established through a foundational (and originally private) collection, the objects upon which the debates are centered become unified. In an extremely old private collection, curious objects were acquired through conquest and brought to one’s home country. This obviously attracts discussion about the ethical situation of displaying the foreign object.
Additionally, there is the age-old conflict about how human remains ought to be displayed…or even if they should be displayed at all. If we consider the debate surrounding human dissection (drawing the parallel because both display the human body for the purposes of education) we see there has always been controversy. The Greeks allowed dissection while the Romans outlawed it. England prohibited dissection completely until the 16th century. Italy allowed dissections even on women, for some time the most lenient of all European nations. The fact that these are, after all, human remains creates ethical implications, whether they are dissected or permanently displayed. It is a historic controversy, and it will continue as long as there are humans to discuss it.
One example that I have seen in Oxford is the shrunken heads in the Pitt Rivers museum. The shrunken heads are doubly divisive because of the tie not only to the ethical debate of where they belong but also how they should be displayed as human remains. To gain a better understanding of the controversy, we must learn about the heads in question.
Shrunken heads were originally made by the Shuar and Achuar peoples, distinct tribes with similar cultures. One aspect of the two cultures that unites them is their tradition of shrinking the heads of their enemies. The reason behind the head-shrinking becomes clear when we realize that the native people considered the head to contain the spirit of the person. This spirit could be contained by the head-shrinking process, allowing the killer to take it back to his tribe. The possession of one or more shrunken heads and their accompanying spirits was expected to bring the tribe good luck. Additionally, the spirit was believed to take revenge on its killer if released, and so head-shrinking was a means by which the spirit could be controlled and disaster avoided. Not allowing the spirit of a person to be set free meant that they were never allowed in the afterlife—another aim in head-shrinking because a tribe didn’t want their enemies attacking dead relatives in the next world. In paralyzing the spirit of the enemy through head-shrinking, the Shuar and Achuar believed that they were destroying the human soul.
When the white man began to infiltrate the region of the Shuar and Achuar in 1850s, the curious and awe-inspiring story of shrunken heads began to reach the outside world. Visitors from all over the world came to the area looking to procure a shrunken head souvenir. In 1930, it was possible to buy a shrunken head for $25. Little did the visitors know that their interest in the shrunken heads of the Shuar and Achuar people had created a demand for which further killing was the only supply.
Those that are for the display of the shrunken heads claim that they allow the museum-goer to understand an entirely different culture. Ted Dewan, who has offered his own head to be shrunk upon his death to be given to the Pitt Rivers Museum should the originals be returned, said that “[t]he Pitt Rivers Museum is a wonderfully inspiring and Holy place for me... an ethically sensitive institution that
honours the belief systems of indigenous peoples, no matter how obscure” (BBC).
However, those that are against the display use all the ethical arguments outlined above to argue their case. They fall into two categories: those that dissent for the ethical reasons of humanity or those that lobby for the return of the objects to their original regions. They claim that the display shows a lack of respect for the native cultures and the humanity of the object.

I believe that it is important for us to see other cultures that are different from us in many ways. The growth that comes in reflecting on the diversity between cultures cannot be replicated. It is crucial that this uniqueness is properly appreciated and understood. If every culture kept itself and its artifacts separate from the rest of the world, very few of us would ever have first-hand knowledge of objects outside our own area. With objects from one area spanning the globe, we can truly travel the world in a museum and at the end of our tour be a much better educated person.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Paris Part Three

   On the third and final day, we went to the Louvre. When a museum transcends its full name and can simply go by “the Louvre”, it has become renowned like very few other museums in the world. In sheer size, the 652,300 square feet defy comprehension. 
  It is truly an amazingly large museum, which allows a lot of space for a lot of objects. Nearly 35,000 objects call the Louvre home. And with so much to invite interest, it is no wonder that the Louvre is the world’s most visited museum. More than eight million visitors walk through the doors each year.

But is it possible for a museum to be TOO well-visited?
  The Louvre has been in the exact same position since the 12th century, and although it did not open as a museum until 1793, it had been an attraction for artists for some time. What began as a residence for privileged artists studying the exceptional art the Louvre contained at the time has now turned in to a pilgrimage for the masses.
   I paid 11 euro for a ticket, and was told I could take pictures wherever I liked, in both respects different from a lot of British museums, which are free and often prohibit picture-taking. The day started off well as we had a complimentary bag check which relieved us of our heavy backpacks. However, heavy backpacks were the least of our worries.
   The Louvre was filled to bursting with people. People, coming and going everywhere—with tour guides speaking in Japanese carrying a closed umbrella aloft, school children with stressed teachers, families speaking French, Arabic, American English, Spanish, German, and British English. And those were only the languages I recognized. Everywhere, people were attempting to nudge into the next room or squeeze by you. The main hallways of the Louvre became like highways—there was no possibility of stopping and turning around could only take place in special areas.
The map of the enormous Louvre.
   Is this what a museum experience is supposed to be like?

   Obviously, it all came to a head at the Mona Lisa. A good many people visit the Louvre only to see the Mona Lisa. It seems that it would be in a constant state of crowdedness, and when we visited was no exception. Actually visiting some of the great works of art, such as the Venus de Milo and Mona Lisa—which is the original purpose of the museum—was extremely difficult. The jostling, jumbled crowd kept me firmly away from appreciating the work itself. 
  Any great museum--and the Louvre is one of the all-time greats--is going to have the problem of huge crowds wanting access to the wonderful works it contains.
  Increased crowds oftentimes decrease the quality of experience for the individual museum-goer. I definitely experienced this in the Louvre more than any other museum. Why do I tolerate in the Louvre what I would never in most American museums?
Because of the Mona Lisa.
Because of the Estruscan sarcophagus.
Because of the Egyptian boat.
Because of the sphinx.
   In short, I believe that the eight million yearly visitors to the Louvre put up with the jostling and crowdedness not to appreciate the object, but to see the renowned. This is a departure from the tradition of the museums we tour today.
   We learned in our Mississippi State seminar class that the cabinet of curiosities was a precursor to the modern-day museums. In the earliest days of collecting, these objects struck wonder in the eye of the beholder. In examining the object, the museum-goer was to be filled with awe; to be inspired and to cause marvel.
   In this sense, the modern museum, such as the Louvre, has experienced an evolution. It does not seem to be an evolution within the museum, for the amazingly beautiful objects remain on display. They are the same as they nearly always have been. 
  I believe, after spending the day at the Louvre, that the evolution of the museum has more to do with the people who are visiting it. In an obvious way, the people are responding to an exterior force: there are so many visitors ALL wanting to see the Mona Lisa. Anyone who desired to spend more than a few seconds near the railing closest to that painting would be considered rude and unpleasant. There is hardly time for awe-inspiring feelings as you look upon the masterpiece for a few moments before cramming and snaking your way out of the crowd.
   But I think another aspect is the general education throughout the western world. Education has often taken on an element of consumerism, and it is this element that is effecting the way we approach great museums like the Louvre. We are approaching the museum experience as consumers. Instead of digging into the meaning of a piece of art and finding a true appreciation for it, the crowds combine with our educational background and convince us to find the most famous works held within the museum "so we can say we saw them".
  I loved the Louvre and everything we were able to see...and it definitely has me thinking on the evolution of the museum. What is behind it? Is it the sheer magnitude of the museum, the smothering crowds, or the consumerist-style educational system? Perhaps it is a mixture of all.
  Either way, a trip to the Louvre is worth the possibility of being overwhelmed. It is an amazing museum to visit, and no matter what, you have to brave the crowd and smirk at the Mona Lisa.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Paris Part Two

Now, Paris part two…the second day was absolutely packed so I will be giving y’all a tour of the day in pictures with captions.

In this room, which is a football field long, the history of France is depicted in these huge paintings.

The hall of mirrors!

The Garden of Versailles

 The beautiful garden paths. Without my map I would've gotten SO lost in here...

  We spent most of our time wandering around the gardens, and found a baguette place in a recessed part of the hedges where we stopped to eat. There were so many gardens--it was impossible to see them all with the short amount of time we had, but we saw enough to be awe-inspired.

We found this pretty walk that seemed such a different world than the formal gardens all around.

   From the Palace and Gardens at Versailles we continued on to explore more of Paris!
Notre Dame! 

The steeple of Notre Dame. Notice the greenish figure...there were several along the rooflines and they were so distinctive, so bright against the dark areas of the Cathedral behind.
And the famous gargoyles!
After Notre Dame, we walked over the Seine River nearby.

   It was beautiful! By this time, we were pretty hungry. There was a wonderful sidewalk restaurant - literally the best food I have had the whole trip. The owner was especially nice in explaining the very French menu to us.

 And then, as the sun began to set on Paris, we made our way out to the Arc de Triomphe. The traffic seemed absolutely frantic--you couldnt drag me into that roundabout if my life depended on it. Jenni created a new goal for her bucket list: to ride through the Arc de Triomphe roundabout on a motorcycle. It would be quite thrilling!
This view ended the second day!