by Gennifer Weisenfeld
This is a general report of my teaching and professional experiences as Ishibashi Visiting Professor at Heidelberg University during the summer semester 2010. Through the kind invitation of Professor Melanie Trede, I was affiliated with the Institute of East Asian Art History at Heidelberg. The Institute is rich in human and scholarly resources that are unique and highly beneficial for visiting faculty. I can say unequivocally that this was an excellent experience in terms of scholarly and pedagogical exchange.
I taught two courses in my area of research specialization: “Imaging a Nation: Japanese Visual Culture, 1868-1945”; and “Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture.” These are subjects that are not generally covered in the Heidelberg curriculum, so they offered undergraduate and graduate students (and the auditing faculty members) a valuable opportunity to learn about Japanese art history in the modern period, as well as new pedagogical and research methods. The classes were taught in a combination of seminar and lecture style, offering students many opportunities to participate in class discussion. Students and faculty were actively engaged in the material and engaged in lively discussions about critical issues related to gender, sexuality, women’s rights, performance art, popular culture, mass media, design, the ideology of nation-building, folk craft discourse, art in the context of total war, propaganda, and so forth. Every course session was designed to both present new art historical material in its social and cultural context as well as provoke discussion about standard understandings of this material. Students were encouraged to think critically throughout—which they demonstrated with great zest.
Ishibashi funding support also enabled a field trip with students to Frankfurt to visit two important cultural institutions with objects closely related to my course content: Museum für Angewandte Kunst Frankfurt and Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main. The students were able to see art and design objects firsthand as well as discuss the exhibitionary logic of these museum institutions and the cultural narratives that they are producing.
The Institute of East Asian Art History and the Cluster of Excellence at Heidelberg are well connected with other major centers of research around Europe, and host many scholarly activities, including multiple lecture series and symposia. During my stay, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in the lecture series co-organized by the Institute and the Cluster of Excellence titled “Multicentered Modernisms.” I presented the public lecture “Reinscribing Tradition in a Transnational Art World: Asian Art in the 21st Century,” which was followed up by a seminar mainly for faculty and graduate students. For the seminar, I presented additional material under the rubric of the theme, “The Biennale Effect,” concerning the impact of the Venice Biennale and other global biennale exhibitions on the Asian art world. Students were also charged with preparing focused questions on the lecture, which they did admirably. I can honestly say that this was one of the most lively and spirited exchanges with graduate students that I have ever had. As the Director of Graduate Studies for the Ph.D. program in Art History at Duke University, I take the mentoring of graduate students very seriously. I was deeply impressed with the level of critical inquiry exhibited by the students in the Heidelberg programs.
While in Heidelberg, I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to attend the three-day symposium “Living Legacies” held in honor of esteemed professor of Chinese archaeology Professor Lothar Ledderose. Fitting Professor Ledderose’s eminent position in the field, prominent scholars from all over the world gave scholarly lectures on a broad range of topics across Asia. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience.
In addition to my courses, public lectures, seminars, and participation in scholarly symposia, one of the most rewarding aspects of my stay in Heidelberg was getting to know the impressive faculty at the Institute and the Cluster of Excellence. Beginning with Professor Trede, who I have known for many years now, from her time teaching in the United States, I was graciously hosted by a wide array of faculty, who made time in their very busy schedules to meet with me to discuss our mutual scholarly and research interests. In particular, in addition to my ongoing exchanges with Professor Trede, I feel that I have forged very strong intellectual contacts with Professor Monica Juneja, Professor Gerrit Shank, and Professor Harald Fuess in their respective fields of global modernism, disaster studies, and business/advertising studies, all areas in which I specialize. This expanded network of professional contacts will be invaluable in the future, and I greatly look forward to opportunities in the near future to collaborate with these scholars. In this sense, the Ishibashi Visiting Professorship has been invaluable for facilitating significant scholarly interaction between Germany and the United States that will be long-lasting.