251 Warren Service Drive
Harrisonburg, VA 22807
Course Title: Art and Economics in the Bloomsbury Group (offered May 2010)
Instructors: Dr. Barry Falk (Professor of Economics) and Dr. Maureen Shanahan (Associate Professor of Art History)
Description: This was a six-credit Honors Seminar on Art and Economics in the Bloomsbury Group. It required some preparatory work in the preceding semester and reflective work in the proceeding semester, but it was centered on three weeks in London soon after final exams concluded in May. The seminar was open to first and second year honors students.
Background: The Bloomsbury Group was a celebrated group of intellectuals, artists, and public figures who lived in or near London in the early twentieth century who closely interacted with one another. Bloomsbury is a district in London which was the geographical center of the Group's meetings. The core of the Bloomsbury Group included economist John Maynard Keynes; writers Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, and Lytton Strachey; artists Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, and Roger Fry; and critics Clive Bell and Leonard Woolf. However, there were many others who had varying degrees of connection to the group. The Bloomsbury district of London is where the University of London, home of JMU's London program, is located and it is where students lived during their London stay.
Professor Craufurd Goodwin (Duke University) puts it this way in describing the Bloomsbury Group:
Some features of the Bloomsbury Group that are most attractive and intriguing are (1) the remarkable amount of intellectual firepower that they could muster collectively; (2) the general commitment of most of them to revolutionary change in the various areas that they represented - art, economics, fiction, ethics, biography, criticism, history, political philosophy, psychology, esthetics; (3) the attention members paid to the thoughts of others in the Group and the inclusion of the ideas of the others in their own work; (4) their candor with others and with themselves; (5) their sense of fun and joie de vivre, combined with (6) their commitment to hard work (on whatever they were engaged) and improvement of human welfare.
Course Structure: The course was designed as an experiential learning course for first and second year Honors Scholars. Class size was limited to 20 students. The course was structured as a six-credit honors seminar and satisfied the honors seminar requirement for Track I and Track II honors students.
It began with approximately bi-weekly two-hour meetings on campus in the spring semester of 2010. Students used that semester to do readings, watch films, and attend guest lectures to become acquainted with the principal figures of the Bloomsbury Group, the activities of the Group, and the Group's geographical and historical setting. They used this period to get to know one another and the instructors. They were involved in helping to plan the summer itinerary.
For the three weeks in London, the group was immersed in the Bloomsbury Group experience, especially as it related to economics and the visual arts. The students met with the instructors four mornings per week (MTWTh) for two hours of classroom work. Students met in the afternoons for local field trips and "Bloomsbury-style" free-flowing discussions on a wide variety of subjects of interest to the Bloomsbury Group (e.g., philosophy, arts, political science, current events, etc.), but in a modern context. The first and third Fridays were used for field trips outside of London (Charleston, the country home for members of the Bloomsbury Group, and Cambridge University, which played an important role in the formation of the Group and it worldviews). Therewas a free two-day weekend and a free three-day weekend for students to use as they saw fit for activities such as travel to Scotland or even Paris (via the Channel train).
Students helped plan and participated in a September 2010 symposium and reception centered on the seminar topic. Each student made a 10-15 minute presentation and participated as a discussant. The symposium was open to the JMU public. Honors students and faculty were especially encouraged to attend.
The seminar was offered as a Short-Term Study Abroad course and enrollment in the seminar began in fall 2009 through the Office of International Programs. The six credits of summer school tuition students paid to participate nearly covered all costs, except for airfare. In addition, some tuition support was offered for students with demonstrated financial need.
Evaluation: Student evaluations were based primarily on participation, engagement, and written work in the preparatory meetings in spring 2010, the living/learning experience in London, and the symposium.
Honors Rationale: The program was a distinctively honors seminar because it foregrounded several aims of the honors program: interdisciplinary study, critical engagement, work with primary materials, debate and discussion, oral presentation, and collaboration with other highly motivated students. The extensive preparatory meetings in the spring term differentiated this program from other short term study abroad programs that typically only have one or two preparatory meetings. The student symposium also distinguished this program from other study abroad offerings. It provided students a unique opportunity to reflect upon their experiences and share their insights with others. The preparation and reflective components, as noted above, are consistent with best national practices in honors study abroad. Finally, the seminar drew upon the research expertise and interests of the teaching faculty. Dr. Falk is an economist and, as a specialist in macroeconomics, is well-acquainted with the work and life of John Maynard Keynes. Dr. Shanahan is an art historian with specialties on early twentieth century modernism, the artistic and literary responses to the Great War, and representation and theories of sexuality, which are central themes of the Bloomsbury Group.