What’s it like to study History of Art at Nottingham? Beth Stansfield offers a student’s perspective.

The old saying “Time flies when you are having fun”, as cliched as it may be, has never been more applicable than when studying for a BA in Art History at the University of Nottingham. Those introductory sessions at the beginning of the First Year, awash with timid faces and infused with hungover nausea, seem so recent, yet I find myself about to commence my third and final year of studying the course! I would like to look on my past two years and give a brief overview of the Department, and the transition between first and second year, hopefully providing some pointers for any incoming first years and first year students progressing into second year.

Exterior of the Humanities Building

Exterior of the Humanities Building

The School of Humanities (where the Department can be found) is a beautiful, airy building with a Digital Humanities Centre, computer room, teaching rooms and some temperamental vending machines! The aspect of the building itself that I find most useful is the abundance of seating space available for both lounging and group study. These spaces prove vital for the merging of chitchat and last minute seminar preparation. On the upper floors are the offices of the lecturers from the various departments of the School of Humanities housed in the Building (History of Art, Archaeology, Classics, Philosophy and Theology and Religious Studies), watching over the students seated on the ground floor like academic deities! Lovely as the facilities for the building are, what I really want to focus on is the relationship between lecturers and students.

I cannot stress enough how vital it is to develop a good working relationship with your lecturers and tutors. For me, this is the ultinate strength of the History of Art Department. From conducting (very) informal surveys with other Nottingham students, I can conclude that  no other department offers such incredible personal tutelage. The lecturers are well informed and articulate in their speciality subjects but they also go above and beyond  their teaching requirements. Being a small department is an advantage, as every lecturer knows every student and will make time to meet with them when they need it, which is an incredible luxury.

The students and lecturers really work in tandem to keep the Department fresh and progressive, Students can contribute to the department’s extra-curricular activities via such as groups as the Art History Society or Crop-Up Gallery . The Society enables students to get together outside of timetabled hours to let their hair down. They also organise welcome events to introduce First Year students into the department, organise book swaps, gallery trips, and so on. I think they are absolutely outstanding – and this has of course nothing to do with the fact that for 2014/15, I am the Society’s president!

The Crop-Up Gallery group is an asset for the department that should not be underestimated: Crop-Up are a student-run curatorial team, one of very few in the country. They curate a series of ‘crop up’ exhibitions from conception to installation, taking responsibility for the entire process from developing a theme, sourcing artworks, finding a space, publicising the exhibition and planning the social events for opening nights. Hands on experience in curatorship, project management, marketing and events planning is extremely valuable and so hard to get, but Crop-Up can provide it. Few universities can offer such a group, and we are very smug about it.

Crop-Up Gallery on the occasion of the exhibition The Island and the World, The Wall, Hockley, 2014.

Crop-Up Gallery on the occasion of the exhibition The Island and the World, The Wall, Hockley, 2014.

Modern and contemporary art has always been my one true love but I found it hard to find a degree course that offered the overview I wanted. So many courses just focus on the ‘older’ art, but Nottingham offers modules in performance art, photography, modernist architecture and so on, in addition to modules on the Renaissance, Dutch art and classical art. This allows students to forge their own paths based on their own interest, meaning that I have managed to dodge the Renaissance almost entirely. Having said this, other students, with different interests, adore those modules and they find that the department caters for their interests too! The core module in first year, Introduction to Art History offers a broad overview over the subject, and from this students can get an idea of what to grapple with more specifically in second year.

I have found the jump from first to second year to be substantial, largely because everything suddenly matters and all marks start to contribute towards your final degree result. It hasn’t seemed even remotely intimidating though because all of the students work together to bounce ideas back and forth, share useful books, and most importantly, act as emotional support for each other during mammoth sessions in the library. A half-written essay the night before a looming deadline is somehow made manageable by the friend who shares a video of a puppy on social media and suggests a tea break. The friendships that are made within the department are strong because everybody knows each other.

On the steps of Sacre Coeur, Paris. Photo credits Harriet Hughes

On the steps of Sacre Coeur, Paris. Photo credits Harriet Hughes

This is where I drop the International Study bomb. This module is pitched to prospective students as a second year bonding experience, a chance to experience art in situ and to come away with incredible memories. The expectations and promises were immense, but our 2014 Study Trip to Paris did not disappoint! We returned with souvenir merchandise in our suitcases, renewed enthusiasm for our subject and genuinely strong friendships, cemented through long nights of wine drinking and metro hopping. Ultimately, university is about getting a degree and enjoying forging new relationships. I can safely say that History of Art at Nottingham has both of these bases covered.

I hope that my rambling monologue has given an impression of what it is to be a History of Art student at the University of Nottingham. It may seem that I am excessively complimentary about my department, but I genuinely struggle to find something about my experience that I am dissatisfied with. I am certainly not being paid to write such lovely things though of course my study bank balance would welcome it…

Beth Stansfield

BA (Hons) Art History, 2012-2015

President (incoming) Art History Society




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