Friday, January 30, 2015

Student Spotlight: Jill Purcell

We're excited to continue our Student Spotlight Series, because we want you to get to know our students! They're awesome! Most recently we featured Art History major Angus Leydic, who will be graduating this semester. (We'll miss you, Angus!)

Now we'd like you to meet double major Jill Purcell, who is a sophomore studying History and Corporate Communications. We're glad Jill will be with us for a couple more years!

What year are you during 2014-2015?

Lansdale, Pennsylvania (Outside of Philly)

Why did you choose to double major in History and Communication? 
History because I love the subject and want to know everything about everywhere; Communication because job opportunities can be so diverse and I like to write.

What's been your favorite History class so far and why? 
Dr. Dwyer’s ‘Revolution: Modern Latin America’ - I liked that it focused on some really interesting turning points in Latin American History and it was neat to compare and contrast different countries’ revolutions. The content was really fascinating and I actually wanted to do the readings/homework!

What area of History are you most interested in?
I love Public History and going to museums. I could spend hours looking at paintings or objects of the past. 

Favorite Movie:

Favorite Book: 
The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

Favorite Historical Period:
Colonial America

Little Known Fact About You: 
I’m an avid Post-it® note user.

Extracurricular Activities while at Duquesne: 
Circle K International, Art History/History Society, TOMS Club, Duquesne University Dance Theatre, & Lambda Sigma.

What are your plans (or your dreams) for after you finish your Bachelor's degree?​ 
I would love to go to graduate school for Public History and then work in the museum world. That’s the dream but until then, we’ll just see where life takes me!

Thursday, January 29, 2015


Meet Dr. Saskia Beranek, Visiting Assistant Professor of Art History!

Dr. Saskia Beranek
Visiting Assistant Professor of Art History

1. Why did you become an art historian?

I started as a studio arts major, with an emphasis in ceramics and sculpture.  About halfway through undergrad, I realized that studying the social and historical work done by images was more interesting to me than making them.  Images are a powerful tool to help us understand past moments, and by extension, ourselves.  That realization came about primarily through classes on Northern Renaissance art taught by my undergraduate mentor. 

Plus, I was named after a painting – it may have been fate.

2. If you weren't an art history professor, what would you do for a living?

I have very elaborate plans for my hypothetical future career establishing and running the Black Market Biscotti Company.

3. Tell us a little bit about your educational background. Why did you choose the particular institutions you did?

My undergrad was at Penn State (main campus) and I ended up there by accident.  I did an MA at Duke University, then took time off from academia to make sure that it was what I really wanted.  Having realized that teaching was what I needed to be doing, I did my PhD at Pitt.  I went to Pitt because I needed to stay close to Pittsburgh at the time, and lucked into two amazing mentors and a whole cadre of lifelong colleagues.  My whole educational experience has been a case of ending up somewhere almost accidentally and making the most out of what it has to offer.

4. Where all have you lived? Which place has been your favorite?

I am a Pittsburgh native and though I keep leaving, I keep coming back, too. I passed some time in Central PA and in North Carolina, but I also lived for about two years in the Netherlands.  I spent most of my time there in The Hague, which is a city that I love, but for sheer charm and rich history, my favorite may have been Utrecht, where I spent my first two months abroad.   

5. What about Pittsburgh excites you? Is there something here that you're really interested in or have loved experiencing?

What’s really fun to me as someone who grew up here is seeing the local scene change!  Pittsburgh has an incredibly vibrant arts community that has blossomed.  When I was a kid, everyone was terrified because the city was so elderly – everyone young left.  Now, there’s always something going on for all age groups.  The things I’ve always loved since I was very small, like going to the Strip on a Saturday and getting good coffee and great cheese and fresh bread are still there, but now we’ve also got a blossoming restaurant culture, gallery crawls, artist lectures, performances, etc.  If you’re bored in Pittsburgh, it’s your fault, not the city’s!

6. What book would you recommend that every student of art history read?

This isn’t art history specific, but rather a book that I think all students of history should read: Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears.  Pears was an art historian and also wrote fun art history mysteries, but Instance of the Fingerpost is a novel about a (fictional) event set in 17th century England.  The book presents four different narratives about the same event.  On the one hand, it’s a whodunit nestled amidst questions of faith, reason, the history of science, and more than a little backstabbing.  On the other, it’s a potent reminder that every primary source is an unreliable narrator.   I read it at a moment when I was utterly occupied with primary research and trying to find the “truth” in the documents.  To be reminded of the subjectivity of any document was a sobering experience. 

For an actual art historical text, The Art of Describing by Svetlana Alpers.  Groundbreaking when it came out and controversial ever since, it is an essential read not only for students of Dtuch art history, but also for thinking about what vision is and what is at stake in image making.
7. What is your favorite book (art history-related or not)?

Hands down, it’s Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night.  One of the world’s great translators of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Sayers is better known for her mystery novels.  Gaudy Night is both a mystery novel and a love story.  But the love story isn’t just about the two main characters (a sleuth and a novelist).  It’s actually a love story about academia. 

8. What is your favorite movie?

High on my list of favorites is 84 Charing Cross Road, a movie about a used bookstore.  Also on the list are the French films My Father’s Glory and The Music Teacher.  I also really love Stranger than Fiction.

9. What is your favorite historical period or moment?

My actual favorite historical event is the Great Tulip Crash of 1637.  The Dutch had become obsessed with tulips, which are in origin a Himalayan wild flower highly prized in eastern courts.  The Dutch were already movers and shakers in the history of science and botany and everyone loved the new flowers.  There was an extensive futures market and people were spending their entire fortune to buy the chance to get tulip bulbs.  In 1637, the bottom fell out of the market and the whole economy almost collapsed.  Smart legislation on the part of the government prevented abject crisis.  I think I am drawn to the whimsical, and though economic collapse is deadly serious and the resulting economic policies significant, the fact that it was brought about by flowers makes me giggle. 

10. What historical event have you experienced so far that has had the most profound impact on you, and why?

It’s not so much an event as a place.  The first time I went to Berlin was recently – maybe five years ago.  I was fascinated by the way the city is, and sometimes isn’t, “healing” around where the Berlin Wall had stood.  I study architecture as well as art, so the choices being made about space in the wake of the fall of the Wall speak both to memory and to renewal –both past and present.  Until then, to me, the fall of the Wall was something that happened a long time ago and very far away when it was really something that happened in my lifetime that radically altered the course of the world.  Going to Berlin made me realize that history wasn’t someone else’s story, it was mine, too. 

11. Tell us a little-known-fact about you.

I used to be a competitive ballroom dancer and also taught ballroom dance for about six years during and after college.  I still dance weekly, but not ballroom, as I’ve branched out into other styles.

12. If you could create a course to teach--about anything--what would it be?

I’ve got a list!  I want to teach a course on Golden Age Dutch art (Rembrandt and Vermeer), a course on the northern renaissance, a course on Forgeries, Fakes, and Frauds, but mostly, I would love to teach a course on Iconoclasm and Censorship.  In the case of iconoclasm, there are all these instances of people who have intense relationships with art objects that turn violent.  Why?  What makes people turn from worshiping to destroying an object, and what does that mean about the power of visual culture?  Censorship is similar: if you censor an image, it can be argued that you aren’t actually reducing its power but instead affirming and reinforcing it.  Why are these images so powerful, and how do historic and contemporary cases of destruction and censorship speak more broadly to issues of artist creation, visuality, and the role images play in our lives?   

Monday, January 26, 2015

Summer Study Abroad: WWI Centenary

This summer, the Office of International Programs in conjunction with our department is offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore the momentous and pivotal 20th-Century conflict of WWI--what historian Robert Freeman calls "the most significant event of the past thousand years"--and how it still shapes our world today.

HIST 399-91 Special Topics in History: World War I Centenary: A Just War or Just a War?
May 14-29, 2015
3 credits


Study Tour includes:
England, Belgium, and France

Please note: a $500 deposit to hold your spot
is due by JANUARY 31

For more information, contact Kim Szczypinski in the Office of International Programs: 601 Union; 412.396.1431;

Don't miss out on this incredible once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

Friday, January 16, 2015

7th Annual Undergraduate Research and Scholarship Symposium

Attention undergraduate History and Art History majors!

The 7th Annual Undergraduate Research and Scholarship Symposium (URSS) is now accepting applications for its April 9th event. The URSS is a great opportunity for students in all disciplines to:

  • practice their presentation skills
  • network with other students and faculty

If you have a paper or project from one of your classes, and you'd like to share it with our academic community (which we strongly encourage you to do), please consider applying for the 7th Annual URSS today! And if you have any questions at all about how the URSS works, what you need to do to apply, or anything else related to presenting your work, please contact our own Department of History Director of Undergraduate Research:
612 College Hall

Students who have participated in past URSS events have said it was incredibly fun and extremely rewarding!


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Master's Student Lauren Van Zandt Presents at Professional Conference

Our students do some pretty amazing things during their time with us, and we want to feature them here on our blog. Most recently, we introduced you to Abby Kirstein, a second-year Public History graduate student who spent last summer in Utah working for the Bureau of Land Management (and got to do some dinosaur bone digging).

Now we'd like to introduce you to Lauren Van Zandt. Lauren is also a second-year Public History graduate student. We've featured Lauren on our blog before, as she also happens to be one of our graduate assistants.

In October, Lauren had the extraordinary opportunity of presenting her scholarly research at a professional conference--a conference where the attendees are primarily professionals in the field of studio art and art history (e.g. curators, professors, etc.).

We asked Lauren to tell us a little bit about how she ended up getting to go to the conference, as well as her experience while there.

lauren van zandt
Lauren Van Zandt

Hi, I’m Lauren Van Zandt, a second year student in Duquesne’s Public History MA program.  This October, I presented a paper at the Southeastern College Art Conference, or SECAC.

The road to SECAC actually started about a year ago with Dr. Julia Sienkewicz's Early American Painting and Sculpture class in the fall of 2013.  Our big project for the class was a research paper on a piece of art at the US Capitol.  I chose the Columbus Doors, which are located on the east side of the Capitol.  The doors, which date from the mid-1800s, are cast bronze and covered with relief sculpture depicting the life of Christopher Columbus.  The highlight of the project was getting special access to see the doors in person at the Capitol.  (Due to security concerns, the area the doors are located in is completely inaccessible to the public.)  Pictures do not do these doors justice!

After completing my project, I presented a simplified version of my paper at the regional Phi Alpha Theta conference at Slippery Rock University in April of 2014.  This was basically a practice run for the main event, which turned out to be SECAC.

I actually applied to SECAC with very little expectation of my paper being accepted.  SECAC is a professional organizational, and most of the people I met there were professors, curators, and other people working in the studio and art history fields.  Once I got the email that my paper had been accepted (!?!?!?!), I immediately got to work adapting my paper and putting together my presentation.  Dr. Sienkewicz was very supportive and helpful in this process.

The 2014 SECAC conference was held in beautiful Sarasota, so while I wasn’t at the conference I got to explore the area, eating delicious seafood, visiting the Selby Botanical Gardens, and visiting with my parents who drove down to see me from my hometown in south Louisiana.

Presenting was somewhat intimidating because not only was I the only one on my panel who didn’t have a PhD, I also was the first person to speak.  Despite this, I survived the experience and even though I made a few mistakes, I don’t know that the audience even noticed.  People were very supportive and encouraging, and SECAC was a great opportunity to meet other grad students and professionals.  

I was able to cover the costs of travel and lodging for the conference with funding from the McAnulty Graduate School of Liberal Arts at Duquesne University and through the Gulnar Bosch Student Travel Assistance Grant from SECAC.  Many conferences have travel scholarships available for students who are presenting, and I am so grateful to have gotten that support as well as the funding from Duquesne!

I had a great time at SECAC, and being able to present was an incredibly rewarding experience, both personally and professionally.  I would definitely encourage other students to apply to present at conferences- you never know what could happen!

Thanks, Lauren!
We're so proud of the work you're doing in our program and are thrilled that you had the experience to present at a professional conference!

For those of you who are interested in attending conferences as students, here is a helpful link that the Duquesne University Bookstore tweeted out this morning! 

And if you're a graduate student in the McAnulty Graduate School at Duquesne University, the Dean's Office offers up to $500 of funding for graduate students who present their work at conferences. Contact us for more information.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Explore Art History in Spring 2015!

Do you need to fulfill your Creative Arts theme area requirement next semester?

Have you ever wondered why Rembrandt took so many selfies?

Do you sometimes see a piece of art and think, "Why is that art?"

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, then we've got a course for you! (And these are just *some* of our Art History courses we're offering. You can see all of our offerings here.)

(Click any photo to enlarge.)