The architectural imagination (3): representation and context

Third post (first | second) on the edX MOOC (course | communityFacebook | Twitter: #gsd1x) from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.

What with VideoNot.es  (alternatives: TurboNote | MoocNote) having fallen over and other events I’ve fallen way behind, and will set things on pause for a while – the content is available until the end of February 2018, so I will try to return to the three final modules over the summer. Definitely hard work, but worthwhile.

Some linkage:

Here’s a summary of the final modules.

Module 8: Drawing utopia: visionary architecture of the 18th century

In the final three modules we deal more directly with architecture’s relationship to its various social and historical contexts. You will learn about what we call architecture’s power of representation and see how architecture has a particular capacity to produce collective meaning and memories.

As a professional practice deeply embedded in society architecture has social obligations and the aesthetic power to negotiate social change, carry collective memories and even express society’s utopian ideals. We’ve already seen this power at work – the first set of modules developed two fundamental prerequisites for representation: form and history. But representation can mean other things as well.

Architecture can perform like a linguistic metaphor or point to its mnemonic function, ie its power to carry memories that are historical, contextual, and collective. Architecture’s power of representation means that it performs like a cognitive map of society, giving us a diagram of society’s deep, complex structures, giving shape to an epoch’s particular character and nature, or linking the memory of different pasts to possible futures.

In this module we look at the work of the French ‘visionary architects’ of the 18th century and their use of architecture as a way of communicating meaning, what they called l’architecture parlante (speaking architecture).

Seems like debates about France’s National Library are nothing new…

Module 9: The Pompidou Centre

In this module you will examine closely one particular example of architecture’s engagement with the culture industry: the Centre Georges Pompidou by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano.

This module puts to the fore not only architecture’s reflection of mass culture, but also architecture’s ability to engage deeply with politics, how a building can be not just an inert object but an active mediator between its historical context and our understanding of that context.

Module 10: Presenting the unrepresentable

In module 10 you will be challenged to conceptualize a work so minimal that some might not think of it as architecture at all; and yet, the project is tasked with the demand to carry the memory of perhaps the most profound of all human traumas.

The Memorial to Murdered Jews of Europe designed by architect Peter Eisenman is a project that uses the very abstraction and materiality that is inherent to the medium of architecture. This becomes the device with which to raise questions of architecture’s power of representation rather than answer them.

The architectural imagination (2): enter technology

Second post (first) on the edX MOOC from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, where Walter Gropius chaired the architecture department from 1937-52. GSD offered a course on the legacy of the Bauhaus in 2015 and delivers an annual WG lecture. Its digital Bauhaus archive (story | tour) looks fabulous.

According to edX 25K people engaged with the course in week 1, 80% from outside the US (23% from Brazil), with over 100K enrolled. An earlier blog post stresses the intention of encouraging students to “consider architecture as a form of cultural expression as well as a technical achievement…architecture is one of the most complexly negotiated cultural practices there is…helps articulate history itself”, although the course starts by introducing “models, theories, and systems about how to think about architecture systems that transcend historical context and apply to architecture generally” before going on to “look at specific examples about how architecture produces these theories through buildings and projects in particular times and places”.

The lectures are filmed in the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, the only building in North America designed by Le Corbusier. So there.

Notes from weeks 5-7 below, although much more in VideoNot.es to be reused IDC. All quotes edited.

This part of the course addresses technology as a component of architecture’s realization and understanding. Architecture is embedded in contexts where technologies and materials of construction – glass and steel, reinforced concrete – are crucial agents of change. But a society’s technology does not determine its architectural forms.

You will discover ways that innovative technology can enable and promote new aesthetic experiences, or disrupt age-old traditions. You will witness architecture’s ways of converting brute technical means into meaningful perceptions and textures of daily life. The interactions of architecture and modern technologies changed not only what could be built, but also what kinds of constructions could even be thought of as architecture.

In our first set of modules we discussed some of the primary examples of what we might think of as the techniques of the architectural imagination. We discussed typology, which allows for comparison of the formal properties of architectural projects. We talked about the system of perspective understood as a formal construction that links subject to object. And we saw how these formal constructs can be used, both by the historian as analytical tools and by the designer as ways of rationalising architectural decisions.

We then discussed how these formal constructs must always be understood as arising in history, as both enabled and constrained by history. But they’re not exhausted by those historical constraints. Architecture is deeply historical, but it also exceeds its formative origins. It produces memories, but it also produces possible futures.

In the next three modules we’ll be shifting our focus, somewhat, to how architecture has a fundamental relationship to materiality. We’ll look at how modern architecture used technical advances in materials – mainly iron, steel, and glass, but also reinforced concrete – and we’ll look at the modern development of industrial building components. But we don’t leave form behind. We will see how architecture uses these new materials, and new construction techniques, to advance its own expressive possibilities. We’ll discuss how technology gets mediated by the compositional and typological intentions and operations
of the architectural imagination.

Module 5: The Crystal Palace: infrastructure and detail

In module 5 you will begin to explore the core question of part 2: architecture’s fundamental relation to materiality. We first turn to a pivotal moment in the history of glass and steel construction techniques. As Professor Picon states, “Few buildings have marked as important a moment in the history of architecture as the Crystal Palace. Not only was the building emblematic of a new way to build, using iron at a scale unprecedented, it was also a major turning point in terms of its use, since it hosted the first world fair and introduced a whole new spatial experience“.

From the reading, Space, time and architecture (1941; 47 pages? sorry): Sigfried Giedion makes the argument that a “gap…opened in the course of the 19th century between science and its techniques on the one hand and the arts on the other, and hence between architecture and construction”).

Evidence for this idea of a schism between science and art can be found in eg the separate existence of the École des Beaux-Arts and the École Polytechnique, and for the modernist solution to the schism in eg:

  • unpretentious 19th century buildings for public markets, whose designers are not ‘great’ architects
  • the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris (1868)
  • quotation by Lothar Bucher (1851): “in contemplating the first great building which was not of solid masonry construction spectators were not slow to realise that here the standards by which architecture had hitherto been judged no longer held good”
  • quotation in L’Esprit nouveau (1924): “The century of the machine awakened the architect. New tasks and new possibilities produced him. He is at work now everywhere.”

While Giedion understands the development of certain industrial construction techniques and materials as necessary technological precursors to modern architecture, he does not consider them ‘proper architecture’ as such…in contrast, Professor Picon suggests that certain properly architectural effects do indeed derive from constructional innovations and new materials.

All very exciting, and rather more accessible for non-architecture students. I even watched the videos, taking notes using the estimable VideoNot.es. Maybe I’ll revisit Kant and Hegel IDC.

Module 6: The dialectics of glass and steel

Giedion emphasised the difficulties in coming to terms with the architectural potentialities of the new materials and construction technologies of the 19th and early 20th centuries, out of which the Crystal Palace produced unprecedented architectural experiences and almost unintentional architectural effects. Next, we’ll pursue examples of the refinement of the aesthetic intention and the very willful expression of the representational power of the new architecture of metal and glass.

We will study examples of architects who, with more explicit intention, sought to expand architecture’s expressive capacity. The perceptual effects of the new materials of metal and glass – including thinness and tautness of wall planes, and the transparency and reflectivity of enclosing wrappers – had to be gauged, and their potentials developed. New spatial freedoms were found in the ability of metal to span large spaces. Load-bearing walls could be eliminated in favour of column grids. At the same time, fundamental questions of the relation of column to wall remained, and architects sought for certainties in theoretical models of spatial organisations.

From stone to steel…architecture, from its very beginning, has been made of stone, and when it hasn’t been made of stone, it’s been made to look like it has. Windows may have glass in them, but windows in a stone wall are simply openings. The glass itself is not important.

The development of technologies that allowed the production of large sheets of glass and materials with tensile strength, like steel, had the power to enormously change the way buildings are made. But how would that necessarily affect architecture? How would that change architecture’s representational function? How would that change architecture as the art of building?

The advances in modern technology and the invention of new materials were not an inevitable helpful contributor to the goals of architecture culture. How can one apply an already existing symbolic architectural language developed over thousands of years as an expression of the heavy compressive forces in masonry, to lightweight and thin structures of metal and glass? How does one achieve the requisite monumentality and profundity with such flimsy materials? This was the primary problem for the architects of the 20th century.

In the lecture you will learn how four architects interpreted Gottfried Semper’s model of the primitive hut and appropriated it as an example of a ‘universal’ organising type to one of their buildings (I have notes):

The four fundamental architectural elements of the hut:

  • hearth and fire, associated with the industrial crafts of ceramics and metal (fire is the beginning of society itself, and it needs the help of architecture to lift it off the earth)
  • base, associated with masonry (the base elevates the hearth, and the material associated with this is masonry, with its inherent attachment to the earth)
  • roof and support (tectonic frame), associated with carpentry (deviating from the classical understanding of a trabeated system, Semper theorised a kind of tectonic assembly that would rise from the masonry base, where the walls and the roof together formed a tectonic system)
  • enclosure, associated with weaving (Semper didn’t imagine the enclosing membrane would be the same as the stereotomic system of masonry; rather, he imagined that the enclosing membrane was a cloth or a tapestry or some sort of woven material)

Example of transposing Semper’s architectural elements to Behrens’s factory, describing the constructional technique or material associated with the element:

The AEG base is concrete, so it is a slight transformation from Semper’s brick base. But, in contrast to brick, which is laid or stacked, concrete is poured and cast, involving formwork and processing.

Your starter for 10…

You have now become familiar with the dominant forms of architectural representation and have learned how to read plans, sections, elevations, and perspective drawings. Now synthesise your knowledge and produce a reading of a building as a whole in an expository essay of 750 words (or about 5 paragraphs).

In an expository essay, the writer explains an idea, theme, or issue using personal opinion and specific evidence in the form of examples, definitions, comparison, and contrast. As with other forms of representation that we’ve explored, writing contains a point of view. Make an argument for how Mies’s use of materials operates to suture what Sigfried Giedion called the ‘schism’ between architecture and technology.

Module 7: Technology tamed: Le Corbusier’s machines for living

In the last module we focused on examples of how modern architects brought the new materials of metal and glass, and the new programmatic demands of industrial and commercial building, into the corpus of the great architecture of the past, while at the same time producing unprecedented expressive effects.

Now we will learn of another modern architect’s extraordinarily inventive of use of new materials and construction systems. For Le Corbusier the inherent properties of reinforced concrete were crucial for the development of his architectural ideas, most notably as expressed in his domestic buildings.

When you consider Corb’s ‘machines for living’ don’t think just of how machines look (the so-called ‘machine aesthetic’). Instead, think of a machine as an organized assemblage of parts that connect and perform in different ways. You may also be prompted to recall Alberti’s use of geometry and proportional systems to organize diverse building parts, or Palladio’s logic of the villa type. Corb brings similar compositional techniques into his habitation-machines.

You will explore in detail three of Corb’s villas and learn how his Five points formed a theoretical model for the possibilities of reinforced concrete – a material which provided an opportunity to break free from the constraints of load-bearing masonry walls.

Both Behrens and Mies, in different ways, maintain deep connections to the ongoing classical tradition in their new architecture of steel and glass. They use classicism to tame technology in order to give representation to the new corporations that arose from technical and economic advances.

But there are other ways of exercising aesthetic control over standardisation and mass production and of producing architectural effects with new technical means. We next look at a powerful example of how new techniques of concrete construction supported the pictorial and spatial elaborations of what Le Corbusier, called his ‘machines for living’.

The Dom-ino house is an open floor plan structure designed by Corb in 1914. A combination of the Latin word domus and innovation, the house is more of diagram than a building, a ‘chassis’ onto which any number of variations of houses can be outfitted. A kind of primitive hut of the modern, it was a prototype of potential of the new technology of reinforced concrete, glass and steel, an objet-type, an example of the materialisation of pure form, refined over time to become more perfect (see the 1922 Ozenfant House).

The three villas (I have notes): Villa La Roche (1925), Villa Garches (1927), Villa Savoye (1931).

Corb developed his five points of a new architecture (1921) as a result of putting the Dom-ino system into practice:

  • the pilotis – a grid of columns that lifts the floor slab above the earth; a reversal of the classical podium, which anchors the building to the earth, and a rejection of the traditional domestic basement, which Corb regarded as dank and unhealthy, leaving ground level open for recreation, circulation, transportation etc
  • the roof garden/terrace – for exercise or leisure; replaces the pitched roof and the attic with an open air room recalling pre-industrial life lived more outside, a regenerative inspiring and hygienic force
  • the free plan – created by freeing the columnar structure from interior partitions; allows a much more open arrangement allowing an interpenetration of spaces one into the other, often including ramps and stairs that guide the body through a spatial ‘narrative’
  • the ribbon window – a corollary of the free facade, a window that can be cut into a wall as the wall is not load-bearing; negates the idea of a framing window which is about one individual positioning himself in a vertical rectangle; instead one long horizontal window producing a panorama, a cinematic rather than a painterly version of a window
  • the free facade – a thinner wrapper that encloses the building and emphasises its volumetric qualities over static compression; establishes the compositional pictorial availability of the wall, allowing the window to be extended without interruption and other kinds of opening, more varied and composed geometrically and visually rather than determined constructionally or structurally

How did reinforced concrete determine each of the five points?

All this came together in an architectural promenade (Quora | THES & Flora Samuel)  as demonstrated in the Villa Savoye, the synthesis of the genre begun with the Dom-ino diagram.

On concrete (Stanislaus Von Moos):

Concrete, it might seem, is less likely to determine architectural form than any other building material. Its early use in 19th century building had little impact upon style; it merely supplied architects and the building industry with a universally applicable means of crystalising and multiplying existing formal vocabularies. Being malleable, it provided carte blanche for any sort of eclecticism.

Yet, parallel to the use of concrete as tectonically neutral ‘plastic’ mass, the 19th century discovered other possibilities inherent in the new material. Once applied under the conditions of strict economy, reinforced concrete proved capable of producing better structural results with less material bulk than any previously known material with the exception of the steel frame. Only in combination with economy, that is, the principle of achieving maximum results with a minimum of work, could concrete become the starting point for an architectural renewal. This is what happened in the works of the French pioneers of concrete building, and it was from here that Le Corbusier and some of his contemporaries proceeded in their attempts at translating the possibilities of concrete construction into a new architectural vocabulary.

The task this week was to design your own villa in the manner of Le Corbusier, well beyond me, but we have a couple of tweets:

And a vid from the GSD team (there’s no sound, folks):

The control of movement and view in the work of Le Corbusier produces an almost cinematic concept of representation. It is this dynamic spatiality that in some way supersedes the perspectival mathematical stability of Brunelleschi and Alberti. The account of Le Corbusier, then, recapitulates some of the early principles of the course and is a good transition to the final set of modules.

The architectural imagination (1): form and history

EdX MOOC from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (based in The Trays), started 28 February, runs for 10 weeks. All quotes edited.

The study of architecture allows us to see culture representing its own values to itself and affords us access to a kind of knowledge about culture and history that would not otherwise be available.

Architecture is not just about the need for shelter or the need for a functional building. In some ways, it’s just what exceeds necessity that is architecture. And it’s the opening onto that excess that makes architecture fundamentally a human endeavour.

Architecture is a technical answer to a question that’s not technical at all, but rather is historical and social. The study of architecture is the study of human thought and human history. This is about the architectural imagination. It’s how to think about architecture, but it’s also about architecture as a mode of thought.

Architecture is one of the most complexly negotiated and globally recognised cultural practices, both as an academic subject and a professional career. Its production involves all of the technical, aesthetic, political, and economic issues at play within a given society. And indeed, in some ways, architecture, as we’ll see, helps articulate history itself.

These are all big claims. And we’ll need big ideas to address these claims. And we’ll also need very specific, concrete examples of architectural projects and events from history.

Goals of the course

Architecture engages a culture’s deepest social values and expresses them in material, aesthetic form. In this course you will learn how to ‘read’ architecture as a cultural expression as well as a technical achievement. Over the course of ten modules we’ll examine some of history’s most important examples that show how architecture engages, mediates, and expresses a culture’s complex aspirations.

In this course you will learn:

  • how to read, analyse and understand different forms of architectural representation
  • social and historical contexts behind major works of architecture
  • basic principles to produce your own architectural drawings and models

The first part of the course introduces the idea of the architectural imagination as a faculty that mediates sensuous experience and conceptual understanding.

Two examples of the architectural imagination – perspective drawing and architectural typology – are explored through video presentations and hands-on exercises.

You will be introduced to some of the challenges involved in writing architectural history, revealing that architecture does not always have a straightforward relationship to its own history.

Module 1: The architectural imagination: an introduction

In our first module we borrow the framework of the imagination from the 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant, whose work has been very influential on the study of architecture. For Kant imagination is the necessary mediation between the senses with which we experience the world and the cognitive processes through which we understand it.

A preliminary model of the architectural imagination: the mental process of constructing a schema that organizes our perceptions of an architectural project or set of projects.

Very theoretical…luckily we have sketchnotes:

More practical was the optional vid on perspective:

The basic distinguishing feature of perspective – a way of seeing the world – is as a drawing in which parallel lines converge at infinity, way off in the distance. The place where these lines converge, which we can think of as being infinity, or far, far, far away, is called a vanishing point, placed on what we call the horizon.

This means that things that are closer to you will seem larger and things that are farther away will seem much smaller, even if these two objects are actually the same size.

There are three major kinds of perspective drawings –  one point, two point, and three point, differentiated by the number of vanishing points used. In a three point drawing there are two points on the horizon, where the parallel lines converge to the left and right, and one on a vertical line, where parallel vertical lines converge to a vanishing point far above us. This is especially useful for tall buildings.

And on orthographic (perpendicular) drawings:

  • the plan – a horizontal cut (usually 1.2m above the floor) through the building that lets us see how the different rooms and spaces are arranged
  • the section – cutting vertically through the building, generally on the most important axis of the building
  • the elevation – cut well in front of the building; in particular for showing the composition of the facade

Draw a floor plan

Choose a space that you are intimately familiar with – your home, your workplace or a favorite public space – that has at least three discrete and adjacent rooms.

By hand, draw a floor plan of your space. Carefully chose the height of your cut line so that the plan includes all the information you find important. Make sure to indicate locations of doors, windows, and walls.

You may choose to include secondary information you find important, such as furniture or decorative elements. Do not use a ruler to measure; however, make sure to pay close attention to relative dimensions. Choose a method of measurement that is appropriate for the space — for example, you could measure a length of a wall by counting your paces alongside it. Be sure to include an indication of your units of measurement on your drawing.

Write one to two paragraphs reflecting on the experience. How did the method of measurement you chose influence the way you drew the space? How did you decide on where you would cut the plan? In observing your space and drawing it, did you see anything new or surprising you had not noticed before?

Must break my drawing phobia…meanwhile, some examples from the class:

Module 2: Reading architecture: column and wall

We examine another historical example of the use of the architectural imagination to interpret an architectural project. Rudolph Wittkower analyzes Leon Battista Alberti’s designs for four different church facades as a single pursuit of an ideal façade type, beginning with Alberti’s assertion that the principal element of architectural ornament is the column. He then moves on to associate the column with proportion and measure – the “classical idea of maintaining a uniform system of proportion throughout all parts of a building”.

This abstract approach is an important first step in demonstrating that architecture is a mode of knowledge. When we normally consider architecture, we include its function, materials, techniques of construction and its physical and social context, as well as its formal property or aesthetics…to really focus on architecture as exceeding mere building we have to detach a portion of that common-sense world and establish some aesthetic distance from ordinary concerns…for just a time we free architecture from its function, but we also free ourselves from our own interests, and prejudices and expectations.

This part of our model borrows from Kant’s theory of aesthetics. It’s highly intellectual. It’s self-reflexive and recursive. And it’s very abstract – a philosophical exercise, not an historical analysis.

Note that Wittkower’s Architectural principles in the age of humanism (1949) strongly influenced modernism, due to its revolutionary approach to the understanding of geometry, modular pattern and the ways in which diagrams can be used.

Module 3: Hegel and architectural history

The first two modules of this course sought to open up a vision of architecture as a project of imaginative formal speculation. Wittkower’s interpretation of the work of Alberti gave us an example of a Kant-inspired historian attributing to architecture the status of an ongoing formal project – a project of speculation and conjecture that takes place in the architectural imagination.

We now want to put the idea of a formal project into dialectical play with the movement of architecture through history. In Module 3, we will complement Wittkower’s interpretive project by insisting on the historical dimension of architecture, indeed the historical determination of architecture’s formal project. Architecture changes through time because society and culture change through time, and architecture is inextricably tied to the social.

To return to history is to return this internal world constructed by architecture, this world of aesthetic perfection, to the more robust world in which we all reside.

How do cultures represent themselves to themselves through their art? In this module you will explore a model for a philosophy of art history as expressed by the German idealist philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. The very idea of art as having a history, a progression, comes from Hegel, and you will learn more about his attempt to “gather up all the cultures and all the epochs of art into a single, coherent, unified system…a system wherein art discloses truths about the world by giving those truths appearance”.

Beauty is, for Hegel, the perfect harmony of form and function. His division of symbolic, classical, and romantic is then partially generated by the fact that beauty can be either achieved (classical architecture) or not achieved (symbolic and romantic art), and that this failure to achieve beauty can be either the result of the inability to conceive of beauty’s form/function harmony (symbolic architecture), or the result of the conscious acknowledgement that beauty is impossible given architecture’s opaque and insistent materiality (romantic architecture).

John Sallis makes the point that Kant’s system of the imagination allows him to distinguish between beauty or art, on the one hand, and knowledge or truth, on the other. Hegel, by contrast, develops a concept of art in which art is not only a matter of sense and feeling but also of truth.

Sketchnotes please…

Module 4: Aldo Rossi and typology

In the first three modules, we’ve built up our idea of the architectural imagination with two fundamental components: the understanding of form and the experience of history. In this final module for Part I, we give one more example of the architectural imagination at work.

The modern Italian architect Aldo Rossi, perhaps, shares Hegel’s understanding that architecture is one of the fundamental human postulates of our existence in the world. For Rossi, too, architecture is a central medium of human thought and human memory. But in Rossi’s work, we find the suggestion that architecture’s origin is not simply behind us, as Hegel insisted, but that architecture is constantly finding its origin again and again, and that this beginning must constantly be reimagined. The imagination uses historical precedents to create new architectural projects.

Adolf Loos: “If we find a mound six feet long and three feet wide in the forests, formed into a pyramid, shaped by a shovel, we become serious and something says, ‘someone lies buried here.’ That is architecture.”

From the quiz…the idea of architecture as something with a history comes to us from Hegel, and Rossi explores this in his own unique way. For Rossi, an understanding of type is not merely visual or perceptual, rather his architecture engages the full sensorium of its experience. It is a structural and formal urban fact and complex experience.

Rossi understood architectural tradition as an extrapolation of the formal world of antiquity. FALSE:  Rossi’s concept of type allows him to sample from a far greater range of objects and periods of history. For example, in the Monument to the Italian Partisans at Cuneo, Rossi uses the concept of type to construct a monument that links to earlier commemorative monuments, perhaps to ancient examples as well as to modern ones, but not to any specific one monument from a particular historical style.

The architectural type is a primary means of communicating meaning through architecture. Architectural types, specifically those in the urban context, persisted despite changes in the functions and uses of the buildings. Rossi’s classic example of the persistence of type is the coliseum in Lucca, where the formal element remains legible despite functional change from coliseum to marketplace to housing.

Typology is intended to link new architectural projects to collective memories. Rossi’s work used the concept of typology to link architectural projects to collective memories. In Giovanni Antonio Canal’s (Canaletto) Capriccio con Edifici Palladiani, Rossi provokes us to examine the fantasy view of Venice as a means to describe the power of architecture to access an idea of the total city, albeit virtually. For Rossi, architecture is producing knowledge of the world beyond itself. To finish, here’s an article about Rossi’s San Cataldo Cemetery in Modena.

Otherwise, sketchnotes, please!

Two exercises follow, which the class did fabulous things with.

Build a model 

In previous exercises, you have explored conventions of the predominant drawing types of the architectural profession: the plan, the section, the elevation, and the perspective. In this prompt, you will become familiar with another major form of architectural representation: the physical model.

Just as perspective and orthographic drawings were used historically for the purpose of representation and construction, architects made scale models to represent their ideas. These models were useful not only for the architects and builders themselves, but also as a means to demonstrate architectural ideas to the public.

Aldo Rossi’s project for the Monument to the Resistance in Cuneo is based on a cube of 12 meters. It is represented by simple but precisely drawn plans, sections, and elevations. Spare as they are, the drawings contain all the information needed to construct a three-dimensional model of the project.

Your assignment is to construct a physical model of the Cuneo project at a scale of 1:100 (drawings provided; idiot’s guide).

Transform a type

Prompt B asks you to draw and compare diagrams that display transformations of architectural types. You will apply the concept of architectural type, first, to analyze an architectural project, and then, to transform that project to produce variants of the type deduced from a preceding formal organization, ie begin with simple typological elements and then transform and combine them into new organizations.

Find the constituent elements of the project: column, extruded triangle, extruded rectangle, and stair. After you’ve identified these elements, diagram two new possible variations for the project, changing the relationships among the elements to create your variations. You may use two of any one of the elements. For example, you may use two columns or two stairs but not two columns and stairs. Or you may double the length of the wall, but not of the wall and the extruded triangle. (Example diagrams provided.)

#FLRobert Burns: the Robert Burns MOOC

Quick look at Robert Burns: poems, songs and legacy (#FLRobertBurns) from the Centre for Robert Burns Studies at the University of Glasgow kicked off on 25 Jan, obv, for three weeks.

Who was Robert Burns? What made Robert Burns a poetic genius? And what made Robert Burns a global icon?

You’ll examine archive material, original publications and manuscripts by Burns himself, recordings of Burns songs and examples of objects used to commemorate the poet. You’ll also look at and learn to interpret a selection of Robert Burns’ works in the context of Scottish history and culture.

Setting things in a wider context, you’ll also develop your understanding of Robert Burns’s reputation – from the rise of Burns Clubs and Burns Suppers following his death, to the continuing celebration of the poet today through Burns Night, Hogmanay (New Year) and beyond.

A counterpoint to #FLfairytales and #FLwordsworth, then.

Who was – and is – Robert Burns?

Rabbie wordcloudKicking off by debunking Rabbie related mythology, the first week proper had 21 steps, the sort of thing which makes me groan. Anyway, step 1 invited a one word response on something called AnswerGarden to the question: who was Robert Burns? I went with ‘Scot’. There’s quite a nice wordcloud emerging (see right).

How are we to understand the man and his reputation? What transformed him from the ‘heaven-taught ploughman’ first discovered in the 18th century into the instantly recognised celebrity he is today? Burns occupies different roles throughout his life – poet, farmer, exciseman – and has indeed meant different things to different people at different times.

For some he is a ‘national bard’ and Scottish patriot; for others he is a major British poet; while others still might argue that Burns is a citizen of the world. Burns has also been regarded a somewhat contentious figure. His many romantic liasons, for example, have raised controversy, yet they have also provided inspiration for some of the most memorable love poetry ever written. For some Burns is more a radical figure, one who speaks on behalf of the common man (and woman).

Three things from the intro I didn’t know:

  • he brought Scots poetry back into vogue
  • he was an avid collector and editor of Scots songs, as well as writing many new ones himself
  • by the time of his death at the age of 37 he had made at least five women pregnant on at least 13 occasions and sired at least 12 children

Edwin Muir (1887–1959): Burns is ‘to the respectable, a decent man; to the Rabelaisian, bawdy; to the sentimentalist, sentimental; to the socialist, a revolutionary; to the nationalist, a patriot; to the religious, pious’.

Hugh MacDiarmid (1892–1978) ‘Mair nonsense has been uttered in his name / Than in ony’s barrin’ liberty and Christ’!

Born in 1759, in April 1783 Burns began a first Commonplace Book (a type of scrapbook or notebook), marking the beginning of his sustained endeavours as a writer. In 1786 that he published his first volume of poetry: Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, printed by John Wilson in Kilmarnock. The success of the Kilmarnock edition put an end to his supposed plans to emigrate to the West Indies. Instead he travelled to Edinburgh to promote his poetry and prepare for the publication of a 2nd edition, the ‘Edinburgh Edition’, in April 1787.

In the years that followed Burns produced several of his most famous works, however in the latter part of his life he moved away from poetry, investing much of his time and creative energy collecting and composing songs.

Burns was a freemason and wrote numerous poems inspired by and for his Masonic brethren. The Freemasons played an important part in the posthumous commemoration of the national bard, securing the tradition of the Burns supper and commissioning and/or contributing to numerous statues and memorials.

 

 

Lots of poetry reading and textual analysis!

Poet or songwriter?

We take a closer look at Burns as poet and songwriter…We also take a trip to visit our friends at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway to look at some of the publications and manuscripts held in their extensive collection, and you’ll even try your hand at transcribing a manuscript in Burns’s own handwriting. Together, we’ll examine some of the influences on Burns and his career collecting and reworking traditional songs.

Robert Burns wrote or collected two songs for every poem he produced, and was clearly both a success as a poet and as a songwriter. It is probably true to say, however, that his song-writing is thought of as a subset of his work as ‘a poet’.

  1. It is probably Burns’s love of ‘rhyme’ that led him into an increasing interest in song from poetry.
  2. However it might also be noted that his first creative production was the song, ‘O Once I Lov’d A Bonnie Lass’ (1774), and that among his earliest work is a number of other songs.
  3. Burns selected and adapted tunes for his songs, but he did not write original tunes.
  4. Many of his works such as ‘Auld Lang Syne’ or ‘A Red Rose’ were often published without music in editions of his work as though these were poems.
  5. Burns refers to himself as ‘poet Burns’ and as a ‘rhymester’ rather than as a songwriter.

Among Burns’s most celebrated songs are his Jacobite pieces, such as ‘Charlie He’s My Darling’ (from the mid-1790s), his love songs, ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ (1791) and ‘A Red Rose’ (1794), and also ‘Auld Lang Syne’ (1788). As with ‘Charlie He’s My Darling’, ‘Auld Lang Syne’ existed in a number of versions going back to the 16th century, but it is Burns who really popularises the title-phrase, ‘Auld Lang Syne’, reworking its emphasis and the material within the song. Burns made the song into something appropriate to a new age of emigration, a more universal sentiment where friends and families are rendered asunder.

What made Burns an international icon?

Hundreds of biographies, edited collections and critical studies of Burns’s life and works have been published since the bard’s death in 1796, and there are over 3000 translations of Burns’s works into foreign languages, but Burns’s literary works are just one aspect of his legacy.

Since the 19th century Burns has been celebrated at Burns Suppers, in Burns related statuary and memorabilia and at grand centenary celebrations such as those held across the globe in 1859 and 1896. Innumerable composers, artists and performers have been inspired by Burns.

Statues and public memorials to Robert Burns were being erected across the globe as early as the mid-19th century. By 1909 over 40 had been commissioned in the UK, and a minimum of five in Australia, three in Canada, one in New Zealand, and nine in the USA.

Some trivia related to Burns’s reputation:

  • Burns coined the popular phrase ‘Man’s inhumanity to man’ in his poem ‘Man Was Made to Mourn’
  • like Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, the title of JD Salinger’s famous novel Catcher in the Rye comes from one of Burns’s poems – ‘Comin’ Thro’ the Rye’
  • US President Abraham Lincoln was a real fan of Burns and could recite pieces of Burns’s poetry by heart

For dedicated fans only! It may be my heritage but I had no idea yer man was quite that huge, and it’s definitely not my period. Having said that, listening to the songs easily brings a tear to the eye.

Rabbie linkage:

#FLfairytales: HC Andersen and place

Updates:

  • Walking the same streets: Hannah’s postcard from Copenhagen
  • Henriette Steiner at Writing Buildings (Friday session 6): “tracking down Andersen’s ‘home’ in Copenhagen can be a rather perplexing undertaking as he lived in around 25 different places in the city (vs James Joyce’s 2o Dublin homes, then 10 in Trieste, eight in Zurich and 19 in Paris)…writing about these very concrete buildings, allows a range of themes, such as representation, temporality, daily life and urban order, to be approached alongside questions concerning the value placed at buildings for being sites of production of writing, the role of these sites in the experience of the literary tourist, and how this negotiates themes left-over from Romanticism and thus from Andersen’s own time” – in this connection it is interesting to note that proposals for a HC Andersen visitor centre on Langelinie were put forward by the government in 2014, aimed particularly at Chinese tourists, however Politiken reports that nothing has happened as yet; meanwhile Odense is planning on opening a new HC Andersen Eventyrhus in 2020
  • Anne Klara Bom (Academia.edu) on HCA as cultural phenomenon, glocal traveller etc; A story of experience (from p22; uses discourse analysis)
  • Hans Christian Andersens Orient – interesting ARTE doc; in 1841 HCA traveled east, tapping into Orientalism and Classicism on a sort of Bildungsreise; one of the first to visit Athens as a traveller; interesting factoids: his mother described him as a ‘wilder Vogel’, an Einzelgänger with an ‘unruhiges Ich’ who wanted to be famous, HCA visited 29 countries in Europe and North Africa, spending nine years of his life on the road and buying his first bed at the age of 61; fame came first in Germany and Sweden, then France and England, and last in ‘totbringende Dänemark’; he made sense of the world through the eyes of a child
  • new Danish biog out (732 pages)…the CPH Post has an update on all those statues

Notes from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, from the Hans Christian Andersen Centre (English) based at SDU in Odense, new on Twitter for the MOOC. Six weeks, started 19 October. New translations of nine (of a total of 157) fairy tales (defined as an original tale written by a specific author, central in German Romanticism) covering 17 years of HCA’s life (1805-75) on offer.

As with #FLwordsworth it’s the place and cultural heritage stuff I’m after – fairy tales aren’t my thing, although the one about the hens (Det er ganske vist) came as a pleasant enough surprise when I was learning Danish.

In week 1 HCA was presented as a ‘mouldbreaker’ in the established literary community, having come from a working class background, with his fairy tales both universal and culturally specific. Still read all over the world, they are rooted in a Christian culture confronted with modernity.

We were asked to take a moment to consider the man behind the writer:

  • How did he think of himself as an artist? In what way can we understand his role as a mouldbreaker in the established, literary community in relation to his background as a working class lad?
  • What is the connection between HCA’s special use of the fairy tale genre and the way his life was shaped?
  • How can we understand the fact that the author never really – not even as a confirmed celebrity – succeeded in settling down, neither in the outside world, nor in his own imaginary world?

HCA achieved fame and acknowledgement as an artist in both Europe and America while he was in his prime. He was a traveller who undertook long journeys in especially Europe, but he also reached North Africa and Turkey. In his native Denmark, he also travelled a lot, taking residence at manor houses and castles which were, at that time, significant cultural meeting places.

HCA was a restless person who did not create a home for himself but felt ‘at home’ in the journey itself. He travelled in a Europe that was getting ready to become modern. This HCA registers with both delight and fear in his writing. This is also registered in the form of artistic reflections on time, place and distance. When HCA said To travel is to live, he was not only referring to outer journeys but to travelling as a form of existence.

HCA had many homes, for home was the artistic universe and the journey itself, one could say. He travelled all over Europe, time and time again, something that is reflected in his novels, travel accounts, fairy tales and stories as a treasure trove of localities. HCA visited counts, kings and artists, locations and landscapes, because he was full of an insatiable thirst for experiences and a restless longing for the inner balance he probably found in his art, but never wholly in his life.

On 28 October the team sent out a message with details of HCA’s three autobiographies, not least The fairy tale of my life (1871): “HCA wished to present his own life as a fairy tale and wrote in a poetic style. All this lead to a “a strong interest in the personality…during his lifetime and the fantastic story of his life…the beginning of the creation of a myth surrounding the author, which appeared to be a kind of mythologization of the relation between life and art. It offers strong evidence of the romantic belief in genius.”

Then a definite tut tutting about this approach, not helped by word order and general obfuscation: “to judge Andersen from a biographical point of view only is to reduce his great and challenging work. It has been and still is the task of interpreters of Hans Christian Andersen’s life and work to adjust this picture and to try to discover his work independently of the romantic figure of the author – and not least to evaluate the modernity of his original fairy tales.”

Biographies (which the team may/not approve of) include Jackie Wullschlager (2000; Amazon) and Paul Binding (2014; reviewAmazon). Internationals in Denmark in particular will enjoy Michael Booth’s Just as well I’m leaving (2005; Amazon), his first riff on Denmark and its idiosyncracies, framed round HCA’s European travels.

The fairy tales

Week 2 looked at the folk tale inspiration and two analysis models (how many?), comparing The tinderbox and the Grimms’ The blue light with the folk tales that provided inspiration:

  • the actantial model: the quest
  • the narrative pattern ‘home-away-home’, also found in the Bildungsroman

actuant

The protagonist – or hero – of the folk tale is the key element. The upper axis represents the fact that a donor gives an object to a receiver – the latter being the protagonist. This is often the king which gives his daughter, the princess, to the protagonist. The lower axis represents the fact that the protagonist has to overcome various obstacles in his quest for the object and that he will have to face and conquer an antagonist and will receive assistance from a helper as a part of this process.

Much was made of HCA’s humour and irony, plus the violence found in many tales, all of which I’m thinking has a specific Danish flavour, although the Grimms had their moments.

Week 3 contrasted two versions of the same tale, drawing out HCA’s particular narrative style and language:

The spectre (1830) adopted the sophisticated style typical of the literary fairy tales (Kunstmärchen) developed by German Romanticism (writers like Chamisso, Tieck and ETA Hoffmann), whose approach was often marked by ironic reflection. Far from reproducing the impersonal style of the folk tale, The spectre was a piece of literary art, showing the signature of a cultivated writer cumulating explicit references to the Arabian Nights, the Bible, Goethe and Danish contemporary authors.

Its reception, however, was negative, with HCA accused of having missed “the epic tone” of the folk tale. Disappointed, HCA gave up this kind of experimental rewriting and decided to revisit the folk tale genre as part of a literary project of another kind: storytelling for children.

The travelling companion (1835) adopted the more familiar form of the folk tale. HCA purified and simplified his narrative style, aiming to revive the folk tale material and to refresh its imagery. The style resulting from this effort became HCA’s special signature, and to some extent imitates the tone of the folk tale. Nonetheless, he still wrote literary fairy tales. His art was to develop a strategy of storytelling that appears to be simpler than it is.

The ‘exemplary’ analysis of The Spectre makes it sound a gadzillion times more interesting than the more popular fairy tale, almost modernist, a fairy tale about a folk tale. Chief linguistic differences highlighted are general verbosity and description – place and nature writing, very on trend! – vs simplifying the artistic expression.

Week 4 and The little mermaid (1837), one of HCA’s first self invented tales. These meant something special to him and marked his breakhrough as a writer, making him an international star. The tale touches upon traditional questions related to Christianity and ‘modern’ questions such as the identity crises of the main subject. It doesn’t conform to the models (above), doesn’t have a Happy Ending and is open to many interpretations. OTOH Disney’s 1989 version does, and isn’t.

Published along with The emperor’s new clothes, now that is a good one.

Week 5 focused on HCA’s ‘modern’ approach, via two new fairy tales: The story of a mother (1847) and The snow queen (1844):

From 1835-42, HCA carried out his project of writing a series of Fairy tales told for children with increasing success. However, in 1843, he gave his work with the genre a different orientation. The appellation ‘told for children’ disappeared as he published a collection entitled New fairy tales, composed of four tales of his own invention without any immediate debt to folk tales, including The ugly duckling.

In these tales HCA managed to raise religious questions by the means of apparent transgressions of genre conventions, eg qualifying tests, the fight with the antagonist, religious meaning…His intention was to fictionalise – or allegorise – a ‘basic idea’,  a project completely incompatible with the folk tale’s perception of the world.

Week 6 looked at The red shoes (1845) and invited participants to write an essay on HCA’s topicality and cross-cultural relevance, quite interesting as it goes. A quick look at the sections on The red shoes confirms that it is just as traumatic as remembered.

The longer the MOOC went on the more distressing the tales became – are the later ones read to children today, undoctored? Part of the Danish canon? They seem to belong to another time, with the illustrations on the MOOC and most collections evoking the last century.

Perhaps as a result retellings abound – see Angela CarterTransformations (1971; Anne Sexton’s retellings of the Grimms; article inc a diagram by Kurt Vonnegut) and A wild swan and other tales (2015; Michael Cunningham retells the Grimms and HCA; “The steadfast tin soldier turns out happy”; interview). Also Marina Warner’s Short history of fairy tale.

The course took a standard litcrit line, seemingly very popular in Danish higher education, however more innovative approaches must be around somewhere, for example #corpus analyses, distant reading, dataviz of the models? A social network of the Golden Age, based on who HCA rubbed shoulders with, not least Kierkegaard? Should anything be read into the fact that the last conference seems to have taken place in 2005, the year of his bicentenary? Also, how about HCA’s reception and (re)interpretation in Denmark, influence on eg Lars von Trier? How much are his other writings read and performed today? While at rejse er at leve gets cited fairly frequently in newspaper travel sections, is it more than a quote?

As Most Famous Danes HCA and contemporary Kierkegaard make a troubling pair. What is quite fun is that both enjoyed a walk in the city, but while Kierkegaard relished his menneskebad HCA became an old snob, preferring to hobnob with the nobility, or to travel.

HCA and place

HCA plays a key role in Denmark’s (rather limited) literary tourism offerings, focused exclusively around the fairy tales. See Visit OdenseVisit Fyn and HCA’s Odense (app and PDF) for full coverage. I have paid duty visits to his hus (aka museum, opened 1908) and barndomshjem (childhood home, opened 1930) in Odense, officially Denmark’s fairy tale city – even the pedestrian crossings pay homage.

It’s possibly all a bit much, a theme explored by KØS, the museum of public art, in their tour of Denmark’s memorials. See the talking statue version of the 1888 HCA statue in the city and accompanying debate.

pedestrian crossing in Odense

pedestrian crossing in Odense

HCA left Odense in 1819 aged 14 for the big city. He lived in countless/18 places during his 56 years in Copenhagen – see Indenforvoldene for details. Highlights include the kvistværelse (attic room) at Vingårdsstræde 6, now part of shopping mecca Magasin’s museum, where he lived from 1827-28, and three locations on Nyhavn. From 1834-38 he lived at nr 20 – an unreadable plaque marks the spot on the first floor. From 1848-65 he lived at nr 67, and from 1871-73 at nr 18 (reconstruction), now housing an HCA themed shop in the ground floor, plus smart apartments owned by the National Bank upstairs. He is buried in Assistens Kirkegård.

There are two statues in CPH, on HCA Boulevard and in Kongens Have. The eternally disappointing Little mermaid perches on a rock on Langelinie (1913, a gift from Carl Jacobsen) – the domestic reaction may perhaps be seen in Bjørn Nørgaard’s genetically modified twin, installed just round the corner in 2006. We also have Hanne Varming’s Hyldemor on Kultorvet, and the story of The Ugly Duckling appears on Carlo Rosberg’s mural in Hvidovre town hall.

HCA elsewhere

Museums Odense offers full details of HCA’s travels, with 30 itineraries from 1831-73 and contemporary maps. Having done a double take in Bratislava in December it’s nice to confirm that HCA visited Pressburg on 3 June 1841 on his way home (journey 6). When asked to write something about the city he said that there was no need to, as it was already a fairytale. Bless.

HCA statue in Bratislava

HCA statue in Bratislava by Tibor Bártfay, erected on the 165th anniversary of his visit in 2006

Another anecdote to enjoy is HCA’s relationship with Dickens. A search brings up their first meetings in London and Ramsgate, and then HCA’s doomed visit in 1857, where he over-stayed his welcome by nearly a month (story) – according to the CPH Post the “bony bore” with the “clammy hand” was the model for Uriah Heep (rhymes with…).

At rejse er at leve has a full list of his travel writings for further exploration, while writing about Denmark includes Fodreise fra Holmens Canal til Østpynten af Amager i Aarene 1828 og 1829 and Fodrejsen (1829).

Linkage:

#FLwordsworth and place

Updates: see The Romantic poets and Bristol, with 23 new Lyrical Ballads, a series of Coleridge Lectures inc Kathleen Jamie on Poetry, the land and nature and Melissa Harrison on Reimagining the city, a nature writing day and a walking guide. Also a series of historical walks at Being Human 2015, fab…Romantic landscapes: geography and travel (event report), and the Wordsworth Trust’s Wordsworth Countryside app (article).

More new projects and finds: Geospatial innovation: a deep map of the Lake District (@LakesDeepMap)…Re-Imagining Wordsworth in Ulster (storymap; @NBWordsworth)…Reading and mapping Swallows and Amazons in the digital ageMapping Wordsworth’s residence in London…Alex Cochrane on walking with ColeridgeMapping literary visions (The Age of Innocence)…@RomanticismEHUWilliam and Dorothy Wordsworth: ‘All in each other’ reviewStanding up for the curmudgeon in tweeds

William Wordsworth: poetry, people and place (courseTwitter), from Lancaster, on FutureLearn, started on 7 September for four weeks.

Explore the influence of the Lake District on Wordsworth with this free online course, filmed at his home…Through readings and discussions focusing on Grasmere and the landscape of the Lake District, the course will explore why this location was so important for Wordsworth.

Wordsworth lived at Dove Cottage in Grasmere from 1799 to 1808, producing much of his greatest work, including ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ (aka Daffodils) and The Prelude. As an intro we are invited to pen a poem about a favourite place in the Romantic style and share it on #some tagged #NaturesPoets. So it looks like it’s more about the poetry, which I hated at school, than (the) place, which as a Scot I find rather tame, but we shall persevere, in particular as one of the team, Sally Bushell, was behind Mapping the Lakes (and v2) and is writing a book on reading and mapping.

Introducing Wordsworth and Lyrical Ballads

Week 1 is made up of 16 steps, yikes. Most useful is Sally on key principles of the ‘Preface’ to Lyrical Ballads (1800), identifying Wordsworth’s four key ideas:

  • the poet – “a man speaking to men”, ie a communicator speaking on behalf of others representing ‘the common man’, speaking directly to all rather than a writer, no different from you or I
  • subject matter:
    • the everyman, equally capable of feeling deeply and responding to the world; “it is not just gentlemen who have strong feelings…those living a rustic life have a truer, more authentic relationship to the land”
    • common things and situations
    • place, ie the world around you – celebrating the power of the mind to internalise the natural world and be strengthened by it, asserting the power of a subjective, individual response; Wordsworth liked a private space, where he could pace up and down as he wrote his poetry; he often wrote poems on the spot, in a direct response to the natural world
  • language – as close to everyday speech as possible, but with a certain colouring of the imagination to freshen the experience
  • “all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”; it should communicate directly and to the heart

Also a useful PDF on close reading poetry and a vid on how to read and interpret manuscripts, stressing context and their uniqueness.

Sadly the two poems for the week have simply served to remind me of my issues with the Romantics, but it’s all very well done, even with a ‘make your own manuscript’ task. Best takeaway so far has been the brief account of Will and Dorothy’s trip to Germany in 1798 – I have a feeling he visited Copenhagen too. (Hmm…at the very least he wrote a poem called The Danish Boy and owned a copy of Molesworth. Maybe have a closer look at Romantikstudier.dk.)

‘Spots of time’: childhood, education and memory in The Prelude

The week 1 round-up states that “Wordsworth has evoked powerful responses, not all of them favourable” and Sally admits in the summing up vid that he is uniquely polarising, so I feel partly vindicated in skipping the pomes. Maybe I will re-visit epi 3 of The Trip, which I haven’t watched yet this year. There’s more than one form of engagement in these changing times…

OK, week 2, with The Prelude and its 24 manuscripts spanning over 40 years.

Central to The Prelude are the two themes of childhood and memory. While much of the poem describes Wordsworth’s childhood adventures in the Lake District, the poet is equally concerned with how he remembers these episodes and what ongoing influence they have in his adult life. Wordsworth describes his most influential childhood episodes as ‘spots of time’…key moments in our life that continue to have an important influence on us, especially if we reflect back on them.

‘Spots’ are powerful memories where you can’t quite get to the root of that power, often involving an element of transgression, making you see the world differently – plus a process of defamiliarisation or even distortion when remembered. The spots themselves are often visual, and not a continuous memory.

From the week 3 email and summing up vid it’s clear that the team just love the Padlet exercise for the week, seemingly FutureLearn’s new thing: “Wordsworth’s concept of ‘spots of time’ has been inspirational for many of you and we’ve been particularly struck (and sometimes moved) by participants’ descriptions of their own ‘spots of time’.”

There’s also a make your own Goslar Letter task, which asks:

  • How does the letter-form affect your response to the poetry?
  • What difference does it make to read the poem in this context?
  • How important is Coleridge (the recipient of the letter) to Wordsworth, as the first reader of this poetry?

The letter was a joint production from William and Dorothy to Coleridge, and is named after the German town in which it was written. It contains passages of poetry that would eventually be included in The Prelude. Very nice! In particular that the MOOC isn’t all about discussing.

‘Michael’ and Greenhead Gill: Wordsworth and the importance of place

Week 3 visited Greenhead Gill near Grasmere, the setting and inspiration for ‘Michael’, Wordsworth’s tale of a shepherd, first published in the second edition of Lyrical Ballads (1800):

About half a mile from Wordsworth’s house, it was also the place in which the poem was written. At the opening of the poem Wordsworth invites us to come to this place and think about the poem being set and written there – it’s very space specific. He describes the fields and hills as a living being even more than his own blood. It’s almost as if Michael is a human embodiment of the landscape…

Wordsworth wrote the poem in a sheepfold. He takes this sheepfold, an ordinary, everyday object we might take for granted or overlook, and turns it into the key symbol for the poem, loading it with human meaning and emotion and significance. The poem makes you notice the sheepfold – it makes you think about it, an ordinary thing. So loading that ordinary object with meaning is making it stand for something greater than itself – it becomes a symbol. The role and meaning of the sheepfold as symbol changes throughout the course of the poem…

Is Michael’s relationship to the place unique and special or universal? Think about the ways in which we connect to the place in which we live, or the place in which we were brought up, and how this shapes our identities.

It’s a tragic tale, and by the end of the poem there is no trace of Michael’s cottage – nothing remains except the poem telling the story. (They weren’t called the Romantics for nothing…)

Next up, a personalising place exercise (NFM) to be posted on this week’s Padlet wall, while in manuscripts corner we looked at Wordsworth’s difficulty in writing the poem as well as writing outside. By linking the writing of the poem in the sheepfold to the representation of place in the poem he creates multiple layers of meaning:

He doesn’t just wander about aimlessly or roam the hills. He does have very specific sites and also he likes to walk up and down, sort of pace up and down, and various critics have make the point that the rhythm of the poetry that he’s writing is then sort of matched to the rhythm of his walking.

How important is setting and context for writing or working well? Can you think of examples in your own life of working better in one place than another, or of needing certain things around you or having particular rituals before settling to write?

Being Dorothy

Week 4 (24 steps!) explores the process of homemaking and engages more fully with Dorothy’s life and work.

The siblings arrived in Grasmere in December 1799 and established a household at Dove Cottage – see from Goslar to Grasmere. They made it into a ‘true home’ through their domestic arrangements, through cultivating the garden and through their writing. They also established a sense of community, frequently visited by friends.

Their writing included letters, such as one written by William to Coleridge on Christmas Eve in 1799, which is compared and contrasted with his unpublished poem, Home at Grasmere:

What differences in response to the Wordsworths do you experience between reading the account of coming home in prose and in poetry? What does the writer choose to emphasise, and why, in each case? How does the form (a private letter a poem written for publication) and sense of audience (to a close friend; to all readers) affect the writing?

See Letters of Note and Davy Letters for more letters, plus:

Think about how important letters have been in your own lives. Are there particular letters that you remember vividly? What role did letter writing have in your life and has this role been taken over now by email and social media? Is there something different about the experience of writing and receiving a letter to these forms of communication?

William and his friends are generally referred to as The Wordsworth Circle. In the summer of 1802 William, Dorothy and their close friends, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Mary and Sara Hutchinson, carved their initials into a rock face, aka ‘The Rock of Names’ – the importance of inscription and the naming of places as a process of settling in to somewhere.

Marking local objects is important for the Wordsworths in developing their sense of home. The rock, now in the garden of Dove Cottage, was halfway between the cottage and Coleridge’s lodgings at Greta Hall in Keswick, hence a literal meeting place and personal landmark, symbolic of their friendship and illustrating their relationship to landscape…Have you created any names or nicknames for special places? Think about the type of places you named, how you named them and who uses these names.

Other Wordsworth places that took on special meanings:

  • Sara’s Gate – named after Sara Hutchinson and described in a joint letter
  • John’s Grove’  named after William and Dorothy’s younger brother
  • Wordsworth’s Poems on the naming of places – marking local objects, naming them at a particular site where they can see a very nice view of the landscape, maybe along a favourite walking route or where a particular memorable incident happened (see also William Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes (1810/35), reviewed by Virginia Woolf, and Longfellow’s Poems of places anthology; 31 vols)

What do you notice about the process of naming? What different elements are involved? How do you think the different stages involved in the naming process contribute towards place-making? Naming as a kind of ‘possession of the local’ – what do you think this means? What are the positive and negative elements of taking possession of the local landscape and of local meanings?…

[Inscription] marks our being in a particular place at a particular time, celebrating a code of the private known to a few… a kind of possession of the local…relying on the fact that people won’t know them…it’s about personalising place…ordinary objects that could be easily overlooked…

So their relationship between landscape and writing is operating at a number of levels here. They’re marking the landscape, carving their names into it. They’re naming the landscape, giving these particular places special names, and they’re also writing about the landscape…for the Wordsworths, a sense of place and particularly home is something that has to be made, and it has to be practised. And it also has to be shared by a very close group of friends, and it requires a very active relationship between the landscape and those that use it…a shared use of landscape can enhance friendship and friendly experiences in places can bring forth feelings of togetherness, community, and a sense of home…for Dorothy, these names are particularly important because she uses them in a very specific way to recollect feelings of friendship – the names are as important as the places.

Dorothy wrote a journal in Grasmere (new illustrated edition) between 1800 and 1803, recording her and William’s life in Dove Cottage, writing about the natural world, the people she met and those who lived in the village, and about William’s poetry. The MOOC concluded with that old favourite, a comparison between her account of seeing daffodils in 1802 and William’s account of the same incident in his most famous poem, ‘I wandered lonely’, written in 1804 and published in two versions (1807 and 1815).

How would you describe the way that Dorothy’s journal entry is written? What does she tell us in this passage about her daily life, her social circle, and the mundane physical experience of walking? Consider the encounter with the daffodils particularly. How does Dorothy come upon them? What is her relationship to them? How does she describe them? Do you think that there are aspects of this journal entry that are poetic? Do bits of it seem more like poetry than prose?

The wrap-up vid explored the importance of walking to the Wordsworths, for example as offering a sense of arrival after an epic and memorable event (on arrival in Grasmere), but also as an activity they chose for its own sake. Walking in (and into) the Lakes was part of their process of ‘claiming’ and (place)making a home. Also, in 1790 while at Cambridge William walked 1000 miles across Europe over the course of three months, taking in not least Revolutionary France, but also Switzerland and Italy. Some of his poetry (and Coleridge’s) has the meter of a walking pace within the lines.

Thorougly enjoyable and thought provoking throughout, even without going near the dreaded poetry!

For the record, there was a fair amount of Wordsworth (and Coleridge) at Placing the author. See also Mapping ‘Wordsworthshire’: a GIS study of literary tourism in Victorian Lakeland. And while we’re touching on poetry, here’s CAMPUS Poetry School, the social network for poets.

More tangible things

Week 2 of  Tangible Things (@tangiblethings | Facebook) considers the value of stopping to look at things around you, specifically A toga in the archive, exploring clothing and contemporary political, economic and social phenomena, and John Harvard’s toe:

Just looking is never enough. Question what you see.  Questions about John Harvard’s statue take us many directions—to art, to early American history, and to the Houghton Library. The John Harvard statue also invites us to look at how the meaning of a person or an event changes over time. His memorial was created nearly 250 years after his death, raising the question of what aspects of his life were being remembered and what was being forgotten.

John Harvard’s statue helps us to consider the difference between history and what scholars call “memory,” or the ways in which people memorialize the past.  Memorials acquire new meanings from the ways history is remembered, imagined, or forgotten over time.

Find a memorial, monument or statue in your own area. Consider when it was made, what it commemorates, and how it has changed over time. In what ways is its history like and unlike that of the John Harvard statue? If you can, include an image.

Here’s my post and draft on memorials.

Week 3! Looks at some of the ways people have brought things together into purposeful collections to preserve memory, promote commerce and define culture.

Given up on the social side – feels anonymous and impersonal. Needs curating.

First, a look at collections organised around a specific person or a place (see also Placing the author). Such things may seem personal and local, but can also lead to broader themes. Points from the vid:

  • room interpreted (sic) as a bedroom although it was a dairy
  • layering of different histories – what’s left out?

Memory making:

That’s what a good memory maker does. You don’t see the labor that goes into creating it. And it’s pieces of the past, fragments of the past, bits of oral tradition, artifacts, documents that they pieced together so patiently. And by looking closely, we can trace some of those fissures and cracks, and we can begin to understand that history in a much deeper way beyond just the memory.

Exercises:

  • describe an object; what aspects of family history may have been forgotten?
  • often the achievements of male inhabitants are highlighted rather than that of the women who preserved the house or persons of color who labored there or contributed to the family’s possessions – select a museum or historical site in your own area and consider whether it too might contain evidence ‘hidden in plain sight’

Next up, the museum in a box, used in American schools in the 19th century to teach children about “useful things”:

It appears systematic, but on close examination we discover the impossibility of confining any group of objects to just one story, to just one category.

Which appears to be the message of the MOOC so far. The discussion question: Choose a museum that you have visited. What were its objectives? How do those goals influence the organization and display of objects?

The museum in a box is related to world fairs and the categorisation of knowledge. Hence the exercise is to create a modern day drawer for the box, on Pinterest or Dropbox.

Week 4 considers methods of rearranging objects to create new ways of thinking. This  sounds interesting and has big crossovers with librarianship, however I’m off on holiday so will need to run through the last two weeks double quick on return.

First up, how anthropology museums have confronted the ways their own collections reflect the conquest of native peoples, then a look at how natural history collections are conventionally organised around material attributes. The team has been involved in connecting objects to things from other kinds of collections in order to situate them in human history, and in adding ‘guest objects’ to three popular galleries.

  • If you had the opportunity to add a ‘guest object” to each of the three galleries that we examined, what would you choose? If possible select things with which you have direct experience and explain how they might alter, enlarge, or disrupt the meaning of the current exhibits.
  • If you were to create a museum, what would it be about and how would you organize it?

Week 5 looks at organising collections by broad theme rather than through traditional taxonomic categories, allowing us to see new meanings and new connections. The Time and Time Again exhibit moved beyond conventional museum boundaries to bring a variety of objects together around a single theme, showing the complexity of something as fundamental to human experience as time:

  • Find and list at least three time-keeping strategies or devices in your own environment that are not included in the Time and Time Again catalog
  • Consider the different ways you experience time. Which are more culturally influenced and which are more biologically rooted?

An early 2oth century sewing machine showed the impossibility of containing the meaning of a single object in just one collection – almost any object can connect aspects of the past that often seem unconnected, and even an ‘ordinary’ object can open up multiple ways of understanding the world and the people in it. There’s an awful lot of stuff on sewing machines, where I was looking for some sort of conclusion. The content was fine, but it didn’t really go anywhere and there was little theoretical background. Plus it was really really American. Maybe the team were present in the discussions, but the absence of any form of weekly wrap-up or any email contact meant the whole thing feel very anonymous.

Object-based learning (case studies | research) is, of course, a thing.

Taking this forward by a review of the museums just visited in Poland in the light of my museum MOOC experiences.