The Denison Seminar “Neighbor to the North” explores Canadian art, visual culture, history and politics, through classroom academics, video podcasting and study abroad. The class is led by team-teachers Sue Davis, associate professor of political science, and Joanna Grabski, professor of art history and visual culture.
During the 2014 fall semester, the seminar students researched and assembled a thorough working knowledge of their topics, then deepened their learning with a 10-day visit to Quebec City and Ottawa over winter break. In the spring semester, they returned to the classroom to create video podcasting projects with materials collected during the study abroad.
Topics for the projects run a gamut of interests, including a comparison of how women are portrayed in public art in the two provinces; discerning how Canadian identity provides input into public monuments; and a comparison of architecture and tour guide narratives between Quebec City and Ottawa.
“The culture of the course is positive and very engaged; it is a very energizing group of students,” Davis said. “It’s really great to be in a group that coheres around an interest and not simply a requirement.”
History major Rachael Barrett agreed. “I found it fascinating to see the art, buildings and museums we had talked about in class in their original contexts. Learning something from a textbook or an article in a classroom lecture is informative and useful, but this trip allowed me to see just how important it is to get a real-life, in-depth look at the topics of study.”
“My favorite part of the class was being able to interact with my professors and classmates in this unique kind of environment,” said Emma Hatcher, Spanish major. “I made wonderful lasting friendships that I would not have made had it not been for the study abroad aspect of the class.”
Canada is the United States’ largest trading partner, and the U.S. and Canada share the longest undefended border in the world. Yet Americans generally know little about Canada — and what we think we know is more complex than it appears at first glance.
“As I walked the streets of Quebec City and Ottawa, I began to see how issues of identity, contention between the two founding nations, organization of public space and historical representation came together,” said Abby Zofchak, a political science major and art history and visual culture minor. “These daily interactions provided me with a new perspective, one that is built purely on my own experiences of these two very different cities in Canada.”
The study abroad experience included walking tours, art museums, forts, parliament, architecture, and time with Duncan Dee, a Denison parent who hosted the group for dinner and special vault tours of the war museum in Ottawa.
“We met in Ottawa to underscore to the students that there are Denison connections everywhere and that these connections matter,” Dee said. “We wanted to introduce them to the home one of their fellow Denisonians and to learn more about our country and what makes us both similar and different from the U.S.”
“This class and these interactions emerge out of Denison’s unique infrastructure for student growth,” said Grabski. “It’s the kind of class you can only do here.”