Alexandra Ziegler, an art history Ph.D. candidate who served as last year’s Object-Based Teaching Fellow and is currently a graduate teaching fellow, said that her experience teaching at the Ackland has shown her that any discipline can be taught using art.
“At the core of all the activities we do are fundamental skills like communication, critical thinking and problem solving, as well as empathy, which are useful in every profession and discipline,” Ziegler said. “It's really just a matter of thinking carefully and creatively about how you're framing the art objects and the discussions around them.”
Brantly Moore, this year’s fellow and a Ph.D. candidate in art history, said the interdisciplinary nature of art is part of what drew her to studying it. She visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art on a family trip and saw Roman artifacts, including a comb that particularly fascinated her. The historical and functional natures of the piece hooked her.
“Art and studying it became this way to cultivate empathy and understanding across spatial and temporal boundaries in a way you don't have, in my mind, with anything else,” Moore said.
Carol Magee, chair of the Department of Art and Art History, said part of the reason for creating the Object-Based Teaching Fellowship was to show just how interdisciplinary art is.
“We also wanted to find a way that would help the Ackland to meet their teaching needs across campus and to show the campus that art would be relatable to different fields and subjects, not just to art and art classes,” Magee said.
While the fellows teach students from all disciplines at the Ackland, Magee said the program was initially designed as an educational experience for them.
“We were looking for ways to support our graduate students and to give them experience working with objects, which are very important to our profession as art historians,” Magee said. “Teaching is also central to our profession and we wanted to have an experience outside the classroom.”
Brigitte Cao, one of the graduate teachers and a student in the School of Information and Library Science, said she has learned many transferable skills from the program that will apply to her work as a librarian.
“Students don't only teach me knowledge-wise, but also how to communicate, how to resolve an issue when it seems difficult,” Cao said. “Students have taught me about curiosity about how they are here for a class, but sometimes they're genuinely interested in this artwork or exhibition and they ask really good questions that make you think more.”
The students don’t just make the fellows better, but the team pushes each other to become better educators — even Manekin, their supervisor.
“It's exciting because it's a small team — small enough that we get to know each other, we get to know people's scholarly interests, and we can workshop best practices in teaching,” Manekin said. “They keep me on my toes and are constantly pushing me to be a better educator.”
Moore said her experience has given her a greater sense of place at UNC and that her experience has been helpful to her research.
“I feel more connected to the wider university, since I get to teach and lead classes and hear what other departments are doing, which is really incredible, because as a graduate student, you get really cloistered not only by yourself but primarily by your discipline,” Moore said. “It's much more creatively stimulating to be around people with a lot of different interests and expertise.”
Ziegler said the Ackland is her home away from home, and that her experience teaching there has allowed her to be her best self.
“You feel that you've been trusted with valuable time and material when a class comes to the museum, and to be able to hopefully illuminate new things about a topic or shed some new understanding on a subject matter, even works of art, makes me my happiest,” Ziegler said.