New visual culture minor available for students
Undergraduates at Caltech can now specialize in visual culture, the study of the various forms of visual media used throughout history and today. Classes in the new program include introductions to the field as well as more in-depth investigation of visual topics, such as Charles Dickens’ London, old Hollywood cinema, and art in Los Angeles.
“Many students have long been interested in this field,” says Dehn Gilmore, professor of English at Caltech. “Students may want to get into filmmaking as an industry, video game design, or graphic design, for example. Or they may want to learn better ways to communicate their scientific discoveries and discoveries to the public.”
The new minor is offered through the Caltech-Huntington Visual Culture Program, which began in 2018 with a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The program is based in the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) division of Caltech in conjunction with the Huntington Library, the Art Museum and the Botanical Gardens. Starting this fall, it will be led by visual culture professor Brian Jacobson, who was recruited at Caltech as part of the program.
“The visual culture program is new, but we will also be giving Caltech students a window into Caltech’s long history of engagement with the arts,” said Jacobson. “I am also delighted to encourage our students to reflect on the many ways in which science has been and continues to be guided by technologies and techniques to increasingly examine the world around us. “
Some of the courses on the new track are listed under Visual Culture, while others are listed between Visual Culture and other areas including History and English. Students who declare a minor in visual culture, explains Gilmore, will be given priority to enroll in courses that might otherwise fill up.
Students with a minor in Visual Culture will learn to think critically about visual media in a wide range of contexts, from science to film, art, and more. Among other courses, Gilmore will teach one on Charles Dickens’ London. The class will explore the idea of the novelist as an alternative historian and the concept of the novel as a historical document.
Cathy Jurca, an English teacher who teaches film classes, has developed a new course for the fall semester on Cultural Heritage, which she will teach with Julia Hori, the Fletcher Jones Foundation Postdoctoral Instructor in Contemporary Literature. The class takes a closer look at food, architecture, and other aspects of Los Angeles culture, and involves field trips, including a very short walk to the recently relocated historic Wilson Court Bungalows. “Why didn’t Caltech just demolish these bungalows? These are questions we’ll explore,” she said.
“We live in a world of images and screens, and visual literacy is an important part of being an educated and reflective person in the world,” adds Jurca.
The Visual Culture program also invites artist-in-residence to collaborate and teach at Caltech. Lia Halloran, an artist whose exhibition on the theme of astronomy Deep Sky Companion is now on display at Caltech’s Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics, will join Caltech this winter. Elin O’Hara Slavick, artist, poet, writer and longtime professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will join in spring 2022.
“It’s exciting to see how much interest the visual culture program is generating,” says Gilmore. “Some students always knew they were interested, and others became more interested once they learned more about it.”
A complete list of visual culture courses is available in the Caltech catalog at https://www.catalog.caltech.edu/current.