Newsletter Archive: Spring 2004
Prof. Patricia Rubin, first Head of the Courtauld Institute Research Forum, is interviewed by Jane Ferguson
JF: What is the history of the Research Forum?
PR: Ideas about creating some form of research centre at the Courtauld had been around for some time. Even before our success with the Research Assessment Exercise there were discussions about how we might foster a common research culture within the Institute. When he was appointed as Director, Jim Cuno shared the goal of establishing a research centre. He had discussions with the Mellon Foundation on this subject, leading to the award of a generous grant to support the initiative in its first five years. The Institutes Research Committee had also been considering ways to promote discussion about research within the Institute. This led to a consultation exercise and a formal discussion day held at Waddesdon Manor last May, hosted by Lord Rothschild and involving invited external advisors — internationally distinguished scholars and directors of research centres. It was at this point that the project really began to take shape.
JF: Was it difficult finding a name?
PR: A great deal of thought went into the name. The Courtauld is already a research centre. We eventually arrived at the idea of calling the new entity the Research Forum, because the metaphor suggests a space for intellectual exchange.
JF: What is the scope of the Research Forum?
PR: The Forum should serve as a focus for intellectual activity within the Institute, promoting innovative thinking and interaction across the departments. Its programmes must address the interests of a research community that encompasses art history, conservation and technology, the history of dress, museum studies and curatorial work and that includes postgraduate students and established scholars. In addition to providing an umbrella for the Institutes own diverse research activities, it should forge national and international alliances. This is a uniquely complex brief, but it is also exciting for all concerned.
The goal of the first years of the Forum will be to give coherence and greater visibility to the Institutes research programmes. Our website and brochure have already helped to achieve this.
In consultation with my colleagues, I am developing new schemes and formats to enhance and expand our programmes by adding postdoctoral fellowships, visiting professors, workshop schemes and eventually, a new type of MA course. Everything depends upon fundraising, which is one of my duties.
JF: Will the Forum take responsibility for the Public Lectures?
PR: The Public Lectures have contributed enormously to the life of the Institute, and the 5.30pm lectures on Tuesdays will continue as ever. The Forum will have overall responsibility for organizing the lectures, but the series may be devised by myself in collaboration with my colleagues, or by other members of staff (such as this years Frank Davis lectures on Medieval art, organized by Paul Crossley and the events on Prof. Anthony Blunt organized by Joanna Woodall). The topic for next autumn will be 'Boundaries. The series will explore the geographical, chronological, material and disciplinary boundaries that define our studies. Next spring the series will be dedicated to the theme of 'Art and Globalization, which will focus on contemporary art practices and the art market. It will also have a historical dimension.
JF: Is there an international aspect to the Research Forum?
PR: An international advisory board will meet once a year to review programmes, make suggestions and, in due course, review fellowship appointments. It will include about fifteen people. I have invited representatives from foundations, research institutes, museums, conservation departments, universities and publishing. There has been an enthusiastic response, which indicates a high level of interest and excitement about the Forum.
JF: What is the role of the Research Committee in relation to the Forum?
PR: The Research Committee will continue to support individual staff research projects through funding. It will act as the internal advisory board to the Research Forum.
JF: What does your commitment to the Research Forum mean for your teaching duties?
PR: My teaching load has been reduced so that I will only be teaching an MA course during the five-year term of my appointment. A research entity in an institute that is also committed to teaching is a rare phenomenon. It is essential that whoever takes on the leadership of the Research Forum maintains a teaching commitment at the postgraduate level.
JF: Have you had new programmes this year?
PR: This year we invented a seminar called Intellectual Formation. It is aimed primarily at the postgraduate population but is open to the entire Courtauld. Influential art historians have been asked to discuss their intellectual development. The purpose of the series is to introduce young scholars to different intellectual traditions and types of study, to show how careers evolve and how major thinkers formulate problems. This accords with the Forums goal of defining key questions in art history.
The postgraduate students have organized a reading group in conjunction with the series, which is a tremendous initiative. This cross-period group considers writings by the invited scholars as well as more general methodological issues. This is precisely the kind of outcome one wanted for the series.
JF: Where will the Research Forum be situated?
PR: In due course the Forum should have a space, which includes study carrels for postdoctoral fellows and visiting professors, a multi-purpose meeting room for seminars and events and for hosting lunches and other gatherings. It is important that Forum activities do not compete for already overburdened teaching spaces. There will be an office for the administrative assistant to the Forum and for its archive, which is already considerable. There will also be a hot desk for postgraduates, so that they can be directly involved in developing and organizing Forum events. It has always been said that the Forum should be located at the heart of the Institute — which is a physical as well as a philosophical goal.