Summer 2017: May 22 – June 20 online, June 21-July 2 in Amsterdam!

Amsterdam: City as Museum
AH2001W / UW2020W

This course is open to all, both within GW and from other universities and colleges. To register:   [Link TBA]

This is a course in the art of looking. It treats the entire city of Amsterdam as a museum, asking: How do people in the Netherlands use design, the arts, and other forms of visual culture in the public realm to engage, revise, reject, or reflect upon Dutch identity and other identities? How do we engage it as visitors, outsiders, museum-goers?

books_false_flat2In False Flat: Why Dutch Design is So Good, architectural critic Aaron Betsky argues that since virtually every square centimeter of the Netherlands has been dredged from the ocean or otherwise engineered, space itself is precious, and therefore everything is designed to work in that space. Yet the ways Amsterdammers have imagined and used visual and physical space has changed radically over time, in uneven ways. Twenty-first century bicycle infrastructure, for example, re-configured the entire transportation landscape—ironically around the most conservative vehicle on earth: the “Dutch bike,” which largely remains in its 1930s form.

So how do contemporary designers relate their work to the city’s centuries-old canal layout and respond to ideas from the Amsterdam School or De Stijl? How do today’s photographers, filmmakers, and artists carve out spaces for themselves in a city whose museum culture seems dominated by Rembrandt and Van Gogh? How do historical museums imagine the difficult past and narrate it for present-day audiences: e.g., is WWII a story of resistance or collaboration? And how descendants of immigrants from former Dutch colonies in Indonesia and the Caribbean—along with immigrants from North Africa and elsewhere—use the city’s arts and public infrastructure—markets, music, theatre, sport—to articulate new ideas about themselves, each other, and what it might mean to be “Dutch” in this post-colonial, international context?

In the first four weeks you will engage methods of visual analysis from art, design, architecture, museum studies, cultural studies, and anthropology. You will read, research, blog with peers, and write short papers applying these disciplinary frameworks to Dutch visual materials online. We spend most of the final two weeks together in Amsterdam, experiencing museums, galleries, films, events, and the city itself. Students will co-lead discussions during our visits, follow up with blog posts each evening, and reflect over breakfast each morning. In the course blog, you will revise ideas from your papers in light of the experiential acts of looking we practice in the city itself.

Highlights of the trip include ARCAM Architecture Center, Stedelijk Museum (modern/contemporary design), EYE Filmmuseum, FOAM (photography), and Huis Marseille (photography); the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House, Dutch Resistance Museum, and the Royal Museum of the Tropics; a bicycle infrastructure tour, the Red Light District, Marken village, Roots Music Festival, and an Ajax soccer match. Assisting me with the site visits in-country is Marc Roehrle, who teaches architecture at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and is a principal in bauenstudio.

Textbooks to purchase:

Aaron Betsky with Adam Eeuwens, False Flat: Why Dutch Design is So Good (New York: Phaidon, 2004). NOTE: You must order this book immediately—we start reading it on day one.

Ian Buruma, Murder in Amsterdam: Liberal Europe, Islam, and the Limits of Tolerance (New York: Penguin Books, 2006).

*Simon Kuper, Ajax, the Dutch, the War (New York: Nation Books, 2012).

*David Winner, Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer (New York Overlook Press, 2000).

*Note: we’re not really reading two whole books just about soccer! Winner’s is a visual analysis of the professional game, while Kuper’s is a wide-ranging cultural history told through the lens of fan culture and club participation. 

Other readings will be provided via Blackboard.

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