History of Art


Laidlaw Scholars

The department is very pleased to have three Laidlaw Scholars undertaking research projects with us. This page will be a place to hear more about these projects as they develop. Laidlaw scholars are ambitious undergraduate students who undertake a programme of activities through the three years of your studies. It runs at a number of leading UK Russell Group universities and internationally, creating a large network of past and present scholars. 

You can also read more about the Laidlaw Scholarships on the UCL page, and if you're a first year History of Art or Material Studies undergraduate, you could even apply!

History of Art Laidlaw Scholars

phoebe Thomas
Phoebe Thomas (Supervisor: Dr Hanna Holling)
Additional supervisor: Andrea Lathrop, UCL Department of Anthropology

My experience as a Laidlaw Scholar –

In the summer of 2019, I embarked on an interesting project: to help create a teaching cabinet for the UCL History of Art Department. The teaching collection, named The Cabinet of Obsolete Technologies, features many media items that are no longer manufactured for commercial use and are considered to be redundant today. My research has allowed me to engage with different forms of knowledge acquisition; I have not only utilised written information about the objects and their histories and initial uses, but have considered the ways in which the items have been repurposed today. Through the haptic interactions with the items and the photographic processes required to document them, I have gained a better understanding of how object-based pedagogy produces forms of knowledge that cannot be accessed through lecture and book-based learning alone. 

Polaroid 1981
I initially heard about this project through the Laidlaw Scholarship Programme. I applied to be a Laidlaw scholar, and gave insight into any previous knowledge and experience that would help me with the project. My familiarity with setting up exhibitions, completing an Art Foundation course in the Department, and working in a gallery for over two years were experiences that could be transferred to help set up the teaching cabinet. I found that there were a variety of tasks to do throughout the project, which made it an exciting endeavour to complete. I applied my creative thinking skills to taking and editing photographs, as well as to the writing of detailed descriptions for the Cabinet items. I researched into the history of the Cabinet items and teaching collections. From my findings, I have gained an elevated understanding of how teaching collections enable individuals to gain new insights into archival processes; how meanings can be made from the careful curation of objects; how new knowledge can be acquired through physically interacting with items—by holding, hearing, and looking at objects without digital or physical barriers.

Magic Lantern
When considering how teaching collections are organised and accessed, I visited other collections—such as the UCL Ethnographic Collection in the Anthropology department, currently curated by Delphine Mercier. This visit provided me with valuable insight into how other collections operate and differ from the Cabinet. For instance, the Ethnographic Collection requires individuals to wear plastic gloves when handling items, whereas the Cabinet does not. There is a stronger emphasis on preservation in the Ethnographic Collection, with certain ‘archival rituals’ adhered to in order to prevent damage to the items. Those who wish to use the Cabinet will be instructed to handle the objects with care, but they are not required to wear gloves; this is to facilitate skin-to-object haptic interactions with the items.

Gevaert Box
Throughout the project, I considered the forms of knowledge that can be acquired through object-based learning, and in what way this learning differs from lecture and textbook-based education. Additionally, I considered the very nature of ‘obsolescence’ – is this a fixed state, or a variable category? Through an application of Michael Thompson’s Rubbish Theory (1979), I became more inclined to believe that objects could be renewed, through re-use, re-application, and alternative uses—particularly as art mediums and teaching objects. (Have a look at Phoebe's Laidlaw Scholar poster). 

I encourage anyone who is interested in this project to apply through the Laidlaw Scholarship Programme for Summer 2020. If anyone has any questions about the project or the Laidlaw scheme in general, please feel free to contact me.

Images: Polaroid Sun 660, 1981; Magic Lantern, replica, c.1880; Gevaert box camera, c.1950​​​​​​


Ha Eun
Ha Eun Monica Park (Supervisor: Dr Allison Stielau)
Mapping Gold in London

My Experience as a Laidlaw Scholar -

As a student studying History of Art, I have always questioned the practicality of my area of study and where I can apply the skills gained from my studies. The Laidlaw Scholarship Project was a great opportunity for me to immerse myself in the field, beyond the curriculum taught at UCL.  Although it was challenging to conduct my own research as an undergraduate student, it was definitely the best opportunity to push myself and identify both my strengths and weaknesses. The Laidlaw Scholarship Project requires creativity and much more diverse skills from students as the they design, plan, and conduct their own research. It was also a great opportunity for me to explore different research methods and approaches to the topic. The process of research involves not only working with different images or objects and their secondary resources, but also interacting with people involved in related fields. While visiting these sites around London, I met a number of experts who work with gold in some capacity on a daily basis. I interviewed staffs from the Assay Office and a goldsmith at the Goldsmith’s Centre. The knowledge gained from both the texts and the experience made my research more fruitful.

Aimi Pu
Emmy Pu (Supervisor: Dr Natasha Eaton)
British Red and Chinese Red: Agitating the Struggle between Land and Sea

About Emmy’s project:
This project aims to find out if colour is influenced by and can even shape the diverse cultures of the British Empire and Imperial China (221 BC–1912). In relation to History of Art and colour theory, it looks into Carl Schmitt’s geopolitical theory of land and sea. Schmitt’s theory is important because it theorises characteristics of land and sea powers, which echoes the key difference between Imperial China and the British Empire including freedom vs order, diversity vs unity and stability vs changeability.

Red has at least three roles in the lasting, world-wide struggle between land and sea powers. Firstly, for land powers like Imperial China, red was a defensive pull force that bound their culture together against the influence from sea powers. Secondly, for sea powers like the British Empire, red was both an aggressive push force that drove them to expand and a resistant push force which land powers exploited against invasion.

As the struggle between land and sea powers is essentially the struggle between Eastern and Western ideologies, getting a better understanding of what colour does, instead of what colour means alone, can provide us a new perspective on historical and current cultural and political climates and hopefully an insight into our future.

Emmy presented her project at the Laidlaw Scholars’ Conference in October 2019, one of two students selected to represent UCL and to make a 3-minute presentation on her research project or an aspect of leadership.

More information can be found on the Laidlaw page.