ACM students in London were treated to a tour of the Houses of Parliament recently, and their guide was someone who knows the place inside and out — long-time Member of Parliament Dennis Skinner.
The tour was one of the weekly field trips in the London as Visual Text class taught by ACM instructor Andrew Kennedy on the London & Florence: Arts in Context program. The course looks broadly at the ways in which narratives of London’s and Britain’s history and identity have developed in relation to continuous economic, political, and cultural change.
The majestic building along the Thames River was built at the height of the British Empire and serves as a powerful symbol of Great Britain. The visit was part of a course unit on the theme of “Government and the Imagined Nation,” which examines how the British government has presented itself to the public over time and the role of architecture, tradition, and pageantry in that presentation.
Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
Skinner, an outspoken Labour Party MP who is the son of a coal miner and worked in the mines himself, was first elected to his seat in 1970. He has often taken ACM students on the tour, sharing his vast knowledge of Parliament as well as his lively perspectives on British politics and history.
“It can get a bit touristy when the students go ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ at the great heritage pageant [in the Houses of Parliament], but Dennis Skinner brings it down to earth,” said Kennedy. “We’re connecting the heritage, the museums, the pageantry, and the ‘official’ narratives of Britain’s past with people in London.”
Question time with Dennis Skinner on a terrace along the Thames.
Site visits are also an integral part of the other course Kennedy teaches on the program, Collecting the World in London. In addition, the Visiting Faculty Director in London — a professor from an ACM college — offers a theatre-related course in which students attend plays and performances at a variety of theatres throughout London.
Students on the London & Florence program split the semester between the two cities, with a week-long break in between for travel, to gain a comparative view of these exciting cultural capitals. The program also offers winter quarter/trimester schedule options.