Sept. 20, 2001
Vol. 21 No. 1

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    ‘Theatrical Baroque’ is first collaboration with Fathom

    By Carrie Golus
    News Office

    “Joseph Accused by Potiphar’s Wife.”
    Last month, “The Theatrical Baroque” became the first University seminar to go live on the Web site (http://www.fathom.com) produced by Fathom, a consortium of top universities and cultural institutions that provides online content. The University joined Fathom in August 2000, and the University has a Web site (http://www.fathom.uchicago.edu), which features all of the Fathom content that originated at the University.

    The seminar is an adaptation of the exhibition “The Theatrical Baroque,” featured last spring at the David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art. Like the real-world exhibition, the Fathom seminar examines the culture of 17th- and- 18th-century Europe, focusing on the role of theater in society and the dialogue between performing and visual arts. “The organization of the seminar mirrors the actual layout of the exhibition,” said Elizabeth Rodini, Mellon Projects Curator, who helped bring both projects to fruition. “When we were isolating key images and themes for the seminar, we found it really helped to walk through the exhibition itself.”

    The seminar’s text was adapted from the exhibition catalog, edited by Larry Norman, Professor in Romance Languages & Literatures. Along with an introductory essay by Norman, the catalog includes seven essays written by graduate students in his interdisciplinary seminar “The Theatrical Baroque.” Norman’s course, the exhibition and catalog were part of a series of projects sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to encourage collaboration between University faculty and students and the Smart Museum.

    The Fathom seminar compresses these essays into five online “sessions,” which users can go through at their own pace. In addition, the seminar includes explanatory background material, including a short list of key figures in the baroque era and an online discussion board with suggested topics.

    For Norman, having the exhibition adapted for the Web was an exciting prospect. “Intellectually, it was very appealing,” said Norman, who co-curated the exhibition with Rodini. “The ideas from the essays are interlinked. Similarly, the paintings in the online seminar link to various points in the text, so you can move to different domains of reflection.”

    Unlike other Web projects that the Smart Museum is currently developing, which are aimed predominantly at children and families, the Fathom seminar is designed for educated adults. “The target audience is similar to one of the museum’s key audiences—adults who are interested in artistic and intellectual activities,” said Jacqueline Terrassa, Education Director for the Smart Museum of Art, who helped adapt the exhibition to the Web format. “But because it’s online, the exhibition can reach an international audience.”

    As well as images from the Smart Museum’s permanent collection, the seminar features images from the Newberry Library, the Art Institute of Chicago and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. How do the chiaroscuro images of the baroque function on a backlit computer screen? “There’s definitely a difference in the transformation to computer format, just as there is a difference in the photographs printed in a catalog,” Rodini said. “But it works in its own way.”

    Fathom was launched at Columbia University and now includes such institutions as the London School of Economics and Political Science, Cambridge University Press, the British Library and the New York Public Library. Fathom offers free seminars, access to articles, lectures, interviews and other presentations, and online courses, with tuition fees, accreditation and admissions set by the institution offering the course.