May 26, 1994
Vol. 13, No. 19

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    Quantrell Award: Ingrid Rowland, Assistant Professor in A

    It would be an understatement to say that Ingrid Rowland, Assistant Professor in Art, was surprised to learn that she had received a Quantrell Award.

    "I'm absolutely floored," she said. "I'd hoped to get it in 20 years, but this is quite stunning."

    Although Rowland has only been at the University since 1990, as the daughter and granddaughter of alumni, she's long been familiar with such Chicago traditions as the Quantrell Award.

    "My teaching philosophy is based on the fact that I'm a child of alumni," she said. "My mother was a student in the College during the tenure of President Robert Hutchins, and my whole way of teaching has been influenced by that ideal of liberal education. I've felt a connection to Chicago since I began teaching in 1979."

    Before coming to Chicago, Rowland taught at St. Mary's College, UCLA -- where she received the Mortar Board Faculty Excellence Award in Teaching -- and Columbia. She received her B.A. in 1974 from Pomona College and her M.A. in 1976 and Ph.D. in 1980 from Bryn Mawr College.

    Rowland's basic undergraduate courses have been Art 150, an art history survey -- "35,000 years of human art in 10 weeks," she says, laughing -- and Greek Thought & Literature in the Common Core.

    "While I feel that I've grown up as part of a generation that has always been multicultural -- indeed at UCLA, where I first taught, many students have a non-Western background -- I feel that a strong background in Western history is important," she said. "It gives people a framework within which to experience art and literature, regardless of background. And I've always taught courses that presented Western culture as something accessible to everybody."

    A great deal of Rowland's teaching is spent "putting things in a human context," she said. "Ultimately, art or literature is made by people, and I want to connect texts and works of art to human events, both now and in the past. I often joke that students have to learn how to talk to dead people, but that's what it's all about -- becoming engaged with a work in its fullest sense, understanding its meaning in the past as well as in the present."

    Rowland finds that Chicago students are more than prepared for this task.

    "Students at Chicago are a lot more demanding than at other places I've taught," she said. "Their standards for teaching performance are high, and you can't fake them out -- indeed, teaching here is the hardest work I've ever done."

    But Rowland finds the payoff for this work equally high.

    "The students are energetic and enthusiastic -- they are still excited by and open to new ideas -- and they write beautifully, so it's very fulfilling and humbling to work with them."

    Teaching at Chicago has affected Rowland's work in a number of ways.

    "First, students always ask me questions without inhibitions, so sometimes off-the-wall questions end up making me rethink initial ideas on a specific subject.

    "Second, some undergraduates have made interpretations that are so brilliant it's impossible not to be affected by them. One student recently did an interpretation of a work by Raphael that was of publishable quality -- it was beautiful.

    "Third, teaching in the College has helped my research all along in more general ways. One of my central methodological approaches is to assume that things that look obscure at first impression can later be seen in different ways, so we can make what was obscure more central to the meaning of a text or an artwork. If students here know how to do anything, it's knowing how to look at texts in odd and interesting ways."

    Indeed, Rowland feels that the manuscripts for her two new books, recently sent to publishers, have been influenced by her time here with students. But in the end, it is in the classroom that Rowland finds her greatest joy, and her greatest sense of connection to the University.

    "When I'm teaching Greek Thought & Literature, I'm constantly aware not only that the Core represents an ideal that the University has always stood for," she said, "but also that I'm teaching material that my mother studied. I've even got the copy of Thucydides that she used in the College. I think that's wonderful."

    -- Jeff Makos