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Ogden Honors in Oxford Travelogue

Reflections from the 2017 Oxford study abroad program

Note from the Program Director:

This summer, the Ogden Honors College launched its own study abroad program in Oxford, England. 13 Honors College students are currently studying and residing in St. Hilda’s College at the University of Oxford. We are reading the works of Homer, Virgil, Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens; viewing Pre-Raphaelite paintings and tapestries in the colleges and museums; and traveling to Bath, London, and Stratford. In this blog, the students share impressions of their time in the UK. We hope you enjoy their insights and get a sense of how studying abroad is truly an awakening!

Drew Lamonica Arms

 

Julius Caesar and London Underground

 

A Text in Context: Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in Stratford

Can I just start by saying that Julius Caesar is one of my absolute favorite Shakespearean plays? That being said, I was extremely excited to be focusing so widely on Caesar in class this summer. We began with commentaries on the Gallic War written by Caesar himself. In these commentaries, Caesar’s goal was to paint a great portrait of himself to gain respect and support from his Roman subjects. Most evident throughout the text was the portrayal of his own intelligence, always being prepared. “Though Caesar had not yet learned of their plans, none the less he suspected it would happen” (4.31, The Gallic War). Though this read was informative, it wasn’t until Plutarch came along that I could truly appreciate the value of this collection of commentaries.

JuliusCaesarRSCticketFor class, we read both Plutarch’s account of Caesar and Brutus. At first, we compared Caesar’s portrayal of himself to Plutarch’s portrayal of Caesar, which really helped me personally to put Caesar’s commentaries into context. It wasn’t until Dr. Stem mentioned Shakespeare, however, that I became truly excited. It turns out, Shakespeare took Plutarch’s histories of Caesar and Brutus and combined the two to create his tragic play Julius Caesar. Plutarch really painted Caesar as a power-thirsty tyrant, “[trying] the Romans’ tolerance to the absolute limit,” though they ultimately appointed him dictator for life. “But when permanence is added to the unaccountability of autocracy, tyranny is the result, and this is now what Caesar had” (pg. 347, Plutarch’s Caesar). This was a condemnation I did not get from reading Shakespeare’s play or Caesar’s commentaries. 

Plutarch also surprised me by making Brutus a very honorable man indeed. Within the first four pages of Brutus’ history, Brutus has already sided with his father’s murderer “to put the public good before his private loyalties” (pg. 260, Plutarch’s Brutus). Whoa! How can this man be honorable? He killed the infamous Julius Caesar (who, spoiler alert, also raised Brutus as a son because he quite possibly was his son)! I was astounded, and an entire class was rightly dedicated solely to this debate.

Finally (and yes, we saved the best for last), we traveled to Stratford, THE BIRTHPLACE OF SHAKESPEARE, to revel in the beauty it all. I’m talking front row balcony seats to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Julius Caesar. It doesn’t get any better than that. Not only were the actors and special effects breath-taking, but the close resemblance to Plutarch became very evident as the play progressed, from Caesar’s rejection of the crown thrice to Brutus’ speech about Cato’s suicide. Still unclear, however, is who was right. Was Caesar a tyrant who deserved to be murdered? Was Brutus any better than Caesar? These questions will haunt me like Caesar’s ghost haunts Brutus. Just kidding. I suppose we’ll never know, though it does make for wonderful class debates. 

Taylor Prudhomme

 

“Friends, Romans Countrymen, lend me your ears…” The LSU Ogden in Honors in Oxford group has finally made its way to Stratford upon Avon: the little village on the river, the home of William Shakespeare, and the backdrop for the day’s adventure.

I have always been intrigued by Shakespeare, and I read Julius Caesar before, but after taking this course the conflict took on a whole new meaning. After reading and discussing the material the Bard had at his disposal, it was easy to see that the genius lies with Plutarch as well as Shakespeare. Plutarch has the incredible ability to present a situation from both perspectives and make you simultaneously support the assassin and the victim. I can see why the playwright chose to use him as the main source for his production. 

To see the words of leap from the page onto the stage in front of me added a whole new level to the tragic story. The passion and strife came alive in the theatre and made me love it even more. The roar of the Roman crowds and clanging of swords and shields shook me to the core. I was locked in and invested in the tragedy, and it was amazing.

Plutarch's complicated story with the eloquent words of Shakespeare and deep emotion of the actors created a beautiful crescendo that was not confined to text on a page. This time the story was more than black and white; it was red and raw and bloody and personal. I felt the anger of Cassius and his fellow conspirators. I saw the torment within Brutus as he raised the knife to stab His friend, and I felt crushed while Mark Antony sobbed over Caesar's lifeless body. At times I felt my heart beating in my chest as the suspense increased. I knew what was going to happen, but I was still captured by the intensity of the moment. 

Stratford upon Avon BridgeSeeing one of Shakespeare’s greatest works in his home town and performed by his theatre troop was like a dream. I laughed, I cried, I cheered and I was speechless because of the talent of the Royal Shakespeare Company. It was one of my favorite parts of this incredible program. I wish I could relive the production, but I guess “All’s well that ends well.”  

Sarah LaBorde

 

Lessons from the London Underground

LondonundergroundInzengaOne of the biggest things that I miss in England is my car. Of course, I wouldn’t ever want to try to drive on the left side of the road, but I miss the opportunity to hit the road and sing at the top of my lungs. It seems like a small detail, but transportation makes a huge difference in the way your day goes. That’s why the London Underground is such an interesting difference in the way we get from one place to another.

The first weekend here was a free weekend, so some of my classmates and I took to London to knock out a bucket list of things to do there. This list included things on every corner of the city, from the Jack the Ripper Tour in White Chapel to the Sherlock Holmes museum on Baker Street. This meant we had to learn the Underground.

If you go to London, there are a few things that you should know about the Underground:

1. You get to the platform with an oyster card. I still have no idea why it’s called that.

2. You cannot share an oyster card with your friend. A nice, British gentleman will snap the card out of your hand and give it to whoever used the card first.

3. You may need to wait in a line (or a queue, as the British call it) in order to load your oyster card with money. Leave a few minutes early.

4. Hairspray your hair if you care about that. The winds in the tunnels Underground were comparable to those of hurricane season.

5. Don’t forget that pedestrians and trains have traffic too. The Underground gets a rush hour just as bad as driving in Baton Rouge.

 Overall, the Underground is actually easy to use and for the parts that we didn’t know, people were friendly and helpful.

Maddy Inzenga

 

Four Days in London

 

The Ogden Honors in Oxford program complemented our studies with a four-day trip to London’s museums, palaces, and exhibitions that further revealed the classical and Victorian worlds we’ve been examining in the classroom.  Our trips to Bath, London, and Stratford have not only been fun excursions, they’ve been essential learning experiences, as these next few blog posts show.

Drew Lamonica Arms

 

Looney1Persuasion is partially set in Bath, the former site of an ancient Roman settlement and the fashionable retreat for the upper crust of Regency England. The climax of the novel takes place here when our heroine Anne finally is able to be with her Captain Wentworth despite their different social classes and her father’s disapproval. However, in classic Jane Austen fashion, Persuasion is so much more than just a romance. The book also deals with the social shift that was occurring in England at the time. The aristocracy was becoming less and less important, and “new men” like Captain Wentworth were rising the social ranks through the navy or commerce.

When our group traveled to Bath, I got the same feeling of traveling back in time that I did when reading Austen’s prose. Looking past the cars and the Pizza Express restaurants, Bath is largely unchanged from when Austen herself walked its streets and placed her characters there. Emma LooneyThe Austen family lived for a time at 25 Gay Street in Bath, and although that exact address is now a dentist, we were able to tour 40 Gay Street which is now the Jane Austen Center. Many of the rooms are preserved in high Regency style and they are filled with Austen memorabilia. While there, we were able to dress up in costumes and write with a quill and ink. The experience was surreal to say the least. We also visited the Assembly Rooms which now house a Fashion Museum. In Persuasion, the Elliot family attends the Assembly Rooms to see concerts and go to balls. We couldn’t help but spin around in delight, pretending that we too were guests at a ball. Jane Austen and her family really once sat in those very rooms and stood where we stood. Although separated by two hundred years, at that moment I could have been exactly where Jane stood so many years before.

                                                                                                                                                                Emma Looney

 

Roman (and Victorian) Holiday in London                                                           

 

Miller1Before our weekend in London, we had been in Oxford for almost two weeks. I was now familiar with its calmness and its beauty. London, though still beautiful, was nowhere near calm, with its traffic, crowds and stores open past six. It was a nice change of pace. Even better than being in a new city, however, was getting to see the many different eras through which England has been. During our weekend, we went to many museums such as the Tate, the British museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. At these places, we focused mostly on art from the Greeks, Romans, and Pre-raphaelites, but when we had time to explore on our own, I was able to see the many other groups that made England what it is today. Miller2The best example of the different eras was in one of my favorite museums of the weekend: the Museum of London. The museum starts with an exhibit about the Roman influence on Britain. Then, in the next room there was an exhibit on the medieval times, the plague, and the Fire of London. From there, the museum takes you through the rebuilding of London and then to the 1800s and 1900s. We saw cars, fashion, posters from the suffragette movement, and many more visual representations of what life was like for the British during each time period. My favorite part was the Victorian walk, where we were able to walk through a room designed to look like the streets during this time period, with shops all along the sides. The museum ended with an exhibit about innovations arising today. Though this museum is the best representation of how England has changed, every museum we went to was incredible because they all showed this evolutionary history.

                                                                                                                                                                Gracie Miller

 

OxfordGroupLSUFlagWhen we visited London, I got to see an exhibit in Kensington Palace, based on the life of Victoria and Albert, and that is when their history became a story that I wanted to hear more about. We saw Victoria’s dresses, which looked to be about the size of a seven-year-old. We saw the room in which Victoria and her kids used to play, and the room where she would handle her duties. My favorite part of the exhibition was a case with a pair of stockings and a razor. On the description, Victoria stated how Albert would put her stockings on for her, and her favorite thing to do was watch him shave. This gave me an idea of how strong Victoria’s love was for Albert. It was not until I saw the memorial she issued for his death that I truly saw how much she adored him. It was marvelous. Every miniscule detail of the memorial honored Albert. It was covered in gold and symbols depicting his greatest achievements. I saw a statue of Victoria and Albert in the National Portrait Gallery, and the sculpture perfectly pieced together everything I had learned about them. Whereas before I knew nothing other than the fact that they were rulers of Britain, was now a story about their lives that I experienced through Kensington and the memorial and the museums.

Amana Sabir

 

Curating Classical and Victorian Ideals

Lawler VaseDuring our study abroad experience, we have visited a vast amount of museums in order to further enrich our studies. It was not long into our journey before I realized my dream job: a museum curator.  Therefore, I decided for my “On My Own” feature I would curate a miniature-exhibit of just over five works based on our course settings of the Classical Period and the Victorian Era.

To open, I would choose the vase with an Octopus painted on it we saw at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Aside from the unique aquatic detail, the vase is partially refurbished, as visible from the upper half.

Following the vase, I would collect several coins found at the Roman Baths. Between Jane Austen’s telling of Bath in her novel Persuasion that we read, and learning about how the Romans who wrote some of the works we also read relaxed, there is a strong connection between the two eras at Bath.

Lawler2In order to transition from the Classical Era to the Victorian, I would bring the sculpture of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert currently at the National Portrait Gallery in London into the exhibit. Sculpted in a classical style, this work perfectly introduces the idea of the Greek and Roman influence in the Victorian world.

The painting of Clytemnestra by John Collier we found at the Guildhall in London would be my next choice in the exhibit. Technically painted just after the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood we learned about, but true to the style, this depiction of the Greek tragedy is complementary to the collection.Lawler3

Finally, I would compare the two sculptures I found most engaging at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Both created in a classical vision, Maternal Affection by Edward Hodges Bailey and Valor and Cowardice by Alfred Stevens were made in the Victorian era, no more than twenty years apart from each other.Lawler5 Maternal Affection depicts a mother carrying for her child she is carrying on her back, in accordance with “Of Queen’s Gardens” we read in class supporting the separation of genders leaving women in the home. Opposite this sculpture, Valor and Cowardice shows a woman, Valor, slaying a man, Cowardice. Completely opposite perspectives on the pressing “woman question” in the era of a female monarch is one way I could end our exhibit.

Rebecca Lawler

 

A Day with the Bard: Shakespeare and Stratford

Stratford LejeuneStratford-upon-Avon.  The birthplace of a literary icon, beloved during his own time and in the present.  The town has its own enchanting atmosphere that seems as if the past collides with the present, with buildings from the 11th and 12th century mixed with modern restaurants and shops.  My visit to Stratford gave me a better understanding and appreciation for the genius that was William Shakespeare.  I would read Shakespeare in high school and complain about how I could not understand the language he used or how it was not interesting enough to keep me occupied.  However, after visiting many sites related to Shakespeare’s life, such as the house where he was born and the church where he is buried, I have come to appreciate the man behind the writing and how he was able to construct these stories that have lasted through the years.  The highlight of my time in Stratford was the production of Julius Caesar, one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays.  I was able to see the writing of Shakespeare come to life on the stage, and it was an amazing opportunity.  The actors perfectly portrayed the characters and allowed me to gain insight into the mind of Shakespeare.  Moreover, seeing the play put the written play I read many years ago into perspective and made it seem authentic and relatable.  Stratford is a window into the past, a way to learn firsthand how Shakespeare lived and to see how his influence lives on in our present time.  It was the opportunity of a lifetime to visit this wonderful place.

 Matthew LeJeune

 

 

A Day in Bath

 Note: The Ogden Oxford students read and discussed Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Caesar’s Gallic Wars, and Tacitus’ Agricola before traveling to the city of Bath.  Students are exploring the influences of the classical world on 19th century literature and culture, and the Victorian reinvention of classical models.  Week 1 focused on empire, Roman and British.

 

Rainbow at BathThe day began with a nine-o’clock meal of croissants and English breakfast tea, shortly followed by the arrival of the coach that would be taking us to Bath. The drive was more than spectacular: rich green hills speckled with ivory sheep and foliage cascaded into the distance. The landscape resembled the ocean in a way: always changing, never the same scene twice. There was, however, one issue with the drive. About ten minutes after our departure, I realized that my cell phone was nowhere to be found. One would think that this threw a proverbial “wrench” into my experience, when actually it had quite the opposite impact. Of course, I was in minor distress at first, but I knew that I couldn’t change the situation, and I did my best to breathe it out. As it turned out, losing my phone was interestingly one of the best things that could have happened to me that day.

            This society’s dependence on technology is undeniable, and my generation’s addiction to cell phones is even more so. However, not having access to a seemingly precious belonging helped me to drink in all of the wonders that Bath had to offer. This was my humbled experience.

Roman BathLater, we met for dinner in the wine cellar of the Roman Baths Kitchen, which was soon followed by our actual visit to the baths. These were the true marvels of this excursion. Open to the air, the aquamarine pools of steaming spring water have been in the city for nearly a thousand years. The sheer age of these structures is still a concept that I struggle to wrap my brain around. From the grandiose courtyards to the fragments of ancient Roman pediments, the Roman Baths were truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We traveled through time, back to the glory days of the baths, and to the unique Celtic-Roman culture that they had adopted. Words alone cannot do our day in Bath justice. The true heart of this excursion lied in the feeling – the feeling that we too were walking beside Jane Austen and bathing with the Roman aristocracy. This was Bath (not just a place, but a feeling,) and this was an adventure of immense discovery. 

Madeline Kirby

 

Roman Baths HigginsBath was truly one of my favorite experiences in the Ogden in Oxford program. Whether you enjoy seeing the sights depicted in Jane Austen’s novels, trying on dresses from the 18th century in the Museum of Fashion, or just taking a stroll through the historic streets, there is something for everyone. For me though, the most interesting experience we had during our day was seeing the Roman Baths. The history of the Baths is tangible as soon as you step through the doors. I had never known the ingenuity and innovation that went into the development of building such an elaborate building. The details in the little things they were able to accomplish, such as heated floors, flowing water, detailed mosaics and carved decorations, are astonishing. Not only did they have the main hot bath, but lukewarm and cold ones as well. Even the sick had their own bath to cleanse themselves of their illness, though how much it actually helped is debatable. In this place of relaxation, people of all classes came together to enjoy the luxuries of Roman life and pray to the goddess of the baths.

Maggie Higgins

First Week in Oxford: First Impressions

 

Cora Schneider at High TeaI really didn’t know anything about Oxford before I came on this trip. I thought that it was just one big university that has been around for centuries. But the school is actually made up of 38 different colleges. So I was able to visit some of the colleges and learn about their different histories. I also didn’t know very much about the town that surrounded the university. So I also enjoyed learning about the history of the town as well as the school. One of the first days that I was here, I walked past a coffee shop that opened in 1650. And that’s not even the oldest building at Oxford. The oldest college at Oxford, University College, was founded in 1249. That’s over 200 years before Europeans even knew that America existed. So one of my first impressions at Oxford was seeing how old this town is and realizing that this place has been here for a very long time.

Cora Schneider

Ogden in Oxford Students Out on High St A week has passed, though it feels more like a month. I came with the purpose of revisiting a city from my memories, but the Study Abroad Experience has revealed a completely new perspective of Oxford to me. Watching Jane Austen’s Persuasion come to life in front of my eyes as we followed the footsteps of Anne Elliot down the bustling streets of Bath to reading about Caesar’s Gallic Wars and seeing the effects of his explorations in Britain immortalized in the very framework of Oxford and the grand architecture of the Roman Baths. Through this fusion of structured classes and lively excursions, I feel like I have gained something that I would not normally have if I just took a vacation to Oxford or attended the class at LSU—a deeper understanding of the history paired with an authentic perception of the culture. Along with this academic experience, I have also gained new friends—people I probably would have never crossed paths with back in LSU but despite the diverse range of majors and interests managed to find a common fascination in Oxford. I have grown as a person, experienced a culture different from my own, and had fun while doing it. And I still have two more weeks to look forward to!

Lucy Guo

Magdalen College ViewThroughout the first week of class, my awe never diminished. Class time consisted of intriguing discussions of pertinent literature and class trips out into the city of Oxford. Tours throughout the city, including Magdalen (pronounced Maudlin) College, revealed even more beauty in my surroundings with its immaculately manicured gardens and deer park. High tea on the roof of the magnificent Ashmolean Museum presented a taste of classy British culture after studying famous Greek art in the museum below. A day trip to the city of Bath allowed me to step inside Jane Austen’s novel, Persuasion, trace her footsteps, and discover for myself how Austen’s surroundings influenced her work. Also in Bath, I was able to appreciate for myself the incredible genius of Roman innovators by touring their ancient baths. It was remarkable to see their genius designs in person, the cleverness that contributed to the greatest empire the world has ever seen. My first week in Oxford was a week of exploration, a week of incredulous discovery that opened my eyes to the glories the world beyond what America had to offer. My first week in Oxford showed me how small I am, but also the magnificent largeness of the world waiting for me to discover. I look forward to the continuation of the broadening of my horizons in the weeks to come in my study abroad trip. Next up, epic week with Homer, Sappho, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Karly Kyzar