July 20, 2024
Sophia Ordubegian (POLS ’26) and Karen Medrano (HIST and ECON ’25) in Oxford, UK.
Sophia Ordubegian (POLS ’26) and Karen Medrano (HIST and ECON ’25) in Oxford, UK.

In the LMU Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts, students don’t have to commit to a full semester abroad to glean an international perspective. Every spring, the college offers on-campus global immersion courses that take a week-long trip abroad during spring break or at the end of the semester. Past classes have gone to places like Germany, Mexico, Africa, Indonesia, Costa Rica, and Japan. Most classes are open to all students, many fulfill at least one core requirement, and need-based financial assistance is available to ensure all students can go.

This spring, students in Empire, Migration, and Reparations (HIST 4910) and Museums, Landscapes, and Empire (HIST 3910) traveled together to the United Kingdom, where they were able to think critically about public and applied history with faculty experts. Throughout Oxford and London, the classes visited a variety of museums, historic houses, and British institutions including the Pitt-Rivers Museum, Blenheim Palace, the Oxford Botanic Garden, natural history museums in Oxford and London, the British Museum, the V&A Museum, the Museum of London Docklands, and the Imperial War Museum; they also spent time considering the imprint of empire displayed across city landscapes. 

“When we talk about public history, we’re really talking about the public uses of the past, the ways in which history gets deployed for political and ideological ends, but also the production of historical narratives for broad audiences through a variety of different genres,” Professor Elizabeth Drummond says. 

In HIST 4910, Drummond helps students explore the history of European empires and their legacies. The class paired perfectly with Professor Amy Woodson-Boulton’s HIST 3910, which gives students a grounding in the interdisciplinary, theoretical, and historical study of European museums. 

Students visit the Imperial War Museum in London, UK.

“Oxford and London are ideal places to study public and applied history because they offer a really interesting set of museums and historic sites, and there is embedded history in place names, street names, and monuments,” Woodson-Boulton says. “You can read about places like the British Museum, but it’s difficult to comprehend its scale – of acquisition, collection, architecture, presentation – until you’re there in person. There’s nothing quite like experiencing that within the postcolonial context of the city.” 

Through both built landscapes and preserved natural landscapes, students considered how Britain has become a museum. They reflected on how people construct narratives through histories and grappled with questions of representation and reparations.

International relations and Chicana/o and Latina/o studies major Bianca Valentín ’24 says the experience abroad deepened her understanding of how the legacy of the British empire was created and how it has been sustained over time. In the HIST 4910 classroom, she learned about how archives contribute to legitimizing the power of institutions and empires. While walking the streets of Oxford and London, she saw how that power is claimed through space and how it constructs notions of identity, noting how everything from the monuments to popular pubs to merchandise sold in gift shops are dedicated to upholding colonial and imperial ideologies. “It is no surprise that it takes being removed from these cities to actually begin critiquing the legacies that they uphold,” she says.

History and screenwriting major Rolin Weber ’26 applied museum history and theory learned in HIST 3910 to help him understand the narratives of imperialism on display at places like the Pitt Rivers Museum and the British Museum. As someone who had already visited the museums, he was shocked at how different his experience was with this new framework. This time, he was able to identify approaches to combat revisionist history. “Only after beginning to inform myself on how to consider museums in a broader context was I able to truly cement the problems these spaces present toward the goal of equitable history,” he says. 

Upon return to campus, class discussion became enlivened as students made connections between lessons and their shared experiences, and they applied what they learned about the discipline of history to practice crafting history themselves. Students in HIST 3910 contributed to a two-day pop-up exhibit in Hannon Library’s Archives and Special Collections Classroom (check it out on April 23 and April 24), whereas students in HIST 4910 created small public history projects that they ‘in-stalled’ across campus (inside the bathroom stall of their choice!).

And the benefits of the global immersion program go beyond deepening one’s study. “We’re having our first global immersion baby!,” Drummond jokes – the program, which dates back to 2016, has produced at least two long-term couples, with one baby on the way. Students develop bonds that change the social dynamic of the classroom, and, in some cases, the trajectory of their lives. 

Keep an eye on the BCLA Global Immersion website where Spring 2025 courses will be announced soon.

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