A day in the life of a History of Art MA student

Writing a ‘day in the life of a History of Art student’ profile is a challenging task for me. As a research scholar sponsored by The Friends of York Art Gallery, a college tutor for Vanbrugh College and a member of the SHADY (Studies in the History of Art Department at York) committee, everyday of my week can be different!

First, some basics: I come from a studio-based undergraduate degree in Fashion Design. I then worked in the fashion industry and as a secondary school teacher (yes, I enjoy being busy!), and now I am a History of Art (HoA) student at York.

I start my day by checking my emails over breakfast. Recently, I have been corresponding with Susan Vincent, a well-known cultural historian, whose publications on dress have influenced my own interests. Last term, I invited her to come and talk at the University on behalf of SHADY, a graduate committee that organises cultural sessions and social events. I’ve been liaising with Susan and the department in the run up to the event.

Following this, I make the short walk from my room in Vanbrugh College to the calm and quiet study space in Berrick Saul, the postgraduate building for graduate students in the Humanities. I find my favourite spot – a softly lit desk overlooking the mezzanine, with a well composed view to the greenery outside through the double height windows – and get started on a morning of reading. On this specific day, I am reading Foucault for my module Critical Architecture: More than Mere Containment. The reading list is insightful: the texts enable me to re-address habitual buildings (and garments!) and raise questions about all that I have taken for granted about them.

I try to take short breaks during reading sessions, away from books and screens. I particularly like to walk peacefully around the University campus’s central lake. There is something atmospheric about the University of York campus: the unlikely combination of concrete, foliage and lake is soothing. No matter how busy it may be, there are always quiet corners to be found.

I also make time to meet a fellow HoA student for lunch. On other occasions I may meet with a fellow college tutor, studying for a PhD in Literature. The opportunity to spend time with other students is one of the highlights of studying and living at the University. We might discuss one of the topics of my reading, and after an animated discussion I re-engage with the text from a fresh perspective.

After lunch, I head off to attend my weekly seminar for the module Monument, Object, Fetish, Artefact: Contesting Modern Sculpture. Today, the seminar takes us to Leeds Art Gallery for a curator-led talk. As I strive to approach my research through objects, I welcome the opportunity to engage directly with artworks. Later this term, my course will take me to the Imperial War Museum in Manchester, the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds and The Hepworth in Wakefield (all funded by the Department!). Last term I also visited The Clothworkers’ Centre, which houses the V&A fashion and textiles collection, and had the wonderful opportunity to give a presentation there, amongst garments from the seventeenth to the twentieth century.

Straight after the seminar, a number of us seek out somewhere to eat and catch up on how things are going, academically and personally. The course is close-knit; we all make the time to see one another. Last term, the SHADY committee organised SHADY Wine and Cheese. This (department-funded) event provided the opportunity for postgrads in HoA to meet up and enjoy each other’s company – a welcome and much-needed break from reading and essay writing!

Less typically, this week also includes me publicly talking at York Art Gallery. One of my duties as a researcher sponsored by The Friends of York Art Gallery is to give talks. I have sketched out the content, and am now in the process of practising it, so I have a run through on returning home. This opportunity is one I am particularly looking forward to – as public speaking is a hurdle I intend to jump (unreservedly) over this year!

After a long day, I thoroughly enjoy winding down with a book for an early night. The week ahead will be a busy one, full of reading, seminars, and talks! I enjoy working, but I do my best to maintain a healthy balance! So I make plans to see my family, friends over the weekend. I also seek out new experiences, art historical and otherwise. York is well equipped and situated for this! Some of my future weekend plans involve trips to Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Yorkshire Coast and back home to Hull.