History professor celebrates Maine bicentennial with new course

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By: Kate Rogers, News Editor

2020 is Maine’s bicentennial year. In celebration, USM is offering its first-ever Maine Art History course. The course is being taught by Libby Bischof, Ph.D. is a History professor and Executive Director of the Osher Map Library.

The course will cover many genres of Maine art both historical and contemporary, from painting to basket-making. Bischoff is incorporating a lot of fieldwork into the class. “I really think if you’re learning about Maine art or Maine history you should get out there and see it … we should make our city our classroom,” she said.

“This is a unique time to teach this class,” Bischof said. Thanks to the bicentennial, there are many special exhibits focused specifically on Maine art up around the state this year. Bischof’s own work in her field and in the state has provided her with connections that she is using to provide a better experience for her students, she said. She plans to bring her students to visit museums such as the Portland Art Museum, the Farnsworth and the Center for Maine Contemporary Art.

The course will also include hands-on work. “Regardless of the content matter that they’re studying they should kind of leave with skills that will serve them in the workforce … as they go on in their major,” Bischof said. For their final project, they will be writing a proposal for a bicentennial art exhibit, “as you would if you were curating one.”

Bischof has been in the USM History department since 2007 teaching 19th century U.S. history and the history of Maine. She is not an art historian, though her specialty is art and photography. “I approach art … from a historical and an archival perspective. A lot of my work intersects with what art historians are doing,” she said.

The course was born when Art History professor Kim Grant asked Bischof to teach an upper-level elective course while she (Grant) was on sabbatical. Bischof saw 2020 as a great opportunity to do a course like this. “[The course] really represented an opportunity to align my research with my teaching particularly as a visual historian,” Bischof said.

Bischof said that she was not expecting the 30 slot course to fill up so quickly. “The topic seemed to resonate with people,” she said. There are history majors, art majors, art history majors, and even interested members of the public enrolled. “It’s a really great, really interested engaged group of students,” Bischof said.

As far as doing the class again, Bischof said that the Art department has already expressed interest. As she is working full time in the Osher Map Library and in teaching, it may not be right away but she definitely wants to teach it again. “Once you invest so much time in really developing a class and putting together a syllabus and having all of these opportunities for people, you want to teach it again,” Bischof said.

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