Virtual Class Trip Meets in Low Rotunda

Amiens Cathedral Discussed Via Teleconference

Photograph: Students from Harlem and Appalachia spoke by satellite with Stephen Murray, professor of art history and archaeology, last Wednesday in Low Rotunda during a "virtual field trip" to Amiens Cathedral in France. The presentation included a video tour of the great 13th century building outside and in. Photo Credit: Joe Pineiro.

Today's high technology converged with the technology from 700 years ago, as students from Harlem and Appalachia took a "virtual class trip" to Low Rotunda last Wednesday to discuss the 13th century Amiens Cathedral via teleconference.

The students, who have been studying Columbia's multimedia production of the French gothic Amiens Cathedral, were wired into the Rotunda and conducted a live teleconference with Stephen Murray, professor of art history. Their faces appeared on screen and their voices spoke directly to Murray.

"When was the first cathedral built?" asked one girl who spoke from a classroom in Virginia.

The first cathedrals, she was told, were built as early as the 1st century, but most were built in the 1100s and 1200s.

The students' questions ranged from the specific about Amiens, to the history of cathedrals in general.

One boy asked whether cathedrals have central heating.

Murray, speaking from personal experience, told him no: "I grew up in England, and I remember freezing to death in these cathedrals."

The Amiens Cathedral Imaging Project is the inaugural effort of the Media Center for Art History, founded in December 1995 with a $575,000 National Endowment for the Humanities challenge grant. Amiens Cathedral is studied at Columbia in Art Humanities, a course added to the 75-year-old Core Curriculum in 1947, and required of all undergraduates.

The Amiens materials, however, are designed for use beyond Columbia's Core Curriculum. In addition to other universities and colleges, the Media Center, through the multi-media materials it produces, will be connecting with primary and secondary schools throughout the country, including New York City.

In turn, Murray had a question for the students: What would they have done differently in the making of the Amiens video? The students agreed that they wanted to be told more facts and information about the cathedral. Murray agreed, and said a voice-over was already being included in the project. But, he said he was cautious about providing too much information.

"Your sense of surprise and your sense of wonder are the greatest tools we have," Murray said. "We don't want to destroy that by explaining everything."

One student from Frederick Douglass Academy said that the Amiens Project did indeed push him and his classmates toward independent scholarship: "While we were waiting, we were surfing the Web, and we found information on the cathedral. So the video has inspired us to look forward."

Columbia University Record -- April 19, 1996 -- Vol. 21, No. 24