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‘Fine Arts’ becomes ‘Art and Music Histories’
“What’s in a name?” Amanda Eubanks Winkler has been mulling over Shakespeare’s question since she assumed leadership of the newly re-christened Department of Art and Music Histories in July 2009, succeeding longtime chair Wayne Franits. A departmental name change is more than a cosmetic detail. It poses deeper questions of identity that can provoke soul-searching in administrators and faculty members. “It’s not just a marketing decision,” says Winkler. “It’s a reflection of our mission. Our name says a lot about who we are and what we do in The College of Arts and Sciences.”
The department’s decision to change its name from “fine arts” to “art and music histories” was made after years of thoughtful contemplation. It recognizes the long-standing focus on interdisciplinary scholarship in the department, as well as a growing emphasis on interdisciplinarity in the college and throughout Syracuse University. “What we do is study art and music in a historical and cultural context,” says Winkler, a specialist in 17th- and 18th-century English musical theater. “Our goal is to foster a rich cultural and historical understanding of art and music among our students and to prepare them for a range of fields.” Winkler is quick to point out that her department should not be confused with programs in the College of Visual and Performing Arts that promote the practice of art and music. “There’s a clear distinction, though our courses also draw students from VPA and Newhouse.”
The timing of the name change is not lost on Winkler. It occurs almost 40 years to the month after the retirement of the department’s founding chair, William C. Fleming. A concert pianist, Fleming came to SU in 1945 from Pomona College in California. Convinced that the existing fine arts program did not sufficiently serve the humanities at SU, he established the Department of Fine Arts in 1947 in what was then the College of Liberal Arts.
During 22 years as chair, Fleming published his landmark book, “Arts and Ideas” (Wadsworth Publishing, 1955), developed the department into a pioneering leader in interdisciplinary studies of the arts, and launched the only accredited American master’s degree program in art history in which a majority of the coursework was done in Italy. Fleming’s impact is still felt through “Arts and Ideas.” Now in its 10th edition, the book is a vital part of the curricula of more than 1,000 institutions worldwide and has achieved wider academic recognition for its role in creating the interdisciplinary humanities movement. “It is the model for our approach to the arts in relation to their cultural, social, economic and political contexts,” Winkler says.
Current faculty activities include David Tatham’s “Winslow Homer’s Empire State: Houghton Farm and Beyond” exhibition at SUArt Galleries; Gary Radke’s forthcoming Leonardo exhibitions at the High Museum in Atlanta and the Getty in Los Angeles; and the “Forum on Music and Sound in Film,” to be conducted by Stephen Meyer, Theo Cateforis and Owen Shapiro (VPA).
“We want to strengthen our graduate and undergraduate programming, while continuing our engagement with the community,” Winkler adds, citing partnerships with the SU Humanities Center, the Andrew W. Mellon Central New York Humanities Corridor, Syracuse Symposium and the Syracuse International Film Festival.