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An American Professor of History in London

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    Detail of a Han dynasty jade burial suit
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    Stone Lion from the Fitzwilliam museum's collection

International Studies professor Steve Davidson spent the fall in London teaching, soaking up the local culture, and following the US presidential elections.

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like living, teaching or studying abroad, just ask International Studies professor Steve Davidson. As a faculty member who has taught two cohorts of Southwestern students in London, and who is there doing it this fall, he speaks with a certain authority.

For those unfamiliar with Southwestern’s London semester abroad, it is a 15-week residential program offered each fall. SU faculty and typically about 20 students live and study together in the Kensington district of London’s West End.  As for the academic curriculum, students take a normal load, including one required course on British life (politics, society, economics). There is another course that most students choose to take, which is a course on British theater. Students in this course not only learn about the history of British theater to the present, they also avail themselves of the rich theater culture of West End (the rough equivalent of Broadway), attending West End plays as well as “Off West End” fringe theater. In addition to these courses, taught by faculty from London-area institutions, Southwestern faculty offer more courses.  Generally  there are two faculty teaching in the program, so the curriculum varies: “The fields and specific courses differ each year, depending on which faculty participate, ” Professor Davidson says.

The program includes numerous local excursions: “We take advantage of the London setting as much as possible – visits to museums (such as the National Gallery, British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Geffrye Museum), the British Library, Kew Gardens, all of which have exhibits relating to one or more of the courses.” It also includes more extended excursions: “Besides exploring all of London, students go on  trips throughout England (Brighton, Bath, Stonehenge, Oxford, Cotswolds), Scotland (Edinburgh, the Highlands).” And many travel to the Continent for Fall Break since Paris is just a three-hour train ride away. This year, being an election year in the US, has added interest to the program: “Being here during the US presidential elections, and while the EU is struggling with their economic problems, is an eye-opener for all of us – eye-opening in the sense of seeing the world from a non-US view, and eye-opening in the sense of staying awake to watch the Obama-Romney debate live in the middle of the night here.”

This year is atypical in that Davidson is the only Southwestern faculty teaching in the program. He is offering four courses, but he is especially enthusiastic about one, The History of Commodities and International Conflicts, which is specially designed for the London setting. The course explores “how the British production, consumption, and  trade of coffee, tea, sugar, opium, etc, were inseparable from the creation of our modern world (reshaping British society, establishing the global slave trade, setting up a capitalist economic system, and realigning boundaries of peoples). The course links Europe (British Empire), China (source of tea, and site of the Opium War over tea/opium trade), the Middle East and Africa (sources of coffee and slaves) and the Americas (sugar plantations) in a truly international study. While here I have been able to take advantage of the great British museums to view artifacts from the period I study (Han and post-Han China), including the famed collections in the British Museum and the amazing special exhibit, The Search for Immortality: Tomb Treasures of Han China, at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.” For more information about the London program see the Office of Intercultural Learning page.