A lively new use of collections and exhibitions was launched a year ago, when the Johnson began collaborating with Cornell’s University Courses. From “Introduction to Global Health” and “Medicine, Culture, and Society” to “Plagues and People” and even “Wine Culture,” Museum staff and Cornell faculty designed class sessions and installations using original artworks. These first classes brought more than three hundred students to the Museum in Spring 2016, and showed faculty from biology, agricultural sciences, anthropology, and other disciplines how to use art to teach in unique ways. “I loved the incorporation of the Museum with the course material,” one student said. “It was a way to apply what we were learning in class to real life, and the various implications that the themes we covered had on society.” Another student highlighted the advantages of group discussions: “Getting to talk about art allows me to see other perspectives and other people’s views. You can input your own view, which helps others, and vice versa.” 

Visiting the Museum “set a wonderful tone for the beginning of the class,” said one faculty member. Students’ “engagement with the political-economic-social context in which medicine and healing happen, their understanding of texts and artwork as interventions into a conversation, their effort to broaden notions of injury and illness to think beyond the physical to the injuries caused by poverty, racism, discrimination, marginalization, and the [subtlety with] which they are beginning to think [about] agency and voice were all catalyzed by starting in the Museum looking at art.” Faculty and student surveys conducted by Elliot Shapiro, Director of Instruction for University Courses, were uniformly positive, and the classes enabled the Museum to reach many more freshman and sophomore students from the Colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Human Ecology than previously. 

The Museum developed interdisciplinary sessions and assignments for four courses during the Fall 2016 semester: “Freud and the Invention of Psychoanalysis,” “The Art of Horticulture,” “A Global History of Love,” and “Controversies about Inequality.” This last, a core course in Cornell’s Center for the Study of Inequality, was taught by Professor Anna Haskins (with her class at the Museum, at left). Working with Museum educators, Professor Haskins and her four graduate assistants used photographs by Margaret Bourke-White, Walker Evans, and Mary Ellen Mark to encourage discussion about course themes including poverty, growing income inequality, and the persistence of racial, ethnic, and gender stratification. Students in “A Global History of Love,” taught by Professors Durba Ghosh and Tamara Loos, visited the Museum to analyze Indian, Thai, and Japanese paintings, Balinese story cloths, and Indonesian and Chinese sculpture for the ways those works of art convey aspects of familial, conjugal, and spiritual love. Working in small groups, students prepared presentations about their assigned narratives, which included the Hindu epic Ramayana, stories of Krishna and Radha, and The Tale of Genji.

Though it was at times challenging to accommodate University Courses given their large size, this new partnership brought nearly nine hundred students to the Johnson for discussion and debate, allowing Museum staff to introduce these undergraduates to primary source research with artworks. Additionally, twenty-four graduate teaching assistants were introduced to the Museum’s unique resources, providing these young educators with new approaches to engaging with museum collections.