This post is the first in a series of guest contributions from the Institute’s alumni. The following has been contributed by Dr. Lindsey Hansen (PhD, Art History).
I graduated from IU in 2016 with a PhD in Medieval Art History and a Graduate Area Certificate in Medieval Studies. I wrote my dissertation on architectural sculpture in 13th French Gothic cathedrals – that is, the large groups of sculptures that decorate the monumental doorways (portals) on the façades of the cathedrals. I looked specifically at the ways the lives of the saints presented in the sculptural programs were used to shape ideas about bishops’ authority (in a sense, I study medieval visual propaganda).
After graduation, I decided to move to France—where I had spent the majority of the last three years researching and writing my dissertation—permanently. The decision meant that I was much closer to the buildings I study than I would have been if I’d taken a traditional academic position in the US. However, it also meant that I had to adjust my ideas about what I would do with my career.
Since moving to France, I’ve worked to establish myself as a “public medievalist” and a tour guide – things which allow me to use my skills as a teacher and as a specialist in medieval art to make art and history more engaging to the general public. For example, after the fire at Notre-Dame in April 2019, I contributed an essay to the International Center of Medieval Art and was interviewed for a podcast:
Both projects aim to make the complex history and uncertain future of the cathedral more accessible for audiences beyond the Academy.
In 2019, I completed my French national guiding license at the Conservatoire nationale des arts et métiers in Paris. (In France, tour guiding is a profession that requires a special—and rather hard to obtain—license.) I am now able to lead tours in monuments and museums throughout France, including places like the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, and Versailles.
In January 2020, I started guiding full-time, and the Louvre effectively became my office. After three years of challenges, I’d successfully found a way to fuse my PhD, my love of teaching, and my love of Paris into a perfect career… and then COVID-19 hit. Now, I’m trying (like all other tourism professionals) to figure out what comes next.
For the time being, I’m working to transfer my expertise, teaching skills, and love of French monuments into a new digital tourism project: creating “virtual visits” (geared especially for high school and college-aged students as well as curious adults) on my Instagram page and my website. All the material is free and open to the public. My goal is to use these digital platforms to help students and curious travelers do some “armchair adventuring,” and bring a little bit of Paris and its history into their homes.
Someday, we’ll start traveling again. And when that day comes, I’ll be looking forward to welcoming as many curious travelers to Paris as I can. Until then, we’ve got the internet.