The New School is a centre for free enquiry, where students can determine their own rhythm and pace through unprejudiced adventure. Instead of binding themselves to the standardising tasks of a syllabus, against which they are measured and ranked according to the accuracy of regurgitation, our students blaze their own trails under sympathetic guidance. They can either write, paint, sew (or sow), film or perform to inscribe their findings. Informed by collective seminars and reading groups, the results are gathered by the week and will ebb and shift under supervision. Through developing a critical-creative voice we believe they will find autonomy and resilience as citizens.
The curriculum comprises an open-ended series of one-year, stand-alone programmes, designed to allow students to combine their studies with life’s wider obligations (and nourishments) such as family and work. The academic year starts in late-September and is composed of two semesters of 14-16 weeks each, to include one mid-semester reading week. From 2023 a yearly cohort comprises 40 students, a number that affords the grounds for collaborative community. Their tenure at the New School is overseen by the Director of Studies who works closely with an individual student to co-curate a bespoke study programme.
Each student is then appointed one or more supervisors from the Ensemble pool drawn not only from core New School teachers but from universities and arts institutions across the UK and the world. These could be practitioners as well as academics with whom a student will work closely on assembling an individual portfolio, while participating in a programme of weekly seminars.
This pattern is designed to allow the in-depth study of an area, alongside the exploration of topics that might not necessarily seem relevant to individual research: an open-minded immersion in a variety of subjects, themes and methods from which new possibilities might emerge. Students are thereby encouraged to think of themselves as researchers from the very start of their time at the New School.
Anthropocene Seminar: "Friday Afternoon in the Universe"
The connective tissue is the weekly Anthropocene Seminar, a three-hour gathering for which students are given preparatory materials. These are held in-person and are live-streamed from October Gallery’s beautiful premises in London on a "Friday Afternoon in the Universe" (J. Kerouac), between 2.00pm and 5.00pm, and are complemented by field-teaching and on-line seminars, where appropriate.
Teaching directly addresses the challenges of interdisciplinarity as an approach in and of itself. Seminars are introductory in nature and are designed to build confidence by welcoming in the new and the surprising, while respecting the fact that subject disciplines have established their own formal characteristics.
The sessions give emphasis to individual intellectual and creative development and collaborative group work, alike. Teaching is shared between Ensemble members and visiting international speakers drawn from across the disciplines of the arts. The seminar is designed to broach the full range of enquiry that characterises the Environmental Humanities.
The centripetal format gives scholars extended time to ask questions of the speaker following an hour’s presentation. The seminar is preceded by a 30-minute movement class led by Gessie Houghton. Scholars tend to gather from 12.30pm for lunch in the Gallery’s café.
As the year progresses, scholars will find that their teaching reflects the need to encourage greater freedom and experiment, both within and between disciplines. This is in line with the New School’s principle of the student as co-producer, with a stress upon exploratory process rather than designated outcomes.
The subject outlines on the Seminars page were initially conceived as full courses. For 2023-2024, they stand as indicative single-session topics for the 30-week teaching year.
The individual encounter with an Ensemble member is the centre of our teaching model. This emulates the University of Cambridge’s supervision system and guarantees a level of close attention from which scholars greatly benefit. New School students attend five such meetings over the year (usually on-line) with typically two appointed supervisors, the approach being informal, open and conversational without being casual.
The supervision takes the form of an hour-long meeting in which a supervisor discusses a critical essay or piece of creative work that a student has recently prepared on an agreed subject. This could be an exploratory, even raw piece, which might then be further developed, qualified or challenged. Gatherings intensify in their frequency after the Christmas holiday and are arranged independently by the supervisor and the scholar.
In 2022 NSotA's debut cohort established an additional Self-Organised Reading Group held on-line on Sunday afternoons with the purpose of extending discussions broached in previous Anthropocene Seminars on a non-hierarchical basis. Coordinated by our scholar, Liv Veazey, we plan to continue these in future years as a core component of the curriculum.
For the academic year beginning in September 2023 we will be introducing small-group weekly critical-creative seam classes, as a means of building a collaborative environment and preparing scholars for the intensity of their project work. These four courses will run both in-person and on-line in blocks of six weeks.
The total contact time per student is approximately 140 hours per academic year. This recognises that students should be entrusted to read and collaborate freely and adventurously beyond any prescriptive curriculum remit.
We are most grateful for an arrangement with the Birkbeck College, University of London whereby NSotA scholars with a UK residential address can freely consult and borrow books from its Library, which is a ten-minute walk from October Gallery.