Exploring the Intersections of Art, Literature, and Politics

September 06, 2023

Emma Haidar is a rising sophomore from New York City studying Comparative Literature at Harvard College. She studied at Reid Hall in Summer 2023. As part of the French Track, Emma took two courses on “Issues in Nineteenth Century Art” and “Migration, Displacement and Diaspora in the Contemporary Mediterranean.

Emma Haidar, a Comparative Literature major, came to Paris to kickstart her mastery of the French language. Through her French coursework, Emma studied local political issues that nourished her interest in Francophone studies and journalism. She also found herself able to “venture into the realm of art history” for the first time.

Emma described her course on migration in the contemporary Mediterranean as an engaging, concentrated introduction to the topic of immigration in Europe. The course allowed her to explore European current events through the lenses of sociology and political science, while simultaneously developing her French language skills.

The synergy between her coursework, excursions, and Reid Hall’s public events created a fertile, interdisciplinary environment. “We heard from academics and filmmakers in a way that supplemented what we learned in class,” said Emma. A visit to Paris’ Musée de l’histoire de l’immigration, where students engaged with union posters and contemporary art on the immigrant experience, naturally connected back to classroom discourse.

Emma’s art history course helpfully provided a foundation with which to engage with these kinds of visual materials. “In Paris, one of the first things you think of are museums,” but before her course at Reid Hall this summer, she said, “I didn't have the cultural context or the tools to analyze a lot of them. I would go into the museum and then I’d forget what I had seen after. Now, I’m a lot more conscious.”

During Emma’s first time studying art history she found many connections to her major in comparative literature. The periods and artistic movements covered in her course closely resembled those from her French and Spanish literature classes. “We followed the same model,” she said, “studying 20th and 21st century literature through kind of the same lens: Romanticism, Realism, Naturalism, all of those movements.” She found that “different elements applied to the visual and literary,” such as intense expressions in Romantic painting which echoed the interior dialogue in Romantic prose.

While navigating the busy Louvre museum, Emma appreciated the support of her professor who “made the experience a lot less overwhelming.” When navigating advanced French coursework, Emma found that her professors were “very supportive in encouraging students to speak regardless of their fluency level.” Emma advised future students to “never be afraid to speak up and raise your hand, which is the hardest thing to learn.” 

She also advised students to visit the Rodin Museum, a “very relaxing experience,” and the l’Orangerie Museum, for Monet’s Water Lilies. And have no fear, she adds: the Reid Hall Caféothèque does, in fact, have iced coffee!