In the months since graduating, I’ve had the chance to reflect on the unique opportunities offered to me at Harvard. As a comparative religion concentrator with a focus on religion and the arts, I was able to deeply engage with two subjects that I find compelling and enriching: theology and art history. But it was in the Harvard Art Museums galleries that my academic and personal passions merged.
My experiences at the museums epitomize the transformative quality of a Harvard education. As part of one of my History of Art and Architecture classes, I held 2,000–3,000-year-old Greek vases from the museums’ collections. Ancient funerary art and rituals came to life in my (gloved) hands, while my concentration coursework emphasized the spiritual importance of such religious art. And as a student guide for the museums, I integrated my academic studies into a tour of the exhibition In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art. I was able to use objects to teach my peers and the public about the complex and misunderstood ways religious belief finds expression in art. Because of my involvement with the Harvard Art Museums, I am now on the path to realizing my dream of working with religious art in a museum context. I am currently serving as an intern at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) in Salem, Massachusetts, through the PEM/Harvard College summer internship program. In the fall I will be attending the University of Cambridge to get a master’s degree in art history.
I hope that every undergraduate gets the chance to have extraordinary encounters with the Harvard Art Museums. I speak in particular to incoming freshmen, who are fortunate to be entering Harvard at this momentous point in the university’s history. In just over a year, the new Harvard Art Museums will open and become a vital part of intellectual life at Harvard. Soon you will have access to a café located in the inspiring Calderwood Courtyard, a theater where you can take classes or see screenings, and an Art Study Center where courses will bring humanities and science concentrators alike into contact with works of art in object-based study. You will be the students who get to christen those galleries and classrooms. I hope the class of 2017 and all undergraduates take full advantage of this incredible resource, because the Harvard Art Museums collections have the potential to deepen your life in ways you never imagined.
Isabel Hebert graduated from Harvard College in 2013.
If you’d like to get involved in programs at the Harvard Art Museums, either on your own or as part of an undergraduate group, or to find out more about the Student Guide Program, just get in touch with Erin Northington, at firstname.lastname@example.org.