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UNI’s Redford to Advise Getty Museum

Director will step down to study London’s Society of Dilettanti

Bruce Redford will step down from the directorship of UNI to advise on an exhibition at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

As the director of the University Professors Program, Bruce Redford has made it his mission to slow the trend of academic “hyperspecialization” that he says defines our culture. “I’ve done my best to unsettle students who start with a fixed idea of what an education is,” Redford says. “This is truly the last time in one’s life when one is free to take huge intellectual risks.”

After two years at the helm of UNI, Redford, a University Professor with appointments in the College of Arts and Sciences English and art history departments, is seeking out new intellectual risks of his own. Redford will step down from the directorship of UNI in June 2007 to complete work on a book, Dilettanti: the antic and the antique in 18th century England, and to collaborate on a special exhibition at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Fittingly, the exhibition’s subject is the Society of Dilettanti, an 18th-century British social club that celebrated the cultivation of an array of knowledge.

“A larger ambition I have is to re-create and celebrate the culture of the amateur,” Redford explains. “In the 18th century, the idea was not to become a specialist in a single discipline, but, from a mix of curiosity and pleasure, to acquaint oneself with a variety of knowledge.”

The Society of Dilettanti, formed in the 1730s, was composed of Britons who had completed the Grand Tour of Europe and wished to continue their studies of the art and architecture of antiquity. While the society was initially a drinking club, over the latter half of the 18th century the Dilettanti became some of Great Britain’s foremost collectors and arts patrons. The exhibition at the Getty, which hopes to feature sculpture, engravings, drawings, and paintings from the Dilettanti collections, is scheduled to open in 2008.

“The Getty Research Institute looks forward to collaborating with Professor Bruce Redford on his forthcoming book on the Society of the Dilettanti and to working with him on a future exhibition on this topic,” says a spokesperson for the Getty Research Institute.

Redford was drawn to the project because it shares many of the traits and principles that he values at UNI — such as an emphasis on interdisciplinary study that encourages curiosity and general skill-building, instead of a focus on a particular field. At UNI, students follow a program of core courses in their first year and then branch out into other courses with the purpose of completing a thesis project in their senior year. The goal, Redford says, is not to “imprint facts, but to imprint questions and methods,” and past students have said that the freedom to shape their own curriculum makes research an exciting opportunity rather than simply a graduation requirement. “Each concentration is a creative expression,” writes Winslow Smith (UNI’06) on the program’s Web site. “In UNI, I have begun a search, not finished one.”

Redford’s support of UNI’s principles and goals remains strong, and he will stay on the faculty throughout his collaboration with the Getty in hopes of encouraging more students to find pleasure in cultivating their own array of knowledge. “The culture of the amateur is dedicated to wide-ranging curiosity and the bridging and synthesizing of different disciplines,” Redford says. “It fits with BU’s and UNI’s ideals of liberal education and the spirit of passionate curiosity that was hallmark of the Society of Dilettanti.”

Jessica Ullian can be reached at jullian@bu.edu.