Notes from a Davidson classroom
By John Syme
Semans Auditorium in the Katherine and Tom Belk Visual Arts Center is an intimate venue with intention, cozy yet spacious, gracefully sloping down to a screen for the presentation du jour.
One bleak, early February jour, Semans provided respite for a clutch of students fortunate enough to have enrolled in “Islamic Art.”
“This is the last time this particular course will be offered, so consider yourselves lucky!” jokes Professor of History and Director of South Asian Studies Job Thomas, who is retiring this year. Is that a tear in your smile, Dr. Thomas? In ours, yes. In the graceful architecture of Thomas’s lively commentary, a PowerPoint provides a fascinating window onto the world of art history. Yes, you read it here: PowerPoint, fascinating.
Of course, it is not the tool but the content that makes it so, most of all the alchemy of Thomas’s down-to-earth sense of humor, his sense of scale in the big picture of the art he loves, and his spot-on sense of Davidson students—all delivered in his inimitably unassuming Indian accent.
Thomas’s remarks are at once careful and carefree, linear and intuitive, rehearsed and ad libbed—in a word, expert.
He illustrates the march of the millenia around the Mediterranean with overlays of ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic cartography onto Google Maps circa right now. He pegs his lecture to specifics: the caliphate’s move to Damascus in 661, imperial infrastructure, Umayyad commanders on the move, Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock. And always that lightness of humor skimming along the big picture.
“Now, say a prayer to whatever God you have that the next slides work.
” Yes, sir, they do. Later in the hour, a tentative hand goes up.
“Yes! Yes! Ask questions! A teacher is only as good as his students!”