Ashmolean to host seminar on the human heart | University of Oxford

Ashmolean to host seminar on the human heart

The Ashmolean Museum is to host a public seminar tomorrow (Tuesday 26 November) on the theme of the human heart.

Leading academics from a variety of disciplines in the arts and humanities and medical sciences will contribute to the seminar in discussions which range from conceptions of 'The Medieval Heart' in literature and philosophy to 'The Living Heart' in health and the progress being made in the cutting-edge field of medical imaging.

The idea for the seminar has been generated by the work of the Ashmolean's University Engagement Programme, funded by a $1.1 million grant from the US-based Andrew W Mellon Foundation. The Mellon grant was awarded in 2012 to enable the Ashmolean to expand the use of its collections in University teaching, especially in subjects not traditionally associated with museums.

Medical students and professionals, students of the social sciences and members of the Saïd Business School are among the many undergraduates and postgraduates who are being given the opportunity to interact with the Ashmolean's objects as part of their coursework and research.

Object-based teaching sessions held in the museum's galleries and study rooms have been designed to encourage students to use art and material culture from around the world to help them think creatively about the themes and issues in their fields of study.

In early 2013, Dr Jim Harris, art historian and teaching curator from the Ashmolean's University Engagement Project, worked with Robin Choudhury, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Oxford University and a pioneer in the field of vascular imaging, to develop an informal seminar for students and faculty in the Medical Sciences and Humanities divisions.

The seminar was held in May and gave participants the opportunity to examine objects ranging from ancient Egyptian heart scarabs to illuminated medieval manuscript leaves, carved Mughal gems and 16th-century Italian drawings. The session considered the way each culture treated the heart according to the visual, theological and social conventions of its time.

Dr Harris and Professor Choudhury have now invited specialists in a number of fields to contribute to a larger public seminar, addressing the theme of the heart from a range of disciplinary perspectives.

Topics will include 'The Heart in the Ashmolean' and 'Mending Broken Hearts'.

Dr Harris said: 'The collections at the Ashmolean are amazingly diverse and they provide a host of opportunities for students and scholars in different academic disciplines to look at subjects, such as the human heart, from new perspectives.

'In holding events like this seminar, we hope to explore some of those rich associations and encourage students and colleagues across the University to see the Ashmolean as a resource for their study, teaching and research.'

Professor Choudhury added: 'We are very excited by this new collaboration. The human heart has been an organ of intense fascination for poets, artists and scientists, and we are delighted to be able to share insights from all these perspectives in this public seminar.'

The free public seminar will be held in the Ashmolean Lecture Theatre from 5pm to 7.45pm. Places can be booked through