A castle original

A castle original

July 8, 2016


When it comes to understanding what the Bader International Study Centre (BISC) experience entails, there is no one better to ask than Daphne Lawson.

A ‘castle’ original, Ms. Lawson (Art History) is retiring after an intriguing 22 years of teaching at BISC, the longest tenure for any instructor at Herstmonceux Castle in England.

The key to the BISC experience, Ms. Lawson explains, is the experiential learning on offer, something that she helped start back when the first programs started in 1994.

When she was brought in founding executive director Maurice Yeates explained that incorporating experiential learning into the program was essential. While such learning is commonplace today, Ms. Lawson says she felt like they were “pioneers” in 1994.

[Daphne Lawson]
Daphne Lawson at the National Theatre. Ms. Lawson, who taught art history at the Bader International Study Centre for 22 years, incorporated primary resources into her teaching as much as possible. Ms. Lawson is retiring from full-time teaching. (Supplied photo)

“Originally when we started I was the only person that took people out because it was designed like that,” Ms. Lawson says. “So when (Dr. Yeates) hired me for my one term, 22 years ago, he said I want you to take (the students) out every Friday and do part of your teaching in front of the prime resource. It was unheard of then, people didn’t do it. It was very inspirational of him so I put in a lot of work going around to St. Paul’s, Cantebury Cathedral, the British Museum and all the art galleries before I started the job. It took off straight away and by the second term I knew I was there to stay, really, because it was such a novel way of teaching.”

With the success of the teaching model for art history, it would later be incorporated into other programs and courses, becoming a core educational component at BISC.

BISC has also opened up the world to the students who arrive at the castle, Ms. Lawson explains. They experience different cultures and grow as they venture to new places such as Paris and Edinburgh through the program or on their own.

“They get that whole European extension and also I think they are taught to think globally, which is very important. They are equipped for a modern Canadian world,” she says, adding that in the early days few of her students had travelled. It’s a different story today. “Now they have travelled before they even get here, some of them are very well travelled. So I think Canadians in general, young Canadians, are becoming far more global and far more outward looking than 22 years ago.”

Throughout her time at BISC Ms. Lawson has also seen the relationship with Queen’s flourish. In the beginning, when Alfred and Isabel Bader donated Herstmonceux Castle to Queen’s, there was an adjustment period as the university grappled with how to make best use of this gift an ocean away. The result is a valuable resource that few, if any, other universities can offer.

“I think over a period of about five years, (BISC) became much more integrated into Queen’s and that relationship then grew and that is really why the castle has done so well,” Ms. Lawson says. “It’s because we work within the Queen’s boundaries, we are an extension of Queen’s. We are different but we are part of Queen’s and that is something that developed really during the first decade.”

What she also has seen first-hand is the strength of the friendships that the BISC students develop during their studies at the castle. During a visit to Queen’s, she says, she attended an art history class and noticed some of her former students sitting together. They told her that their shared experience at BISC had created bonds that lasted long after they left the castle walls.

“I thought that was a rather nice compliment to BISC actually, that that is the case, that they make these close friendships in this sort of more-intimate environment,” she says. “That’s what BISC has to offer.”

While she is retiring from her full-time duties, Ms. Lawson will continue to teach two summer upper-year courses in art history at BISC.

Built in the 15th century, Herstmonceux Castle was purchased in 1993 by Alfred and Isabel Bader and donated to Queen’s. In 1994, after extensive renovations, it began welcoming students. Since then, the castle has attracted thousands of students from around the world who are drawn to its exceptional learning programs, which combine cutting-edge themes with experiential learning opportunities both locally and globally. To learn more about the castle and the learning opportunities visit the BISC website.

Arts and Science