For two years in a row, an undergraduate from the School of Professional Studies landed a prestigious Undergraduate Research Grant, sponsored by the Office of the Provost at Northwestern University.
With the aid of the grant, Luke Fidler, an art history major, traveled to Paris to conduct research for his project, “Place, Space, and Mortality: The Pervasiveness of Death in the Abbey Church of Saint-Denis.”
The University awarded Fidler $1,367 for the project, with Fidler covering the remainder of his expenses himself. Peter Kaye, assistant dean of undergraduate and professional programs at SPS, said that Fidler’s accomplishment “is one more example of how our students can compete with anyone.”
Fidler’s research in France was tied to a quarter-long independent study class with Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow Shirin Fozi-Jones, a specialist in medieval tomb sculpture at Northwestern. In his grant proposal Fidler noted that “my scholarly work has increasingly focused on the intersection between art, death, and the sacred.” As an undergraduate Fidler presented two papers at art history symposia, published a paper in Vestnik: Journal of the School of Russian and Asian Studies, and contributed to the online journal of The Birch. After graduating from Northwestern in December 2012, Fidler plans to pursue a doctorate in art history.
To explore a concept as abstract as the pervasiveness of death on a site used as a reliquary and royal necropolis dating back to the early sixth century, Fidler created some concrete ways to examine the historic abbey, using photographs, drawings, and written observations to compile a comprehensive catalog of representations of death in tomb sculptures. He also assessed experiential factors such as the temperature of the flagstones on which worshippers stand, the air currents that circulate incense in the church, and structural changes from renovations and reconstructions over the centuries that doubled the aisles in the nave to make tombs and relics more accessible to the public.