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Change of Plans

  • Dunhuang: Buddhist Art and Explorers of the Silk Road” led by Dora C.Y. Ching *11

  • Art of the Invasion: Indigenous Australia and British Colonialism” led by Jason Rudy ’97

  • Einstein in Bohemia” led by Michael Gordin, professor of history

Princeton Journeys travels in a new direction due to COVID-19

Leda Kopach, Advancement Communications

Jason Rudy ’97 had just landed at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the first leg of his trip to Australia, when he noticed several urgent text messages from Bridget St. Clair, executive manager of Princeton Journeys. The few remaining travelers for the trip Rudy was scheduled to lead, “Australia: The Land Down Under,” had just backed out due to escalating concerns around COVID-19. Rudy’s trip was over before it began. 

“In some ways, turning back was even more disappointing than if I had never left,” says Rudy, a professor of English at the University of Maryland. “I was so excited to have really enthusiastic travelers in the classroom, and I was thrilled to do this for Princeton.”

That feeling of disappointment is one that St. Clair knows all too well. She plans each of the 20 annual Princeton Journeys educational travel programs two years in advance, working on logistics, travel, staffing and marketing for alumni and friends who enjoy travel with a strong educational component. Canceling the Australia trip in April and the subsequent 17 trips for 2020-2021 was heartbreaking.  

“As we learned more about coronavirus and how quickly it was spreading, it became clear that it was not going to be the 14-day lockdown we originally thought,” she says. “Every day brought worse news. We began canceling and/or postponing one trip after the next. My colleagues and I were heartsick. It was truly demoralizing.” 

After several weeks of rescheduling, postponing, crediting and counseling the hundreds of travelers who were understandably disappointed, St. Clair turned to a new platform to “travel” — the Zoom webinar. She and her colleagues conceived Princeton Journeys Live Lectures, a series of faculty-led talks hosted on Zoom, enabling alumni and friends to travel virtually by logging on to online lectures focused on travel and place.    

Knowing that Rudy had recently planned his teaching materials, St. Clair reached out to him to lead the inaugural talk, “Art of the Invasion: Indigenous Australia and British Colonialism.”

“He is so passionate about his subject matter and enthusiastically signed on,” St. Clair says, “though he initially thought he was only lecturing to the 20-some people who had signed up for his trip.” 

The popularity of the concept and interest in Rudy’s topic quickly became apparent. More than 200 people attended his 90-minute lecture, and the series grew from there.

Since that initial lecture in April, Princeton Journeys has featured more faculty members in Live Lectures with great success. Dora C.Y. Ching *11, an art historian who is currently the associate director of the University’s Tang Center for East Asian Art, was set to travel to Japan for Princeton Journeys this winter. To construct her online lecture that focused on Buddhist caves at Dunhuang in northwestern China, she curated hundreds of visuals to simulate a magical journey. 

“A real advantage to the online format was the ability to show different areas from different periods of time or places that are no longer open to visitors,” Ching says. “That’s something you can’t do on a regular tour.”

COVID-19 also scuttled Michael Gordin’s book tour for “Einstein in Bohemia,” his new work about the 16 months in 1911-12 when Albert Einstein taught in Prague. Although his book tour was halted, Gordin, professor of history and director of the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts, says the Live Lectures series offered him the opportunity to share his book with a larger audience. 

“The book is about traveling to a new city and the reactions and the interactions Einstein had,” Gordin says. “I showed photos of Prague and discussed the experience of traveling across borders and moving around. The theme of journeying and visiting a new place were already the center of the lecture, which worked well for the audience.” 

David Mishalove ’62 and his wife, Terry, attended several of the Live Lectures after having traveled with Princeton Journeys to the Baltic Sea, the Galápagos Islands and Alaska. While nothing can replace actually visiting a location, Mishalove says that the online lectures brought the destinations to life. 

“We felt like we were actually at the Battle of Saratoga for one of the presentations,” Mishalove says. “Another presentation on New Zealand really delved into its politics and economic system, providing a lot more detail about their system of government than we would have imagined. Now we want to go to New Zealand. 

“Princeton Journeys has done a phenomenal job,” he adds. “These virtual journeys have been a wonderful way to keep us connected and to stimulate our learning in new areas.”

Learn more about Princeton Journeys and watch the Live Lecture series at alumni.princeton.edu/journeys.

After several weeks of rescheduling, postponing, crediting and counseling the hundreds of travelers who were understandably disappointed, St. Clair turned to a new platform to “travel” — the Zoom webinar.