Signature Courses

Home » sig » faculty-profiles » Ann Johns


Ann Johns

Headshot of Signature Course Professor Ann Johns
Course Title:
New World/Old World Encounters: Visualizing Power and Glory
"Become engaged in the learning community of this great university."

Tell us about your Signature Course.

Over the last 6 years, I have taught two different signature courses. From 2012-2014, I taught a course called “The Pope’s City: The Vatican and St. Peter’s through the Millennia”. This class grew out of my experience of teaching students in Italy over the years while running our department’s Learning Tuscany program. Little did I know that the Papacy would be so prominently in the news, with the election of Pope Francis in 2013! Francis’ revolutionary actions provided our class with rich, up-to-the-minute, relevant fodder for excellent classroom discussions!

Since 2015, I have co-taught a new Signature Class, “New World/Old World Encounters: Visualizing Power and Glory,” with my colleague Dr. Julia Guernsey. In this class, we examine Papal Rome and the Aztec city-state of Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City) as they functioned, flourished, or floundered just prior to the arrival of Cortés and subsequent European colonization of the Americas. Rather than examining these imperial cities chronologically, we compare and contrast them thematically, covering issues such as Spectacular Surfaces, the Architecture of Power and Glory, Supernatural Sanction, Pilgrimage, and Water as Power. We incorporate visits to the Benson Latin American Collections, the Blanton Museum of Art, and the Harry Ransom Center, where students have access to original maps, documents, and images from this pivotal time in the history of Atlantic relations. Students write individual papers on objects from the Blanton and work in teams on research topics pertaining to Aztec culture.

What is your favorite part about teaching a Signature Course?

One of my favorite parts of this course is exposing students to the collections and resources at UT. In my Vatican signature class, I was able to draw on the extensive collections at the Blanton and the HRC. In particular, the print collection at the Blanton is very rich in excellent maps and images of Renaissance and Baroque Rome, including multiple prints by Piranesi as well as a rare copy of the famous Nolli Map, an exquisitely detailed and large engraved map. But in our co-taught Signature Class, Dr. Guernsey and I have vastly expanded the range of what we show the students, with the inclusion of the extraordinary, 16th century hand-colored maps at the Benson known as the Relaciones geográficas, as well as the Blanton’s stunning new Toma collection of Colonial Art from Latin America.

What is your #1 piece of advice for first-year students?

Become engaged in the learning community of this great university. Yes, there are football games and parties, and Austin is fun and distracting, but remember that you have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn, grow, and flourish intellectually. Resist that tiny, shiny object in your hand and GO to your professor’s office hours! Eschew the comfort of your dorm room and USE our libraries! Turn the TV off and ATTEND the many public lectures on campus! Wake up on the weekends and VISIT our museums! You won’t regret it!