Dr. Benjamin Sabatier, now in his 18th year at SYA, teaches both history and art history at SYA France. In addition to teaching at SYA, he works at the University of Rennes as an associate researcher, with a focus on architecture, urbanism and heritage. Benjamin holds a master’s in history from the University of Brest, a master’s in art history from the University of Rennes and has earned a doctorate from the University of Rennes both in history and art history. Benjamin has published several articles on architecture and urban studies, and he is currently involved in projects on architectural and heritage studies with Masters degrees at the University of Rennes. a scientific council held at the Museum of Brittany which resulted in an exhibit on the evolution of Rennes from founding to present day.
SYA France: History and Art History
B.A. and M.A., University of Brest
Ph.D., University of Rennes
What areas of history or art history do you enjoy teaching most and why? OR What is your favorite material or lesson you teach and why?
I like to teach about architecture during the first decades of the 20th century. It is a great period to consider because it is the origin of Modern architecture and also the time of the Art Deco style. Overall, architecture is a great way to understand another culture and when we visit landmarks with students, I am pleased to see how they look at architecture with a new keen eye.
Architecture is definitely my favorite topic, but this year I worked on portraits in art history class from the 17th century to present with the actual portraits of both French and U.S. presidents. This topic interested the students especially when I asked them to do portraits on their own. They loved this exercise because they were able to reflect on their own experience in France and develop their empathy by writing about the person they chose.
What has been most rewarding about teaching at SYA?
Teaching at SYA is unique and I consider myself lucky to be here, working with curious and engaging colleagues and students. It's rewarding when students come to me at the end of their journey abroad saying that they not only have learned a lot about French culture, but also about themselves. Pushing students out of their comfort zone is sometimes hard for them, but as a teacher it is great to see how they change and bloom afterwards.
Why do you enjoy teaching these courses?
First, I love teaching art history because I really like to share my passion with our students. Art and architecture is a great way to learn abut a new culture, a new country. After studying an architectural topic with the students, they often say that they are now paying more attention to their environment and to buildings they may not have noticed before.
Can you describe one transformational moment for you while teaching at SYA?
A few years ago, we visited the battlefields of WW1 for its 100th anniversary. One field, called "la butte de Vauquois," is a place where French and German soldiers tried to sap the land and where the Americans came to help the French regain control of this land from the Germans. This was an experiential trip where we visited the galleries underground and seeing the profound expressions on the students' faces was very impressive.
What is your hope for this generation of students?
These are challenging days for this generation, but students are resilient and resourceful. I hope they continue to develop their empathy and think as global citizens in an interconnected world.
If you could ask any historical figure anything, who and what would you ask?
I would say Josephine Baker, who rests now in the Pantheon in Paris. I have always admired her. I would ask her how it was having two loves, like in her famous song "J'ai deux amours." (On November 30, Baker became one of fewer than 100 people inducted into the nation's mausoleum of heroes—making her not only the first Black woman history to receive the honor, but also the first American and the first performing artist.)