As a graduate student and research assistant I have had the opportunity to work as a co-curator in a major rare book exhibition at the University of Oklahoma, the Galileo’s World exhibition. Officially launched in Fall 2015, the exhibition was designed to help celebrate the 125th anniversary of the University of Oklahoma. As a representation of the institutional nature of the exhibition, the various exhibits were spread throughout all 3 OU campuses, with books selected at each location that would help the particular location tell its story. The rare books themselves served as historical proxies that could open up forgotten relationships. The overarching theme uniting all exhibitions was “bringing worlds together”, which was intended to convey the way in which the various exhibits would help various academic departments and locations on campus recognize their forgotten, intertwined history, bringing forgotten worlds together.
You can read more about the exhibit using the following links:
- Galileo’s World website: galileo.ou.edu
- Sooner Horizon Magazines
- Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art Members Magazine
- Fall 2016, p. 5 – “Education: Galileo on the Road!”
It’s difficult for me to judge the success of the exhibition, because it is the first time I have had an experience like it. However, I can say that as a graduate student in the history of science, the exhibition touched on what I believe is a key element for the discipline, that is, the way the history of science as a discipline may help connect the various disciplines together. I’m thankful for the opportunity to take part in the exhibition while a graduate student, and believe that I will look back upon this experience as a key component of my education and training.
As a co-curator some of the more formative experiences I have had are the following:
- Public History Writing. As a co-curator, I was a dialogue partner with the lead curator, Dr. Kerry Magruder, throughout the process of composition. Those conversations, conducted at an intense pace for about a year, ranged from matters of content to conceptualizing a coherent organizational scheme that would accommodate our outreach and educational goals. In the context of those conversations, I also served as the lead research assistant and copyeditor. Public history writing is a craft, and I believe that my experience in Galileo’s World has left its mark on me such that I will forever keep this important activity as an integral component of my professional work going forward.
- Public Presentations. On a few occasions, I had the opportunity to give public presentations on a wide range of aspects relating to the exhibit. Here is a short list:
- Co-presented with Kerry Magruder at the Open Ed 15 Conference, Fall 2015 in Vancouver, on the theory of our educational outreach: “Libraries as Makers of OERs”.
- Presented twice in the “Back to School Bash” for OKC area educators, hosted at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Fall 2015, and Science Museum OKC, Fall 2017.
- Presented twice at the Norman Arts Council, “Arts in Education Bash,” Spring 2016, Fall 2016.
- Presented to the OU Women’s Association about “Women in the world of Galileo” during their Spring 2016 scholarship luncheon.
- Presented to the Oklahoma City Astronomy Club on “The Impact of Leonardo da Vinci in the Renaissance,” Fall 2016.
- Co-presented with Kerry Magruder three times at the EPSCoR Women and Science Conference (our report from Fall 2016), Fall 2014, 2015, 2016.
- Twice presented at the K20 Center Conference on the educational resources in Galileo’s World, Fall 2014, 2015.
- Co-presented with Twila Camp at the OU Academic Tech Expo on how the exhibit was utilizing digital tools for its educational outreach, Spring 2016.
- Presented four times at regional libraries in the Oklahoma City Area, Spring 2017, Fall 2017 (report from Summer 2017).
- Co-presented with Kerry Magruder at the Domains 2017 conference on Galileo’s World and its domains, both physical and digital, (our report).
- Co-presented with Kerry Magruder “Historic Star Atlases and their Stories” as part of the OU Physics and Astronomy department series, “Postcards from the Universe”, Spring 2018.
- Web Development. During the early stages of the exhibit I worked closely with the OU Libraries web development team to help organize the content for the basic Galileo’s World website (galileo.ou.edu). In addition to this, during Spring & Summer 2016 I worked to develop basic proficiency in Drupal, and since then have worked closely in the development of a companion educational website for the exhibit, lynx-open-ed.org, which is created in Drupal 8. This site itself is a faculty project for the curator, Kerry Magruder, and we are both the administrators. The goal of it is to provide a hub for educational outreach and development for Galileo’s World, as well as future exhibitions going forward. Learning Drupal has been a lot of fun, and has augmented much of the theoretical reading with regard to the “digital humanities” that I encountered in some of my graduate seminars.
- Public Outreach. As a co-curator and research assistant I was privileged to join a team of educators in the History of Science Collections, working alongside the curatorial team of Dr. Kerry Magruder, Dr. JoAnn Palmeri, and Dr. Melissa Rickman, as well as a fellow graduate student, James Burnes. Along the way we gave tours to groups of all ages and interests, as well as various short presentations, such as the ones mentioned above. My experience giving tours has reminded me that there are a lot of curious people in the public, who enjoy learning about discussing much of the same content I have attended graduate school to learn. It has also impressed upon me the need for those in the academy to actively find ways to engage the curious public. I think the trick is for those in the academy to find meaningful ways and spaces to do this.
- Undergraduate Outreach. As the exhibition was located on a university campus, an important part of the outreach involved working with undergraduate students. Along the way various faculty on campus utilized the exhibit for semester projects, and I occasionally worked as a consultant with the students on their projects. A lot of times this involved directing them toward critical secondary sources for their particular projects, but it also sometimes involved working with students who wanted to created educational resources for the education website, lynx-open-ed.org. In addition to this, Kerry and I co-taught a freshmen level course, “HSCI 1113: Science, Nature and Society: Historical Perspectives through the Galileo’s World exhibition” in the Fall 2017 semester. The course was a lot of fun to design and to teach, and along the way Kerry and I utilized much of the educational materials that we had already developed, and then on occasion used the occasion of the class to develop further educational resources. Both of these experiences showed me the way a physical exhibit may support undergraduate instruction in a variety of settings, for various meaningful, yet distinct, purposes.
- K-12 Outreach. Early on one of the knacks that I developed on the exhibit team was an interest on making sure the exhibit supported K-12 students and teachers. This focus in part developed because of my previous experiences teaching middle school and high school, and how much I personally appreciated institutions that supported K-12 education. But along the way the interest became much more fundamental as I came to firmly believe that a university ought to support the K-12 educational structures that surround it. It’s not only good for the K-12 students and teachers, but it is also good for those in the university.
These are just some of the ways in which I believe the exhibit has enriched my own education and will (likely) affect my future professional development and interests. I believe these skills, expertise, and insights are in many ways as valuable as the skills I have acquired through my graduate courses, each complementing the other.
In addition to these skills above, there is one additional way that the exhibit has left a mark on my intellectual identity, and that is with my dissertation. In short, my dissertation focuses on the Jesuit engagement with optical illusions in 16th and 17th century Europe. You can read a shortened form of my dissertation proposal here (Dissertation Proposal). But as I think back on the subtle twists and turns in my own intellectual development, I cannot escape seeing the way in which my participation in the exhibit – whether as co-curator, outreach educator, or web developer – shaped my interest in early modern optical illusions. Visual representation and the tricks of the eye are of interest to people today, as well as in the early modern world. This became clear as I have worked on Galileo’s World, and shaped my decision to pursue it as a dissertation topic. I’ll have more to say about this in a later post in which I explain how I arrived at my dissertation topic.