‘Under the Microscope’
Thursday, December 20, 2018
by Bailey Basham, Messenger Staff Writer
Matt Reynolds has been in archives for the last 15 years. When he got to Sewanee a couple years ago, he was struck by the University’s collection—particularly one big, shiny, copper object.
“Someone had transferred into the archives this early 20th century autoclave. It’s this big, cylindrical, copper thing, and it’s just a stunning piece. I wanted to figure out a way to get that on display at some point, and I wanted to keep a lookout for science exhibitions,” said Reynolds, the associate director of University Archives and Special Collections. “Sewanee is thought of as purely a liberal arts school, but there’s actually a really rich history of the sciences being taught here.”
A partnership between the archives and assistant professor of art and art history Alison Miller’s Introduction to Museum Studies class made the exhibition of many of Sewanee’s historical objects possible.
Between 1870 and 1987, Sewanee scholars discovered much about the domain. “Under the Microscope: An Exploration of Sewanee’s Scientific Past” displays those findings alongside the research of current students from the museum studies class.
“I think there is a significance here in how the objects reflect Sewanee’s position in teaching science. Local forestry and archaeology are really rooted in this particular spot, but at the same time, we have a global reach—the Syrian brick and some botany samples reflect that. You can think about how students throughout time have had a similar experience to what they have today,” Miller said.
For the exhibit, each student chose two historical objects to research.
“And, as a class we worked on coming up with a title for the exhibit, figuring out how to display certain items and brainstorming ideas for exhibit events such as the opening and lectures about it,” said Campbell Stuart, a student in the class.
Stuart was responsible for the research and exhibition of a first edition of Charles Darwin’s “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals” and geologic folio of Sewanee from 1984 for the Geologic Atlas of the United States.
“The whole idea is that in archives, we’re supposed to find ways to tie these materials to the curriculum so they can be used for research or any other number of things. By partnering with Dr. Miller, we sort of created a learning lab for the students,” Reynolds said. “They’re coming in, doing research, propose layouts for the exhibits, suggest programming, writing the text that goes on the walls. They got a 360 degree view.”
“So many of our objects required research going beyond just looking something up on Google. I was sending emails to people I had never met, asking people if they knew other people, and I felt a little bit like a detective,” she said. “I think sometimes Sewanee’s scientific outlets can get overlooked, and having an exhibit focused on the history of science at Sewanee hopefully offers insight into how the scientific pursuits have changed over time, how they have become embedded into the liberal arts approach to learning that Sewanee offers.”
Miller said she hopes overall, the project will offer as much to the community as it does to the archives.
“The project as a whole contributes back to the community. People can come in and learn something about the topic we’re covering, and it gives information back to the archives as well,” she said.
The exhibit will be on display through Jan. 22, 2019. Normal exhibit hours are Monday-Friday, from 1–5 p.m. Due to the University winter break, the exhibit will reopen on Jan. 3.