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2012 Fall Issue 8 (November 9, 2012)

Teaching Museum Debuts New Exhibits

November 9, 2012
By Will Gray

Last week, Carleton’s Perlman Teaching Museum in the Weitz Center for Creativity featured two exhibits assembled and managed by Carleton professors and students. The exhibits, titled “Visualizing Friends and Enemies in the Socialist World,” and “People, Places, Things: La culture en deçà des clichés” were incorporated into the curriculum of two freshmen courses. 

Christine Lac, Senior Lecturer in French, linked three sections of her introductory French course with the exhibit, “People, Place, Things: La culture en deçà des clichés,” which featured artwork of popular icons and people from Francophone culture. After examining the artwork in the exhibition, Lac’s students produced descriptive essays about the pieces and gave presentations on the context of the art.

“The principle of the exhibit was that we use visual resources to enhance our curriculum. I had to look at what was in the archives and at what fit with our cultural and linguistic curriculum,” Lac said. “I was able to pull out the photographs that we own and have the students work with them in the museum classroom. I was really pleased with what they produced.”

The second exhibit, “Visualizing Friends and Enemies in the Socialist World,” featured pieces of propaganda from Cold War-era communist countries such as the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Poland and East Germany. The exhibit was paired with a freshman Argument and Inquiry seminar of the same name taught by the Head of European Studies, Professor David Tompkins.

Freshmen students centered their study of the material around one piece of propaganda. They began by writing a display placard for their subject piece and then went on to give a public presentation of their analysis last Thursday in the exhibit room.

Nora Katz ‘16, a student in Tompkins’s class, said that she particularly enjoyed being able to work with originals of the propaganda posters. “It’s been a really cool way to bring history to a visual, museum setting,” she said.

Tompkins, who just finished a book on the role of music in Stalinist-era Russia, wanted to connect the freshman seminar on propaganda that he was teaching with an exhibition in the Perlman Museum.

“On many levels this worked wonderfully for me, for the Weitz Center, and most importantly for the students,” Professor Tompkins said about using the exhibition materials in his class.

He emphasized how impressed he was by his students’ efforts. “I realized I might have been asking them to do a lot, but they’ve responded with real enthusiasm… during their presentations I was so impressed by how polished they were, how they had taken a lot of time to make the thematic connections that I was asking them to. They did an amazing job.”

The exhibitions were supported by an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation initiative called “Visualizing the Liberal Arts” which encourages the development of innovative ways to create, interpret and employ visual models. Lac and Tompkins assembled the exhibition materials mostly from Carleton’s archives, which the College is aiming to make more accessible and visible to students and professors.

“For me it was a wonderful opportunity to spend some time digging in the archives, finding some gems,” said Lac. The collection includes works by illustrious artists as Édouard Manet, Auguste Renoir, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Cartier-Bresson, among others.

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