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With Map Research, Morse Charts New Territory

<e its opening in 2011, the Perlman Teaching Museum in the Weitz Center for Creativity has acted as a bridge across disciplines and media in order to connect the visual and liberal arts. With an exhibition currently being planned for next fall, this bridge will cross the theme of rivers.

Professor Victoria Morse is leading the exhibition’s planning and has gathered a growing group of collaborators. A part of the History department, Morse’s medieval specialty lies primarily in the 14th century, but she also has an interest in cartography, the study of maps.

In March 2009, Carleton received a three-year Mellon grant for the Visualizing the Liberal Arts (Viz) initiative to “enhance teaching and learning through visual means and using visual material,” said Museum curator Laurel Bradley.

This encouraged professors to connect their courses to museum exhibitions that are currently displayed, or even to generate their own. “The planning for an exhibition is long, which is two to three years,” said Morse, “but because of my involvement with the initiative, I decided that I would like to kind of step up to the plate and be a part of a faculty exhibition.”

With an exhibition in mind, Morse realized a connection that could be utilized. “Mary Savina [of the Geology department] and I had a couple of linked sessions in our A&I’s a few years ago around maps,” she said. A question that guides her own research is “how did Europeans get to the point [by the 16th century] where they thought that making a map was the best way of thinking about space…and solving all sorts of problems.” Savina, on the other hand, is interested in maps for their geological purposes.

The two professors realized that rivers could be an intersection of their shared interests and the goals. As Savina noted, “water and rivers are great ways to articulate ideas [about maps] because of the variety of ways that rivers have been mapped and used.”

With this awareness, the two began to combine their interests in Italy, mapping rivers, and river management to explore “maps as evidence that help us understand what was going on [during a time period] in terms of mapping control and understanding.”

With a goal in mind by winter of 2014, Morse contacted Bradley, with whom she had worked closely on Viz, and set the ball rolling for the exhibition. They needed objects to display that tell a visual story and also “embody all of these ideas [from their research]”, said Bradley.

With Bradley’s guidance, Morse found that the objects that could be borrowed and taken care of for an exhibition “ended up being illustrated, printed books [with ties to] local public university that are often quite eager to lend out their collections and serve their states and broader communities.”

“I hope that the exhibition has the longest list of ‘thanks to these people for their contributions’ that has ever been seen,” said Morse. Significantly included in this list is and will be students.

Tyler Spaeth ’16, a history major, is also involved with the project. “I had Victoria in a class last Fall and really enjoyed it,” he said. “I thought she was a great professor and had heard about her research and was interested.”

Spaeth asked Morse if he could be of any assistance, and the professor immediately began working to involve him. She secured him a Student Research Assistantship (SRA) grant over the recent winter break and he was launched into the work.

For Spaeth, Morse “wanted to choose a more straightforward text to research. He chose a beautifully illustrated book of machines, researched it, and wrote a 12-page research paper on how it represents water machines.” This involved him flipping through and reading a reproduction of the rare book, The Various and Ingenious Machines by Agostino Ramelli, in order to understand how the books was presenting and “visually depicting” the machines.

“He made the final decision about what we’re going to put in the collection [from the Ramelli book],” said Morse. “He really produced the first piece of writings—the museum label—to actually go up in Fall term.”

Spaeth notes that “there’ll be a kind of microexhibit on what I did” within the greater exhibition. Morse also hopes to secure another SRA for this summer and to work with students in her classes to continue to create engaging museum labels for the books and images that are ultimately chosen for the exhibit.

“This [the Teaching Museum] is a center for arts programming, but within the context of the liberal arts,” said Bradley, and this project will engage with the liberal arts on multiple levels. The images to be exhibited, largely from books for the collections of the Universities of Minnesota and Iowa, hold meanings that can be applied to curricula across disciplines, all while “telling a story that is interesting and makes sense.”

Morse is also “expecting to work with a couple of different groups from the local K-12 schools or have tours for the kids, and for the kids then to do some kind of project that will go up in one of the Weitz spaces so they can come see the show but also see their own work up.” These connections will bring together different classes with the exhibit as “course material” as well as community partners, all around the seemingly singular subject of rivers.

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