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Discovery Could be Just Around the Corner

Published: October 4, 2017

Discovery Could be Just Around the Corner

Coe College professors Amber Shaw (left) and Meira Kensky visiting the "Bean" in Chicago's Millenium Park. They will be faculty co-directors of the fall 2018 Newberry Seminar.

When students arrive for the ACM Newberry Seminar next August, it may be the first time some of them have set foot in Chicago. Most likely, it will be the first time any of them have explored the Newberry Library, one of the world's premier research libraries for the humanities.

Leading the fall 2018 seminar will be Faculty Co-Directors Meira Kensky and Amber Shaw, both from Coe College, and the topic will be Going and Knowing: Travelers and Travel Writers in the Modern World.

The seminar will use travel as an avenue to consider how people make meaning out of the world — why they travel, what it means to be a traveler, tourist, pilgrim, explorer, or immigrant, and how travel shapes their knowledge and interactions with the world.

"You're traveling through this encyclopedic collection of materials in search of answers to questions."

For Professors Shaw and Kensky, there are clear parallels between the students' encounters with Chicago, as travelers to the city, and their encounters with the Newberry in their scholarly pursuits.

Whether you're scouring the Newberry's collections or traversing the streets of the city, "there's the sense that discovery could be just around the corner," said Shaw. "The seminar is an opportunity for students to do a type of travel to information, where you're traveling through this encyclopedic collection of materials in search of answers to questions. It's a sort of model of how to go to a new place and make something out of it."

The program is structured with readings and discussions, guest presentations, and assignments related to the seminar theme during the beginning weeks. As the semester progresses, students turn to focus on their independent research projects, and Kensky and Shaw will mentor them in selecting topics, conducting research, and writing their papers.

The Newberry has some of the most extensive holdings related to travel to be found anywhere, Shaw and Kensky noted, ranging from travel guides and journals to maps and railway schedules to artwork and postcards.

"The library's collections reflect both the interdisciplinary focus that we want our seminar to have and the real subject of travel, which doesn't neatly fit into any particular category or discipline," Kensky said. "We want students to engage with a variety of these materials and put them in conversation with one another."

The co-directors have already identified a variety of subjects that students might pursue, for example:

  • historical examinations of the rise of particular types of travel or destinations
  • literary comparisons of travel writing by and for tourists, immigrants, or people on pilgrimages
  • cartographic inquiries about ways that maps organize knowledge
  • anthropological studies based on ethnographic writings
  • analyses of economic development triggered by different modes of travel — rail, boat, cars — or the growth of the tourist industry in the 19th century
  • comparisons of visual depictions of travel destinations and the reproduction of those images

"It's really a spectacular opportunity for students to be in a research community of peers," said Shaw. "This is a world of discovery and exploration, working in an exciting environment with tangible relics from the past and abstract research questioning."

"This is a rare chance for students to really focus in one sustained way for a full semester," Kensky added, "and see what they can accomplish when they do that."

 

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