From Curation to Installation: The Thomas Sebeok and the Scientific Self Exhibit

What do gorillas, Finno-Ugric languages, the United States Army, and electromagnetic fields have in common? These seemingly disparate topics (among many others) were brought together in the voluminous intellectual grasp of Thomas A. Sebeok, 1920-2001. The prolific polymath enjoyed a long and distinguished career at Indiana University (IU) from 1943-1991. Sebeok started as Instructor and Linguist for the Army Specialized Training Program at IU, which provided intensive language training in Hungarian and Finnish for U.S. soldiers. After World War II ended, Sebeok stayed at IU as faculty. His expertise extended to areas of anthropology, folklore, and linguistics. He oversaw the formation of academic departments (Department of Uralic and Altaic Studies in 1965, now known as the Department of Central Eurasian Studies) and research centers (the Research Center for Language and Semiotic Studies) at IU from the 1960s through 1991. He simultaneously taught, gave lecture tours around the world, edited Semiotica for the International Association of Semiotic Studies, and wrote more than 600 articles and books over the years. Framing such a vast and deep scholar’s work for a modest archival exhibit proved to be a significant endeavor.

The legend himself: Thomas Sebeok, October 1976. IU Archives Photograph Collection, P0021757.

For this post, I want to provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the curatorial and installation processes for an archival exhibit. Before I came to IU, I worked at a regional art nonprofit. One of my main responsibilities was overseeing the organization’s three art galleries. I found that my experience with installing art exhibitions was helpful, but I also found that archival exhibits present unique challenges—and more exciting opportunities for storytelling. The wide varieties of archival materials and space for informative historical captions combine for a seemingly infinite array of possibilities. The first step I had to take, then, was casting a net that was wide enough to be visually appealing but tight enough to capture a cohesive single exhibit. This latter consideration was harder than I anticipated!

When Carrie and Mary approached me about this exhibit opportunity, I knew I wanted to focus on Sebeok. I’ve been processing his substantial (~100 boxes) collection since October 2017. He has become a major role model for me, especially his disregard for traditional disciplinary boundaries in academia. I wanted to highlight the web of intellectual roles he inhabited, from semiotician and linguist to zoologist and journal editor. I did not want the exhibit to look like a hodge-podge sampling of random bits from the Sebeok collection. This is where curatorial framing came into play. I asked myself: What is it about all these areas of Sebeok’s study that captivate me? Why is it important? I think it is because it illuminates the truly cross-disciplinary nature of “science.” I have always been fascinated and impressed by scientists, but that world has always felt closed-off from me. I never did very well in math and hard sciences, and firmly rooted myself in art and history. Sebeok has shown me that these things are not disparate, as they are all human activities and human attempts to understand the world. From this the exhibit title was born: Thomas Sebeok and the Scientific Self. To translate this to the exhibit space, I decided to dedicate each case I was using to a different role: Sebeok as a master of languages, Sebeok as an academic leader, Sebeok as a renowned semiotician, and Sebeok as a skeptic. Within these cases I selected different materials: visual resources to catch the eye (I love all the program brochures and letterhead in the collection), correspondence to tell stories, and signposts to guide the viewer (in the form of biographical materials like press releases and news clippings).

Planning all of this was a more physically involved process than I anticipated. Over the course of a few weeks I was constantly ordering, opening up, investigating, and returning boxes from the collection. For each item I wanted to exhibit, I photocopied the original, placed the photocopy in the original folder, and logged the item in a list indicating its original box and folder placement. This is all necessary to ensure I can return the items properly once the exhibit is over. Throughout this process, I had to cross-reference the dimensions of each case to plan the exhibit layout. Captions ended up being the biggest spatial challenge for me. I authored long captions because so much of the exhibit material is conceptually dense and needs contextual information to tell Sebeok’s story. I could have written pages more of caption text, but cut myself off so as not to overwhelm the viewer.

A roll of polyethylene book strapping, a piece of foam core, a utility knife, and a ruler on a table.
The basic tools of exhibit mounting: foam core, a utility knife, a ruler, and a roll of polyethylene book strapping.

Physically installing the exhibit was definitely the most challenging part of the exhibit process. I anticipated this from my time working in art galleries, but the difficulties were unique. I didn’t have to worry about mats or frames, but mounting unique archival paper materials was intimidating. To mount an 8 x 10 in. piece of correspondence, I would first cut a piece of foam core board exactly to those dimensions. Foam core can be irritating: it is difficult to cut through with a utility knife and it sheds constantly. Making sure none of the foam backing extends beyond the dimensions of the material takes a lot of careful trimming. After I cut the backing, I would mount the material using polyethylene book straps. This part required careful choreography to keep the original document flat against the backing while pulling book straps across each corner and taping them down on the backside of the foam core. There is no one perfect method for this: it takes a lot of patience, finger dexterity, and adjustments, much like matting and framing artwork. Clean hands and short nails are also a must-have!

An archival exhibit’s beast of burden: polyethylene book strapping.

Some of the exhibited items took some creative problem solving to display. In order to mount a large bound volume from the Smithsonian National Zoo to a particular page spread, Mary Mellon custom made a book cradle out of mat board and strategically applied tape—a technique she learned during a workshop when she was a graduate student. We then rested the publication in the cradle and strapped down the pages.

A bound publication is held open on an inclined mount.
The Smithsonian National Zoo publication on a book cradle made by archivist Mary Mellon.

To display both sides of a fold out conference brochure, I scanned one side of the brochure and printed it at the same dimensions as the original. I then folded the reproduction to resemble the original brochure and displayed it face-up so viewers could read it.

A reproduction of a brochure for a 1986 "Science and Pseudoscience" conference.
A reproduction of a brochure for a 1986 “Science and Pseudoscience” conference used to show both sides of the program.

The most awkward item to mount was also a highlight of the exhibit: a fundraising newsletter from Francine Patterson for the Gorilla Foundation featuring Koko the Gorilla’s actual signature. The newsletter was printed on one sheet of folded paper. I wanted to display two facing pages, one with Koko’s signature and the other with the bulk of the letter text and images of Koko with her kitten. To do this I had to mount the pages on two separate pieces of foam core. I could not use book straps to hold down the inner corners of the pages, since they were on the same sheet of paper with a fold in the center. This made the item tricky to move around once in the case. I ended up resting it on clear plastic displays for added stability.

A printed newsletter with pictures of Koko the Gorilla and the gorilla's actual signature in ink.
Mounted correspondence from Francine Patterson for the Gorilla Foundation. Koko the Gorilla’s signature is visible on the bottom near the middle (“Fine Animal Gorilla”).

I hope these examples show some of the overlooked skills needed in an archive. Working on an archival exhibit requires skills in paper conservation, object handling (similar to art handling in a gallery setting), matting, aesthetic sensibilities, writing, and curation. It also takes time, collaboration, and a hearty dose of creative problem solving. Above all, I like to think that Thomas Sebeok would appreciate the eclectic matrix of skills that went into this exhibit.

Thomas Sebeok and the Scientific Self is on display now through March 29, 2019 at the Indiana University Archives (Wells Library E460, East Tower).

Capturing Memories, Sharing Experiences: A Story of Two IU Generations by Hunter Staskevich

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Photograph of Herman B Wells with Peruvian students taken by William Oglesby. March 3, 1959. Indiana University Archives, P0063511.

“President Wells would often have groups to his house for a meeting, open house, etc., and wanted a photo of the group to document the event, for PR, or to send a copy of the group to each of the participants. We would regale the group on the steps of the staircase in the foyer of his home, making sure to capture every face, and have auxiliary flash to supplement an otherwise somewhat dark scene. Wells was always on the front row, usually in the center of the group. The trick was to get everyone smiling and looking at the camera, so Herman would say something like, ‘I think my profile would look much better, if these two ladies would stand a little closer.’ Everyone of course would laugh, and that was my cue to trip the shutter. We always managed to get an excellent group picture!” – William B. Oglesby

We all are told many stories throughout our lives by family. Memories of the past told with the hope that a lesson will be taught or that the shared experience will bring about a closer bond. This is a story of how two journeys crossed paths. In 1935, Indiana University decided to establish the Audio-Visual Center (it would be later called Photographic Services) in an attempt to document the University’s history through visual media. The institution did this mainly through photography, and graduate students often assisted in fulfilling photo orders for various groups in and around campus. In 2000, the photographic negatives that were created as a result of this work were transferred to the Indiana University Archives and added to the photograph collections. The thousands of images are presently being digitized and uploaded online in the Archives Photograph Collection.

The story begins with William B. Oglesby, a graduate student at Indiana University from 1958-1961, who worked for Photographic Services as a photographer. He took hundreds of photographs covering a wide variety of topics during his time there. He told me stories about his experiences, such as the quote with which this post opens. I suppose this is the part where I should mention he also happens to be my grandfather.

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William Oglesby at the Photolab Christmas Party. December 19, 1958. Indiana University Archives, P0063320.

My part in the story actually starts with these talks I had with my grandfather. It was early 2016, and I had just informed him that I would be heading to Indiana University to pursue my MLS. I knew vaguely that he had gone to IU for his Masters in Audio-Visual Studies, but I never inquired deeply about it and it had never come up in conversation. Later that fall when I told him I was working in the Indiana University Archives with the photograph collection, he casually mentioned he had shot some photographs for Indiana University (not mentioning in what capacity) and that if I had time I might see if the Archives had any. His expectations were low, but I looked into it.

Bill Oglesby employee card. Indiana University Archives.

As you can probably guess, I found them…a lot of them, over 1400 images in fact. It started with my supervisor showing me the employee cards of people who worked in Photographic Services and from there it was a matter of just going through the correct dates in the collection and finding all the image envelopes that had “Oglesby” written on it. I scanned all those images and by Fall 2017, all of the images were available for viewing online in the Archives Photograph Collection.

It was about this time it was suggested to me that I conduct an oral history with my grandfather as part of Indiana University Bicentennial Oral History Project. I accepted and interviewed him in January 2018, where I learned all about his time at IU and the stories behind the photographs I had just digitized. It was this interview that inspired me to tell his story, and I happened to be planning an exhibition at the time. I took the opportunity to curate an exhibition using my grandfather’s photographs and implementing quotes from his oral history for context.

I find that photographs have the unique ability to document moments in time and capture emotion, since they are both a historical object and a form of art. When paired with oral history, the tale behind each image provides new perspective and greater appreciation for that captured moment. “Through the Lens: Documenting Indiana University Bloomington Photographically,” is an exhibition that takes these concepts and puts them into practice.

The images cover a wide range of topics including:

-Construction of iconic buildings on campus such as Memorial Stadium and the Lilly Library

-Campus groups such as the Marching Hundred and Jacobs School of Music events

-Various group and individual portraits

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Photograph of the Marching Hundred by William Oglesby. October 15, 1960. Indiana University Archives, P0071516.

To discover what it was like to work for Photographic Services from a student perspective and what was going on at IU during this time, please visit  “Through the Lens: Documenting Indiana University Bloomington photographically,” in person before Monday, July 9th, 2018!

The exhibition is located at:

The Office of the Bicentennial

Franklin Hall 200

Hours: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm; weekdays

601 E. Kirkwood Avenue, Bloomington, IN 47405

 

 

Places and Spaces: A History of Student Hangouts at IU Bloomington

Students attend a Military Ball at the IU Commons in the former Student Building in 1941
Students attend a Military Ball at the IU Commons in the former Student Building, 1941. IU Archives image no. P0027145

“You could not thank Nick, you could not flatter him; you could just appreciate him, and be sure of getting that big round smile when you entered.”

– Carolyn Fink, from “Nightingale in the Branches: A Memoir of Post-WWII Student Life at I.U.”, 1945

Whether it’s dinner at a lively downtown restaurant; listening to the soft sound of water lapping at the bank of a local pond; or curling up in cozy chair in the Indiana Memorial Union, students need places to kick back and relax to escape the rigors of academic life. While many aspects of the student experience have shifted and changed over Indiana University’s almost 200 years of operation, one common quest has endured: finding a great place to hang out and unwind after classes and work.

The Indiana University Archives exhibition, “Places & Spaces: A History of Student Hangouts at IU Bloomington,” is an exploration of some of the most legendary hangout spots that IU students have frequented over the years. Some long-enduring favorites, like Nick’s English Hut, are still a familiar staple in the IU student experience to this day. Other former hangout spots, like The Book Nook and Ye Olde Regulator, are now enjoyed by students in the same spaces under different names, such as BuffaLouie’s and Kilroy’s. Some of the most beloved student haunts of the past, like the Sunken Garden and The Commons in the former Student Building, are no longer in existence; but they continue to live on in memories and in historical records.

An advertisement for The Gables from an IU vs. Purdue football game program, 1955
An advertisement for The Gables from an IU vs. Purdue football game program, 1955. IU Archives image no. P0066961

In order to capture a snapshot of the IU student experience over time, this exhibition utilizes original materials from the Indiana University Archives and the Archives Photograph Collection, including:

  • Excerpts from IU alumnus Kathleen Cavanaugh’s scrapbook (1963-1965)
  • A mock diploma for a “Doctor of Nookology” issued to former University president Herman B Wells at the Book Nook commencement ceremony (1931)
  • Photographs and vintage advertisements for some of the most well-known and beloved hangout spots, including The Book Nook, The Gables, Nick’s English Hut, and Ye Ole Regulator.

This exhibition was inspired by some of the stories shared by IU alumni as part of the Bicentennial Oral History Project at Indiana University Bloomington. In the following clip, we hear an alumnus, Louis Kaplan, discussing several of the places that students used to visit for the best food in town:

Officers of The Flame Club enjoy drinks at Nick's English Hut, 1949
Officers of The Flame Club enjoy drinks at Nick’s English Hut, 1949. IU Archives image no. P0048423

This post began with an excerpt from Carolyn Fink’s memoir, in which she fondly remembers Nick Hrisomalos, founder and former operator of Nick’s English Hut. In the following clip, alumnus Gary Wiggins shares some humorous recollections of Nick’s longest-serving and most beloved waitress, Ruth Collier Stewart. These and other so-called “Ruthie stories” can still be heard from IU Bloomington alumni all across the world:

To learn more about these and other beloved student hangout spots through the years, please be sure to visit “Places & Spaces: A History of Student Hangouts at IU Bloomington” in person before it ends on Monday, April 16, 2018! The exhibition is located at:

The Office of the Bicentennial
Franklin Hall 200
Hours: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm; weekdays
601 E. Kirkwood Avenue, Bloomington, IN 47405

The curators, Julia Kilgore and Tyler Davis, would like to thank Kristin Leaman and Brad Cook for their assistance in making this exhibition possible.

“Reflections on Diversity:” Highlights from the Eugene Chen Eoyang papers

“I began thinking about diversity in an almost visceral way.  It puzzled me why people forget their diverse origins time and time again…”

-Eugene Eoyang, The Coat of Many Colors: Reflections on Diversity by a Minority of One

Eugene Chen Eoyang is Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature and of East Asian Languages and Cultures and was a part of Indiana University for more than twenty years, teaching in both the Department of Comparative Literature and the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures.

The Coat of Many Colors: Reflections on Diversity by a Minority of One, 1995

Born on February 8, 1939, in Hong Kong, Dr. Eoyang came to America at a young age with his family and attended school in New York.  He received his B.A. in English Literature from Harvard University in 1959, his M.A. with high distinction in English Literature from Columbia University in 1960, and his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Indiana University in 1971.

Dr. Eoyang worked as an editor at Doubleday & Company before coming to Indiana University in 1969, eventually becoming a Professor of Comparative Literature and of East Asian Languages and Cultures, as well as chair of the East Asian Languages and Cultures Department.  In 1985, he founded the East Asian Summer Language Institute at Indiana University, which he was director of for five years.  In addition, Dr. Eoyang is a former board member and chair of the Kinsey Institute, as well as Associate Dean for the Office of Research and Graduate Development at Indiana University.

Newspaper highlighting the publication of The Coat of Many Colors: Reflections on Diversity by a Minority of One, January 29, 1995

This Indiana University Archives exhibition, open through February 14, 2018, hosted by the Office of the Bicentennial, examines both the institutional teaching and personal research of Dr. Eoyang, highly focused on the areas of translation theory and practice, Chinese literature, Chinese-Western literary relations, globalization, cross-cultural studies, and literary theory.

Some of the items featured in this exhibit include photographs, presentation notecards, conference booklets, correspondence, conference papers, and book publications.  These materials will provide the viewer with an inside look into the diverse work and outreach of an internationally renowned scholar in the field of comparative literature and translations.

“If the rainbow has been part of American’s neglected past, and if it is the unrecognized backdrop for America’s present, it will also be a critical part of America’s future…The multicultural rainbow is in America’s past, present, and future.  The rainbow is no sentimental symbol: it is the American reality.”

-Eugene Eoyang, The Coat of Many Colors: Reflections on Diversity by a Minority of One

East Asian Summer Institute, Earlham College, undated; Pictured: Eugene Eoyang, third row from top, fifth from left

The entirety of the Eugene Chen Eoyang papers has been processed and can be viewed in person by appointment by contacting the IU Archives!  To learn more about this exhibition, refer to the brochure or view the exhibition in person at:

The Office of the Bicentennial

Franklin Hall 200

Hours: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.; weekdays

601 E. Kirkwood Avenue, Bloomington, IN 47405

New Exhibit – “Here I Met My First True Radicals:” Student Reform Movements at Indiana University

Dean Rusk Demonstration, October 31, 1967 - Elwood Martin "Barney" Cowherd
Dean Rusk Demonstration, October 31, 1967 – Elwood Martin “Barney” Cowherd

For freshman Theodore Dreiser in 1889, Indiana University served as fertile ground for his future literary endeavors, but to him “the life of the town, the character of its people, the professors and the students, and the mechanism, politics, and social interests of the University body proper” were far more influential. For generations of students such as Dreiser, the University has served as their first opportunity at self-expression and to react to the political, cultural and social events of their time. Drawn from the collections of the IU Archives, this exhibit highlights groups of students who sought to shape the world around them, whether it be at the local level in their search for self-government and greater gender and racial equality on campus, or as a reaction to national events such as the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, the refugee crisis of WWII, McCarthyism, the Vietnam War, apartheid in South Africa, and the AIDS crisis. This exhibit was co-curated by Carrie Schwier (Public Services and Outreach Archivist) along with graduate students Alessandro Meregaglia and Elizabeth Peters.

You can visit the exhibit at the IU Archives (Wells Library E460), Monday – Friday 8-5pm.

Watch for future posts highlighting portions of the exhibit in more detail!