Chicago artist leads annual public history short course at ASU

January 9, 2015

Rebecca Keller, professor at the School of Art Institute of Chicago, is teaching the annual public history short course at Arizona State University.

The short course is a distinctive component of the public history program at ASU. Every year, students have the opportunity to learn directly from a scholar making a mark in public history. Keller is author of “Excavating History: Artists Take on Historic Sites.” Rebecca Keller Rebecca Keller teaching the public history short course. Download Full Image

Mark Tebeau, director of public history at ASU says of Keller, “She is an artist rethinking the history exhibit, excavating it from the bowels of the standard museum experience for the visitor. It is history from the perspective of an artist.”

“As an artist, I am interested in historical research as an engine for art making," says Keller. "The result is not only interesting museum exhibits, but compelling art."

One example is the work she did as part of the Portland Art Museum’s “Object Stories” project. The exhibit included an interactive component in which visitors recorded themselves showing a personal item and describing its value, much like a curator would describe the value of a museum piece. Keller contributed by creating videos that personified objects and gave them a voice.

One of these featured a Native American spoon in conversation with an ancient Chinese jar. “The dialogue cuts through the culturally determined concept of beauty,” she explains. “This exhibit blurs the boundaries of art and history, of museum pieces and those of ordinary use.”

Keller will further leave her mark in Arizona, as she will also meet with stakeholders in professor Paul Hirt’s National Endowment for the Humanities grant project, “Nature, History and Culture at the Nation’s Edge.” Students in the short course will not only learn from Keller’s expertise, but will also collaborate to propose exhibit ideas for this project.

One of the students participating in the short course is Samantha Thompson, a doctoral candidate for history and the philosophy of science in the Center for Biology and Society in the School of Life Sciences. She is also curator of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff.

Thompson took this course because she “wanted to get more exhibit design work. I am not involved with the public history program," she explains, "but the more I talk to Mark [Tebeau, director], the more I would like to be involved.

“It has been incredibly helpful to receive Rebecca Keller’s perspective, coming at it from an artistic point of view," adds Thompson. "It forces us to look beyond text and panels on walls. This will definitely help in the day-to-day projects that I am working on. Now, everything I think about, I think about in exhibit form. Even for papers that I have to write, I think, ‘How would I present this to the general public?’"

The public history program at ASU is one of the oldest and largest in the country. Founded in 1980, it trains students to put history to work, and develops public history methodologies of the future.

ASU, Santa Fe Institute launch Center for Biosocial Complex Systems

January 12, 2015

Arizona State University and the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) will officially launch a research and educational collaboration to advance understanding of problems that stretch across complex biological and social systems.

The new ASU-SFI Center for Biosocial Complex Systems will help scientists and policymakers alike gain a better theoretical understanding of the interconnections between these systems, and apply that knowledge to questions such as what happens to institutions, health care and human behavior as cities grow into mega-cities. Arizona State University and Santa Fe Institute partner Download Full Image

“The synergy of two intellectual powerhouses, such as SFI and ASU, can accelerate how our community and nation tackle questions such as disease patterns and health care delivery,” ASU President Michael Crow said. “We can generate tools to better understand how decision-making systems work when scaled up, to the level of the urban megalopolis.”

The research and educational collaboration pairs researchers from ASU, a leader in sustainability research, and the Santa Fe Institute, a pioneer in the scientific study of complex adaptive systems, in seeking new insights.

“This new ASU-SFI collaborative venture has immense potential for the advancement of complexity science at both institutions,” Santa Fe Institute President Jerry Sabloff said. “It promises to be a highly successful experiment.”

The new center is the Santa Fe Institute’s first formal collaboration with a university since the institute was founded in 1984. Sabloff said he hopes it leads to additional partnerships.

Crow and Sabloff will formally establish the ASU-SFI Center for Biosocial Complex Systems during a signing ceremony Jan. 16 in Tempe.

The new complex systems center could offer ideas and solutions locally and globally. Two active areas of interest to the ASU-SFI partnership are the dynamics of innovation, and urbanization and scaling in cities, such as Phoenix. As cities grow, they face new dilemmas and challenges, especially as they strive to be more sustainable.

In Germany, for example, the populace was recently encouraged to reduce water use as a sustainability strategy. It was highly successful. The strategy, however, didn’t take into account an unintended outcome of millions of people shifting their behaviors. A direct result of less water usage was that the local water tables increased in cities like Berlin, and basements and construction sites flooded. A goal for the new ASU center is to play a leading role in finding solutions to these types of new challenges of the modern world.

ASU will provide support for faculty and postdoc hiring to support joint research and education activities at both institutions. Sponsored activities include workshops, working groups, graduate and postdoctoral fellowships, faculty appointments, faculty exchange visits, seminar series and other joint projects and proposals between ASU and SFI.

Interdisciplinary scholarship and education are fundamental to ASU’s mission and goals, as is developing solutions to real-life societal challenges. This is the latest in more than 200 new transdisciplinary schools and initiatives developed at ASU since President Crow joined ASU in 2002.

ASU President’s Professor Manfred Laubichler and Foundation Professor Sander van der Leeuw will serve as directors of the center, reporting to ASU Provost Robert E. Page, Jr. All three hold appointments as external professors at the Santa Fe Institute. The two directors, plus SFI Vice President for Science Jennifer Dunne and SFI President Sabloff, will serve as the center’s steering committee.

At ASU, Laubichler, a professor in the School of Life Sciences, also serves as director of the Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity. In addition, Laubichler and van der Leeuw, who is with ASU's School of Sustainability and School of Human Evolution and Social Change, hold leadership positions in ASU’s Complex Adaptive System Initiative.

For a full list of events and to RSVP for the Jan. 16 launch, visit

Margaret Coulombe

Director, Executive Communications, Office of the University Provost