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Students transform maps into works of art

November 6, 2018

Creative Cartography, a partnership between ASU Library's Map and Geospatial Hub and the School of Art, is going on its fifth year

Part of the life cycle of a library is the withdrawal of worn-out or excess materials.

In 2013, the ASU Library began to withdraw duplicate copies of topographic maps that were stacked mile-high and taking up space in the library’s Map and Geospatial Hub.

The maps were offered to various organizations. A few were claimed, but the majority were not.

Until the following year, when Ellen Meissinger discovered them. She brought a cart to Noble Library and loaded it up.

“I rarely turn down free materials, and maps are a fantastic resource,” said Meissinger, a fine arts professor in the School of Art within the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts who supervises one of the largest watercolor and water-based media arts programs in the country.

In Meissinger's “Art on Paper” class, students are challenged to develop critical awareness as well as the ability to articulate critical opinions, all while exploring conceptual and technical approaches combining painting and drawing.

The class works with a variety of paper materials, including synthetic paper, colored paper and used books. Maps were added to the rotation in 2014.

“Working on the maps is one of my personal favorites,” Meissinger said. “Maps give a structure to start with rather than just a blank sheet of paper. I saw working with the maps as a fantastic opportunity to have a different kind of paper resource as a starting point for class assignments.”

Those assignments have become the driving force of the Creative Cartography program, a five-year collaboration between the Map and Geospatial Hub and the School of Art that provides students entry into the world of cartography and the opportunity to exhibit their work. 

Over the last five years, Meissinger has worked to build the program with Karina Wilhelm, a map specialist at ASU Library who has been busy preparing for the 2018 installment of Creative Cartography.

Each year, Wilhelm adds the students' artwork to the unique online collection she began curating in 2014.

"It's been very important to me from the beginning that students have as many chances as possible to display their art," Wilhelm said. "I also wanted to have a more permanent record of the exhibits, so I created a library guide to document them. Each year, I add a new subpage."

Wilhelm says the collaboration has created a successful cross-disciplinary relationship.

"The students get to visit the Map and Geospatial Hub for a tour and introduction to the historic and illustrative maps in the library," Wilhelm said. "They might not have previously thought about mapmaking as an art form, but it is an inherently visual medium."

Committed to responsible environmental practices, both Wilhelm and sustainability scholar Meissinger also see the program as an important lesson in sustainability.

“We can repurpose maps in a creative and original way and share our process with the public,” said Meissinger. "Thanks to Karina, there is an exciting online record of what we have accomplished."

This year, Meissinger's students have used the maps as a launch pad for thinking about Place and Space, the name of this year's collection, which will be showcased Nov. 7-26 at Noble Library in the Map and Geospatial Hub (room 380). 

An opening reception is scheduled from 4 to 6 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 8.

"The collaboration has been a tremendous success," Meissinger said. "We're hoping it can keep going for another five years."

Written in collaboration with Karina Wilhelm

Britt Lewis

Communications Specialist , ASU Library

ASU online student advances in career by studying history


November 6, 2018

Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero once said, “We study history not to be clever in another time, but to be wise always.”

Studying history is something many students do, but those who attend Arizona State University take it one step further and learn what it means to learn history to the fullest. Scott Jackson Download Full Image

“The thing that I appreciated so much about ASU’s program, that I think others lacked, is that ASU’s professors push us to become historians instead of just learning history,” said Scott Jackson, a student currently enrolled in the online MA history program at ASU’s School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies.

Jackson teaches high school in Utah and already has a JD and a background in political science, but when some faculty members and administrators from Snow College approached him about needing more interdisciplinary professors, he started looking for master’s degree programs.

That’s when he stumbled on the online MA history program at ASU. Since Jackson was already working full-time and raising a family, the online program allowed him the flexibility to continue teaching while working toward his degree.

“Interestingly, despite working longer hours, I never felt burnt out,” Jackson said. “It was as if the variance to my day sustained me. It has been extremely rigorous and challenging, but I suppose that is why I have loved it.”

When Jackson would tell people he was working toward an MA in history, he was met with skepticism. Many students who study online may run into doubt from others about their degree, but Jackson knows his studies are important and his program is strong.

“As if it was a second-class degree,” Jackson said. “However, when I added that it was coming from ASU, it seemed to allay the concerns that people initially responded with. It made me happy that I went with the program that required more dedication because I believe that going through ASU helped me realize my goal.”

That goal was to teach at a small college or teaching university. After Snow College reached out to him, he became an adjunct faculty member with them, teaching a class twice a week after teaching his classes at the high school.

“That was a tough time,” Jackson said. “However, it was definitely worth it because I formed relationships and established a favorable reputation which led to a full-time position this fall.”

Jackson was offered a job at Snow with the understanding he would finish the degree this fall. Landing the position in higher education was not his only success while at ASU, though.

Jackson has been able to overcome a fear of writing papers since joining the program. In fact, Peter Van Cleave, a history lecturer at ASU's School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, has assisted Jackson and two other students in submitting papers for a panel for the American Academy of Religion Western Region 2019 Annual Conference.

“I have had a writing phobia since I was in middle school,” Jackson said. “I am not sure why. However, I was very timid when I started to write as a historian because I never had written in that unique way. Fortunately, one of my earliest classes was from Dr. Van Cleave. I know I felt some confidence in writing as a historian during the first class I took from him.”

Along with peer review and paper feedback, Van Cleave and Jackson had multiple Skype meetings. Van Cleave is able to help students like Jackson work through their ideas and analyze the fundamental arguments they are trying to form.

“In terms of strong writing skills, writing is how we primarily communicate as historians and this is even more so in the online modality,” Van Cleave said. “As an asynchronous environment, almost all of our interactions — whether through papers or discussion boards — is done through writing. Developing strong writing skills is paramount to what we do in the program.”

The paper Jackson and his classmates submitted to the conference was accepted and their panel will take place at ASU in March.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed this program,” Jackson said. “I don’t think I have ever learned so much in a year-and-a-half span. You know the program has been excellent when the thought of not having this program in your life causes uneasiness.”

Jackson will take what he has learned from the program and carry it into his career. The skills he developed are vital in today’s workforce.

“Being a historian entails critical thinking, careful examination of resources and a broad understanding of philosophical concepts,” Jackson said. “As a result, I am better equipped to do what Snow College requires of me — teach interdisciplinary courses, not just history.”

Jackson is set to graduate in December.

Rachel Bunning

Communications program coordinator, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies