Gibbons Interns Tackle Interdisciplinary Projects With the Help of Technology

Story posted August 10, 2005

Using an iPod, we'll soon be able to learn more about life in Northwest Greenland at the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum. New maps of 19th- and 20th century New York and London will bring some forgotten art galleries to life for 21st-century art history students. Historical mapping will also help us gain a clearer understanding of the ecology of Merrymeeting Bay.

These are just a few of the new advances that will result from projects undertaken by Bowdoin students this summer with the aid of innovative technology and support from the Gibbons Summer Research Internship Fund.

Gibbons internships, provided through the gift of John A. Gibbons Jr., Class of 1964, enable students to work with faculty on projects using technology to explore interdisciplinary areas and develop fresh approaches to the study of complex problems.

The internships are coordinated through Bowdoin's Office of Information Technology (IT) -- specifically the Educational Research & Development (ERD) group, which helps faculty use new educational and information technologies to enhance their teaching and research.

Emma Bonanomi '05 is working with Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum Curator and Registrar Genevieve LeMoine and the Arctic Museum staff to create the upcoming exhibit, "This Extraordinary Paradise: Living in Northwest Greenland." Bonanomi's project involves developing self-guided Museum tours using Apple iPods to deliver images and audio that supplement the exhibit.

Emma_ipod.jpg
Emma Bonanomi '05 demonstrates how patrons will be able to take a self-guided audio tour through the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum using Apple iPods.

Bonanomi worked at the Arctic Museum in the past, and was excited at the prospect of writing and creating an audio tour during her summer internship. She also appreciated the potential inherent in using technology to present the Museum's collection in a cutting-edge way.

"People look at objects in museums in different ways," she points out. "Some people will look at a photograph or an item but never read the label that describes it. So providing visitors with other media, like an audio tour, makes the exhibit more accessible. And I think the iPods will bring in a whole new and different audience that is attracted to the technology feature."

Bonanomi's work entails researching the Museum collection, writing text, scanning images, and downloading content onto the iPods. When the exhibit opens, visitors will be provided with the pre-programmed iPods, and can pick and choose what they want to listen to and see.

Audio tours are not new to museums, of course. But as LeMoine points out, they are usually "ferociously expensive" to produce, and therefore beyond the budgets of smaller museums.

"iPods are relatively inexpensive and easy for the public to use," she says. "MP3 and iPod technology are starting to make it possible for small museums to offer the kinds of exhibits that they couldn't mount before. Plus, we can incorporate photos rather than be limited to just audio."

iPods provide another major advantage over the professionally produced audio tours offered at large museums. Audio tours are typically recorded once and the material is permanent. iPods are re-programmable.

"That's a big perk of using the iPod," concurs Bonanomi. "We can keep fiddling with the material, and continue to work on it throughout the year. The information included in the tour can always be updated and changed."

LeMoine praises the work Bonanomi has been doing, and is grateful that the Gibbons Fund has allowed her intern the freedom to focus on one project. "We often hire students who wind up working on a variety of things," she explains. "But having an intern working on one thing that will have a concrete outcome is really positive. It adds an extra level of involvement in the Museum collection and the creation of an exhibit that might not otherwise happen."

The exhibit is scheduled to open October 19.

Six other 2005 Gibbons Interns are using a variety of technology tools, including Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Flash, for projects that involve the arts and humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.

Adam Cohen-Leadholm '07 is working with Assistant Professor of Music Vineet Shende. Shende is currently completing three compositions - a large multi-movement work, a smaller orchestral work, and a multi-movement work for a chamber ensemble. Cohen-Leadholm, a music major with a special interest in composition, will use the notational program Finale to extract and format these musical compositions, as well as create a vocal-piano reduction for the large orchestral work. In addition, he will compose his own music using Finale, and study the music-publishing industry.

Karen Fossum '07 is working with Assistant Professor of Art History Pamela Fletcher to develop a GIS-based curriculum for the advanced art history seminar The Commercial Art Gallery (ARTH 357). Fossum and Fletcher are mapping 19th- and 20th-century commercial art galleries in New York and London in order to shed light on their development and migration.

Gillian Garratt-Reed '07 is working with Associate Professor of Geology Edward Laine to create an oceanographic database for use in future introductory, intermediate, and advanced courses, as well as faculty and student research. The project includes evaluating oceanographic water quality data collected in Casco Bay over the past five years. Garratt-Reed is gathering metadata and analyzing whether certain data will be included in the database. In addition, she is using Ocean Data View, a software package for interactive study of the oceanographic data.

Julia Ledewitz '08, Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies John Lichter, and Assistant Professor of History and Environmental Studies Matthew Klingle are examining the role of historical maps in understanding the ecology of Merrymeeting Bay. The project requires researching available historical maps and converting the information into scanned images and digital files. Ledewitz is also developing GIS datasets that will be used by faculty and students in the environmental studies courses Ecology of Merrymeeting Bay (ES 394) and Environment and Culture in North American History (ES 230).

David Willner '06 is continuing to gather data and create GIS maps for Associate Professor of History Patrick Rael's historical census data project. Since the fall of 2003, Rael has been acquiring historical datasets containing information from the federal decennial censuses (1790-1920) that students in his 200-level courses manipulate and plot using ArcGIS. Willner's summer tasks include improving the data that currently exists by correcting it, supplementing it, and adding new variables.

Daniel Yingst '07 is working with Associate Professor of History and Asian Studies Thomas Conlan to enhance the Scrolls of the Mongol Invasions of Japan Web site. He is creating an interactive map and timeline to show the geographical and chronological progression of the Mongols during the invasions. He is also using his programming skills to optimize the performance and maintenance of the site and simplify the creation of additional teaching materials and content.

"Thanks to the Gibbons Internship fund, we have had the opportunity to work on some really interesting projects with faculty and their exceptional students," sums up Jennifer Snow, educational research consultant in IT's ERD group. "We are grateful to John for his extraordinary generosity."

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