‘Imagining the Past’ encourages us to think about our world


Simon Halland and Sophia Zoller admire some of the work showcased at “Imagining the Past” at the Janet Turner Print Museum. Photo credit: Alex Coba

Alex Coba

“’Once, as old stories tell us…’ was how Geoffrey Chaucer began “The Knight’s Tale,” one of his famous Canterbury Tales. We still tell stories and write histories by opening with sentiments such as this one. Professor and guest curator Corey Sparks opened with this quote to present the “Imagining the Past: Hearing Old Stories, Listening to New Voices” exhibition.

The new exhibition is on display at the Janet Turner Print Museum. Students from last semester’s Sparks English 276: A survey of Early British literature class worked on the exhibition as a class project. They were brought to the Janet Turner Print Museum for the first time as a class and told to pick a print from the collection and write about it in an online discussion.

The students were told to return to the museum a second time individually, this time to pick a different print to discuss the topic even further. An example of some of the questions they were asked were “What kind of world or past does this print show us?” Finally, students were asked to choose one more print to focus on and research, and to explain why they gravitated toward a specific print.

“The research performed by the students emerged, first and foremost, from their interest,” Sparks said.

“Imagining the Past,” was chosen as the premise because the class was studying early medieval British literature.

“In that spirit, this exhibition asks us to consider how even the distant past continually speaks to our present moment. It suggests that if we can imagine the past as just a bit richer and more inclusive, maybe we can also imagine a better future,” Sparks said.

Catherine Sullivan, curator and head of archives at Janet Turner Print Museum, explained that imagining the past is about looking at art in a more humanistic aspect not just as visual art. She presented this idea: Could one take something that was modern and see how it would have reflections in the past?

A group of works was specially selected for this exhibition that had the potential to be able to interpret them based on the premise.

This interdisciplinary was a collaboration between the students of English 276 and the museum. The exhibition was planned over the course of a semester where the result was the current exhibition, with the prints chosen by the students, as well as the culmination of all research and thoughts in a statement displayed alongside their chosen print.

A curator’s talk will be held Sept. 6 at 5:30 p.m. in Zingg Recital Hall. “Imagining the Past” will continue its execution through Sept. 22.

Alex Coba can be reached at [email protected] or @Alexcoba9 on Twitter.