UD Preservation Studies graduate student Amanda
Norbutus analyzes the paint condition of a mural using a
portable FTIR (fourier transform infrared spectrometer) [Photo courtesy of Amanda Norbutus]
Amanda Norbutus is a University of Delaware Preservation
Studies Program doctoral student examining outdoor murals and
researching ways to preserve and protect them using specialized
materials and coatings. In 2009, she participated in the University
of Delaware's Public Engagement in Material Culture Institute (PEMCI) to learn about using accessible language and digital
technologies to better inform and involve the public in her research.
"Although my dissertation topic is on public murals, an area of
research that involves the community, I never thought of how to
reach the public beyond the artists and scientists I communicate
with on a professional level," said Norbutus. "Since PEMCI, I've
learned that the person on the street can offer just as much
information and intellectual excitement about my work as any
colleague I've met in recent years."
Humanities grant focuses on improving public outreach
UD's Public Engagement in Material Culture Institute (PEMCI)
was founded in 2008 as part of a $500,000 challenge grant
awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
to support graduate education and scholarship in material culture
and to promote public interest and engagement in the
interpretation and preservation of America's cultural heritage. [Read the UDaily article.]
The program is co-directed by Joyce Hill Stoner, Edward F. and
Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor of Material Culture and
director of the UD Preservation Studies Doctoral Program; and
Matt Kinservik, professor and English department chair.
The competitive ten-week summer fellowships are awarded to
M.A. and Ph.D. students in the arts, humanities and social
sciences pursuing research in material culture studies. Each year, a
new group of participants attend the intensive hands-on program
to learn by doing. They practice delivering informal talks, giving
sound bites for an interview and explaining their research to
media professionals while being videotaped for a later critique.
PEMCI sessions include
writing press releases,
photography and advice
professionals. "We have
been so pleased to have
guest instructors from the
UD Professional Theatre
Training Program and
nearby museums, or who are regional broadcasters and public
relations experts," said Stoner.
"This program helps the graduate students become more aware of
audiences beyond the university setting, helping them become
advocates for their work," said Kinservik. "It's about how they
communicate in clear and accessible terms the importance of their
'Public scholars' encouraged to interpret their research
"Communication skills are critical in all academic disciplines, but
it can be difficult to find a space in every curriculum to
incorporate something like this," said Kinservik. The format of a
two-week institute is designed to supplement the students'
coursework in their own disciplines without taking significant
time away from the primary curriculum. "The PEMCI program
focuses on humanities professionals, but this is a model that could
be adapted across other disciplines as well, across any academic
unit," added Kinservik.
Stoner noted, "We are hoping to encourage more graduate
students to become 'public scholars'—professionals who are
excited about engaging a wider audience in a compelling way
about their research, as Carl Sagan once did with astronomy or
Ken Burns has done with history. Universities should not be seen
as unapproachable ivory towers but rather places where exciting
research is happening that can enrich all our lives."
As part of the Institute's outreach component, the participants
present their research topics each spring in a semester-long course
at the University of Delaware's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute
in Wilmington, a member-based teaching and learning program
for individuals over 50. Coordinated by the lifelong learning
course instructors, Nan Norling and Stuart Siegell, the material
culture presentation course presented by PEMCI participants won
an award from the University Continuing Education Association Mid-Atlantic region for its unique cooperative format.
Andrew Bozanic [Photo by Ambre Alexander]
UD doctoral student and Hagley fellow Andrew Bozanic participated in the 2008 PEMCI and presented at the first lifelong
learning seminar, "Objects as Cultural Artifacts." His research is
on the historical and social significance of the acoustic guitar in
American culture. "The lifelong learning course was a wonderful
opportunity to present to a public audience on my subject," said
Bozanic. "They were very engaged in the topic."
In 2009, Bozanic was interviewed for a podcast at the Smithsonian
National Museum of American History, where he had a fellowship.
"The workshop really prepared me well to present my work in a
constructive and relevant way. I learned to have my talking points
prepared and practiced my interview skills, which helped me
immensely during the interview." Bozanic is currently completing
his doctoral dissertation and also is contributing to an institutional
history of the Delaware State Parks.
In 2010, Norbutus received a travel grant from UD's Office of
Graduate and Professional Education to study several murals in
Europe. "Since the Institute, my research has become more in depth;
I've become part of a community of muralists and mural
programmers, educators and scientists who are all hoping that my
research can provide answers. I've given talks in lecture halls and in
front of murals, and a couple times, even on a train ride, but it was
my training during PEMCI that allowed me to present my work in
a way that engaged my audience and furthered my mural mission.
"Engaging with the public outside academia encourages me to be a
better scientist, as I want my data to be useful and important to the
people who will be most affected by my work: artists,mural
programmers, conservation scientists, and the community members
who want 'their' mural to last as long as possible," said Norbutus.
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