Southeast Students Selecting Medieval Artifacts While Studying Global Cultures

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Art and history students at Southeast Missouri State University this semester are helping select items for the medieval teaching collection in Kent Library’s Rare Book Room.

A Chicago, Illinois, medieval artifacts dealer was on campus Feb. 14 to exhibit a variety of artifacts for students to learn about, some dating from 1100 AD or older. The collection featured a book of Persian poetry, document seals, a Roman writing stylus and many other items.

Now, the students must help decide which pieces Kent Library’s Special Collections and Archives should acquire for the library’s Rare Book Room.

One of the classes involved in the selection is Dr. Vicky McAlister’s “Crusades and Culture Contact” class.

Dr. Joni Hand (left) reviews medieval materials and artifacts with Southeast students in her “Medieval Art History” class.

“This is a great way to close the gap between an age hundreds of years ago and now for students who may not have an understanding of historical cultures,” said McAlister, associate professor of history and anthropology. “It’s also good for the University because it puts us on a level equal to other institutions, like Saint Louis University, as we have lots of materials that are normally only found in research universities.”

The University’s medieval teaching collection consists of full medieval manuscripts as well as fragments and leaves from various medieval texts, according to Roxanne Dunn, archivist in Special Collections and Archives at Kent Library. These materials are used in History and Art classes at Southeast, she said, so students can learn from and experience primary sources.

A “Medieval Art History” class taught by Dr. Joni Hand also is involved in the selection of medieval artifacts. Each of Hand’s students chose one item they are interested in and are now focused on researching and writing about it.

“This is an amazing opportunity for them!” said Hand, associate professor of art. “They will learn how to use primary sources in their research and also feel empowered by their role in the acquisition of these materials.”

McAlister says the interactive class project allows students to become more involved in their education. The project is made possible thanks to Kent Library funds allotted to Special Collections and Archives for the acquisition of new materials.

“This year, I have chosen to spend these monies to strengthen and improve the medieval teaching collection that we have in the Rare Book Room,” Dunn said, and McAlister’s and Hand’s students are participating in the process.

Southeast students examine an introduction to a medieval choir book for possible inclusion in Kent Library’s Rare Book Room.

“It is overwhelming and an honor to be involved in the selection of medieval manuscripts and artifacts for the University collection,” said Madeleine Van Leunen, a history and historic preservation double major from Chesterfield, Missouri. “Part of historic preservation is getting up close and personal with artifacts and knowing how to properly treat and handle them. This experience models this precisely and will benefit students in the preservation field.”

Students in McAlister’s “Medieval Material Culture” class are taking the project a step further, working in the Heather McDonald Green Multimedia Center to create three-dimensional prints of a medieval artifact of their choice. Students will also make a contextual piece, either a YouTube documentary or an online museum exhibition to explain the model to an audience.

“I think it really adds something to be able to study the tangible artifact, even if it’s made of plastic and not the original artifact,” said Jordan Cuneio, a double major studying history and historic preservation from Bismarck, Missouri. “Having the hands-on experience is beneficial because it enables me to physically see the artifacts that I may not otherwise see being from a small town in Missouri. For other students in the U.S., it adds a different perspective and helps us understand the rest of the world better as well.”

“This project is important because it helps students feel more connected to the past and to different cultures,” says McAlister. “Making 3D models and handling medieval artifacts helps students to understand different cultures and helps them to be better ‘global citizens.’”

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