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Seeing is Learning

Institute explores visual culture in teaching science

"Visual Culture and Pedagogy in the Life Sciences," an institute being sponsored this month by the Fannie and Alan Leslie Center for the Humanities, will focus on the history of how objects (photographs, drawings, sculptures, videos, digital images) have been used to teach the life sciences and how they have continued to evolve. "Learning in science is visual," says Michael Dietrich, associate professor of biological sciences. "Everyone who takes a science course experiences visual culture."

Michael Dietrich
Michael Dietrich with cross section models from the 1920s of a paramecium, a bee, and a lily. (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

In a combination of public lectures and academic workshops, the institute will cover the topic from a variety of angles. Visiting scholars and campus fellows, representing a broad cross section of disciplines, including history, art history, philosophy, film and television studies, and biology, will publish a book resulting from their participation in the institute. Public lectures, taking place weekly until May 30, will offer opportunities to discuss the many ways visual culture is used now and has been used in the past in teaching and learning.

Jonathan Crewe, professor of English and the director of the Leslie Center, was excited to find a way to connect the humanities with the sciences.

"Our center was founded with an interdisciplinary mandate that we want to implement as imaginatively as possible," he says. "We are always on the lookout for ways to build more bridges between the humanities and the sciences."

The institute's scholar-in-residence is Nancy Anderson, an expert in the use of imaging in the life sciences, especially microscopy. She is on campus for about nine months conducting research, working with the institute, and helping develop an independent but interrelated exhibition at the Hood Museum of Art, called Life Forms: Visual Lessons in Biology. The exhibition, which runs through May, showcases Dartmouth's collection of historic material from the biology department archives, including an assortment of models representing brains, cells, a flower, a bee, and a 5-foot-tall paper maché human being (complete with removable organs, once used for anatomy class).

The following public lectures will held in 2 Rockefeller and will begin at 4:30 p.m. All are welcome to attend.

  • "Layers of Meaning: Images of Cells and Molecules," by Maura Flannery, St. John's University -Thursday, May 4
  • "Visible Speech," by Mara Mills, Harvard University -Thursday, May 11
  • "Transgressive Body Politics: Artistic and Medical Anatomy Education in 19th-Century Philadelphia," by Amy Werbel, St. Michael's College -Thursday, May 18
  • "Kinetic Immersion," by Robin Curtis, Frei Universitat Berlin -Thursday, May 25

For more information about the Humanities Institute on Visual Culture and Pedagogy in the Life Sciences, visit or call 646-0896.


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Last Updated: 12/17/08