by Stephanie Porter, '14
As a student working in the archives, I knew the day would come eventually: I would have to face the daunting task of putting together my own exhibit.
That day came this semester, when Chris approached me one morning with a theme- exploration. It sounded reasonable enough at the time, broad enough that I could do whatever I wanted with it, and certainly an interesting topic. I figured I would just pull some books, write some descriptions, put them in cases and call it good.
In practice, I ran up against more obstacles than I expected. First, how do you even define exploration? Doesn't all of human history consist essentially of journeys? I knew I wanted a broad, multi-dimensional definition, so I decided to include both physical journeys and journeys of the mind. From there, Chris and I came up with four categories: World travel, U.S. exploration, the mind and psychology, and imagination.
Then came the task of defining these gour categories clearly. Where would American travelers exploring the world fit in? What about literary, imaginative exploration with psychological elements? Or fictional narratives about exploratino of the Americas?
I started simply by pulling together any books I thought might fit. Slowly, the categories began to come together. The imagination case would house more fantastical journeys. The mind would include works of psychology and philosophical debates. Both fiction and nonfiction, I decided, could be part of each case.
Of course, in my excitement, I ended up with piles and piles of books. What would the Imagination section be without Gulliver's Travels? And Dali's Alice in Wonderland is a must! I spent hours reading about all of these works, compiling summaries and interesting facts.
Then reality hit: there was no way all of these books could physically fit in four cases (particularly Gulliver and Alice, known for their immense dimensions). Reluctantly accepting this fact, I spent a day testing arrangements in the cases and slowly reducing the mountain of books.
It turned our that the time I spent researching was not in vain, for it helped me decide which books in the end were the most important and would be able to form a greater narrative together. I discovered unexpected connections between works - for instance, synchronicity, one of Jung's core ideas, can be tied to his favorite quote from Alice in Wonderland: "It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards." Nemo, the ship captain in Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, is inspired by The Odyssey. When Odysseus meets the cyclops, he gives a false name, Utis, meaning No-man or No-body; in Latin, this translates to Nemo. And overall, these works represented different takes on the largest questions and problems in the world. How do we know what we know? Is there a single Truth? My biggest takeaway was how interconnected all of these journeys are and how constantly throughout history humans from seemingly opposite worlds continue to influence each other. History is a dialogue.