Students dedicated Civil War monuments in Ettinger 212 on Thursday, Nov. 30, as part of their final project in a cluster course on the time period.
Each group of four or five students stood at the head of the class reading off their dedication speech, explaining the research and symbolism behind each of their projects while the plastic miniature of their monument sat on a velvet podium next to them.
The first group’s monument depicted two horses facing each other atop a ramp and was dedicated to the many horses’ lives lost during the Civil War. The second group memorialized the Battle of Shiloh and in particular an area called the “Hornets Nest” for the swarms of bullets buzzing by soldiers’ ears. They did this with a sword through a hornet’s hive and a canon symbolizing the artillery barrage. The third group honored women’s role in the Sanitary Commission — which delivered food, clothes and medicine to soldiers — with a blank tombstone and angel wings. The final group’s monument was a scroll with Clara Barton’s initials on it, which served as a reminder of her role as General Correspondent for the Friends of Paroled Prisoners.
At the conclusion of their speech, each group sliced a ribbon with a comically oversized pair of scissors.
The next day, the monuments were moved to a display case in the library, with cards reiterating points form the dedication speeches, where they remain today.
The cluster, officially titled “America on the Cusp of Crisis: The Literature and History of a Nation in Turmoil” is taught by Dr. William Feeney, professor of history, and Dr. Charles French, professor of English. One of the class’s main projects, which took the majority of the semester, was to create a model of a monument using a 3D printer, with Instructional Technologist Jordan Noyes assisting the class.
French and Feeney had been teaching this cluster for six or seven years, explained Feeney, doing a letter writing project as well. The idea to switch to 3D printed monuments arose rather suddenly.
Noyes had wanted to do something that paired the Office of Information and Technology with the humanities, she explained, because she had a background in digital humanities. The two aren’t often paired together, added Feeney.
“We don’t typically think about technology when we think about the humanities,” said Feeney. “When we think about things like 3D modeling and 3D printing or we think about these advances in technology, we often associate them to the sciences, the technologies and the mathematics. So, we were looking for a way to inject the humanities, for us more particularly history, into these technologies that Muhlenberg is now invested in.”
In addition to combining new technologies, the class also drew on current events.
“When [Feeney] said he had a whole class that talked about monuments, it was right in the middle of Charlottesville. And so, it just clicked,” said Noyes. “He didn’t even really flesh it out, he was like, ‘we could print monuments’…then he just ran over to his class and they sort’ve went with it from there.”
The class began with basic pencil-and-paper planning, then converted the design to SketchUp, a digital modeling program. Noyes posted tutorials for SketchUp, and the students took to it very quickly, she said. The next challenge was getting the designs to translate into something the printer could print.
“You have to make so many decisions,” said Noyes, “like how thick is the material going to build, how is it going to adhere to the glass plate that it’s building form. And… a couple of them used this wood composite plastic, so it’s actually got splinters of wood in it, that can affect the flow of material. It might clog something. And so we had prints that would get halfway through and they’d just fail, completely, so you’d have to start over.”
From start to finish it took Noyes three weeks print the monuments, during which she left the printer running almost constantly.
“I would print something during the day while I was here, and then start another print before I went home, and just come back in the morning and just take that one off and start the next one,” said Noyes.
The project itself was a learning curve for all, but to Mike Rainone ‘20, it all paid off.
“Definitely the end product was well worth it, I think that’s what really brought it all together for me,” said Rainone. “I got to read the speech and everything and displaying it, I felt a sense of pride. Once it all came together, it was really rewarding.”
Rainone was right to feel pride. Despite the impromptu beginning, the project quickly gained steam, drawing attention from many, including those from ‘Berg and beyond.
“The history department was kind enough to allocate funds rather quickly when we wanted more access to different colors,” said Feeney. “Having their support was instrumental to helping us move through the project and it injected a level of excitement in the students themselves to know that the history department was so supportive and so quick to allocate funds.”
The project was additionally highlighted by OIT at their Digital Brew event, where faculty and staff come to discuss new technologies over coffee.
Feeney was also invited to hold a roundtable discussion at the Civil War institute at Gettysburg this June, specifically to discuss this project with other Civil War Scholars.
Feeney and French will be offering their cluster in the spring, which Quentin Bernhard ‘20 encourages curious students to take.
“I think it’s a great experience and you get a good approach to [the content],” said Bernhard, “So it might spark your interest in history or literature, even though you don’t think of yourself as someone interested in those fields.”