Library Services, Spring 2016: Towards a Theater of Memory

| May 31, 2016

This remarkable video was created by Kate Robinson, sculptor, visual artist, and Renaissance scholar, who describes it as “an imagined model of Renaissance philosopher Giulio Camillo’s idea for a theatre. His book, ‘L’idea del teatro’ (Florence 1550) describes hundreds of images, the position of which in the theatre itself determined the meaning of the image. All of the images were based on myths and archetypes, philosophy, number and the stars and planets. It was Giulio Camillo’s unifying theory of everything. The video begins with a series of images by the English philosopher, Robert Fludd.” [The video can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MsJ-5PTOwhE; the music is ‘Dare to Hope’ by Barrie Gledden and Evelyn Glennie.]

camillo1-1

Reconstruction sketch of Giulio Camillo’s Theatro della Memoria (taken from ianjwpollard.wordpress.com).

I’m intrigued with this work and with Robinson’s book A Search for the Source of the Whirlpool of Artifice:  The Cosmology of Giulio Camillo (Edinburgh : Dunedin Academic Press, 2006), and I’m particularly interested in the intersection of the idea of the memory theater with that of The Learning Theater.  As I understand it — and this is almost certainly an oversimplification — an underlying principle of the memory theater is that the space itself functions as the means for the actors to (re)construct the play, that not only are prompts for speeches or dramatic action imbedded in the structure of what the actors see from the stage, but that all elements of the performance — players, stage, surround — collaborate in the process by which information is retrieved from an elaborate, semi-encyclopedic system.  The theater itself, in short, is a mnemonic construct that functions in many ways analogously to information retrieval systems —  indexes, databases, discovery tools — by which knowledge artifacts are organized and by which their accessibility is assured.

Illustration is taken from Robert Fludd’s Ars Memoriae, Cap. X (1619).

Illustration is taken from Robert Fludd’s Ars Memoriae, Cap. X (1619).

On the face of it, the Learning Theater would seem to occupy an entirely different place on the teaching and learning spectrum, insofar as its underlying principles spring from a constructivist approach to knowledge, a dynamic based on the notion of meaning making through uncertainty and trial and error.  Through immersion in an unfamiliar, and therefore sometimes unsettling, environment or series of environments, the learner in effect learns through the creation of knowledge, a process that often involves the absence of a clear path to understanding and the strong possibility of “mistakes” and missteps, by which, apparently paradoxically, true understanding often comes about.  An element common to both theaters, at least common to Robinson’s vision of Camillo’s system and the possibilities I’ve seen rather brilliantly explored this year by participants in our own Learning Theater in the making, is the sense of danger (which W. H. Auden said “must not disappear”), an excitement generated by uncertainty that ideally eventuates in enlightenment through drama in its purest form.  In my view, the Learning Theater at its best will work through the optimal deployment of uncertainty, mystery, exploration, surprise, and revelation.  Our ultimate goal must be “to delight and instruct” through the transformative experience at the heart of the play of teaching, learning, and memory, at the heart of The Play.

At the end of the proverbial day, my thinking comes back to the question of how our support of researchers at Teachers College partakes of the mechanics of a theater of memory; how we can help our users to create a memory theater by means of which they can organize and readily retrieve the knowledge of greatest value to them.  What follows are examples of topics and fields of study with which our users sought our help exploring and systematizing:

  • Children and adolescent lying; childhood and adolescent deception; adolescent risk-taking.
  • The history of teaching history in NYC schools c. 1919-1925.
  • Works that have incorporated the Life Events Checklist (LEC) and the scoring pertaining to the checklist.
  • How the concept of the line in visual art applies to the way that we perceive and experience the line in our everyday environment; also, how the theme of walking has defined the relationship between the line and our movement through the environment.
  • Holistic education and its connection to objectives of social justice; specifically looking into arts and music in education as well as ecological literacy.
  • Digital literacies and teacher education, specifically pertaining to elementary, secondary, and special education teacher education.
  • Intrinsic Schools in Chicago:  their unique way of blending technology into teaching, and more broadly how the location (inner city/urban/Chicago) works with the school; also, how technology should be helping to address adult literacy.
  • How to search for dissertations completed by participants in TC’s AEGIS program.
  •  How discipline and classroom management were taught at Teachers College in the beginning years of the school (specifically between 1889 and 1905).
  • Review of database searches for compliance with PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) standards.
  • Seeking whatever is available (history, course descriptions, syllabi, etc.) on the Religion and Education program at Teachers College.
  • Seeking whatever is available on the history of the Philosophy and Education program at Teachers College.
  • Seeking examples of critical autoethnographies, written by educators (specifically English teachers, if possible).
  • Information on student life at Teachers College, 1950-1970.
  • Research on  teaching pragmatic skills to second language learners.
  • Research on using creative writing in ESL writing courses.
  • Key resources concerning literacy development, and material written about the Reading Rescue Initiative in New York.
  • Research on adolescents’ artistic development that can be observed in their profile photo(s) in social media as a part of identity-exploration.
  • Help determining whether grounded theory or interpretative phenomenological analysis is more appropriate for an integrative project on intuition development involving work with a psychic intuitive and Jungian analysis in conjunction with self awareness.
  • Research for a country study on higher education in the arts in Mongolia, like one might see produced by the UN or another government body or a foundation; relatedly, any research studies on higher education in the arts that are country specific.
  • Research for a paper on the historical foundations of Friedrich Froebel, and his creation of kindergarten; seeking two of his primary sources and 12-15 secondary scholarly sources, along with an in-depth view on his letters leading up to his creation of kindergarten in Keilhau institute in Switzerland, and some primary explanations on his gifts.

Finally, the number of basic but crucial transactions of various kinds that took place in the library’s physical and virtual spaces during Spring 2015 are as follows:

  • There were 1,442 in-person and phone reference queries fielded by Senior Librarians and Services Associates.
  • Senior Librarians and Services Associates responded to 876 queries submitted via the library’s email Support Request service.
  • We provided 56 research consultations with individuals or small groups during the Spring.
  • Librarians presented 5 course-specific library information sessions, either in library spaces or in the classroom, for a total of 79 attendees.