A few years ago, Aaron Santesso asked his students to design and produce Renaissance-style medallions, using the laser cutters at the Invention Studio. The results, says Santesso, were spectacular and inspired him to rework his course on eighteenth-century literature and culture around six “communicative objects.” These ranged from puppets to needlework samplers that were used in the eighteenth century to communicate cultural or political messages.
“The idea was to read or view a number of literary or cultural works that engaged with each object. We would also visit local Atlanta institutions that have examples of these objects,” said Santesso, a professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication (LMC) at Georgia Institute of Technology. The course would conclude with groups of students using the Invention Studio to produce their own examples of the objects, designed to convey modern messages.
The Salomon medallion pictured is based on Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, in which representatives of a utopian society travel to other nations, pretending to be mere ambassadors, but also stealing technology. That medallion is held together with magnets, to afford a secret smuggling compartment inside.
Though it won’t officially debut until Fall of 2018, Santesso’s course is the recipient of the 2017 Innovative Course Design Award, which is given by the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS) to encourage excellence in undergraduate teaching of the eighteenth century.
Santesso designed the course around the strengths of LMC students at Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.
“Students here usually don’t have much background knowledge of literature and history, and they can be very insecure about their writing ability. But when it comes to things like design and production, they are exceptionally talented,” said Santesso.
One of the mottoes at LMC is “We make things,” and Santesso was interested in seeing how he could translate that idea in a historical course.
Santesso also felt a responsibility, given the current job climate, to design a course that would leave students with something they could talk about on a job application. Rather than simply telling a potential employer “I took a literature course,” students are able to show interviewers a picture of an object they made with a 3D printer or a laser cutter and talk about how they moved from cultural works, to philosophical conversations about communication techniques, to physical production processes.
Santesso said that a number of students who have taken the class have spoken to him about how happy they were to have a “creative” option for their projects. Some said that they had not thought of themselves as having design skills or experience prior to the class, but that they grew in confidence as they produced the objects.
Santesso has been previously recognized for excellence, receiving the prestigious James Russell Lowell Prize in 2014 from the Modern Language Association of America, the world’s largest academic association centering on the study of languages and literatures, for his coauthored book The Watchman in Pieces. Surveillance, Literature, and Liberal Personhood (Yale University Press, 2013).
The School of Literature, Media, and Communication is part of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.
For more information about the ASECS Innovative Course Design Competition, visit their website.