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Vantage Point

What better way to understand something than to be an eyewitness? The question for faculty members in this installment of Vantage Point:

What historical moment, event, or period would you most like to have experienced firsthand to enhance your understanding for teaching, research, or other scholarly purposes?

Shundong Bi, Biology

Triassic-Jurassic Mass Extinction

I am a paleontologist, and my research seeks to understand the origin and earliest evolution of mammals. During the final 18 million years of the Triassic period, an increase in atmospheric CO2, volcanic eruptions, and an asteroid impact caused acidification of the oceans and global warming that wiped out 70 percent of marine and terrestrial species on Earth. Though hundreds to thousands of large reptiles died, the dinosaurs managed to survive and thrive on Earth for the next 130 million years. The event also paved the way for the first mammals to exploit the gaps in the ecosystem. Over time, the first mammals adapted to diverse niches to create new functioning ecosystems. I want to know what drove the mass extinction and how dinosaurs and mammals managed to reshape their ecosystems. I would gain knowledge of how biodiversity has changed through geological times and how the fossil record could help us understand the modern biodiversity crisis.

Lara Homsey-Messer, Anthropology

Paleoindian Period

I would go back 10,000 years to the archaeological site of Dust Cave, a Paleoindian-period cave in north Alabama that overlooks the beautiful Tennessee River. The site is notable for its amazing preservation of finely crafted bone needles and fishhooks, delicate plant and fish remains, rock-enclosed cooking hearths, and—my favorite—domestic dogs carefully buried along with projectile points. As an archaeologist, I rely on the tools of my trade, such as trowels and microscopes, to provide a glimpse into the activities of past people. Secretly, I’ve always wished for a time machine, so I could go back and see how well my reconstructions capture the details of everyday life. I would love to look into the cave at twilight, as campfires are being lit, dinners prepared, and children are playing with dogs just outside. To listen to the evening conversations wafting through the air and to hear what events made the news of that day: what was feared and what was enjoyed. It would be a window on the past, reflecting our common humanity through time and space.

Rick Kemp, Theater and Dance; Author of Embodied Acting: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Performance

The Dismantling of the Theatre in Shoreditch

A group of desperate men are dismantling a building by night. They cannot practice their craft without this building and are in a legal dispute with the owner of the land on which it stands. It is December 28, 1598, and the building is the Theatre in Shoreditch, London. Despite a heavy snowstorm and interference from the landlord’s friends, Richard Burbage, Will Kemp, and other members of Shakespeare’s company remove their theater’s half-ton oak timbers. Within a year, the men would use these timbers to construct the Globe Theatre, a permanent home for their company.

As a practitioner, teacher, and scholar, I’m fascinated by the embodied circumstances of performance and how they shape the meaning of a play. The Globe’s construction ensured the survival of Shakespeare’s company. In turn, this meant that Shakespeare had a stable group of talented actors to write for. The contemporary reconstruction of the Globe gives us a sense of how they performed their roles in relationship to the audience. And nobody had to trespass to build it.

Becky Knickelbein, Communication Disorders, Special Education, and Disability Services

Stalin’s Russia

My answer is complicated by the political climate of the time, which was 1924-34 in Stalin’s Russia. Lev Vygotsky researched cultural psychology and explored the social and cultural aspects of learning. After the Iron Curtain was established, access to his work was impossible, yet it could have reshaped educational practice in the West decades before it did. Instead, it would not be uncovered outside Russia until long after his death.

Vygotsky contributed valuable theoretical constructs to learning theory, applicable to all learners, including those with disabilities. His vision would later become accepted educational theory. Vygotsky introduced the core concepts of the biological and social factors of disability. He also addressed the cultural dynamics that impact students with disabilities and recognized the need for individual compensatory strategies. Fortunately, Vygotsky’s work now informs our practice in special education. I wonder about all the students who might have benefited from his work had access to it not been blocked.

Harrison Wick, Special Collections Librarian and University Archivist

The Battle of Gettysburg

Few Civil War battles can conjure up specific engagements such as Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard, or Little Round Top, all of which took place on the outskirts of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863. Gettysburg is often referred to in history as a turning point of the American Civil War. The Union victory at Gettysburg, in conjunction with the siege and capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi, cut the Confederacy in half. Although the war lasted for another 18 months, battles favored the United States. I hope readers will take the opportunity to learn more about historical events by accessing primary sources, including correspondence, diaries, photographs, and government documents, which they can find in places like IUP’s Special Collections and Archives area at Stapleton Library. One of the most important collections of primary sources about the American Civil War is the War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.