Oberlin is not one of those schools where you’re told that classes take frequent trips to some cool museum on campus then you never step foot in the building your whole four years of college. Professors actually make use of the resources we have here as a core part of class material and hold classes in Oberlin’s various museums and libraries. I wanted to highlight three of my favorites: the Allen, Special Collections, and the Letterpress Studio.
The Allen Memorial Art Museum
The Allen is Oberlin’s very own art museum, and small but mighty is a perfect way to describe it. It’s been consistently ranked as one of the best college art museums and houses a substantial permanent collection. During art rental every semester, students can rent art for $5 and hang it in their dorm. The museum also features at least one visiting exhibit that changes every year.
I’ve visited the Allen frequently in my classes, every time for a different purpose. For example, in my freshman seminar called Creativity and Design, my class studied the creative process by looking at sketches an artist made of various aspects of a painting and comparing them to the completed work. In my poetry class, we went into every room in the museum and wrote an ekphrastic poem about one painting in each. But my favorite assignment was in a rhetoric class called Art of the Lyric Essay, during which we analyzed Fred Wilson’s incredible exhibition Wildfire Test Pit as if it was a lyric essay. Seeing art through the lens of writing has changed the way I approach both-- just last week, I visited the print study room at the Allen with my English class to practice analyzing artwork with techniques we use in literary critiques. I also have friends who have gone to the Allen in chemistry classes to analyze the chemical composition of paint, or in math classes to study the geometry and proportions of paintings, so these field trips are by no means limited to humanities classes.
Housed on the fourth floor of Mudd Center library is another one of Oberlin’s treasures, and no I’m not talking about womb chairs. The main library is home to Special Collections, the college’s collection of incredibly diverse, interesting historical documents, photographs, books, and more that students, professors, and community members alike have access to study.
Again, professors really do make use of this resource. In Creativity and Design, we went to Special Collections to look at old magazine ads as part of our study of the evolution of the bra (that’s a story for a different post). My English professor, who specializes in Renaissance literature, has taken our class to look at, and touch (!!!), books from the 15th and 16th centuries. It was such a fun experience to be surrounded by other English nerds appreciating not just the content, but also the physicality of literature, and we all freaked out together when we got to hold a 400-year-old book signed by Francis Bacon.
Students can conduct research in special collections for classes and projects. Additionally, Oberlin offers a book study concentration if you’re really into learning about the history of books and bookmaking and want to spend more time in Special Collections.
The Letterpress Studio
The Letterpress Studio is perhaps my favorite room on campus. It houses two working printing presses and all of the necessary materials to keep them operating. Students can take ExCo classes or do a winter term in the studio to learn to operate the presses and create their own works. The Book Studies Concentration also involves working on the printing press.
I’ve taken field trips to the printing presses in my Creativity and Design and Intro to Writing Poetry classes. In both, we studied how the printing press completely revolutionized and democratized publication and distribution of writing. I also got to experience firsthand the monotony and beauty of picking and setting letters one at a time to print a page. In my poetry class, we studied the visual side of poetry, discussing the importance of choosing type, font, and size of words to create different effects for the reader. In my first-year seminar, we talked more about the evolution of the printing press as a machine and got to make our own broadsides!