Museum in motion: NEW WALKING TRAIL EXTENDS 'SILENT SPRING' EXHIBIT OUTDOORS
Sept. 27, 2012 marks the 50-year anniversary of the book credited with launching the modern environmental movement, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Just in time for that historic milestone, the Michigan State University Museum has added a new twist with technology to create a campus walking trail highlighting notable spots around MSU that were chronicled in the Silent Spring story, and some believe, even provided inspiration for the book’s title.
The mobile tour helps extend the MSU Museum’s special exhibition – “Echoes of Silent Spring: 50 Years of Environmental Awareness” -- outdoors to provide educational content in a new way. A team of educational technologists and digital humanities experts from MSU’s College of Arts and Letters used a program they developed called “Tourguide,” a mobile-based learning environment that uses GPS navigation to pinpoint tour landmarks and then present interpretive information, photographs and audio features on a variety of mobile devices. A printed map and trail markers, courtesy of MSU’s Campus Planning and Administration, are also available. (Or take the tour on a desktop computer. Download a PDF of the printed trail map; larger-format copies are available at the MSU Museum information desk.)
“The walking trail gives the exhibit a 'sense of place,' by linking the gallery exhibit to the campus where the local story unfolded 50 years ago. The aim is to connect history to its landscape - and as well, to encourage visitors to enjoy the wonderful campus of MSU, with still a number of elm trees to be seen,” explains MSU Museum Director Gary Morgan, “Echoes of Silent Spring” exhibit curator and author of the walking trail.
Research presented in the best-seller Silent Spring had a very close connection to Michigan State University – particularly the major case study citing the observation of birds that experienced tremors then death after consuming large amounts of the pesticide DDT -- which was being sprayed on campus in an effort to preserve Elm trees -- as it accumulated in soil, and consequently, in their food source, earthworms. Part of the exhibit showcases ongoing correspondence between Carson and MSU ornithologist George Wallace, whose papers are now part of the Museum’s collections.
Included in the approx. 45-minute walking tour are locations where hundreds of diseased elm trees once stood, spots where dead and dying robins were collected and then analyzed by MSU researchers, as well as a historic monument observing the first use of pesticide spray for agricultural application. The trail, accessible to persons with disabilities, also includes stops at the College of Natural Science Building and Agriculture Hall, where the MSU Museum will present small companion exhibits that explore current MSU work in environmental research.
Museums all across the country, including the MSU Museum, are also taking part in a new initiative with the Institute of Museum and Library Services called “Let’s Move! Museums and Gardens,” launched by First Lady Michelle Obama to create educational activities and physical activity that will combat the problem
of childhood obesity.
The inspiration for the walking trail -- the “Echoes of Silent Spring” exhibit -- considers many interrelated issues beyond the book itself, such as environmental sustainability and agricultural practices, ethics, law, and gender. The exhibit runs through the end of the year, and also features multimedia material, online educational companions, and a youth educational activity center. While the “Echoes of Silent Spring: 50 Years of Environmental Awareness” runs through Dec. 30, the mobile tour will be available thereafter.
“Echoes of Silent Spring” is the major exhibition program at the Michigan State University Museum for 2012, with companion displays developed around campus where environmental research takes place today. The MSU Museum is working with partners across campus to produce the exhibit program, including the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, College of Natural Science, Lyman Briggs College, College of Veterinary Medicine, Landscape Services and Residential College in the Arts and Humanities.
Above: Museum Director and exhibit curator Gary Morgan installs trail markers. Left: the team tests the walking trail in historic north campus.