What I do on my summer vacation — Melanie Nogalski


Reflection by Dr. Melanie Nogalski, BIC Program Manager

For the past few years, my travels have taken me to a number of European cities for conferences and symposiums. Some of the places we visit are repeats from years ago when we lived in Switzerland. But I learned something a few years ago. When I go to these landmarks, you go with me. Correction, a particular BIC course goes with me. In my mind, I feel a group of BIC students around me and I think of how this particular place or exhibit would have been the perfect field trip for a particular BIC class.

Since I have had so many of these reminder moments, I’ll confine my observation to two sites related to World Cultures I. When we were in Rome, an archaeologist acquaintance of my husband’s urged him to take time to discover the Basilica of San Clemente. What we found was an eleventh century Basilica built upon an earlier Christian church used in both the 4th and 1st centuries. In the basement under the Christian church was 2nd century mithraeum (a temple to the cult of Mithras). Nearby was part of the original home of a nobleman and you could hear the rush of water in a nearby chamber.

As we descended the various levels at San Clemente, I couldn’t help but marvel at the ingenuity of the Irish Dominicans who have charge over the Basilica. They began excavating the layers of the site in the 19th century to uncover sacred sites from other times—all layered in meters of dirt through the centuries. I could see BIC students walking down the endless steps to the next level—dimly lit, musty, only to discover remnants of ornamentation and architectural elements from an earlier age.

My next World Cultures I site was a most unexpected find. There is an Egyptian museum in Munich, Germany that is extremely high tech in its presentation of artifacts. The first room we encountered had a large console of small artifacts (scarabs, etc.) in which a holographic presentation under the object radiated the image back to the surface. It is hard to describe but you get a 3-D projection of the image. In the middle of the next room, a console had a touch screen in which you could select language and topic to read much more about the history, arts, religion, and culture of Egypt. Room after room provided more of these consoles. You could spend lot of time looking at artifacts and reading more about Ancient Egypt.

The best part of the Egyptian museum for me was the map room. Projected onto a large wall with a map of Egypt laid laterally from south to north, another consul with a sliding bar allowed you to select a period of time. The map then displayed the active areas of Egypt—new cities along with the sprawl of the Nile. What was fascinating was the chronology as the bar moved to more modern times. The perspective of the years showed just how small of a time period other cultures represented compared to the lengthy dynasties of the Egyptians. The ancient world had a different message of time and perspective in this dramatic presentation. I could feel a BIC class all around me, making observations and asking questions from one of our professors.

Of course, I could go on—we’ve been to a lot of museums in recent years! But my hope is that as you travel and make new discoveries that you think back to the roots of your exposure to the world. Maybe you will feel surrounded by your former BIC colleagues as you think “Now this would have been the field trip for World I (or II, or III)!

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