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Temple partners with the Wagner in research alliance

Four fellows are using the Wagner’s collection of artifacts and its library for their research.

Natalia Vieyra enjoys researching in the archives of the Wagner Free Institute of Science, rifling through bits of other people’s lives that have long past.

Vieyra is one of four fellows in a research alliance between Temple and the Wagner that began in August.

“[The Wagner is] stunning,” said Kenneth Finkel, an American studies professor who helped create the partnership. “It’s mind-blowing. It’s an experience you don’t usually get, and making the most of that experience, not just going in … is the challenge.”

Temple is working with the Wagner, on Montgomery Avenue near 17th Street, in a year-long research alliance. The alliance includes one year of funding for students and faculty members to complete research projects based on the Wagner’s collection of artifacts and its library.

“The overarching goal is to just promote research in the humanities and arts because it’s an underfunded and underutilized scholarly area,” said Lynn Dorwaldt, the Wagner’s librarian.

The partnership began when the provost’s office requested 2015 proposals for grants toward arts and humanities research. Finkel decided to design a project that offered fellowships to eight students and faculty members at Temple.

The Wagner, founded by William Wagner in 1855 to provide free science education to the public, has developed over time into a large science collection and research archive.

The research alliance consists of two rounds of fellowships over one year with research projects in the arts and humanities.

The first round — which began in August and ends in May — of fellowship recipients includes Emily Cobb, a metals/jewelry/CAD-CAM and visual studies instructor; Jena Osman, an English professor; Randall Rook, a 2016 master’s of city and regional planning alumnus and Vieyra, a second-year art history doctorate student.

As the librarian and archivist, Dorwaldt works closely with the fellowship recipients to help them find resources at the Wagner. Her extensive knowledge of the collection is helpful in the search for relevant research materials, Vieyra said.

“I have a pretty intimate knowledge with the history of the Wagner, but yet I still find out new things all the time,” said Dorwaldt, who has worked at the Wagner for 15 years. “I think [that] is one of the exciting things about working here.”

Vieyra’s research project, “Under the Skin: Anatomical Illustrations and the Aesthetics of Medical Knowledge,” involves looking at anatomical textbooks and illustrations. She is researching how the illustrations in the Wagner’s 19th-century anatomical textbooks are modeled after what scientists considered healthy human bodies seen in classical art, not real human bodies.

Right now, Vieyra is only using the institute’s anatomical textbooks, but she is working with Dorwaldt to find more relevant materials. She first heard about the alliance when it was being promoted at the Tyler School of Art. Vieyra said she appreciates the convenience of her research only being a 15-minute walk from Main Campus. While she doesn’t use the collection on display in her research, she appreciates the ambiance of doing research in the archives.

“[The illustrations are] not necessarily realistic,” Vieyra said. “It’s kind of an intersection between art and science, because scientists are literally looking at art to make models, not human bodies as they really exist.”

The next round of fellowships began with two open houses held Feb. 9 and 15, which included a tour of the Wagner and an introduction to the resources available. The deadline for proposal submissions is April 3. The second round’s projects are due in August and there will be a project summary event held in September for all of the 2016-17 fellows.

Dorwaldt said she hopes to get more proposals for the second round of fellowships. In the future, she hopes the alliance between Temple and the Wagner Institute goes further than the one year of fellowships.

“If I do one good thing at Temple, I’d like it to be the thought that my teaching was good,” Finkel said. “I think this relationship is a legacy that we all should hope for and work toward.”

Moriah Thoman can be reached at moriah.thoman@temple.edu.

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