“Sense-ational Wright”: Andrew’s Public Scholarship Project in Madison, Wisconsin

Sense-ational Wright was an interactive and multimedia mapping project based at Wright Middle School. Emma Schroeder (Geography) and Andrew Stuhl (History of Science) worked with students to survey various layers of the schoolyard, including its visual and audio features, its cultural history, and its biological diversity. Throughout the project, students collaborated with one another and invited guests to draw maps, record sound clips, take water samples, and interview local experts.

Learn more about Andrew’s Humanities Exposed (HEX) public scholarship program at Wright Middle School in Madison, Wisconsin.

Why I got involved with the HEX Program

When I first heard about the Humanities Exposed (HEX) program, I was struck by how its goals aligned with my goals as a citizen and a scholar. Like HEX, I place value in working outside the boundaries of the university—developing real relationships with individuals and communities and allowing the research I do to be informed by these relationships. I am a firm believer in the notion that the products of the academy should be directed at helping strengthen local organizations, local economies, and local culture. Indeed, I plan on dedicating my career and my classrooms to the project of service learning because I find no better way to learn with students about the intersections of environment, history, and culture than to investigate what’s right in our own backyards.

It is in this vein that I rarely talk about “teaching” or “giving back” when I describe community-based research or community action projects. For as much time and energy I devote to programming or volunteering, I receive an equal amount of benefits—both professional and personal.

But why Wright Middle School and why this mapping project in particular? We chose Wright Middle School as the site for this project for a number of reasons. First, the school is home to what has been called an “underserved” population—85% of the students at Wright are on free or reduced lunch, an indicator of the income level of the families whose children attend Wright. In addition, 85% of the enrollment at Wright is represented by African-American, Asian, and Hispanic students. In keeping with HEX’s mission to work with underserved populations, Wright Middle became a perfect fit for our work.

The geography of Wright Middle also made it a reasonable choice for the kind of work we want to do there—mapping the schoolyard by using as many of our senses as possible. Wright Middle is situated on the south side of the city of Madison, tucked between Wingra Creek, a set of railroad tracks, and Fish Hatchery Road. Directly across the street from the school is the Arboretum, one of the city’s largest conservation areas. And the physical building itself is symbolic of its namesake, James C. Wright, an activist for social justice in this city and across the United States. We could think of no better way to explore the cultural, environmental, historical, and social layers of Madison than to choose Wright Middle School as the X that marks the spot.

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One thought on ““Sense-ational Wright”: Andrew’s Public Scholarship Project in Madison, Wisconsin

  1. It’s really great to see this project bear such fruit for everyone involved! It’s a terrific example of the application of environmental humanities research and ground-up activism. Kudos!

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