At the Cantor Arts Center
this spring, undergraduate students clustered around Stanford art history professor Alexander Nemerov
, who pointed at a giant 1868 photograph of a long-gone Vallejo flour mill. "How is this not a document?" Nemerov asked. There were no right or wrong answers, he told the students, as the group speculated on why the renowned western photographer Carleton Watkins framed the photograph as he did, and what it conveyed about nature and civilization.
Elsewhere in the exhibit, the environmental and civil engineering professor David Freyberg
invited students to ponder Watkins’ 1871 photograph of the Malakoff Diggins, California's largest hydraulic gold mine. Amid the destruction wrought by powerful hoses unearthing gold ore, Freyberg noted an oddly pastoral waterfall. "That water flowing down the center,” he asked, “is that natural?"
Hearing an art historian and a hydrologist’s different perspectives on the photographs in the “Carleton Watkins: The Stanford Albums” exhibition was typical fare for students enrolled in The American West. The ambitious 10-week interdisciplinary course
was taught by senior faculty from five departments and two schools.
Read the whole Stanford Humanities Center story.