Exploring Our Cultural History

There are many treasures in USF Tampa Library Special Collections that carry with them interesting and well-documented histories. But what of those whose origins are less well known? What can we learn about those objects? Students in Pamela Merrill Brekka’s History of Visual Arts classes make an effort to unearth their stories with the USF @TaCHe (USF Tampa Cultural Heritage database) project, working with the expert facilitation of Special Collections librarian Andy Huse.

Fulfilling USFs unique and rigorous requirements for Foundations of Knowledge and Learning Core Curriculum classes, the USF @TaCHe project students are conducting original research on a host of collections in Special Collections. Objects used in the project include historic maps of Florida, the USF Libraries collection of original Jacques LeMoyne engravings of European settlers’ first encounters with native Floridians, early editions of the USF Oracle, historic photographs of Florida, and Tampa cigar labels. Thanks in part to research courses like this one, use of Special Collections has nearly tripled when compared to past years.

History of Visual Arts students work in the Special Collections reading room

Dr. Brekka’s ultimate aim with the USF @TaCHe project is to create a searchable database of locally relevant historical objects, making the assignment more meaningful and longer lasting than a typical introductory level art history project. The curatorial files that students prepare for the course include photos, written analysis, images of comparative works, and scholarly citations for further study.

The objects are evaluated within a broad context. Fine arts major Yolianne Hubert studied a Brillante cigar box label. She was unable to find any information directly pertaining to the label’s history but performed an analysis of the marketing effectiveness of the design and it’s symbolism, which included Nike in a chariot pulled by four tigers. Psychology major Freeman Gerhardt took the approach of analyzing antiwar sentiment evident throughout the 1972 Aegean USF Yearbook within the larger social context of that time.

Brillante cigar box label, one of the objects being studied by students in the class

Student Pietro Mendonça found the project not only interesting, but helpful in developing his research and writing skills. Pietro says it “…was a great opportunity to learn more about the history of Tampa though the objects and artworks in USF’s Special Collections. The most interesting part was developing the contextual analysis for the chosen object, in my case a photograph of Tampa’s Skyline in 1925, and making the connections to New York City, the local and national economy, a Category 4 hurricane 1921, and even Florida’s first housing bubble collapse in 1925.”

Be a part of the lasting cultural legacy that provides enriching student experiences by supporting Special Collections. There are a variety of ways to contribute at all levels of giving. Contact the USF Libraries Development office here or by calling (813) 974-4433 .


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