Snapshot in Time

Photo by Tanya Johnson '24

Associate professors Bridget Kirkland and Colby King were chatting at a reception one evening about the decline of iron mill towns in their home state of Pennsylvania, when they had an idea:  Why not develop a collaborative class looking at how urban areas change over time?

Each professor brought a different perspective to the project. Kirkland teaches graphic design and photography, while King teaches sociology. They also enlisted the help of Mo Kessler, a visiting artist whose work centers on the social and environmental landscape of Appalachia and the South.

The classes came together once a week for shared discussions, then met separately the rest of the time. Working in small groups, students developed ideas for written and visual projects that explored Spartanburg’s history, cultures and neighborhoods at a time of ongoing change.

The interdisciplinary approach helped push her students outside their comfort zone, Kirkland notes. “It forced them to talk and have to design what the group wanted, not just what they saw as a solution,” she says.

At the end of the semester, the class hosted Threading Spartanburg, an exhibit featuring photos by Kirkland’s students accompanied by essays by King’s students.

Tanya Johnson ’24 and her group focused on places of community. What she realized while exploring the city’s communal spaces was that “the uniqueness is not that unique. You can go into neighborhoods and find people supporting people, no matter what city or town you’re in.”

King says the final projects reflected the new perspectives students had gained. “Not only did they learn more about the city of Spartanburg, and their local community, but they were also able to see the city from the vantage points of their neighbors and fellow community members.”