Worldbuilding at UCI
UCI Libraries exhibit helped reinforce course lessons and build a sense of community among students.
Remember memorizing dates and names in social studies class? However pivotal, it’s hard to identify with long-ago champions from faraway places. Research has shown, time and time again, that young people gain a deeper appreciation of a subject and become more civically active when they can “see themselves” in history.
Humanities Core, a writing-intensive course required of all UCI Campuswide Honors Collegium students and humanities majors, strove to make that connection last winter by tying one of its assignments to a Libraries exhibit, Anteater Spirit: Student Activism That (Re)shaped UCI, 1965 to Now. The exhibit, which was on display in Langson Library from November 2022 through April 2023, explored six decades of campus activism at UC Irvine, ranging from anti-war student protests in the 1960s to the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the Winter 2023 quarter, more than 750 first-year UCI students visited the exhibit. Student reflections show that the experience helped reinforce the Humanities Core theme and lectures, demonstrate the use of primary source materials, and build a sense of community.
Building a Foundation
Humanities Core is a year-long undergraduate course directed by Chancellor’s Professor of English Jonathan Alexander that is taken by more than 800 first-year UCI students each year. Through the study of literature, film and media, history, philosophy, popular culture, and visual art, the course teaches critical thinking and scholarly analysis using primary and secondary sources.
According to Tamara Beauchamp, writing director of the Humanities Core program, one component of Humanities Core instruction is rooted in a partnership with UCI Libraries.
“We work closely with folks from the Libraries,” said Beauchamp. “For many years, Special Collections and Archives has been running hands-on workshops for our students on primary sources.”
In 2023, the Humanities Core and Libraries team saw the Anteater Spirit exhibit as a natural extension of these workshops that could further show the use and value of archival collections.
Engaging the World
According to Amalia Herrmann, Humanities Core lecturer and digital pedagogy coordinator, Anteater Spirit’s focus on the role of UCI students in shaping campus space and curriculum is what led them to create an assignment around the exhibit. The exhibit fit well with the Humanities Core 2022–2025 theme of worldbuilding, which explores the active and participatory ways in which people engage with, reshape, and make sense of their worlds. Students documented their visit to the exhibit as part of a year-long website project in which they archived their first-year research and writing experiences.
“Having an exhibit in which students could see the student-driven collective attempt to shape the university community was really meaningful for our students and our instructors,” said Herrmann. “It matched well with our worldbuilding theme and the overall mission of Humanities Core.”
Together the Libraries workshops and exhibit, Herrmann said, helped students see how what they were learning in their lectures and readings was connected to their learning environment and the university community.
UCI, Then and Now
Using more than 100 original photographs, archival materials, and videos from the UCI Libraries University Archive, the Anteater Spirit exhibit demonstrated how each generation of students organized on topics ranging from affirmative action and rising tuition costs to housing equality, free speech, and civil rights.
After visiting the exhibit, many of the students were surprised to learn how prior student efforts had shaped the campus. The student-led protests that led to UCI’s Asian American studies program particularly stood out.
“I was astonished by the Asian American studies protest archives in the early 1990s. As an East Asian studies major, I was beyond thankful for their presence to speak on the importance of racial and cultural studies,” said first-year student Gloria Lee. “They are vital in helping us understand our societal progress in academia as well as Irvine itself, a city known for its racial diversity and generations of immigrants.”
Dakota Covey, a first-year history major, was initially surprised to see items such as flyers, buttons, and stickers in an exhibit. On closer inspection, however, such ephemera helped bring the course theme to life.
“These primary sources are first-hand accounts and examples of the worldbuilding that has made UCI’s campus what it is today,” said Covey. “These same flyers passed through the hands of student protesters and those who have worked to accomplish monumental feats such as expanding the student center or establishing Asian American studies at UCI.”
Beauchamp noted a sense of agency building among the Humanities Core students after their encounter with the exhibit: “It was really amazing for students to not just think of themselves as passive recipients of educational content; but rather, ‘I could be an active part of how the university decides what’s important, what I learn about, and what the university saves in its archives.’”
Anteater Spirit: Student Activism That (Re)shaped UCI, 1965 to Now was curated by Elvia Arroyo-Ramírez, Digital Archivist for University Archives; Carolyn Downey, Education & Outreach Library Assistant; Jenna Dufour, Research Librarian for Visual Arts; and Faith Lam (BA in History and Film and Media Studies ’22), Special Collections & Archives Student Curator. To learn more about this and other Libraries exhibits, visit exhibits.lib.uci.edu.
Top photo shows a UCI student visiting the Anteater Spirit exhibit.