IU Distinguished Professor Thomas A. Sebeok described himself as an academic honeybee during his 48-year career as an educator in Bloomington, and nearly two decades after his passing, he’s still pollinating research.
Katie Morrison, a second-year student in the master of library science program at the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, is curating an exhibit on the career of Sebeok, Thomas A. Sebeok and the Scientific Self at the Herman B Wells Library on the IU campus. The exhibition uses material from the IU Archives to investigate the intellectual intersections Sebeok inhabited, pollinated, and mastered during his prolific career.
“I have been processing Thomas Sebeok’s papers at the IU Archives since 2017,” Morrison said. “I really feel I have gotten to know the man through his scholarship, correspondence, and diligent record organization. (Outreach and Public Services Archivist) Carrie Schwier and my supervisor, Assistant Archivist Mary Mellon, approached me when they were scheduling exhibits for the 2018-19 academic year, and I knew immediately that he would be the subject of this exhibit.”
Sebeok was a pioneer in the field of semiotics, which is the study of signs and symbols, and their use or interpretation. More specifically, Sebeok coined the term “zoosemiotics,” which is the study of animal communication and how something comes to function as a sign to animals. The exhibit features correspondence with primatologists such as Jane Goodall and Francine Patterson, the trainer of Koko the gorilla, material from a World War II-era Army Specialized Training Program, and more.
“For me, Sebeok encompasses all the wonderful interdisciplinary messiness of science and technology studies,” Morrison said. “He was active in linguistics, literature, folklore and anthropology, biology and zoology, and art history and visual culture. I find myself torn between disciplines all the time, so I take heart in his confidence approaching all these areas with a common structure like semiotics. Aside from learning about the content of the collection, I learned just how much care, time, and labor goes into mounting exhibits. Everything in curation and selection, writing captions to tell a story, mounting original documents, and outreach and marketing… it is an extraordinary undertaking even for a small exhibit.”
The exhibit runs through March 29.
“Thomas Sebeok was a highly-influential and important IU professor,” said Robert Montoya, assistant professor of library and information science. “That Katie was charged with the task of assembling this exhibit is no surprise given her intellectual acumen and background in the arts, theory, and science and technology studies. The exhibit gives a vivid glimpse into Sebeok’s accomplishments. This exhibit is not only a testament to Katie’s research, but also to the great library and archival collections that are preserved and made available by Indiana University. The MLS students in the Information and Library Science program are fortunate to have so many rich collections at their disposal to hone their skills.”