Miranda King and Kate McSweeney talk thesis, field work, Visual and Material Culture Studies
This April 2023, Mt. A students Miranda King and Kate McSweeney will each submit a thesis to the Visual and Material Culture Studies (VMCS) program. At first glance, their rosters are impressive enough: King, in her sixth year, has a major in classics, a minor in visual communications and culture, as well as a certificate in visual literacy and culture. McSweeney will be graduating a year early, having been at the university for three years with a minor in biology, and the same additional minor and certificate as King. Both are incredibly engaging students and a delight to speak with. But there’s more. These two students will be the first to graduate with an Honours degree in the VMCS program. Ever.
This year is the first that a Major or Honours degree in VMCS is available to Mt. A students. The program spans a broad array of cultures, contexts, and methods of approach. As King explains, “VMCS encompasses a bunch of different things. It’s very interdisciplinary. [… VMCS] takes a lot of different departments and kind of pushes them together into a really interesting space that’s really collaborative. It’s foundationally about visual culture, so things that we see, and material culture, so things that we physically have, and how that relates back to us as humans.”
Their personal areas of study reflect the program’s collaborative nature. In pursuing their degrees, King and McSweeney have both been offered amazing opportunities for independent research and made invaluable connections in their desired fields. McSweeney is currently exploring visual literacy in medical training for her thesis. As she says, these are “the kind of skills that are really beneficial for doctors, because you need to look at what you’re seeing sometimes without interpreting it, because sometimes you interpret it too quickly, you know, misdiagnosing, you don’t want that. It’s all about interpreting, it’s all about how teaching people to look closely can help people with empathy, it can help with communication skills, it can help with observing facial expressions, body language, and understanding what the patient might not verbally communicate to you, and how you can best treat somebody who might not be able to communicate verbally what they’re feeling.”
King’s current thesis work focuses on materials taken from an archaeological site well known to many — Pompeii. “In 2019 I went to the Venus Pompeiana field school […] in the ancient city that got destroyed 2000 years ago. In 2020 I asked to go back as the lab assistant, I got accepted, COVID happened, […] so I went back this summer.” King was then approached with “this incredible opportunity to take over the small finds department of the archaeological project. So anything that’s really special, that can tell dating, context — I have some bigger objects, but anything that’s relatively small and you can pick up, goes into this ‘Small Finds’[category], and they didn’t have anybody to catalogue it, or analyze it, so my Honours thesis is cataloguing and analyzing all of the small finds from this archaeological field school.
“It’s an insane opportunity, because, for an archaeology or classics student to have access to unpublished materials, is one level of ‘okay, that’s really awesome’, and the second level of it being Pompeii, one of the most famous and most visited archaeological sites in the world is just insane. I spent three weeks this summer in Pompeii, catalogueing material, taking pictures, taking measurements, all this fun stuff. Now I’m working on the contextualizing and analyzing of it,” King explained.
As for life beyond Mt. A, there are multiple options for both students. The two share a sentiment for continuing their education: McSweeney is considering a Masters degree in education or the medical field, while King noted an interest in a UK program that ties VMCS into Ancient history. Toronto, Italy, the UK, these two have many options to choose from — all doors that have been opened by the VMCS program. As McSweeney summarized, “It’s not stopping here. There’s definitely going to be something else.”
They will leave behind a legacy of being the pioneers of the VMCS Honours degree, both having recently received departmental awards from the university for excellence and outstanding achievement in their program. Students interested in VMCS are encouraged to explore the several introductory courses in the program or to reach out to faculty with any questions.