Student-Made Exhibit Examines War through Moving Images

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Inspired by the Hunt Library’s Game Lab, Professor Marsha Gordon and her students in ENG 585: War Documentaries class worked with library staff to create an interactive exhibit. Their work shows both the terror of war and how documentarians captured it. The collaboration was an amazing opportunity to think of new ways to use library spaces and technologies.

How it Got Started

Dr. Marsha Gordon in NC State’s Film Studies Program was interested in creating a multimedia final assignment that invited her ENG 585 students to create video projects demonstrating an understanding of the course’s subject matter while also creating a new piece of art. Having seen Hunt Library’s Game Lab on a library, Dr. Gordon and the graduate students felt inspired by the space, which allowed them to design an interactive experience for visitors on a 20’ x 5’ display. They were thrilled that the space was like a museum video exhibit environment and was private. This privacy meant they could take more chances with the potentially challenging and sensitive visual imagery inherent in wartime documentary film footage.

What Happened

From the beginning the students referred to their final assignment as an “exhibit.” They decided on the scope of the project, based on the specifications of the space - 20’ x 5’ videos which would contain three, simultaneous videos showing on the screen - one that showed “death,” one that showed “technology,” and one that provided a textual analysis of the images or the war.


The end result was the fantastic Shooting Wars: Documentary Images of American Military Conflict exhibit, which ran for three days in April 2014. In the end, the students’ videos contained images culled from various war documentaries they had studied over the course of the semester, with each student’s piece focused specifically on one American military conflict. Viewers could select videos to play in the order they chose. The results of the exhibit have since been preserved in a web-accessible format.


This project was exciting for the NCSU Libraries! It presented a chance for a completely new way of interacting with the Game Lab and posed a variety of interesting technical opportunities and challenges. Throughout the project, I consulted a lot with the Libraries IT staff and did a ton of testing of the technology available. I also met frequently with Dr. Gordon and the students, relaying technical requirements of the room and offering advice, based on testing of full screen video in the room, regarding what kind of content may look better or worse. Dr. Gordon and I also worked with the CHASS Film Lab to get technical advice regarding how the students may actually construct such a video. After much experimentation, I helped the students run the whole project as separate video files controlled by PowerPoint as a menu, offering interactivity to the viewer via the touchscreen, keeping the programming simple and using an established application with a built-in media viewer (Windows Media Player). To advertise the event, library staff designed the promotion and produced a handbill, a flyer, and a poster, as well as digital promotion (digital signage and library website promo).


How it Went

The event was the first of its kind in the Game Lab, and a good model for future exhibits. 120 people viewed at least one of the videos over the three days the event occurred. This included a group from the University Scholars Program, who also submitted feedback (which was mostly excellent). This was the first time a public art/humanities event took place and was promoted in the Game Lab. Professor Gordon, the students, and I all felt the program was a success.

The class’ stated project goals were accomplished - that is, the students successfully created three panel videos for the 20' x 5' Game Lab, the exhibit was interactive, and the exhibit was viewed by a great diversity of people from inside and outside of NC State.


There are now plans to extend the event to different venues (other physical spaces and as an online exhibit). The event also fostered a bond between CHASS, the Film Lab, Professor Marsha Gordon, and the potential of the Libraries to facilitate such an event, specifically at the Hunt Library.

Written on June 10, 2014