A Design View of History

Last week, I sat in a full-scale mockup of the car in which John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  This student-developed model allowed me to be transposed into a four-dimensional multimedia exhibit to understand in person the angles, dynamics, and questions of that terrible day.

This fall, we mark the 50th anniversary of a day that Americans over 55 remember intimately. We can tell you where we were when we heard the news, remember watching Walter Cronkite with our parents, and think of it as a touch point as we hear of national tragedies today.

For a growing generation of Americans though, the Kennedy assassination is a thing of history, with the players and relevance blurred by time.

This is where Philadelphia University has a unique element to offer to the story. When we received the Specter papers after the senator’s death last fall, we became the curators of numerous documents related to the Warren Commission and the single bullet theory forwarded by Senator Specter. The work of creating dynamic exhibits and interfaces from all of the senator’s writings and papers will be on going, but this fall, the Specter Center will officially open with exhibited materials on the Warren Commission that audiences will find compelling, personal and surprisingly real and relevant, because of the work of PhilaU students, faculty and staff. This project exemplifies Philadelphia University’s unique approach to education.  Architecture, Law and Society and Graphic Design students and their professors collaborated on this project.

At the heart of the work we explored last week is the human interface our students intimately understand. Placing the exhibit participants in the seat President Kennedy occupied and at the same time providing the emotionally wrought view of Lee Harvey Oswald, giving them the vantage point of Abraham Zapruder as he shot home movies of the President’s visit, or inviting viewers to embrace the cultural understandings and normalcies of the time, designers, and a design approach to the exhibit, have added unique and original value to a topic that has been much-parsed in the last 50 years.

I invite you to visit the exhibit this fall. I hope you find it as compelling and moving as I did.

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