September 21, 2023


Immortalizing Ideas

U of T classics prof works by using graphic layout, humour to retain learners engaged

“Let not the tyranny of the PowerPoint template reign supreme.”

This declaration seems on the personal website of Sarah Murray, an associate professor in the College of Toronto’s department of classics in the Faculty of Arts & Science.

To liven up her lectures when educating classics like the Iliad and the Odyssey, Murray makes colourful lecture slides and study course posters that have come to be an integral component of her teaching – artwork that she’s even started using on T-shirts and hoodies.

“I locate it a lot more exciting to teach when the college students are possessing a superior time,” she states. “And it appears that engaging visuals do a whole lot of the perform in holding pupils concentrated on the mental journey I’m striving to take them on.”

Murray 1st got into graphic design and style to make some excess hard cash as a graduate pupil at Stanford University.

“I was dwelling in Palo Alto, Calif., which is incredibly expensive,” she says. “The cost of dwelling there is so higher that I was generally on the lookout for strategies to make some revenue.

Two class posters by Sarah Murray.

“For a whilst, I was carrying out the quite glamorous do the job of placing out cheese and wine for receptions subsequent section occasions. But at some stage, a superior-compensated placement for a grad pupil to do graphic style and design opened up. I did not have any experience with graphic style and design, but I’m normally able to wrangle most computer system programs by trial and error. So I explained to them, ‘I can do it.’ And then I figured it out from there.”

One particular of her to start with and favourite posters was created to advertise the defence of her dissertation, “Trade Imports & Society in Early Greece: 1300 – 900 B.C.”

One of Sarah Murray’s initial and favorite posters was made to promote the defence of her dissertation.

In the classrooms in which she now teaches, Murray states she can notify if her imagery is participating pupils by their chuckles, the variety of elevated arms or the liveliness of the dialogue.

“It’s additional enjoyment for me, far too,” she states. “I never acquire a great deal delight from filling out bullet details in a PowerPoint template and then reciting them in course. On the other hand, it is really pretty satisfying to deliver something funny or esthetically pleasing into the environment that did not exist right before – so, I take pleasure in that component of it.

“As far as pedagogical utility goes, possessing some visual jokes in the slide deck keeps learners shelling out attention for two good reasons. First, mainly because they think a thing amusing may show up on the display at any instant. Second, if they actually snicker when they are meant to, that assists me have a perception of whether individuals are subsequent together with the lecture content material.”

Vintage vacation posters are a critical supply of inspiration, she suggests. Noted for their vivid colour, posters, print advertisements and brochures had been the most typical way for vacation organizations to achieve their clients from the late 1800s till about 1950.

“There’s such a wealthy human body of these beautiful posters, which are equally great examples of genuinely great layout and fascinating reminders of a bygone period of journey,” Murray says. “So, my earlier posters would frequently try to start out from that visual environment. Then, I would try to envision what it would glimpse like if, alternatively of advertising an unique holiday vacation destination, you had been promotion a class about the Odyssey, and let items build from there by means of the peculiar system of the human creativeness.”

One more source of inspiration comes from a post-PhD vacation to Ga, wherever she was struck by the imagery used in Soviet-period propaganda posters. Some stirred patriotism, some others slammed illiteracy and laziness, even though continue to other individuals condemned the evils of capitalism and praised socialism.

“It sounds terrifying, but the Georgian propaganda mosaic artists in particular were being incredibly proficient,” claims Murray. “While a large amount of Soviet artwork was deliberately wrecked just after the tumble of the USSR, lots of mosaics have been preserved specifically for the cause that they are legitimate masterpieces.

“So I would say that I entered a new period immediately after the Georgia trip, so that a lot of the article-Stanford layouts try to seize the spirit of muscular propagandism more than dreamy, aspirational travel. This phase also coincided with a choice to start out generating my possess tailor made ‘merch’ featuring some of the propaganda themes.”

Obtaining made about 10 diverse layouts for T-shirts and hoodies so far, Murray states the challenge was an effort to combat boredom all through the COVID-19 pandemic.

A lecture slide titled, “Hera did not like the Trojans.”

“My everyday regimen associated waking up, functioning, jogging, performing and going again to slumber, which became really cumbersome soon after a whilst. So, I started off functioning on these types in the evening as a way to loosen up,” Murray suggests. “It’s very diverse to what I’m executing most of the time, which is looking through tutorial scholarship and hoping to compose intricate exploration arguments. Of study course, that is really engaging and satisfying in its personal way.

“But developing a visible design – it can be not so significantly an intellectual procedure as an esthetic and imaginative physical exercise. It helped me sink into a several hrs of immersive, enjoyable inner efficiency. And I genuinely like possessing my weird bespoke shirts. They make me delighted. I don them all the time.”

Two of Sarah Murray’s clothes designs, influenced by Soviet-period propaganda posters

Murray will be wearing her designs subsequent year when she’s on sabbatical to concentration on her analysis, which includes getting the co-director of the Bays of East Attica Regional Survey Project situated close to the bay of Porto Rafti in Greece – an archaeological undertaking that aims to expand scholarly understanding about the heritage of this spot.

She’ll return to educating in the slide of 2024 with a new repertoire of posters and slides that are absolutely sure to spark laughter, imagining and discussion.

“In some strategies I’m remaining egocentric in that I like to make them,” she claims. “And I imagine the content we are learning is truly pleasurable. There are a good deal of fascinating, weird matters likely on in the historic planet.

“You can perform that up in a way that piques curiosity. It truly is not just that I want the college students to pay attention to me in that minute. I want to get them wondering excitedly about the minor bits of magic that you can pull out of even aged texts.”