Making Sense of Avebury

Making sense of Avebury, a workshop held the site of the Neolithic Stone Henge was the first meeting of the term for my Cultural Foundations I in September. The workshop used the site to introduce the notion of ‘embodied cognition’ as well as the participatory nature of the course. Students were given specific instructions to conduct their experimental workshop beginning with interviews on the bus on route to the site. The original, creative, insightful responses which were subsequently posted on the course blog, ranged from a dance improvisation involving a Neolithic stone which was submitted by a student in her successful application to the dance department at the Tisch school of the Arts, to reflective essays on site-specific learning. The objective was for each student to become aware of the process of learning at the very beginning of his/her college career. A few quotes from our blog site:

“Understanding embodied cognition, as natural of an inclination as it seems, appeared essential to experiencing Avebury. The theory that we create a vision of the world around us by interacting with our environment came significantly into play while exploring the massive stone henge.”

“That is one of the things I’ve observed about embodied cognition and kinesthetic learning: no matter how much you read about a place or look at pictures of it, how you experience it in the flesh is always going to be much more intense and much more rewarding than your imagination will ever lead you to believe. Part of the theory of embodied cognition is that we are not just coolly observing the world around us; as active participants, we are both viewing and shaping our own reality.”

On the bus ride to West Kennet, my assignment partner and I discussed the theory of embodied cognition. We established the idea that in order to gain full perception of an object or place, a person needs to both physically experience that place or object, in addition to visually and/or verbally learning about it. Nothing that we read or listened to could have provided us with the wealth of knowledge we gained by actually visiting these sites.”

Making Sense of Avebury: Assignment

Mahnaz Yousefzadeh

Art and Experience: Cultural Foundations I

“Making Sense” of Avebury/Silbury Hill/West Kennet

September 7, 2012

 Before visiting:

  1. Read Stokstad, Architecture in Neolithic Period, pp. 13-20.  
  2. Consult published information on Avebury/Silbury Hill the pre-historic World Heritage Site. and the hand-out in class.  
  3. Consult entry on “embodied cognition” in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy  
  4. Bring a camera/iphone/ipod, or means of taking a picture.  
  5. Bring a notepad and a pen/pencil, or any other way of taking notes.

On the bus to Avebury:

  1. Introduce yourself to the person next to you on the bus: he/she will be your assignment partner. 
  2. Take turn interviewing each other, on what type of a learner/thinker are you?  verbal, visual, kinaesthetic learner?  What do you think is the meaning of “embodied cognition” ? 
  3. Take 10 minutes to write about the interview. 

At the site: 

  1. After a group walk through the site, get in to groups of 3.
  2. Take time to look around. Observe the landscape and the objects in the vicinity.  Note your reaction to the place.  Does it meet your expectations? What is interesting about the place? 
  3. Choose a stone that interests, intrigues or puzzles you.   You may use any agreed upon method in choosing the stone.  You may decide on a stone that you have seen in the pictures, or choose one randomly, or one which reminds you of a shape.  
  4. Examine the stone.  Take pictures of the stone if you want.
  5. Conjecture about the motivations of the people who chose and transported that particular stone for that location.  Generate three hypotheses. 
  6. Embodiment exercise options:  a) on a sunny day, inhabit the shadow of the stone. b) When there is no sun, approach the stone with closed eyes from a distance of 2 meters,  but do not touch it.  Try approaching it from different directions. C) Interact with the stone through any movement, or part of your body in making sense and getting to know the stone. 
  7. Take turns doing this exercise. The other two will observe, take pictures and note of what they are seeing.  Note the ways in which the stones, and their placement determines, guides and directs the movement of human bodies, and how the shape of the human body makes it possible to know the stone/s in particular ways.
  8. Name your stone.  

On the bus to Old/Sarum:

  1. Each student takes 20 minutes to freewrite or brainstorm about their journal entry.  What did you learn in Avebury/Silbury Hill?

Before next class:

  1. Write a 2-page blog/journal entry about the experience on the course website.

See Responses to the Assignment