Member of the Week: Patricia Ploehn

4y6a6631Patricia Ploehn  

Senior, Honors College, College of Charleston

Double major in Historic Preservation and Art History, minor in Southern Studies

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest? 

I am currently involved in two different research projects! I am continuing my research on the interpretation of monuments by seeking out more contentious monuments here in South Carolina, particularly ones located in Columbia and Charleston. I feel that the memorial landscapes we exist in should be meeting grounds where people can gather together to discuss controversial topics with open hearts and minds, and I believe that I have a responsibility to my community to use my passion for art and preservation to open up this discussion and keep it flowing. I am also currently working on research for my Senior Seminar course that pertains to the topic of Utopias, specifically Modernist ideas about reform in both societal and architectural ways. I am especially interested in Bruno Taut and his glass architecture and the idea of purposeful yet beautiful utopian spaces.

What urban history-related courses are you currently taking? How are they supporting your work on your bachelor’s essay?

I am currently taking a Historic Preservation course on Preservation and Community Planning: Contemporary Planning Issues that tackles the topics of contemporary development, sustainability, and climate. I believe it is vital that we understand what development looks like when faced with increasing high-impact weather events and how we can change our policies and development standards to better fit the historic urban fabric we already have. Sustaining our historic buildings and preparing the urban areas around us for various changes in climate ties in directly with the idea of living in a utopian space: what we want our future cities to look like, and how can we change the cities we exist in now to allow our populations to thrive sustainably.

What books or articles have you read recently that made an impression?

I recently read a short article describing the work of photographer Jessica Ingram and her project Road Through Midnight: A Civil Rights Memorial that documents historically significant locations throughout the South. Ingram is featured in the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art’s exhibition SOUTHBOUND, an exhibition of 21st century Southern photography here in Charleston, and I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the exhibition and see her work up close. After viewing the photographs on display, I went to her website and scrolled through all of the Road to Midnight photos and read the descriptions. Her work is heartbreakingly beautiful, depicting landscapes of fields, roads, and houses that hold deeper, darker histories of racial violence. I find it so compelling that calm landscapes like the ones Ingram photographs can have silent histories that no one notices; it makes me see the landscape of Charleston differently, and I find myself pausing often to wonder about the hidden histories in my own city.

What advice do you have for undergraduate students preparing a thesis project or seminar paper related to urban history or urban studies?

I would offer this advice: keep an open mind! Find what you are passionate about and dive deeper into it. Be open to your professors about your passions, and they will definitely push you in directions you never thought you’d go. There are so many facets of urban history that have yet to be fully explored! Try looking into subjects you normally wouldn’t and combining those subjects with what you’re passionate about. I never thought I could combine my love for preservation and my fascination with architectural memorial forms, but here we are! When it comes to preparing for a thesis or seminar presentation, I would say that practicing your presentation is a very important aspect. Getting comfortable with the material is one thing, but even just knowing when to breathe and make eye contact with your audience is something else entirely!

What do you hope the next stage or season of your life looks like? Any big (or small) goals?

I know that the next season of life for me includes some very big changes, including graduating from college, finding housing here in Charleston, and most importantly finding a job in the preservation field! I know that through all of these changes, though, I will be able to maintain my friendships here in Charleston and also continue in my passions. I want my life to be focused on spreading hope in my community through projects that directly address issues in preservation, conservation, and urban development.

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