I learned about the Visualizing Cities Lab after my first semester at Duke. As a first-year student who was looking for research experience, the Visualizing Cities Lab seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to learn new skills and methodologies used in humanities research. Thus, I applied to be an undergraduate fellow with the lab. Prior to starting work in the lab, I knew I’d be required to step outside my comfort zone. As a political science major, I had never worked with anything related to art history, visual media, or urban studies before, and I was excited to dive into topics that I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to study. I was also excited to get the chance to work on a research team with graduate and fellow undergraduate students. However, during the first lab meeting, I was surprised to learn that the lab would be entirely conducted in a workshop structure. I had never designed or led a workshop before, so I was a bit nervous about what the process would be like.

I worked in a group with a graduate student, Yiming, and another undergraduate student, Deepthi. The theme of our research was “Cold War Cities,” so we decided to investigate the cities of Pyongyang and Seoul. Our research was focused on how the architecture of each city helped realize the political ideology of North and South Korea following the division of Korea during the Cold War and in the present day. The process of conducting research and preparing for the workshop was actually much less daunting than I expected. There wasn’t any overly complex archival work or technical skills required as I had expected. Rather, it was much more like a dialogue between the three of us. Yiming would send articles or other materials that he found interesting, and Deepthi and I would review them and provide our own commentary and analysis in a reply, and sometimes we would send articles that we found during our own research. Prior to the workshop, we synthesized our analysis into a presentation format and devised an interactive component that allowed the workshop participants to apply overarching ideas from our analysis.

The process of conducting research and helping to lead a workshop within the lab was a fantastic experience. I especially appreciated the collaborative aspect, as Yiming, Deepthi, and I were in different locations and time zones, yet we still managed to craft a comprehensive and engaging workshop. It showed me that conversation and collaboration were still possible, even amidst the social distancing of the pandemic. And presenting the workshop was an exciting experience, especially as I was hearing the discussions of the workshop participants. They were engaging with our material at a depth that I was not anticipating, and it was incredibly rewarding to see that our research was interesting and thought-provoking. I deeply appreciate all aspects of my semester with the Visualizing Cities Lab, as I was able to develop an appreciation of the encompassing nature of politics, culture, and art. The three are deeply intertwined, and inseparable.