The yearlong SIMILE program is complemented by hands-on projects, field trips, and guest speakers. Explore the slide shows below to see some highlights from the 2013-2014 academic year.

Selected SIMILE Events

Workshops in medieval technologies

In the context of learning about alchemy and medieval technology, SIMILE took a field trip to the Crucible, a non-profit industrial arts educational organization in Oakland. SIMILE students and instructors toured the facility's studios and then took one of four 3-hour classes (in blacksmithing, sand-casting of glass, aluminum casting, or ceramics). These hands-on workshops offered lessons about early technical practices that can’t be learned from texts and provided opportunities to work in an exploratory and creative fashion.

Astrolabe project

Astrolabes are devices used for making astronomy observations and calculations during ancient and medieval times. SIMILE students repeated an exercise common in 16th- and 17th-century astronomy classes — assembling paper astrolabes from kits and then using the astrolabes to determine the positions of the sun and stars at various times. 

Burbank Cabinet of Curiosities

SIMILE students created a modern interpretation of a cabinet of curiosities, for display within Burbank House. In the 16th to 18th centuries, cabinets of curiosities showcased collections of unusual artifacts, with the understanding that seeing these artifacts would incite wonder at the world’s infinite productions and perhaps lead to a deeper understanding of the nature of things. SIMILE students selected, found, and in some instances made objects that resonated with their own sense of what is curious today. A reception welcomed visitors to the cabinet and celebrated the release of the catalog that students had produced to document the cabinet’s contents.

Visit to the California Academy of Sciences

To prepare to create the Burbank Cabinet of Curiosities, SIMILE visited the California Academy of Sciences. We met with a curator of natural history exhibitions, had a behind-the-scenes tour of the Academy, and enjoyed dinner in San Francisco afterward.

Workshop in specimen preparation

Animal specimens were very common in cabinets of curiosities, and preservation techniques were — and remain — critical to studying animals far from the habitats and times in which they lived. Several SIMILE students participated in an optional workshop led by Alicia Goode, taxidermist at the Oakland Museum of California. Students learned to mount insects, spread bird wings, and clean the skulls of small mammals.

Please note that no animals were harmed in order to facilitate this workshop; all specimens were collected postmortem.

Hand ax demonstration

Professor John Rick of the Anthropology Department visited SIMILE to demonstrate how to make one of the oldest technologies, a hand ax.

Trebuchet Demonstration

Connected with our study of medieval technology, Dr. Andrew Rasmussen (SLAC) shared with SIMILE his modern version of a trebuchet. Students helped assemble the device and made adjustments to optimize its performance. SIMILE Professor Reviel Netz provided historical commentary.

Bird-Watching Expedition

At the end of the year — during which we had studied the history of natural history, observation with instruments, taxonomy, and debates about changing ecosystems — SIMILE got out into the field. The Baylands Nature Preserve, just a short drive from campus, offers some of the best birding in California. It's also a beautiful spot for a walk and a much-deserved study-break.