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Literacy and Power exhibition opens at George and Barbara Bush Center at UNE

Former First Lady Barbara Bush

September 26, 2013

Literacy and Power, a new exhibition examining the problems and solutions to illiteracy, has opened at the University of New England George and Barbara Bush Center on UNE's Biddeford Campus.

The gallery exhibit provides a chronological review of literacy in six parts: the origins of written language, literacy education in the United States, contemporary problems of illiteracy, possible solutions, and 21st century digital literacy. 

Literacy and Power was created for the George and Barbara Bush Center by UNE faculty from the Department of History and Philosophy, the Department of English and Language Studies, and the Department of Education, in collaboration with the UNE Office of Communications and the UNE Libraries' Department of Special Collections.

The physical displays in the gallery invite visitors to explore six themes in much greater depth through an expansive electronic component via iPads, which is also accessible online at  

For example, the first section of the physical exhibit describes the history of written language from earliest times, focusing on the various reasons for the advent of writing and the important implications that literacy had for both power and wealth.  The electronic display expands upon these themes, allowing users to see early writing systems, explore the Epic of Gilgamesh (the oldest known story), and discover how modern scholars learned to read some of these ancient texts.  

Similarly, the sections on illiteracy in America and the costs of this problem use the gallery space to provide a quick overview before setting visitors loose to peruse major reports, examine news coverage, and study in detail the approach used by the Barbara Bush Foundation and other important organizations dedicated to expanding literacy in the United States and the world.

The exhibition draws upon the expertise of UNE faculty members Eric Zuelow Ph.D., associate professor of European history, who coordinated the exhibit and authored the section on the history of written language;  Elizabeth De Wolfe, Ph.D., professor of U.S. history, who developed the section on education in America; Heather Sadlier, Ed.D., associate professor of education, who designed sections on the problem of illiteracy and the various approaches to reducing it; and Michael Cripps, Ph.D., associate professor, an expert on digital humanities and college-level writing instruction, who developed the section on 21st century literacy.

The exhibition was curated by Cally Gurley, Director of Special Collections.

The opening of Literacy and Power aligned with the fourth George and Barbara Bush Distinguished Lecture at UNE on September 19, when Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser of Qatar was presented the George Bush Award for Excellence in Public Service by the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation. 

A tireless advocate for quality education and access, Sheikha Moza has been a driving force behind education and social reforms in Qatar for more than 15 years. She is Chairperson of the nonprofit Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development. In November 2012, Sheikha Moza launched the Educate a Child program, which aims to connect 10 million out-of-school children across the world with access to quality education by the end of 2015.

Literacy and Power is free and open to the public and runs through September 15th, 2014. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except during UNE vacations. 

Groups audience: