“Gone But Not Forgotten: What We’ve Learned from the Passenger Pigeon’s Extinction,” was an Honors College Colloquium last semester in which 15 students, under the guidance of professors Barb Stedman and Kamal Islam, added to a traveling museum exhibit initially developed at the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History.
It teaches about passenger pigeons, a species that became extinct in 1914. The course was actually developed in recognition of the 100-year-anniverary of their extinction.
“It was amazing to see how there were so many of them – billions, actually – and then they ended up extinct,” Sarah Klemm, a senior music education major who took the colloquium as her last Honors class, said.
Klemm said that when she signed up for the class, she, like many who have accompanied her to see the exhibit she helped create, thought passenger pigeons were carrier pigeons, the type famous for delivering messages. In actuality, passenger pigeons are most often noted for their sheer numbers; historical sources state they used to travel in flocks so large they blocked out the sun.
Largely due to overhunting, the species eventually became extinct. Colloquium students added details to the exhibit to help visitors feel the impact. For example, upon entering the gallery, visitors are invited to take an origami pigeon from a basket. Later, they realize their simple action contributes to the eventual depopulation of the entire basket.
“It was a very poetic way of impressing upon visitors that each individual can make an impact on the bigger picture,” biology professor and course co-instructor, Kamal Islam, said. “It was something that just floored me: the ideas students came up with to enhance the exhibit.”
Other student enhancements include a large hanging mobile, a station for visitors to draw and color images to celebrate the passenger pigeons and a flute piece dedicated to the pigeons, composed by Klemm.
“I wanted to write something that reminded me of the birds,” she said. “The sections where it’s choppy are supposed to represent the birds trying to fly away from enemies and people trying to get at them.”
The exhibit was unveiled in November, along with a presentation by Joel Greenberg, the author of A Feathered River Across the Sky, the main text studied by students in the colloquium. It is located in Gallery 2, on the second floor of the main Minnetrista building. Admission is $5.