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Rare Books and a Rare Gift for Inspired Teaching: Librarian Jeanne Britton Earns Mungo Undergraduate Teaching Award

The intersection of librarianship and teaching has been fruitful for Irvin Department of Rare Books Curator Jeanne Britton, who is a 2024 recipient of the University of South Carolina’s prestigious Michael J. Mungo Undergraduate Teaching Award.

Britton is one of four faculty members campuswide to be recognized with a Mungo Award for outstanding undergraduate instruction. She says her work with the Libraries’ special collections has informed her teaching since her arrival at the university in 2014. “It’s so exciting to put these really remarkable materials in front of students,” she notes. “They have the capacity both to inform and to surprise people at the same time. We’ll never be done looking at these materials – they have so much to show us.”

Case in point is the Honors seminar she’s taught several times called “The Art of Information: Culture and History through Diagrams, Maps, and Graphs,” which draws on her work with the Irvin Department’s collection of maps and prints by 18th-century artist Giovanni Piranesi. “I love teaching that class because it allows me to share all these amazing images I’ve found here,” she says.

Notable not only for their distinctive perspective but also for their detailed annotations, Piranesi’s maps limn the intersection of art and instruction and invite interdisciplinary approaches to the study of both visual communication and knowledge formation. That, Britton says, creates a classroom environment where everyone, students and professor alike, can draw on their areas of expertise to contribute to a collective interpretive practice.

It also, she says, invites students in other disciplines to discover what the humanities, and the Libraries’ resources, have to offer them. “This class brings students into the Irvin Department who wouldn’t otherwise come,” she notes. “It’s important for students to know what resources the university has for them, and our collections include some remarkable resources.”

The class also, she adds, “demonstrates that the humanities and the hard sciences are not incompatible, that true interdisciplinary teaching can demonstrate the value of history, literature, and art for students in STEM fields.”

Britton’s commitment to using library resources to enhance undergraduate education is emblematic of the Libraries’ mission, says Dean of Libraries David Banush: “I am delighted to see Jeanne’s teaching recognized as among the best at USC.  While our library faculty are not traditional instructors, they nevertheless reach thousands of students each year and enrich their academic experiences in classes across the curriculum.”

For Britton, who holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and has spent the last decade as a teacher and scholar as well as a librarian, the Mungo Award is both an honor and an affirmation of the university’s commitment to transformative instruction. “Michael Mungo’s son Steven Mungo was at the award ceremony,” she says, “and he spoke about how his father was motivated to create the awards because of an outstanding and impactful professor he’d had when he was at Carolina. That was so inspiring to me.”

“It’s a huge honor to win this award,” Britton adds. “I truly love teaching. There’s nothing like a good classroom discussion that leads students to think of things I’ve never thought of before. That’s so rewarding in itself, and getting recognized for that work just means so much.”

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