Computer science students consider runtime and efficiency when thinking about algorithms, but these constraints can seem theoretical on modern-day machines. Similarly, in the way that calculators rendered slide rules obsolete, mathematics students may have a hard time appreciating the value that was once placed on speedy and accurate arithmetic operations.

To learn new ways to record and compute data, math and computer science students turned to the college’s Denison Museum’s current exhibition, Mining the Qhapaq Ñan.

Curated by Denison studio art professor Micaela Vivero, Mining the Qhapaq Ñan unfolds a narrative that spans continents, from Vivero’s upbringing amid historic cathedrals adorned with gold in Quito, Ecuador, to her explorations of ancient cultures in places as distant as Greece and Peru.

One recurring object is the khipu, an Incan record-keeping system based on knotted string. This led to a particularly fruitful joint workshop with Vivero and May Mei, an associate professor of mathematics. Mei’s technical communication students visited the museum to create their own khipu, gaining an appreciation for the technology of today and the innovation of the past. Math, computation, art, and history in one lesson — “transformative liberal arts teaching at its finest,” said Denison Museum director Megan Hancock.

April 15, 2024