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McNair Feature Scholar: Meet Carissa!

Cari Dowden Headshot
Cari Dowden, Cohort 19

My name is Carissa Dowden and I am senior geography and public history student at UWEC from Sussex, WI. 

With my two majors, I wear many hats on campus; In the geography department, I am a student assistant for the Physical Geography lab (GEOG 104), and also a First Year Opportunity (FYO) Mentor for its freshpeople-only section. In history, I have been continuing the Spring 2018 Public History capstone project, The Sounds of Eau Claire,with two other students and Dr. Daniel Ott. While the original iteration of the project focused primarily on photographing and digitally archiving artifacts related to local music history, we are currently interviewing local musicians about their own personal histories within the local music industry. I am also writing my History capstone paper on the geographic and economic reason why Eau Claire was chosen as the federal basing point for the milk marketing order during the New Deal. In my spare time, I like to watch true crime and/or historical documentaries, as well as tend to my (growing) houseplant collection.

For my McNair research, advised by Dr. Paul Kaldjian, I am conducting a semiotic analysis of signs on the driven landscape within a 50-mile radius of Eau Claire. Along a given automobile landscape, individuals are exposed to certain messages: government signs, privately funded advertisements, and temporary or handmade signs. However, these messages convey underlying values, which we hold ultimately relate back to an adjacent community. Building on concepts of welcomingness, we seek to analyze and evaluate these messages shared on the driven landscape outside of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. In order to analyze signs, photos were taken from a car’s perspective on local highways or roads to and from a specific point in Eau Claire determined by Google Maps. These will be evaluated through a qualitative semiotic and critical analysis of advertisement visuals, textual messages, and overall cultural meaning. Preliminary analysis suggests that the hypothesis is partially supported in more affluent suburban and urban communities, but poor rural communities are excluded, as most advertising is bought by more affluent corporations (therefore having little relation to the thoughts and opinions of locals).

My post-baccalaureate goals include seeking a professorship in humanistic or cultural geography, conducting contract history work or cartographic design, or going into archival or historic preservation.