Researching the Sublime from Carleton to California

30 April 2015

For junior Anna Guasco, academics and civic engagement go hand in hand. Throughout her time at Carleton, Anna has combined her academic interests, community involvement, and work experiences in fascinating ways. Her passion for the environment led her to work with the National Park Service several years ago, and at Carleton she volunteers with Kids for Conservation, a group that teaches elementary school students about environmental issues. Anna’s most recent endeavor was an integrative project that combined her work at Channel Islands National Park in California with the ideas from an American Studies class entitled “The American Sublime.”

Taught by Beth McKinsey, the course explored how Americans adapted the European aesthetic idea of the Sublime in their effort to come to terms with the conquest of new lands and native peoples in the nineteenth century. It looked at how places such as Yosemite and Niagara Falls embody the sublime. Inspired by this concept, Anna decided to pursue an independent research version of the course at Channel Islands.

Anna returned to Channel Islands the summer after her sophomore year and became an archivist of the park, in addition to her regular park ranger duties. She got access to historical archives and worked with primary sources to explore characteristics of the sublime, specifically within a site at the park called Anacapa Island. Anna explains, “My research focused on perceptions and representations of Anacapa over time (1853–present), and how those relate to the 19th century aesthetic concept of the American Sublime. I looked at the role of the sublime and environmental aesthetics in promoting environmental stewardship.” It was important to Anna to portray the park in a respectful and accurate way, especially since many people at Carleton are not familiar with it.

Upon returning to Carleton in the fall, Anna built on her research with Beth McKinsey, doing secondary source analysis to combine what she had collected over the summer with the idea of the sublime as an American concept. Her sources included historical newspaper articles, two interviews with local artists, park advertising materials, and government documents. She said the research fused her “major, passion for environmental thought, and work experience with the park into one project.”

Anna was invited to present her research at the park over winter break. She received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the local community and others involved with the park. Anna has already been invited to speak again in 2016 for the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, but this time with a greater focus on environmental stewardship.

When asked what advice she would give other students looking to do research like hers, Anna recommends taking an Academic Civic Engagement course at Carleton. She believes ACE courses provide a framework to see how one can incorporate class work with a project in the community. Her experience in “The American Sublime” inspired her to approach environmental issues from an American Studies perspective and research Channel Islands in a way that had never been done before. Anna also suggests that if you have an idea for a project, “Don’t be afraid to just try it. Organizations and people might be more excited to have research done with them than you’d expect.” Email a professor, look for feasible ways to pursue your idea, and take that first step. The results may be sublime.

For those interested in the National Park Service, their Pathways program has many employment opportunities for college students, especially in positions for Interpretation and Education. Anna encourages any who are interested in seasonal positions like hers to visit

Anna Guasco's research at the Channel Islands
Channel Islands National Park, California