May 21, 2008
Subway Riders Invited to Take
a More Elevated Line of Thought
Special from The Record
Move over, Dr. Z.
Starting this month—thanks to some expert guidance from Columbia’s Arts and Sciences faculty—millions of New York City bus and subway riders will have a diversion from those ubiquitous advertisements for the Manhattan dermatologist Jonathan Zizmor.
The Train of Thought ad featuring Galileo, now showing in a subway car near you.
(Click image above for larger photo)
In a new series of advertisements that run on subways and buses,
the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has unveiled Train of
Thought, which will feature excerpts and quotations from some of
the world’s greatest minds—each selected by experts at Columbia.
“Since we are ‘Columbia University in the City of New York,’ it is
appropriate that we bring these great achievements to the streets, or
in this case, below the streets, of our city,” says Henry C. Pinkham,
dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS), who has
appointed a committee of Columbia experts to pick what editorial
content should be on the ads. “Of course, the subway permits only
tiny excerpts to be posted. But it gets people thinking about big ideas
and that’s exactly what a university should do for people.”
One of the first Train of Thought excerpts is from the book Here
Is New York, E.B. White’s 1948 love letter to the city, on the special
character of New York City and its people. White, the former New
Yorker essayist, is best known as the author of Charlotte’s Web. The
other selection is from 16th-century Italian astronomer and scientist
Galileo on the centrality of mathematics to science. The ads will
be illustrated with original images from Columbia’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
“The project is consonant with Columbia’s tradition of
engaging directly with the primary texts marking great intellectual
achievements,” Pinkham says.
The campaign replaces the Poetry in Motion ads that have
appeared on New York City subways and buses since 1992. The new
series is an opportunity to broaden the scope and content of the
Sub Talk advertisements, says the MTA. “New Yorkers have wideranging
interests, and we felt that we could include material from a
variety of other disciplines, in addition to poetry, to bring important,
engaging, insightful quotes to our riders,” says Alicia Martinez, MTA’s
director of marketing and corporate communications.
Columbia was the first, and only, choice when it came to coming
up with the content for the ads. “There was no formal search process,”
says MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan. Indeed, it was Columbia
University alumni working at MTA who informally proposed
Columbia’s involvement to Pinkham. “I have been, over the years, a
great admirer of Poetry in Motion, so I was thrilled when the MTA
came to GSAS with the idea of broadening Poetry in Motion to all
forms of literature, philosophy, history and science,” Pinkham says.
To help choose what should be used in the series, Pinkham set
up a committee of faculty members and administrators to propose
selections, which then go to the MTA for approval. Selections for the
next year have already been chosen—just don’t ask Pinkham what
they are. “I do not want to divulge them,” he says.
The next two ads arrive July 1 and will feature quotations from the fields of philosophy and literature. Funding for production of the program is provided by Barnes & Noble. Two new quotations from different disciplines will be posted every three months.
— Story by LaVenia LaVelle