Sophia Higginbottom ‘17 is an adventure-seeking lover of life who is very passionate about the cultural and artistic tattooing traditions of the world. So passionate, in fact, that she has taught her own course on the subject right here at Denison.
Higginbottom is a senior student from Cleveland, Ohio. She earned her Associate of Liberal Arts degree from Cuyahoga Community College in 2014 and is graduating from Denison University in May with a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Studies.
While studying with the School for International Training in Samoa, American Samoa, Hawaii and Fiji, Higginbottom met, surveyed and interviewed many artists and individuals of Oceania. She also was able to meet and study the work of the Su’a Sulu’ape family, which was a great honor for her.
This experience led her to teach her own course on tattooing.
Higginbottom teaches a six week course called Tattooing Around the World. This course is meant to provide information on the cultural practices and the significance of tattooing in cultures around the world.
Each week Higginbottom and her class discuss different locations in the world, such as Samoa, Maori, New Zealand, Japan and their traditional tattooing practices, methods, surrounding cultures, etc.
“Tattooing is a subject I could discuss for hours at a time. I have spent the past two and a half years studying tattoos, including studying tattooing in Samoa, American Samoa, Fiji, and Hawaii. I also always love the looks of curiosity and intrigue that are visible on the faces of those I speak to about this subject,” said Higginbottom.
“This was, I believe, the most natural topic for me to teach a course on.” Students use a “tattoo journal” to sketch ideas, assignments, drawings, and any other important notes from the class.
The class comes with readings and a final project consisting of an in-class workshop. In this workshop, students work on what their “tattoo” would be, based on the designs and meaning discussed in the course.
Higginbottom found out about being able to teach a course at Denison after working through her senior research on tattoos in the fall semester of 2016. “An advisor to my project suggested I ask about opportunities to showcase my research through the Lisska Center. I emailed Margot Singer and Cookie Sunkle about my desire to share my work, and though no opportunities immediately presented themselves, in September I was contacted by Dr. Singer about an opportunity with the Experimental College program at Denison. I went through that process and was approved. This was the second semester of this program, and it has been a wonderful experience!” said Higginbottom .
Higginbottom said that students who successfully complete the course receive a certificate of completion, knowledge on tattooing practices of the world and food at each week’s session.
Five students have successfully completed the course this semester.
For Higginbottom, this opportunity to teach was highly rewarding. “The best part is getting to share what I know each week with students who are extremely engaged and wanting to learn from me. All of my students read and came prepared to discuss topics each week. They were also very flexible and understanding that we were all learning together,” said Higginbottom.
“The worst part is either the short 6 week duration that is the maximum allowed time for the Experimental College courses, or the fact of losing interested students for various reasons.”
Higginbottom loved the experience of teaching and would recommend it to other students. She would even be open to teaching another course but believes more students would be interested if it was worth a credit hour. She would also love to teach a tattooing class where students learned to give tattoos, once she is certified.
Higginbottom has compiled her research into two works: “The Exploitation of Indigenous Cultures: The Significance of Samoan Tattooing” and “Markings on Our Skin:” An Exhibition about Tatau and Identity in Samoa, which was an exhibition she worked on with the support of Dr. Joanna Grabski and should be published by mid-March. The work can soon be found on www.mappingoceania.org
After graduation, Higginbottom will be working as a teacher for City Year of AmeriCorps in Cleveland, Ohio for a year, where she will also be working to complete a tattoo apprenticeship and certification.