Dean of Faculty Report, February 2006

At every monthly faculty meeting during the school year, the Dean of Faculty presents brief overviews of recent publications and other achievements by the Mount Holyoke faculty. Here are excerpts from the February 2006 report of Donal O'Shea, Dean of Faculty

Books (and Film)

Associate Professor of Art and chair of Art and Art history Ajay Sinha’s coedited volume Bollyworld: Popular Indian Cinema through a Transnational Lens has just appeared with Sage Press. The volume originated in a panel that Ajay organized several years ago in Chicago at a meeting of the Association for Asian Studies, but clearly outgrew the panel’s original scope and charge. Ajay’s introductory essay with coeditor Raminder Kaur of University of Sussex sketches some of the to-me-revelatory set of observations and themes that emerge from the essays in the book. Ajay argues that both Hollywood and Bollywood are not mere national artifacts, but can be usefully, and perhaps best, understood in the context of a globalized world. Moreover, when so viewed, they emerge as a sort of obverse of one another. Both provide different, but coherent, insights into the globalized cultural economy and participate in the making of such. But they function somewhat differently: whereas Hollywood homogenizes cultural experience, Bollywood fragments it. The book makes an utterly convincing case. As additional bonuses, the book has some great color photos and the essays provide an engrossing introduction to some films that are perhaps well known to film types, but that I’d never encountered. About halfway through the book, I joined Netflix.

You might, at first blush, think that Associate Professor of Classics and chair of Classics and Italian Geoff Sumi’s book Ceremony and Power: Performing Politics in Rome between Republic and Empire, which appeared late last term with the University of Michigan Press, is a scholarly monograph with necessarily narrow appeal. The cover is a sober, solid library green and the acknowledgements state that the book is a substantially revised version of Geoff’s dissertation. But start into it, and first impressions vanish instantly. You enter the world of the Roman Empire at a crucial juncture in its history, the years 44-43 BCE, a time of instability following the assassination of Julius Caesar. The book examines the complicated relation between individual power, familial privilege, and public support on the one hand, and ceremony, oratory, and other forms of performance on the other. Successful performance resulted in power, and power in turn gave access to performance. Geoff writes beautifully and his deep scholarship sits gracefully on the text; readers are deftly fed the information and background needed to easily understand the narrative and the times. But what transcends its genre and lends the book its fascination is its odd timeliness. You cannot read this book and not think of Air Force One, of the royal yacht Britannia, of the Mission Accomplished poster on the USS Abraham Lincoln, and of the public relations machinery that surrounds almost every public figure today. The minute portrayal and analysis of political power and performance during a short period of time in a once powerful empire 2,000 years distant resonates everywhere with our times. Read this book if you have some spare moments. Even if you don’t. I will bet that you wind up recommending it to colleagues, to students, and to friends, not just because it is an extraordinarily beautiful example of accessible and absorbing scholarly writing, but because it is the best book imaginable about the sometimes noxious topics of marketing, public relations, and power.

French Professor Samba Gadjigo has finished a documentary film entitled The Making of Moolade, which is terrific. More on this next time.

Debbora Battaglia, Professor of Anthropology, Lois Brown, Associate Professor of English and director of the Weissman Center for Leadership and the Liberal Arts, Satya Gabriel, Associate Professor of Economics, and Stephen Jones, Professor of Russian studies and chair of Russian and Eurasian studies, have just had books appear. More later, when I have a chance to read them. The titles are E.T. Culture: Anthropology in Outer Spaces (Debbora, Duke University Press), Encyclopedia of the Harlem Literary Renaissance (Lois, Facts on File), Chinese Capitalism and the Modernist Vision (Satya, Routledge), Socialism in Georgian Colors: The European Road to Social Democracy, 1883-1917 (Stephen, Harvard University Press).

Grants

Associate professor of chemistry and chair of chemistry Donnie Cotter has received an award of $65,944 from the National Science Foundation for his project Project Development Fellowship for a Chemist-Historian: Life and Work of Alexander Smith (1864–1922). The award will underwrite part of Donnie’s preparation of a biography of the little-known, but important, Scottish-American chemist, Alexander Smith, who established some of the more lasting educational practices in American university (and college) chemistry departments. Smith played a vital but not fully examined role, first at the University of Chicago, and later at Columbia, in the emergence of the chemistry profession and chemistry graduate training in the United States. Donnie was instrumental in locating a previously undiscovered archive of Smith’s personal papers. The award will also allow Donnie to get some of the scholarly training necessary to move his scholarly specialty from organometallic chemistry to professional history of science. I believe this is the first award in the last five years that a faculty member from the College has received from the NSF’s Social and Economic Sciences division. It is certainly the first from the History and Philosophy of Science Program of that division.

Thinking that the thin envelope that arrived in December from the Dreyfus Foundation was yet another flyer announcing a grant competition, associate professor of chemistry Darren Hamilton had it halfway to the circular file when some impulse bade him to open it. He discovered that he had been awarded a prestigious Henry-Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award for his project Exploring the Supramolecular Utility of a Strong Organic Electron Acceptor. The grant will allow Darren and his students to continue their work designing molecules that have shapes that are knotted and/or linked in the topological sense. For example, they have produced molecules composed of two copies of a molecule, each with a ring structure (think, for example, of a benzene ring), but where the rings in each copy pass through each other and can’t be pulled apart without breaking one of the rings. Some of the base molecules with which Darren and his group work bind well with DNA molecules, which may lead to potential useful applications for the construction of molecules that could carry out certain predetermined tasks.

Papers

I’m running out of time, so will return to some of the stuff below later. There is lots more I did not get to. Carolyn Collette, Professor of English Language and Literature on the Alumnae Foundation and chair of medieval studies, has published a paper with Vincent DiMarco of the University of Massachusetts entitled “The Canon Yeoman’s Tale” that is a new area for her, and represents her burgeoning interest in time, measure, and value in late medieval culture. The paper appears in a collection entitled Sources and Analogues of the Canterbury Tales. Incidentally, Carolyn’s scholarship and leadership in her field have been recently acknowledged by her appointment as a fellow at York’s distinguished Centre for Medieval Studies.

Philosophical papers are usually too technical for me, but Assistant Professor of Philosophy James Harold has just published two readable, really neat ones. One, entitled “Infected by Evil” in Philosophical Explorations, discusses the possibility, raised by Plato, that evil behavior in fiction can be infectious and can actually harm those who consume it. Plato argues that sympathy with a morally compromised fictional character can inadvertently undermine one’s own moral beliefs. James discusses recent scholarship and has great examples (The Godfather, Reservoir Dogs, and Deep Throat all make a cameo appearance). Another, "Narrative Engagement with Atonement and The Blind Assassin" in Philosophy and Literature, enlarges on the theme of how the reader identifies with characters in narrative fiction. Here, again, the examples are terrific.

Assistant Professor of English Amy Martin has a bunch of new papers that have just appeared and that are utterly fascinating. The paper “Becoming a Race Apart: Representing Irish Racial Difference and the British Working Class in Victorian Critiques of Capitalism” in the collection Was Ireland a Colony? echoes and contextualizes campus and national discussions on class and gender. The paper “Nationalism as Blasphemy: Negotiating Belief and Institutionality in the Genre of Fenian Recollections” in the collection Evangelicals and Catholics in Nineteenth-Century Ireland does the same for power and organized religion. Amy’s paper with her colleague Brendán Mac Suibhne entitled “Fenians in the Frame: Photographing Irish Political Prisoners, 1865–68” in the annual Field Day Review 2005 is a visually stunning interdisciplinary treat that merges photography and social analysis and that ends by alluding to parallels between the British treatment of Fenian insurgents 140 years ago and our own government’s response to suspected domestic terrorists. The use of modern technologies in unusual circumstances to curtail domestic freedoms and the interaction between photography and wars on terrorism link the prisoners in Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison and Iraq’s Abu Ghraib.

Assistant professor of English Nigel Alderman and Scott Brown, Director of the Career Development Center, have new papers out. (Nigel’s has diagrams with axes – highly unusual in a paper on Wordsworth, I would think.) Next time.

Submitted by Don O’Shea
February 1, 2006