Dean of Faculty Report, September 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 September 2006 report of Donal O'Shea, Dean of Faculty

Sirkka Kauffman, director of sponsored research, has accepted a position as assistant dean of faculty at Marlboro College. She will be leaving us at the end of the month. We will miss her very much. Although I am delighted for her, I am sad for us. Her record has been extraordinary. We are currently looking for a date and time to celebrate her time at Mount Holyoke. Stay tuned.


While poring over some old photographs linked to Wallace Stevens, Chris Benfey noticed a photograph of a group of well-known scholars outside what appeared to be Porter Hall at Mount Holyoke. Curious, he and Karen Remmler, then codirectors of the Weissman Center, unearthed the story in which the French intellectual exile community in New York met for three summers at Mount Holyoke during the latter years of the last World War. These meetings continued the annual pre-war Pontigny retreats that had been held in France and that would continue after the war. Karen and Chris subsequently organized an extraordinary gathering under the auspices of the Weissman Center in November 2003 that explored and celebrated the 1942–1944 summer conferences. The gathering revealed the profound impact the almost forgotten Entretiens de Pontigny à Mount Holyoke had on our students, our faculty, and the institution. Alumnae, some of whom had been students at the time, and former and current faculty joined scholars from other institutions in re-creating the memory and saliency of the entretiens and the many human connections between our faculty, our students, and the exiles. The proceedings (C. Benfey and K. Remmler (eds.), Artists, Intellectuals, and World War II: The Pontigny Encounters at Mount Holyoke College, 1942–1944, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2006) appeared this summer. A beginning chapter by Chris and a closing one by Karen frame the proceedings, which include remembrances, photographs, and a number of essays by our faculty (among them Elissa Gelfand, Dorothy Rooke McCulloch Professor of French; Andy Lass, Professor of Anthropology; Nadia Margolis, visiting Professor of French; Holger Teschke, former visiting Professor of Theatre Arts; and me) and others. The book records the memories evoked by the conference, and is a pleasure to handle, to examine, and to read. An article by Chris exploring Rachel Bespaloff’s intellectual kinship with equally troubled Simone Weil, and an entire section including essays, photographs, remembrances by Bespaloff’s daughter and three alumnae magically capture the memory of the gifted writer, philosopher, and teacher who taught at Mount Holyoke for six years before taking her life in 1949, and whose spirit unexpectedly animated the whole weekend. The book, like the Weissman Center event, is beautiful; no other word will do.

Leszek Bledzki, senior research associate in biology, has published with J. I. Rybak a key for identifying different species of copepods. Copepods are a family of small parasitic crustaceans that occur in almost every habitat. The book, Widlonogi Copepoda: Cyclopoida, Klucz do oznaczania Copepoda, Cyclopoida (A Key for Cyclopoid Copepods of Poland), is in Polish, but you don’t really need to know Polish because it contains marvelous detailed drawings that are a joy to look at. Even better, it is available on the web. Different types of copepods can be found near the dams on Lower Lake and Upper Lake.

Carolyn Collette, Professor of English Language and Literature on the Alumnae Foundation and chair of medieval studies, has had two books appear this summer. The first, entitled The Legend of Good Women: Context and Reception (Cambridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2006), is a collection of essays by others that she edited exploring a variety of approaches to Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women. As she has done in so much of her work, Carolyn stresses that reading those stories today (or any substantial time after they were written) amounts to reinterpreting, often unconsciously, the stories in the light of the preoccupations of the times. She stresses the necessity of reading them also in the context of late medieval interest in exemplary stories about women, and she collects essays that do just that. The second book, Performing Polity: Women and Agency in the Anglo-French Tradition, 1385–1620, (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2006), wholly written by Carolyn, is a tour de force that tracks the role and agency of women over two and half centuries on both sides of the Channel by careful readings of Thomas Elyot, Christine de Pizan, Philippe de Mézières, Nicole Oresme, and others, and in some cases their re-readings of the Good Women. It examines how concerns for a just polity invaded domestic spaces, resulting in an apparent constriction of women’s agency from the late medieval to early modern period. The writing is splendid and memorable: “The Virgin Mary, a partner in power, was set aside in favour of the ideal subject.” In their mode of operation, and the striking insights they provide by recovering the interaction between the suppositions of the times and how individuals conceived of their world and made meaning, the two books recall Carolyn’s superficially very different book, Species, Phatasms and Images: Vision and Medieval Psychology in The Canterbury Tales, of five years ago.

Every couple of years for the past several years, Economics Professor Fred Moseley has convened a small group of economists from around the world to examine a number of different economic questions from a Marxian point of view. The result of the 2003 symposium has now appeared in a book, Marx’s Theory of Money: Modern Appraisals (New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2005), that Fred has edited. Most of the book is over my head, but several of the essays, including Fred’s introductory one, give a sense of the issues. Apparently, there are a number of fundamental questions about the nature of money that are not well addressed by economic theory, including the dominant neoclassic paradigm. There are fascinating arguments about whether money is a commodity, about whether Marx’s theory is compatible with non-commodity forms of money, and about the labor value of money.

John Varriano’s sumptuous book, Caravaggio: The Art of Realism, appeared this summer (University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006). John says that the book began when one of his students asked what an Islamic rug was doing draped over a table in one of Caravaggio’s paintings. Curious, he embarked on a multiyear quest that led him to deep investigation of Caravaggio’s work and his preternatural realism. This marvelous book is the result. Different chapters capture various elements of Caravaggio’s work and times: violence, eroticism, imitation, portraiture (or lack of), transgressiveness, and, finally, the paradox whereby exquisitely rendered material detail, such as in the depiction of some foodstuffs or the carpet the student noticed, coexist with the artist’s growing preference for pictorial simplicity. “Words like ‘performative’ and ‘relationality’ do not appear on these pages,” John writes, and he makes good on his promise. He does much better: his writing is thoroughly engaging and accessible to a general audience. The book is utterly direct, beginning with the cover, a photo of Caravaggio’s famous Victorious Love, depicting a salacious cupid that sort of hits one right in the face (one learns that the model was Caravaggio’s lover Cecco, also a painter). Like its subject, the book has a playful streak. In discussing Caravaggio’s physicality, John quotes a number of earnest, complex passages from contemporary scholarship on Caravaggio’s eroticism before noting wickedly, “A missing ingredient in all these discussions—especially the cross-disciplinary ones—is plain and simple wit.” The book compels those of us who are not art historians to places and times most of us never have been. It will leave you wanting to know more about Caravaggio, the person, and sharing what has to be John’s frustration of knowing him only through scarce secondhand accounts and his work. It’s stunning.


We continue to do very well with grants. Allison Gillis, media relations associate in our Communications office, has gone carefully through publicly available National Science Foundation records and reports that since 2000, our science faculty has been awarded more NSF grant money ($8,122,015) than any other leading liberal arts college. Here, “leading” is defined as one of the top 30 liberal arts colleges in the 2005 U.S. News and World Report. As you know, this is extraordinary. Other schools on that list such as Wesleyan and Smith have graduate and engineering programs (and are bigger than we are). Allison also compiled some other extraordinary data into a short report entitled “Mount Holyoke College: A Leader in Educating Women in Science,” which I append to this report together with the backup. We also do really well when looking at numbers of our students who have gone on to receive humanities Ph.Ds.

Sean Decatur, Marilyn Dawson Sarles, M.D. Professor of Life Sciences, Professor of Chemistry, and Associate Dean of Faculty for Science, has received a supplementary Research Experiences for Undergraduates award of $5,600 from the National Science Foundation for Peptide Aggregation, Conformation, and Dynamics via Isotope-edited Infrared Spectroscopy. The grant will enable him to expand funding to include sophomores in his lab.

Darby Dyar, Associate Professor of Astronomy and Geology and chair of Astronomy, is co-PI on the $183,291 award to the University of Massachusetts for Acquisition of a Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer for Enhancement of Research and Teaching of Microspectroscopy of Crystals, Glasses, and Organic Compounds. The investigators will purchase a Fourier transform infrared spectrometer, to be housed at UMass, for the use of Five College students and faculty. This gadget identifies compounds by measuring the frequencies of the vibrations of the bonds between atoms in the molecules, and will be crucial in Darby’s work in planetary geology.

Maria Gomez, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, has received $185,000 from the National Science Foundation for her three-year project, Understanding How Dopant Affects Preferred Proton Conduction Pathways in Perovskite Oxides. Perovskites are a particular class of crystals whose geometric structure looks like a set of stacked cubes with positive ions of fixed type at the vertices, oxygens in the centers of the faces forming octahedra, and a different, bigger set of positive ions at the centers of the cubes. Many interesting materials, among them some superconducting ceramics, have this structure. Adding a third type of positive ion skews the crystal structure, and Maria and her students model proton transfer among the oxygens on a single octahedral face, and between octahedra. This is delicate and massively computationally intensive. Maria has worked out ways to have students with different levels of expertise participate usefully.

Darren Hamilton, Associate Professor and chair of Chemistry, has received $49,500 from the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund for his three-year project, Microwave-Promoted Assembly of Organometallic Hosts: Responsive Systems for Small Molecule Binding. The project will fund the work of Darren and his students in actually building molecular systems that recognize other different molecules. They have been using microwaves to build systems with the geometries they need. Earlier work of Darren and his students showed that microwave techniques actually work.

Janice Hudgings, Associate Professor of Physics, has received $270,000 from the National Science Foundation for her three-year project, Nanoscale 3-D Thermal Profiling inside Optoelectronic Devices. The grant will support her work, and that of her students, in measuring experimentally at very high resolution the heat generated in different areas of optoelectronic devices such as lasers and light-emitting diodes. Her lab has already pioneered ways to measure heat properties of tiny devices at resolutions100 times greater than commercial infrared microscopes. The grant will partly support her students, a postdoctoral associate, an extended leave, and the acquisition of a confocal microscope. The experimental measurements obtained by her lab, together with theoretical modeling of heat flow, will ultimately provide ways to improve the design of optoelectronic devices and circuits. It will also build the College’s growing capacity to participate in nanoscale research.

Dorothy Mosby, Assistant Professor of Spanish, was awarded $40,520 by the U.S. Department of Education's Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research Abroad Program for her project Ethnic, Cultural, and National Identity in Contemporary Central American Writers of Afro-West Indian Descent. She will use the grant to fund a year’s leave to explore the impact of social, political, and historical forces on the expression of ethnic, cultural, and national identity in literature produced by writers of Afro-West Indian descent in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. She will examine newspapers, literary journals, and newspaper supplements as well as conduct conversations with writers, community organizations, and scholars in the three countries. The comparative approach promises real dividends as there are significant national differences in the history and makeup of the African and West Indian communities.

Patricia Schneider, Assistant Professor of Economics, received a supplementary Research Experiences for Undergraduates award of $6,000 from the National Science Foundation to engage two economics students on A Laboratory Exploration of Networked Markets, her collaborative project with the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Bob Schwartz, E. Nevius Rodman Professor of History, has been awarded $149,958 by the National Endowment for the Humanities for his two-year project, History/Geography: Railways, Uneven Development, Cultural Change, and Globalization in France and Great Britain, 1830–1914. The project will examine the history and geography of railways in Britain and France up to the First World War, using the differences between the two to analyze the effects on population change and uneven development in the two countries. The project will enlarge Bob’s GIS databases for Britain and France and document the differing responses of their governments to the agrarian crisis of the late nineteenth century (which Bob views as a first phase of globalization). The grant will allow Bob to take an additional semester’s leave to work full-time on the project, and to travel and consult with collaborators.


I have received a bunch of papers and am way behind in reading them. But please keep sending them. A recent article by Fi Herbert, Professor Emeritus of humanities, entitled the “The Taj and the Raj: Garden Imperialism in India” (in Studies in the History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes, 2005) studies the “restoration” of the Taj Mahal and its gardens under the rule of Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India from 1899 to 1905. He was into authenticity for buildings apparently, but “set out to turn the Mughal garden into an English park.” A wonderful set of pictures taken over time illustrates the differences between the two. What, if anything, Fi asks, can the different style gardens tell us about different visions of empire? She had a great deal of fun writing this piece, and it is even more fun to read. Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Chemistry Megan Núñez’s article, with coworker Eileen Spain, entitled “Investigating a Bacterial Killer Using Atomic Force Microscopy” (Microbiology Today, 33, (August 2006) 100–103) is a wonderfully readable account, with great pictures, of the use of the relatively recent technique of atomic force microscopy to study how a particular type of virus stalks and kills bacterial cells, consuming them from within. The predator, they report, “bears a striking resemblance to the creatures in the Alien movies.” Indira Peterson, David B. Truman Professor of Asian Studies and chair of Asian studies, has a wonderful, brief survey article on modern Indian literature in S. Wolpert (ed.), The Encyclopedia of India (Thomson-Gale, Scribners, 2006, Vol. 3, 65–71). In six pages, the article outlines the development of the Indian novel and poetry from the British Colonial period to current times in which Indian fiction has become global fiction with global audiences. LITS’s Linux wizard Ron Peterson, network and systems manager, has an online article entitled "Custom OpenLDAP Schemas." LDAP is an acronym for Lightweight Directory Access Protocol, an Internet protocol that programs such as email use to find information on a server. Ron shows how to customize the open source version. “May the newfound depth of your LDAP knowledge allow you to overcome all of life’s adversities, get a big raise, and earn a well-deserved promotion,” he concludes. Class of 1926 Professor of Medieval and Eighteenth-Century French Language and Literature Marlou Switten’s chapter, “Borrowing, Citation, and Authorship in Gautier de Coinci’s Miracles de Nostre Dame,” in the book The Medieval Author in Medieval French Literature (V. Greene (ed.), New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, 29–60) examines how the monk and poet Gautier de Coinci (1177-1236) plays secular and sacred, narrative and lyric, and Latin and vernacular traditions off against one another to establish his authority as a composer and draw in listeners. “He speaks as a lover who sings to his lady, as a storyteller who wishes to instruct and entertain, and as a monk whose desire is to bring all who will listen into the service of the Virgin.” Incidentally, the next chapter in the book, by A. Leupin, interprets the “Roman de la Rose” as a Möbius strip, complete with a dozen or so enigmatic pictures to support the argument. Fast company, this. Craig Woodard, Associate Professor of Biology, and his coworkers (T. Fortier, R. Chatterjee, S. Klinedinst, E. Bachrecke) have a new paper, “how Functions in Leg Development during Metamorphosis” in Developmental Dynamics 235 (2006) 2248–2259. The paper reports the group’s study of how a particular gene (the how gene, how being an acronym for hold out wings) functions during metamorphism of fruit flies. It was known from previous work that mutations of the how gene resulted in abnormalities in leg development, but the time and mechanism by which the abnormalities developed was not known. Craig and his group actually produced time-lapse movies of leg development in normal flies and mutants. By comparison of the two, they were able to locate both the places and times where abnormalities began to occur.

Finally, here is Allison Gillis’s report.

Mount Holyoke College: A Leader in Educating Women in Science

Mount Holyoke ranks first among all liberal arts colleges in producing women who went on to receive U.S. doctorates in the life sciences (356) and in the physical sciences (109) from 1966 to 2004. This puts Mount Holyoke in the top 2 percent of all colleges and universities—even major research universities with at least double the enrollment and faculty.
(Source: National Science Foundation Survey of Earned Doctorates)

Among all colleges and universities, Mount Holyoke ranks eighth (tied with Stanford and Wellesley) in the number of graduates who earned U.S. doctorates in physics from 1966 to 2004; ninth in chemistry; and sixteenth in biology.
(Source: National Science Foundation Survey of Earned Doctorates)

Mount Holyoke is also a leader in educating international and minority students in the sciences. From 2000 to 2004, Mount Holyoke produced more international (non-U.S. citizen) female graduates who went on to receive U.S. doctorates in the physical and life sciences than any other college or university. Twenty-three MHC alumnae received U.S. doctorates in life or physical sciences, compared with 21 women from the University of California-Berkeley, 19 from Harvard, and 17 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
(Source: National Science Foundation Survey of Earned Doctorates)

Among elite liberal arts colleges, Mount Holyoke ranks first in graduating minority women who went on to receive U.S. doctorates (22 total) in life and physical sciences from 2000 to 2004.
(Source: National Science Foundation Survey of Earned Doctorates)

Science students at Mount Holyoke work side-by-side with accomplished faculty. Since 2000, Mount Holyoke science faculty have been awarded more NSF grant money--$8,122,015--than any other leading liberal arts college, which translates into unique research opportunities for students.
(Source: National Science Foundation)

Our science faculty mirrors our diverse student population: of our 51 full-time science faculty members, 57 percent are women, and 22 percent are individuals of color.
(Source: Mount Holyoke College)

Note: I defined “elite liberal arts colleges” as the top 30 liberal arts colleges ranked by U.S. News & World Report, 2005