Dean of Faculty Report, December 2007

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 December 2007 report of Donal O'Shea, Dean of Faculty.


Harriet Pollatsek, Julia and Sarah Ann Adams Professor of Mathematics, is going to receive the coveted Women in Mathematics Hay Award at the Joint Mathematics meetings in San Francisco. More on this when I see the final draft of the citation.


Anthropology Professor Lynn Morgan received an award from the U.S.’s Social Sciences Research Council and the U.K.’s Economic and Social Research Council. The grant will allow her to collaborate with colleagues at Bristol and London to develop a comparative analysis of the collection and use of fetal tissue for stem cell science in the U.S. and the U.K. They plan an article contrasting the social histories of fetal tissue. The article and their work will further understandings of how distinctions between living and dead embryos and fetuses are understood and negotiated within the abortion clinic, anatomy laboratory, clinical waste disposal facility, and stem cell laboratory.

Eleanor Townsley, Associate Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies and chair of Sociology and Anthropology, received a National Endowment for the Humanities Award for her project Media Intellectuals and the Social Space of Opinion. The grant will allow her to complete her book, which analyzes the shape, composition, and nature of opinion in the elite public sphere in the contemporary United States. She makes the argument that modern intellectuals have always been media intellectuals and thus the carping about public intellectuals as a new fad is not justified on historical grounds. She aims to understand the dynamics of news commentary and opinion empirically and how they function in a political democracy. She compares TV and newsprint: who is talking, and how are they making claims to authority.

Lowell Gudmundson, Professor of Latin American studies and History, also received a grant for his project Deepening Democracy and Disciplining the Democrats: Coffee, Cooperatives, and the Lessons of Costa Rican Development. The grant will allow Lowell to begin the data gathering and analysis for a new book on the agrarian bases of democratic development. He hopes to weigh the contribution of public policies and structural constraints and opportunities in the coffee economy for strengthening and deepening democratic practices.


Three of our language faculty members have had books appear in the last couple of months. Each resurrects a powerful voice that has fallen foul of societal norms and been stilled by the passage of time. Each is completely gripping. Nieves Romero-Diaz, Associate Professor of Spanish and chair of Romance languages and literatures, has translated and prepared a critical edition of Maria de Guevara’s Warnings to the Kings and Advice on Restoring Spain. It is a bilingual edition that has just appeared with University of Chicago Press. Guevara is a seventeenth-century noblewoman who openly writes strongly worded advice to the king. Her writings are remarkable in that she first makes the case for women to have a voice (“Your majesty may say: who is a woman to meddle in this? To which I respond, how sad that we women come to understand what is happening as well as men do, but feel it even more.”). She then makes the case that persons in her station outside the court should have a strong voice, arguing that a king must listen to his subjects, and not just to paid advisors or members of the court, who either have conflicts of interest or are sycophants. Having argued that the king should listen to women and those outside the court, she then proceeds to offer very direct advice to the king, urging him to take a personal hand in affairs of state, and telling him what to do about a variety of matters. It is a breathtaking, and moving, act of chutzpah. In addition to the translation, Nieves contributes a long scholarly article placing Guevara’s work in the social, historical, and literary context of the time, and theorizing on the constructs that Guevara uses to lend her work authority. She also discusses Guevara’s other work.

Some of assistant professor of Italian Ombretta Frau's scholarly work has focused on a number of now largely forgotten nineteenth-century Italian women writers, and she is one of the new generation of scholars making the case that the Italian feminine world of letters is far more interesting than twentieth-century literary historians believed. In the course of working on one such author and journalist, Gina Sobrero (also known as Mantea), she uncovered a strange tale, and tracked down an Italian language original of her little known memoir, Espatriata: Da Torino a Honolulu, in the Hamilton Library of the University of Honolulu. Ombretta has annotated and written a preface for a new edition. At age 15 while studying in Turin, Mantea, daughter of a Piedmontese colonel and a Neapolitan baroness, met and fell in love with another student, Robert William Wilcox. Wilcox, an adventurer from Honolulu, apparently led her to believe that he was related to the Hawaiian monarchy (David Kalakaua or Liliuokalani -- not sure which). To be fair, Wilcox’s mother was a native of Maui and had been related to King Kaulaheau, who ruled Maui in 1700. Mantea married Wilcox, and went with him in 1887 to Hawaii. She was desperately unhappy from the start and wrote an account, in the form of a diary, eventually published in Rome in 1908 and translated into English under the title The Expatriate: From Turin to Honolulu. The journal has interested historians of Hawaii, although it is now apparently out of print. The reason is that Wilcox was involved in the various shenanigans of Hawaiian politics of the time, and was a patriot. He participated in planning a coup to replace King David Kalakaua with Queen Liliuokalani, was tried for treason, acquitted, etc. Ombretta explains all this in her preface (which I limped through with an Italian dictionary, and then got so interested that I couldn’t stop). But Ombretta points out that the diary and its author Mantea are far more interesting than Wilcox. You don’t have to read Italian well to realize how beautifully she writes. She talks of her disappointment in her marriage from their very first night: “ I am afraid in Hawaii there is no school of naughty masculine delicacy [maliziosa delicatezza maschile] (on the other hand it seems the daughters of the Pacific have no need of it) because, otherwise, that first night – there on poetic Lake Como, a divine mirror, that seems to have been created for the purpose of reflecting the impressions of those solemn and unique hours of one’s life – would have been different.” She goes on: “I need to obliterate this episode from my memory, and yet its mark has remained in my consciousness.” Her description of pregnancy: “I am simply in that condition which is called interesting, perhaps because it deprives women of interest for a certain period of time, making her deformed, ugly, and capricious.” Of Honolulu, she writes: “Ci sono, ma non ci starò [I am here, but I shan’t stay].” What also comes through is the contempt with which Wilcox treats her and other women. The book would be a wonderful Christmas present. The publisher is Salerno Editrice, Roma.

Good translation is exceedingly difficult, and Chris Rivers, Professor and chair of French, succeeds magnificently with an even tougher task. He translates from French a lost memoir of Jack Johnson, the first African American boxing champion. However, the French text is, he thinks, a translation of an English language account by Johnson of his life. So Chris’s task is to reconstruct a lost English language original from a translation of it. Sort of akin to reconstructing Aristotle’s or Euclid’s work from Arabic translations of the lost Greek originals. But Johnson’s narrative is highly inflected, takes on issues of race and class that were in advance of their time, and filled with words that are loaded differently in the two languages. It is hard to know, absent the original, just how close Chris’s retranslation of the original comes, but My Life and Battles by Jack Johnson is a hugely engaging account of a wonderful spirit. The book begins: “When a white man writes his memoirs, as I am going to try to do here, he tends to begin with the history of his family, going back to the most distant times.... I believe all authors embellish without hesitation on their genealogy ... [but] I don’t wish to avoid participating in such an old custom ...” It chronicles Johnson’s rise out of poverty, the devastating Galveston hurricane, the difficulty getting fights with white champions, and the shenanigans necessary to get a title bout, in Australia, the first such outside the United States, with Tommy Burns. It ends with Johnson’s defense of his title in Reno against James Jeffries: “With great difficulty, Jeff stood back up. His jaw was broken, his eyes were closed, and his face was covered with blood. He tried to put his guard back up but I smashed him on the jaw and followed up with two left hooks and he went back down.... The last hope of the white race had failed. Since that day, no other has been found to replace him.” The narrative shifts from first person to third person and back again. By turns serious, humorous, brutal, and self-mocking, the book is a good-natured testament to the human spirit, and a wonderful read.