Dean of Faculty Report, March 2008

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 March 2008 report of Donal O'Shea, Dean of Faculty.

Grants

Martha Ackmann, senior lecturer in gender studies, has been named a fellow in creative writing-nonfiction at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study for 2008 - 2009. She will be working on her book Curveball. The book examines the life of Toni Stone, the first woman to play professional baseball on men’s teams. Stone played in the old Negro Leagues of the 1950s; the book is as much about her life as a black woman in Jim Crow America as it is about baseball. We have just heard through the grapevine that Martha has received another large award, but it is not official.

Megan Nùñez, Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Chemistry, received a three-year grant of $214,485 from the National Institutes of Health for her project “Effect of Base Lesions on the DNA Duplex. DNA is the long molecule that encodes genetic information by using sequences of four smaller molecules, called bases. These bases are often damaged, and the cell uses other molecules to detect and repair the bases. Exactly how it detects problems is not known. Megan proposes to study three possible mechanisms with her students. Megan now has two big grants on totally different projects. About two years ago, she received a large (160K) grant from the National Science Foundation for her predatory bacteria work. That one used atomic force microscopy to figure out how bacteria that attacked other bacteria squeezed through the attackee’s membranes.

Awards

Two Lifetime Achievement Awards: Harriet Pollatsek, Julia and Sarah Ann Adams Professor of Mathematics, received the Louise Hay Award for Contributions to Mathematics Education in January in San Diego at the annual meeting of the American Mathematical Society. The American Women in Mathematics Society directs that the award recognize outstanding achievements in any area of mathematics education, to be interpreted in the broadest possible sense. I promised to read the citation, once I got it. It turns out that it is too long, and that it would hugely embarrass Harriet, even though she is on leave. So, I’ll post the full citation to the Web site instead. There is one interesting twist to the tale. In the description of the award, the AWM gives a brief biography of Louise Hay, citing her contributions to mathematical logic, recursive function theory, and computer science. It cites her strong leadership as head of the Department of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, her devotion to students, and her lifelong commitment to nurturing the talent of young women and men. What was not mentioned was that she came to Mount Holyoke in 1959 as an instructor, returned to Cornell for a Ph.D. (1963–1965), had three children (including twins), was an assistant professor here from 1965–1968 and was hired away by UIC. Harriet remarked that Louise Hay’s absence was still keenly felt when she arrived at Mount Holyoke in 1970.

Bob Herbert, Professor Emeritus of Fine Arts, received not just one, but two awards from the College Art Association (CAA) at their meeting last month. One, the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing, cited “his original readings of Impressionist painting, the deep social contextualization of art production, and a series of monographic studies of Millet, Monet, Renoir, and Seurat,” and continued, “Robert L. Herbert embraces the full spectrum of art history, from the cultural to the technical, from criticism to connoisseurship, from the broad to the focused, and from the decorative arts to the individual masterpiece.” I ran into Bob at the supermarket, and he said that if you live long enough, you will inevitably get such awards because everyone else will be dead. This is not clear. His fellow honorees included the realist painter Sylvia Sleigh (Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime) and not-so-realist artist Yoko Ono (Distinguished Body of Work Award). Bob was also honored at the CAA’s distinguished scholar session.

Books

Books and visual culture

Associate Professor of Film Studies and Gender Studies and chair of Film Studies Robin Blaetz’s new book Women’s Experimental Film: Critical Frameworks has appeared with Duke University Press. It is a collection of critical essays on 15 women filmmakers and their work. The book opens with a wonderful essay by Robin that sketches the “mainstream” history of experimental (or avant-garde) film and its role in film history, and the curious absence of women filmmakers in this narrative. This is despite the fact that there were a number of very fine women filmmakers. Paradoxically, the feminist film movement in the early 1970s shortchanged women’s experimental film. Robin tells of a conference in Edinburgh in the early 1970s at which the introduction of a psychoanalytically based film theory changed the entire course of film studies. It led to a focus on films about women as opposed to women’s films, which in turn led to further obscurity, indeed the virtual disappearance, of women’s experimental films from the field of film studies. Robin also has a wonderful essay in the book on the films of Marjorie Keller.
Another book that represents cutting-edge interdisciplinary work in the visual culture field is history professor Danny Czitrom and Bonnie Yochelson’s new book Rediscovering Jacob Riis: Exposure Journalism and Photography in Turn-of-the-Century New York (New York: The New Press, 2008). Ostensibly about a famous photographic volume (How the Other Half Lives) of New York tenements and their inhabitants by immigrant photographer Jacob Riis, the book analyzes the New York of the times, Jacob Riis’s own character and the way the photographs were used, and the photographic advances the book made. The writing is lovely and the text fully engages the themes of poverty, race, ethnicity, urbanization, and Americanization of immigrants.
Tony Lee, Associate Professor of Art and chair of American studies, and Elizabeth Young, Associate Professor of English and Gender Studies, have coauthored a new book, On Alexander Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008). Each contributes a substantial essay. Tony discusses the significance of choice of photographs and of what is missing (e.g., Gardner’s famous pictures of the dead at Antietam). He also considers Gardner’s choice of photographs involving African Americans and the significance of the choices he made. “[Gardner] presented not a cause for celebration, but an awareness through photography that antinarrative and antiheroism, forms of fracture and the impossibility of exaltation, were what lay in store for the modern world.” Elizabeth Young argues for the importance of interpreting the Photographic Sketch Book as a work of writing. She then provides a wonderful analysis of race, racially marked characters, and metaphors in Gardner’s sketchbook, asking and answering her question “Where are the black people in Gardner’s Civil War body politic?” The book is marvelous, and the two essays complement, and sometimes contradict, one another beautifully. By the way, Tony has a new volume entitled Weegee and Naked City in the same series (Defining Moments in American Photography) coming out next month.

Associate Professor of Spanish and chair of Romance languages and literatures Nieves Romero-Diaz’s book Cervantes and/on/in the New World (with Newark, Delaware’s Juan de la Questa Press), coedited with UMass’s, Julio Vélez-Sainz, springs from a Five College conference of the same name, hosted by UMass and Mount Holyoke, in October 2005 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the publication of the first part of Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote. Nieves and her colleague organized and ran that meeting. The book begins by noting the irony that the denial of Cervantes’ application for a civil posting in the New World was what ultimately allowed him to develop into the extraordinary writer still celebrated today. Nonetheless, early copies of Don Quixote made their way to the Spanish colonies in America very quickly, and quickly became part of the cultural landscape. The book collects the essays under the rubrics “Cervantes on the New World,” “Cervantes in the New World,” and “Re-imagining Don Quixote: Cervantes in the American Media.” I did not realize that Nieves also did film studies. She contributes a wonderful essay on the curse of Quixote, apparently well-known in film circles - reportedly no American cinematic rendering has ever had a happy ending. The sheer number and variety of adaptations to the screen are amazing. I also learned a new word: quixotization. The book closes with two hilarious essays on the joys and perils of Don Quixote, and a wrap-up by Nieves that explores Quixote and consumer; Quixote and wine; Quixote, the Funky Aztecs and chicano rap; and, more generally, the ultimate apotheosis of Cervantes and his hero in secular society: branding and quixotization.

As if that were not enough, Marianne Doezema, director of the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, has edited and provided the forward to Jane Hammond: Paper Work, the exhibition that the Art Museum mounted and premiered in fall 2006 and that traveled around the country. It is currently at Cornell and will open in San Francisco on May 3. The exhibition was unforgettable. As Marianne relates in her opening, she did not at first realize that Jane Hammond was an alum. I don’t think any of us did. Marianne has also contributed an essay entitled “Representing Women” to the catalogue Life’s Pleasures: The Ashcan Artists’ Brush with Leisure, 1895–1925, which accompanies a major exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts of the turn-of-the-century school of artists that gathered around Robert Henri. Marianne documents the change in representation of women that occurred at this time, as artists returned from France and as Salome fever swept New York in the wake of the suppression of Richard Strauss’s opera Salome.

A couple of other comments:

If you have any time at all, read the new book by Joe Ellis, Professor of History on the Ford Foundation, American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic. Joe begins by sketching the competing historical approaches to the founding, characterizing the great man narratives as a mad fluctuation between the “mindlessly celebratory” and the “naively judgmental” and the current academic mainstream as a hegemonic narrative with privileged analytic categories “race, class, gender.” In a passage that will surely enrage his critics, Joe likens the focus of most professional historians on the inarticulate, peripheral, and dispossessed to showing up at Fenway Park with a lacrosse stick. Never shy about staking out intellectual territory, Joe identifies what he considers to be the five greatest successes and two greatest failings associated with the founding of the American republic, and goes on to analyze the perplexities and ironies that attended them. How did revolution give way to stable government? How did it happen that those most opposed to political parties founded the two-party system? The grace of the writing and the sheer narrative force belie the careful scholarship that underlies his arguments. Among the recurrent themes that Ellis teases out of his narrative is the role that dawning realization, as opposed to decisive action, plays: “The key insight, which went against all of Washington’s personal instincts, was that both space and time were on the American side, so the only way to lose the war was to try to win it.” The failure to decide who trumps whom, the nation or its constituent states, created “the notion that government was not about providing answers, but rather about providing a framework in which the salient questions could continue to be debated.” The writing is a joy and the book is full of memorable sentences. Here are two examples: (On Jefferson:) “Given the certainty and clarity of his vision, he was effectively immune to evidence that might complicate the purity of his mental categories.” (On politics and mathematics:) “Unlike mathematics, in politics there was no agreed-upon solution reached by sheer brainpower and logic, but rather an ongoing and never-ending struggle between contested versions of the truth. The proper model, in effect, was not the Newtonian universe but the Darwinian jungle.” You might disagree with him, but the writing is so good that you’d have to be churlish to take offense.

If you read Thomas Friedman’s best-selling book The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century, you will want to get the real story on labor markets and offshoring in the new book by Eva Paus, Professor of Economics and Carol Hoffmann Collins Director of the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives. Titled Global Capitalism Unbound: Winners and Losers from Offshore Outsourcing (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), this book is a marvelous collection of essays from the conference New Global Realities: Winners and Losers from Offshore Outsourcing hosted by the Dorothy R. and Norman E. McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives in March 2006. The essays are wide-ranging, very good, and in distinction to Friedman’s book, data-rich. Two, one by Harvard’s Richard Freeman, the other by the University of Bath’s Guy Standing, take a large scale of transformation in the labor markets, arguing that we are in a period of transition to a global economy in which workers with similar skills (and that includes academics) compete directly across national lines. They use very different language, but agree that the transformation is a huge shift. Other articles look at the effects within particular countries and regions. LITS’s Jim Burke contributes an article with UMass’s Gerry Epstein documenting the role of globalization in undermining the effectiveness of organized labor in this country. They examine some possible tax policies that might help. Eva, ever the activist, opens the book with a wonderful essay summarizing the different arguments and what appropriate responses might be. She closes it with an essay (cowritten with Helen Shapiro at UC Santa Cruz) on policies that would better help developing countries benefit from globalization of the labor markets. The whole book is a great read, and the essays are extraordinarily well edited and of uniformly high quality. Incidentally, the Rise of China conference that Eva ran last weekend was stunning. Can’t wait to see the book.

There are a ton of other books out that I have not yet had a chance to read. Professor of Philosophy Tom Wartenberg has a new book, Thinking on Screen: Film as Philosophy. Indira Peterson, David B. Truman Professor of Asian Studies, has two new books. Assistant Professor of Religion Suzanne Mrozik and Associate Professor of Astronomy and chair of Astronomy Darby Dyar’s books are terrific. Mark McMenamin, Professor of Geology, has a new introductory geology book. English professor Corinne Demas has a new children’s book (Valentine Surprise). Calvin Chen, Assistant Professor of Politics, has a new book, as do Shahrukh Khan, visiting Professor of Economics, and Amity Gaige, visiting Assistant Professor of English.

Achievements

Nadya Sbaiti, Five College assistant professor of history, successfully defended her Ph.D. thesis.