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Read All about This Year's Faculty Award Winners

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Mount Holyoke College News and Events Vista The College Street Journal Archives

April 26, 2002

Read All about This Year's Faculty Award Winners

At an April 23 event honoring four MHC faculty members, two for outstanding teaching and two for excellence in scholarship, a citation was read about each award winner. Jonathan Lipman, professor of history, and Lynn Morgan, professor of anthropology, received the Mount Holyoke College Faculty Prize for Teaching. Anthony Lee, associate professor of art, and Susan Smith, Norma Wait Harris and Emma Gale Harris Foundation Professor of Biological Sciences, were awarded the Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Prize for Scholarship. The citations are reproduced here in their entirety.

 

Anthony Lee

Tony Lee's books are hard to put down. With crisp prose and elegant use of visual and literary evidence he draws readers into his narratives of the interconnections of art with social and political history. As one critic concluded "we are . . . exhilarated to have been participants in the unfolding of this drama."

In Painting on the Left (1999) he tells the history of mural painting in San Francisco and the catalytic effect of Diego Rivera's murals on the work of radical artists there. Picturing Chinatown (2001) examines, with little-known photographs, the image of San Francisco's Chinatown and its residents in the non-Chinese imagination and how the quarter's history was intertwined with that of the city that surrounded and isolated it. Tony's focus moves from close-ups of single events, persons, and places to wide-angle views of San Francisco's social movements, political struggles, and popular perceptions and prejudices. His skill as an art historian in presenting and decoding the visual images, and the rich body of supporting material he has found, make each piece of his story engrossing. His narrative becomes even more compelling as he moves from microanalysis to larger questions and longer histories of national and international importance.

Tony is a prodigious worker. Much of his evidence was unearthed in archives and in obscure periodical literature. His research on San Francisco's murals was groundbreaking, and that on Chinatown has been called "a great achievement of sheer historical retrieval." He brings to these raw materials the talents and tools of a sophisticated theorist. Critics commend him for his knowledge of the wide range of contemporary theory and his insightful use of it without resort to jargon or name-dropping. He is especially concerned with issues of race and class. His analysis in Picturing Chinatown is praised for building on "the insights on race, representation, and nationality put forth by scholars of African America and the Caribbean," and for its application of Edward Said's concept of Orientalism to describe how non-Chinese represented Chinese immigrants to justify and maintain dominance over them.

Scholars laud Tony's books for their lucid prose, their evenhandedness, the newly discovered material they contain, and their fresh and insightful analysis of works previously known. Tony is seen as making significant contributions not only to art history, but also to American, Latin American, and urban studies. Painting on the Left was described by an eminent scholar of Latin American art as "the most penetrating, sensitively reasoned, and readable book to appear on . . . [Diego Rivera's] work and intellectual milieu in a long time." Picturing Chinatown, published two years later, was thought even better and a work that makes Tony "one of the country's leading historians of American art and culture."

Tony's publications include a number of essays and reviews related to his two books but also articles on, for example, African ceremonial art and numerous reviews of contemporary art exhibitions. His breadth of interests is reflected in the range of courses he has offered at Mount Holyoke: surveys of nineteenth-century, modern and contemporary art, and seminars on sex and gender, Chinatown, French painting in the 1880s, and theory and interpretation. He has been very active in the American Studies Program and in the development of Asian American studies at Mount Holyoke and the Five Colleges.

His new research projects continue his commitment to social and political concerns and his meditative use of photographic images. He is working on a monograph on Diego Rivera, a study of immigrant Chinese shoemakers' lives in a nineteenth-century
New England factory town, and a coauthored book and exhibition on photographs by Diane Arbus. All who know Tony's work must look forward with excitement to where he will take us next and what we will learn from this pathbreaking scholar.

 

Jonathan Lipman

The professor walks in at 8:30 am, unrolls a large map, and the magic unfolds. The students, wide awake despite the hour, listen with rapt attention as Jonathan Lipman lectures on the Central Asia of Genghis Khan, the life of a working woman in modern China, the role of intellectuals in the Chinese revolution, or Japan in World War II. The lecture is brilliant, witty, provocative, entirely fascinating—but it is not long before it makes way for an animated, thoughtful discussion, involving the entire class.

For Jon a class meeting such as this is a quotidian affair, but we, his students and colleagues, know just how remarkable his achievement is. It lies not only in the stunning range of his courses, which cover great stretches of time and vast spaces on the map of Asia. Nor is it simply that he has awakened the enthusiasm of generations of students to the history and cultures of China, Japan, and Korea. His excellence as a teacher is discernible equally in the care, attention, and skill he devotes to his work.

Students describe the experience of taking a course with him as a series of exciting challenges. Given their subject matter, it might seem tautologous to say that his courses help students to view the world from whole new perspectives. The fact is that, in Jon's classroom, even students who have a firsthand knowledge of China and Chinese culture find their preconceived ideas challenged, always to their astonishment and delight. "I will never again categorize ‘China' or ‘Chinese.' " is a typical comment. But it is not cultural preconceptions alone that are challenged. A student who takes a course with him emerges a better thinker and writer. First, through the fascinating and wonderfully diverse readings that he assigns, she is made to grapple with multiple—often diametrically opposed—points of view on a subject. She learns to sift and weigh evidence and evaluate arguments. Second, in several short writing assignments, with his rigorous but always constructive mentoring, she hones her skills in writing clearly, critically, and precisely. "I have never made so many graphs and charts to help see connections between the things I was learning. I no longer go off in pursuit of wild trains of thought, neglecting evidence and argument," says one student, of the writing assignments, while another exclaims, "Even writer's cramp did not discourage me." In short, he helps students see the process of learning for the great adventure it is and masterfully draws them into it. Students come to Jon's classes to learn about Asia. At the end of the course, however, they find themselves fascinated, not only with Chinese or Japanese history, but with the discipline of history itself. As one student put it, "He speaks as though he were living through the people and events we read about, and that makes history come alive for us."

Jon inspires his students with his eloquence, his passion for learning, and his prodigious knowledge of Asia, which is based on his command not only of Asian history, but of an impressive number of Asian languages. Students who take Jon's courses look forward to his brilliant lectures. At the same time, however, they cherish him for being a wonderful listener. They know that no question or idea they voice will be ignored or rejected and that he is always available to continue the conversation outside of class.

Jon carries his skill in teaching well beyond the field of Asian studies and beyond the gates of Mount Holyoke College. We have all benefited from his leadership in the development of the Mellon comparative seminar and the course on nationalism, and his many contributions to ongoing debates on the curriculum. Very few at Mount Holyoke know, however, of his other lives: as the winner of a major grant for faculty development in East Asian studies at the Five Colleges, and as an active participant in the Five College outreach and high school partnership in western Massachusetts. Equally impressive is Jon's dedicated leadership of the project to help high school, community college, and college faculty nationwide learn how to teach Asian culture and history. When not in a Mount Holyoke classroom, he very likely can be found talking to them about "Teaching about China" or "Teaching and Decentering the Twentieth-Century World." We
celebrate Jonathan Lipman, who instructs us and inspires us with his stellar example.

 

Lynn Morgan

Please join us in Lynn Morgan's classroom. It is crowded, without an empty seat, so you will have to stand—but watch what goes on here. This class has about fifty students; others range between twenty and thirty. There is a "buzz" as they gather. Her courses are "hard, demanding," every evaluation reports. "She is the hardest professor I've ever had. She doesn't accept mediocrity and is always available to help while she pushes students to do their best possible work." They know she is very much sought as a teacher, "the best professor I've had since I came to college" say many of her students. She walks in, "always well prepared, always professional," as students regularly comment, and lays out the issues for the day. She lists all the times she will be available for conferences that week and plunges in.

Students say her lectures are models of clarity and organization, and as you listen, you too will be led into a complex map of theoretical perspectives on issues such as the construction of gender and sexuality, imagining the fetus, the intractable nexus of poverty and development in Latin America, or the tense boundaries around the provision of medical care. But these are not lectures in the conventional sense. She maps a complex intellectual problem, and then, in the word that appears in every evaluation, she "provokes" students to explore it from every imaginable direction and wring out the implications and contradictions. "By being so well prepared she is able to guide any kind of discussion…I am amazed by her ability to make what seems like a tangential comment by a student relate to the class discussion."

She invites students to develop their critical voices and use their "anthopological imagination." Ultimately, the analysis and the class discussion become a mirror in which each student can see her own deep assumptions and one-sidedness. One paper topic is to figure out where your shirt comes from—development, globalization, transnational corporations, international trade all come into focus. Finally, Lynn insists each student consider her own embeddedness in exploitative systems and what she might do in her personal life to dissolve those systems. "I love her classes because they make me think about my role as a learner and a doer, to re-evaluate my actions and reactions to the topics." The discussion takes off, and Lynn manages the switchboard—pushing, challenging, weaving together, reining in a delicious tangent,
summarizing, reframing the question, suggesting another direction.

Her demanding classroom also works because it is embedded in outside support. Lynn always has time for conferences, discussions about a paper, suggestions for revisions, advice for a research project. "Her availability to help outside of class is exceptional." "A great listener and devoted to her students."

How does she do this—"the theoretical powerhouse in the Five College anthropological community," as a University of Massachusetts student described her—and the author of two very well received books in the last several years, Community Participation in Health: The Politics of Primary Care in Costa Rica and with Meredith Michaels, Fetal Subjects, Feminist Positions?

The deep answer lies in her life as a thinker and an anthropologist. She embodies as well as any person on our faculty the Mount Holyoke belief that good teaching is always closely yoked to deep wells of scholarly and creative work. She is "incredibly enthusiastic about her work, and her involvement in anthropology spills over on to the students … I've done my most meaningful and critical thinking and work in her classes."

She pushes her students in the same way she pushes herself, to "think beyond the material and look at the larger picture." "She challenges her students to reach the limits of their intellectual capacity," just as she challenges herself. She is a person of exceedingly high standards, as all of us know. We too have felt her probing questions or struggled to explain to her why we have always done something in a certain way. She has won our great respect for her work in the Five College anthropological community, her long project of creating the Five College certificate in medical anthropology, and now, her skillful shepherding of the Academic Priorities Committee.

Lynn Morgan is a master teacher, who will continue to provoke and challenge us, her students, and her colleagues, to do the very best work we are capable of.

 

Susan Smith

Picture the field biologist stealthily pursuing her subject. Winter, summer, spring, and fall, she is there observing creatures as they woo and mate, care for their young, and struggle to survive in good times and bad. Images of male mountain goats batting heads in competition for chosen mates come to mind, and perhaps a grinning chimp in the arms of Jane Goodall, or even Sigourney Weaver in a primitive cabin amidst the mountain gorillas. Who knew such life and death struggles were going on in our own backyards? Susan Smith knew, and she has opened our eyes to the equally intriguing world of birds.

Susan's enchantment with birds began as a child and, although her true love affair is with the chickadee, Susan will go anywhere and do almost anything to study any kind of bird. From Alaska to Costa Rica to New Zealand to Papua New Guinea she has gone after the rare and elusive as well as the well-known birds of the region. Yet Susan's pursuit of birds is more than a bird-watcher's search for another "notch" on a lifetime list. As her colleagues attest repeatedly, she looks at birds with a different eye. She begins with profound questions followed by astute observations and elegantly designed experiments to test her hypotheses. Susan's early work on the response of naïve birds to coral snake color patterns using this approach has become a textbook example in discussions on warning coloration and innate avoidance. She later uncovered the "underworld" of rufous-collared sparrows by observing the floater (the nonterritorial) populations. Susan found a highly structured social system that controls the interplay between these birds and the breeding populations. This work is widely cited as the first on such relationships that have since been demonstrated in numerous other species. The papers resulting from her studies are models of clarity and conciseness and appear in the most prestigious professional journals, but she also makes her research accessible to the layperson, through talks at ornithology and nature clubs across the country, in Natural History and popular magazines, and in films on public television.

Over ten years ago, a colleague noted that Susan was among the best field ornithologists in the world, and that continues to be true. She is a Fellow of the American Ornithologists' Union, the oldest and most prestigious professional ornithological organization in this country and, in 2000, she received the Margaret Morse Nice Medal from the Wilson Ornithological Society. The latter award is notable in several ways. First, it comes from a most respected society for both professional and amateur ornithologists. Second, the medal was established in honor of one of the country's most distinguished ornithologists and naturalists. Her research on the song sparrow, one of the earliest documented long-term studies of an animal species, initiated a new era in American ornithology. Lastly, Margaret Morse Nice was a Mount Holyoke graduate in the class of 1906 who received an honorary doctorate of science from Mount Holyoke in 1955. What more fitting home for the Nice award than in the hands of Susan Smith.

For most of us, however, this internationally respected scientist is the "Chickadee Lady." For more than thirty years she has chronicled the life of these familiar little birds, and for more than twenty of those years she has been an ever-present shadow at our bird feeders. Because chickadees are long-term residents in an area and are monogamous during the breeding season, she can become well acquainted with each of the birds and its offspring over a long period of time. This allows her to see relationships not evident to the casual observer. With patience and a careful eye to discriminate among the combinations of colored bands on their tiny ankles, she has uncovered a veritable soap opera of chickadee life: cuckoldry, fortune-hunting widows, henpecked males, domineering females, promiscuity; and with indomitable enthusiasm and wit she has shared her passion, and theirs, with us. Each of us read avidly to identify "our" black-capped chickadees among the characters in her classic book on their behavioral ecology and natural history.

These wonderful stories, along with those of sparrows, motmots, and kiskadees, illustrate so well that profound answers may be found in the most unlikely places, when the questions are asked by a creative mind and the answers pursued with patience and integrity by a dedicated scientist like Susan Smith.

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