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The O'Shea Report: February 2002

At every monthly faculty meeting during the school year, Dean of Faculty Donal O'Shea presents brief overviews of recent publications and other achievements by the Mount Holyoke faculty. Here are excerpts from his report for February 2002.

Martha Ackmann, senior lecturer in women's studies, has received a grant of $15,000 from The Ninety Nines to support her research on the Mercury 13 women who were tested for astronaut viability in 1961. The Ninety Nines is an international organization of women pilots founded in 1929 by Amelia Earhart, named for the 99 women pilots who responded to Earhart's initial inquiry for creating an organization. Ackmann was sponsored for the award by Dr. Petra Illig, a physician who specializes in aviation medicine and who also spends her time as an Alaskan backcountry bush pilot. Ackmann's book on the Mercury 13 will be published by Random House with a tentative publication date of March 2003.

Helen Leung, associate professor of chemistry, just received the John S. Burlew research award from the Connecticut Valley American Chemical Society for her delicate work using Fourier transform microwave spectroscopy to study intermolecular forces. In recent history, this award has gone to researchers at universities or in industry, so it's a definite coup that it went to a college researcher.

A number of faculty members have won residential fellowships. Nancy Campbell, associate professor of art, has been selected for Michigan State’s program in Hikone, Japan. Next spring, she will become a visiting scholar at the Japan Center for Michigan Universities, which is located on the shore of Lake Biwa in the city of Hikone (Shiga Prefecture) in Japan. Indira Peterson, professor and chair of Asian studies, has been awarded a monthlong residency at the Rockefeller Foundation's Center in Bellagio, Italy, for June-July 2002, to complete her translation of an eighteenth-century Tamil drama, The Fortune-teller of Kurralam. Roberto Marquez, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, has also been awarded a residency at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Center in Bellagio for August-September 2002. He will complete his study and anthological book of original translations Borinquen to El Barrio and Beyond: Puerto Rican Poetry from Aboriginal Times to the Present. Gail Scanlon, librarian and director of access services, has been accepted for this year's Frye Leadership Institute at Emory University. The institute runs a high-profile summer program that trains the next generation’s leaders in the library and information technology fields. Scanlon's project, which has to do with Mount Holyoke's space study and the library as place, is an opportunity to look with fresh eyes at our service areas and to think about proximities of staff in various library information technology services departments.

The College received a grant of $447,180 from the Freeman Foundation. Jonathan Lipman, professor of history; Indira Peterson, professor and chair of Asian studies; Ying Wang, assistant professor of Asian studies; and Tara Fitzpatrick, director of corporations and foundations, conceived and wrote the proposal. The grant will fund a new faculty position in Chinese philosophy and religion, which would include offering courses in English, open to all students, and other courses in Chinese for third- and fourth-year Chinese language students. It will also allow us to expand our East Asian Studies program by developing a network among our 250 alumnae living in East Asia and will provide greater opportunities for our students to study and conduct internships in East Asia and to enhance the historic ties between Mount Holyoke and colleges in Japan, China, and Korea. Finally, it will fund the creation of a number of curricular and cocurricular opportunities for our students to learn more about East Asian cultures, through lectures, exhibits, film series, workshops, library and multimedia acquisitions, and other cultural studies programs.

Solving for X, a new collection of poetry by Professor of English Robert Shaw, has been awarded the Hollis Summers Prize by Ohio University Press.

Speaking the Same Language: Speech and Audience in Thucydides’ Spartan Debates by Paula Debnar, associate professor and chair of classics, has been published by the University of Michigan Press. Debnar analyzes twelve speeches involving Spartans in Thucydides’ History. These speeches open whole worlds. To name three of them: the scholarly world in which the nature of the speeches in the History is vigorously contested; the ancient world of the Greek city-states in which a fragile peace unravels; and the fierce world of rhetoric in which a closely fought battle for the heart and mind of the listener is engaged using every conceivable trick: elision, misdirection, tense change, bait and switch. Debnar shows how the speakers made their points by using what the specific audience would have known or liked to have heard. She shows how events distant in time are juxtaposed, how shifts from indicative mood to subjunctive are used to raise doubt, and how word choice is used to flatter or misdirect. It is a joyous tour de force and a fabulous read. The book can be read as an exhilarating manual in the black arts of persuading readers and listeners.

Professor of Philosophy Tom Wartenberg has just published The Nature of Art: An Anthology (Harcourt). The book starts with an excerpt from a recent play in which friends discuss the nature and value of a painting of a solid white rectangle, just purchased by one of the characters from a celebrated contemporary artist. Wartenberg uses their conversation to launch a concise and fascinating discussion of some of the main questions in the philosophy of art: What is art? Can it be defined? Does intention make art? This discussion is followed by twenty-eight carefully selected excerpts, each about ten pages, from philosophers and theorists ranging from Plato and Aristotle, through Dewey and Adorno, and ending with Derrida, Hein, Jegede, Appiah, and Davis. About a third of the choices are pre-nineteenth century, a third nineteenth century, and a third twentieth century. Each excerpt is preceded by an introduction to the author’s work and the context in which it occurred. Each introduction includes a set of questions for the reader to consider as she reads the excerpt. These questions are most helpful, point to the heart of what the excerpted piece is saying, and, perhaps most importantly, model how a philosopher works by asking questions. It is difficult to conceive of a more engaging, challenging, enticing, yet gentle, introduction to the subject. This is a wonderful service to his students, and all those, like me, he reaches through this book.

Italian Renaissance Ceramics, a sumptuous book by Wendy Watson, curator, Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, has just appeared. It was commissioned for the occasion of the donation of the Howard I. and Janet H. Stein collection of Italian Renaissance ceramics to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. As the museum's Senior Curator Dean Walker writes in the preface: "For the choice of author of the book, the obvious person was Wendy M. Watson…. Responding to Anne d’Harnoncourt’s challenge to create a book useful to both neophytes and specialists, Wendy has written an original text whose graceful accessibility belies its command of the field and perceptive observations about numerous individual objects." Watson's text is actually a history of Italian ceramics told through the items in the Stein collection. It starts with the origins of the industry in attempts to imitate Chinese porcelain and the importation of techniques from Spain and the Middle East, and moves through the development of the flourishing majolica industry in the Italian peninsula during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Along the way, Watson addresses such issues as whether the plates were actually used for dining and the relative degrees of learning of potters and painters. The photographs have to be seen to be believed. Some of the pieces feature unbelievably beautiful shades of blue and gold.

William Cullen Bryant: Poemas de Espana, a slim volume of translations by Professor of Spanish R. Alberto Castilla, has just appeared. The Spanish translations of poems written by William Cullen Bryant on visiting Spain in 1857 and 1867 are presented side by side with the English-language original. The timing of the book couldn’t be better. William Cullen Bryant was a native of western Massachusetts and close friend and patron of Thomas Cole, whose painting of the Oxbow will shortly be exhibited at the art museum.

A number of faculty articles have appeared, and a number are scheduled to appear shortly: Gail Hornstein, professor of psychology and education, has a lively article on narrative accounts of madness written by mental patients in the January 25 Chronicle of Higher Education. She notes that these accounts are a form of protest literature that "retell the history of psychiatry as a story of patients struggling to escape doctors’ despair" and that frequently detail the extremes of human experience. Harriet Pollatsek, Julia and Sarah Ann Adams Professor of Science, has a paper on quantum error correction in the December American Mathematical Monthly, the world’s most widely read mathematics journal (with a circulation of over 30,000). The security of the nation’s computer systems and online transactions is based on the fact that current algorithms for factoring numbers with several hundred digits would require billions of years on any digital computer. In 1994, Peter Shor discovered an algorithm that would allow a quantum computer (one that uses quantum states instead of numbers to represent information) to factor large numbers relatively quickly. He went on to remove the last of the theoretical objections to computing with quantum states by showing error-correction is possible for quantum computers. This result is highly counterintuitive because you cannot copy a quantum state without destroying it. Pollatsek's article describes all this and explains how some interesting mathematical groups (algebraic structures that encode symmetries and that are studied in standard undergraduate algebra courses) can be used for error correction. Laurie Priest, director of athletics and senior lecturer in physical education and athletics, has a paper entitled "Addressing Homophobia in Intercollegiate Athletics" in the December issue of Athletics Administration (the official publication of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics). She asks why intercollegiate athletics seems to be one of the most homophobic environments in higher education, noting that the question is all the more puzzling given the lack of tolerance in athletics for harassment based on race or religion. She suggests that one of the causes is silence and lays out a number of ways to address and talk about homophobia. The December 20 edition of the New York Review of Books was another MHC issue. Brad Leithauser, Emily Dickinson Senior Lecturer in the Humanities, reviewed two books on Icelanders’ sagas, and Robert Herbert, professor emeritus of humanities, reviewed four books on Paul Signac. Both articles are quite lovely and hugely engaging. Christopher Benfey, professor of English and codirector of the Weissman Center for Leadership, did the annual New York Times review of art books.

Jean Grossholtz, professor emeritus of politics and women's studies and chair of women’s studies, is quoted in a story in Dawn, Pakistan’s largest English-language newspaper, as deploring the refusal of governments backed by transnational corporations to accept international regulation of genetic engineering and other areas of biotechnology.

Professor of English Robert Shaw has been invited to serve this year as the Phi Beta Kappa Poet at Yale. This will involve his appearing and reading one of his poems at a ceremonious dinner for the new inductees and other members of the Yale Phi Beta Kappa chapter.

Peter Viereck, professor emeritus of history, is the featured translator in the most recent edition of Modern Poetry in Translation and the subject of an essay by editor Daniel Weissbort, who discusses Viereck’s translations and work, and his relationship to Joseph Brodsky. The essay includes a generous excerpt from some of Viereck’s translations together with Viereck’s comments on them. Viereck’s "Transplanter’s Credo" is striking: "… The soil must suit the root. Synonyms may not be synonymous. Given its history, 'Volk' means more than 'folk,' being more sentimental and more sinister…. "

Correction from earlier reports: Mimi Hellman, visiting assistant professor in the art department, received a National Endowment for the Humanities research fellowship of $40,000 for her project entitled "Architecture, Interior Decoration, and Social Identity in Eighteenth-Century France."

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