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The O'Shea Report: April 2004

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 April 2004.


Janice Hudgings, Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Physics, is the recipient of the Esther Hoffman Beller Award of the Optical Society of America. The award recognizes her "innovative teaching methods" and her involvement of undergraduate physics and engineering students in "original, state-of-the-art, publishable research in optics and solid state physics." The award, which consists of a silver medal, a certificate, and $2,500, will be presented during the Optical Society’s annual meeting October 10-14 in Rochester, New York.

Chris Pyle, professor of politics, has been awarded the Luther Macnair Award by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. The award is given in recognition of significant contributions to civil liberties and will be made at the ACLU-MA annual meeting on May 24 in Boston, at which Chris will give the keynote speech. The title of the program is "The Enemy Within: McCarthyism--50 Years and Counting." It begins at 5:15 pm and is at Suffolk University Law School, David A. Sargent Hall.

Joshua Roth, assistant professor of anthropology, won the 2003 Book Award in Social Science from the Association for Asian American Studies. The award was presented at the association’s annual meeting in Boston on March 27, 2004.

Larry Fine, Irene Kaplan Leiwant Professor of Jewish Studies and chair of religion, was a finalist for the Koret Jewish Book Award for his recent book Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos: Isaac Luria and His Kabbalistic Fellowship (2003, Stanford University Press), and was recognized at the awards ceremony in New York City on March 29.


Martha Ackmann, senior lecturer in women’s studies, has received a grant of $7,500 from the Mellon Gender and Women’s Studies Research Grant Program at Scripps College to fund her proposal, "Perfect Game: The Study of Women in Professional Baseball." The grant will allow her to work with three student research assistants to study three African American women who played professional baseball with men of the Negro Leagues. She will visit Mamie "Peanut" Johnson, the only surviving member of the trio. Now 69, Johnson was a 5' 2'' right-handed pitcher with a 33-6 record in 1954. She currently manages the Negro Leagues Memorabilia Store in Capitol Heights, Maryland. The women are the only women baseball players to have ever played with men on a professional team.

Siraj Ahmed, assistant professor of English, has been awarded a $5,000 summer stipend by the National Endowment for the Humanities for his project "Empire’s Origins: Literature and the First Century of British Rule in India 1672-1815." Siraj has been working on a groundbreaking book arguing that the notion that Enlightenment reason underwrote modern imperial ideology is fundamentally mistaken. Instead, Siraj gives us a close reading of the literature of the "long eighteenth century," showing that that literature views merchant capital’s production of the modern world not as progress

but as degeneration. Far from imposing a scientific vision on the world, Siraj maintains that the Enlightenment drew its energy from resisting the coercive nature of the global economy. Understood via the period’s own terms and images, the Enlightenment is a reaction against, not a driver of, globalization. The grant will allow Siraj to spend the summer in the East India Company Archive of the British Museum.

Lisa Blouin, lab director/instructor for psychology and education, has received a $1,500 award from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology to support her project "Integrating Technology into the Classroom: An Annotated Bibliography." The award is administered by the Office of Teaching Resources and is the result of a national competition designed to stimulate the development of teaching-related materials.

Jeremy King, associate professor of history and chair of international relations, has been awarded a $40,000 grant by the American Council of Learned Societies for his project "Ethnoracial Difference and Liberal Citizenship: The Hapsburg Experiment, 1905-1914." The project studies six sets of constitutional amendments implemented in the final years of the Hapsburg Monarchy. The amendments give a view into the transformation of a dynastic state to a multinational one. Jeremy argues that study of different Hapsburg attempts at ethnoracial classification and their political dynamics offers insight into more current American and French attempts at establishing multiracial, multiethnic states. The grant will allow Jeremy to spend next year working on a book with the same title as his project and to take a couple of trips to Austrian and Czech archives.

Holly Hanson, assistant professor of history, just learned that she won a Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research Abroad Grant for $52,150 for her project "The Social History of Kampala." She will focus on moments of social conflict in the city of Kampala over the last century and build on her preliminary research, which suggests that disagreement over basic factors of economic production is at the heart of many of those public controversies. She argues that private property and commodified market relations characterized neither the practices of the Baganda who claimed Kampala nor the South Asians who settled there. Instead, each of these populations utilized a distinctly noncommodified, noncapitalist logic to create material success, strategically mobilizing social networks to create wealth and social security. Needless to say, this would make analyses rooted in Western neoclassical economic principles inappropriate. The grant will cover eight months of research, allowing Holly to take two months this summer and a full year in 2005-2006.

Giuliana Davidoff, mathematics professor, and Margaret Robinson, mathematics professor and chair of mathematics and statistics, have just received a five-year award of $288,470 from the National Science Foundation for their project "Mount Holyoke Undergraduate Mathematics Summer Research Institute." The award will allow Giuliana, Margaret, and their colleagues in the mathematics and statistics department to continue to operate a nationally known Research Experiences for Undergraduates site. The project brings ten to twelve very capable undergraduates to campus for eight weeks each summer to work in groups of three to five individuals, each under the supervision of a faculty member, on current research problems. The competition for these grants is intense--only 27 percent of the 362 proposals science-wide were funded--and it is particularly difficult to get a renewal, much less one for five years. Part of the reason for the success of the program has been the careful choice of research problems–the problems are, without exception, in mainstream research areas, but are often accessible to computer-aided experimentation (and are often high-risk). The summary review lauds the faculty’s "enormous experience in nurturing undergraduates" and "great research strength." One reviewer muses wonderingly on how "the faculty managed, through computer-experimentation and probably sheer personal talent, to introduce the participants to extremely deep and sophisticated areas of mathematics, and have them make genuine discoveries and research advancements."

Sean Decatur, associate professor and chair of chemistry, and his colleagues Wei Chen, Mary E. Woolley Assistant Professor of Chemistry; Maria Gomez, assistant professor of chemistry; Darren Hamilton, Mary E. Woolley Assistant Professor of Chemistry; and Megan Nunez, Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Chemistry, have just received word that they have been awarded $100,000 from the National Science Foundation for a highly speculative proposal on integrating nanotechnology into the core chemistry proposal. No one expected this to come through. More next time.


In the great American tradition of election-year political pamphleteering, John Fox, visiting lecturer in complex organizations, has just written and published a short book entitled 10 Tax Questions the Candidates Don’t Want You to Ask with an appendix entitled 5 Common Tax Myths and Misunderstandings. The book is exactly what the title says. It is absolutely clear, utterly convincing, deeply rational, passionate, and even a little angry. Not only does it articulate key questions, it explains why they are critical and exposes the underlying reasons (if they can be dignified with such a name) behind some of our ridiculous inequitable policies. A sample question: "Why shouldn’t Congress do for a single person what it does for a family of four–exempt them from income tax until their income rises well above the poverty level?"

Associate professor of English Lois Brown’s lovely and haunting paper "Memorial Narratives of African Women in Antebellum New England" appeared recently (Vol. 20, nos. 1 and 2) in the journal Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers. Lois presents a close reading of obituaries of three African women who died in New England between 1815 and 1828. The paper works on all levels. Lois’s prose is luminous, the analysis is theoretically sophisticated, and the material on which she brings the analysis to bear is rich, highly specific, and complex. The complexity results in contradictory impulses, not all of which were conscious. Lois contrasts different narrative handlings of slavery, some in the same account. The treatments range from locating the deceased African female in the American public sphere and erasing any mention of enslavement, to locating the deceased in an African context that enslavement interrupts (but erasing the actual period as a slave), to attempting to describe aspects of the period of bondage. Lois concludes that in some ways these death narratives function inversely to many African American autobiographies: as confirmations of bondage as opposed to manifestos of freedom.

Interesting papers have appeared by Sam Mitchell, associate professor of philosophy, Jessica Sidman, Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Mathematics, Peter Viereck, professor emeritus of history, Robert Shaw, professor of English, Lynn Morgan, professor of anthropology, and Michael Penn, assistant professor of religion, and others. Next time.

--The March 2004 O'Shea Report more>
--The February 2004 O'Shea Report more>
--The December 2003 O'Shea Report more>
--The October 2003 O'Shea Report more>
--The September 2003 O'Shea Report more>
--The May 2003 O'Shea Report more>
--The April 2003 O'Shea Report more>
--The February 2003 O'Shea Report more>
--The December 2002 O'Shea Report more>
--The November 2002 O'Shea Report more>
--The October 2002 O'Shea Report more>
--The September 2002 O'Shea Report more>
--The May 2002 O'Shea Report more>
--The April 2002 O'Shea Report more>
--The March 2002 O'Shea Report more>
--The February 2002 O'Shea Report more>
--The December 2001 O'Shea Report more>
--The November 2001 O'Shea Report more>

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