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Dean of Faculty's Report, April 2006

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 April 2006 report of Donal O'Shea, Dean of Faculty.

New Books

Professor of Russian studies and chair of Russian and Eurasian studies Stephen Jones's book Socialism in Georgian Colors: The European Road to Social Democracy, 1883--1917, which has appeared with Harvard University Press, traces the evolution of socialism in Georgia almost year by year from the formation of the first Marxist group in 1883 to the election of Social Democrats a third of a century later at the time of the Russian Revolution. It is a spectacular piece of scholarship: Stephen seems to have read every socialist newspaper and publication of the time, and to have exhaustively combed five archives spread over three countries. Located between the Black Sea and the Caspian sea just to the north of Turkey (then the Ottoman Empire) and Iran, Georgia is perhaps the most culturally and ethnically diverse area in the former Soviet Union. The evolution of socialism in Georgia took a distinctively different path than in other regions, helping it throw off colonial influence and develop a distinctive national identity while at the same time allowing it to comfortably be a part of a larger empire. Stephen's wholly satisfying narrative navigates a complex stew of different ethnicities, different social classes, border crossing, empire, nationalism, and colonialism. As ambitious as it is spectacular, it is the first of a projected three volumes that take us to Georgia of today, which is surely a moving target. The whole project deals with a story that has not been told, one that is of great importance for our understanding of socialism in this century, and one of great salience today given the successfully contested elections the year before last that brought Saakashvili and the National Movement Party into power. Stephen is nearly finished with the second volume.

At the end of last semester, professor of geology and director of the Center for the Environment Lauret Savoy's book Living with the Changing California Coast appeared with the University of California Press. Coedited (and mostly cowritten) with G. Griggs and K. Patsch, it is a far more impressive achievement than Lauret claims ("Oh that," she says, "that was just my master's thesis."). Moving over different time and spatial scales, the book presents a wonderful, and highly readable, account of the changing nature of the California coastline. You can learn about El Niño and coastal storms, about emergency response and building permits, about highways, airports, sewage treatment facilities, and residential communities. Different chapters cover each region of the coast, ranging from the Oregon coast to the Mexican border in the south. Other chapters handle more macroscopic concerns such as evolution and coastline, policy, and erosion. Ostensibly about California, the book is an evenhanded and sympathetic account of the issues that those who wish to live and work near any coast need to consider. The book will interest far more than geologists, geographers, and ecologists: policy makers, government officials, developers, home buyers (or renters), and snowbirds will find it invaluable.

This semester, another book of Lauret's, this one coedited with E. and J. Moores and entitled Bedrock: Writers on the Wonders of Geology, has just appeared with Trinity University Press. This book reflects Lauret's love of language, of land, and of the interaction of time and timelessness. It contains over 70 extracts of writing from different times and cultures loosely arranged in nine chapters with titles such as "Deep Time," "The Work of Ice," "Volcanoes and Eruptions," and "Wind and Desert," each introduced by a poem and a short essay. The poems are striking ("Dark as if cloven from darkness / were those mountains// Night-angled fold on fold / they rose in mist and sunlight//"), the essays succinct summaries of the geology and writings that follow, and the writings are … glorious. No other word will do. They range from the letter Pliny's nephew sent to the historian Tacitus about the loss of his uncle in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 C.E. that buried Pompeii, to echoes of Diné and Lakota voices, to an early poem of Langston Hughes, to Darwin, Gould, Ondaatje, and LeGuin. The whole effect, the gestalt, is one of balance and wonder and is deeply satisfying.

Finally, Lauret has been instrumental in reissuing her father Willard's Savoy's novel Alien Land. This latter appeared in 1949 and is an incredibly moving and heartbreaking tale of a biracial man's coming of age in prewar America. The writing is beautiful, and the complexities of race, family, and location are haunting. Part of the dedication reads: "To the child which my wife and I may someday have -- and to the children of each American -- in the fervent hope that at least one shall be brought to see more clearly the need for simple humanity; that at least one shall because of its pages meet his fellows free of jaundice which hardens the heart against the importunities of the soul." It is difficult to resist the temptation to read autobiography into the novel, and to see origins of the child in the father. But it is clear that her father would have understood that the love of language and humanity that echoes through in Bedrock realizes his hope and continues in a profound way his work.


Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Mathematics Jessica Sidman and associate professor of chemistry Wei Chen both received the NSF grants I in described last month's report. Sidman's is entitled Computational and Commutative Algebra; Chen's is entitled Impregnation of Nanoparticles in a Biocompatible Hydrogel Matrix. Both involve cutting-edge science and mathematics.

Dean of Faculty's Report Index

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