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The O'Shea Report: October 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 October 2002.

Darby Dyar, associate professor of astronomy and geology, has been awarded $150,000 by NASA's Mars Fundamental Research program to support her three-year (October 2002 to September 2005) project entitled "Temperature Dependence and Resolution of Fundamental Mossbauer Parameters in Mars-Analog Minerals." Two Mars flights are scheduled to be launched early next summer. They will arrive on Mars in January 2004 and deploy rovers carrying a number of instruments, one of which will be a Mossbauer spectrometer. Particularly good for studying minerals containing iron, this device zaps rocks with gamma rays of different frequencies and measures the proportion of rays that are absorbed as a function of the frequency. The plot of the percentage of radiation absorbed by a rock as a function of the frequency is called its Mossbauer spectrum and varies with the proportion of different isotopes of iron and iron minerals in the rock. The spectrum also varies with temperature. In order for the spectra that are going to be measured to do anyone any good (say, for example, to identify minerals in the rock), one needs to know the Mossbauer spectra at Martian temperatures of the different rocks and minerals that are likely to be zapped. The catch is that no one knows what minerals the rovers are going to encounter (if you did, there would be no need to send them), and no one has measured Mossbauer spectra of most known materials at temperatures that are as low as on Mars. So, over the next three years, Darby, who has the only lab at an undergraduate college in the country that can measure Mossbauer spectra, is going to have undergraduates working feverishly measuring three to four Mossbauer spectra per day, 365 days a year, of minerals and glasses thought likely to occur on Mars at Martian (i.e., low) temperatures. This data will be posted to the Web and will be essential in allowing researchers to interpret the data the rovers send back. The data will also provide a basis for possible theoretical prediction of what Mossbauer spectra of as yet unknown minerals should look like.

The title of Assistant Professor of Anthropology Joshua Roth's new book Brokered Homeland: Japanese Brazilian Migrants in Japan (which has just appeared with Cornell University Press), may lead you to think that the book is a narrow scholarly treatise on a recondite topic of interest only to specialists. Don't be fooled. In 150 beautifully written pages, Josh presents a riveting ethnographic account of the Nikkeijin in Japan (Japanese émigrés to Brazil and Peru who subsequently returned after one or two generations to work in Japan) that illuminates Japanese working-class life and the universal themes of home, exile, identity, race, and culture in a global society. Everything shifts, and ironies abound. The Nikkeijin feel like Japanese in Brazil, and Brazilians in Japan; the Japanese extol the Nikkeijin's Japanese virtues in Brazil and decry their lack of them in Japan. Josh details his work at an automobile factory in Hamamatsu and analyzes how the presence of Nikkeijin and foreign workers inflects the ways in which native Japanese workers describe their own relation to their work and their employer. Understanding, he writes, requires that "we should regard culture as a toolbox of resilient symbolic resources that can be deployed for rhetorical or political purposes at appropriate moments, rather than as a fixed structure of thought or behavior that can be discerned in all members of a culture in all contexts." So, the same culture can be used to construct differences or to construct solidarity.

A beautiful book, edited by Associate Professor of Geology Lauret Savoy and Alison Deming, entitled The Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity and the Natural World, has just appeared. Nature writing, the editors maintain, "bears witness to the wounded relationship between people and the Creation …" All peoples. Mainstream, Euro-American writing, they explain, tends to celebrate the pristine wilderness or mourn its loss. But what of those whose "primary experience of land and place is indigenous or exiled or degraded or toxic? What are the stories of relationship with place that might come out of these histories. . . ?" Lauret and her collaborator set themselves the task of finding out, and this book is the result. They have assembled/nursed-into-existence a truly provocative collection that defies summary. Turtles are different when you think of them as the greatest of all beings that walk and swim. Walden Pond is different when you think of Thoreau regularly returning his dirty laundry to his mother, and Kaho`olawe is different for the healing chants and poems that have been sung and performed on its behalf.

Marianne Doezema, director of the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum and lecturer in the Department of Art, has edited, and Christopher Benfey, professor of English and codirector of the Weissman Center for Leadership, has contributed a foreword to Changing Prospects: The View from Mount Holyoke, which has just appeared with the Cornell University Press. The book accompanies and documents the exhibition of the same name at the art museum. In addition to Marianne's preface and Chris's foreword, the book includes three essays and an amazing number of color plates. A newcomer can scarcely live in the Pioneer Valley more than a month without a neighbor or colleague (or curiosity) bringing him or her to the top of Mount Holyoke, but one does not travel to the valley to ascend the mountain. What is extraordinary about the show, and the book, is that they make it clear that this scenery that we enjoy, but take for granted, was famous 150 years ago. They also underscore the fact that destinations change. The book documents as well the influence of the school of landscape painting established by Thomas Cole.

The second, revised edition of Real Choices / New Voices by Professor and Chair of Politics Douglas Amy is appearing with Columbia University Press this month. I have not had a chance to read it. Next month.

Visiting Professor of History Ming Chan's tenth book Crisis and Transformation in China's Hong Kong has just appeared. I haven't had a chance to read it yet.

Associate Professor of Art Joe Smith won a competition run by the art museum for a commission to produce an outdoor sculpture on the side of the Art Gallery facing Pageant Green. The money was donated by the class of 2000. Joe produced the striking bench to the right of the building as you walk from Clapp to Willits. It is fenced off to let the grass grow in front of it, so I haven't had a chance to sit in it, but I plan to. I'm told that the bench is very comfortable. It is lovely–I especially like it because the back appears to be a genuine ellipse, as opposed to the still nice, but much more common oval. However, the ellipse is not oriented as you might think so that the major axis is parallel to the ground, but so that it has a slightly negative slope. Its major axis is not parallel to the ground but tips slightly down from front to back. Moreover, the plane of the seat cuts the back along a chord, but one that unexpectedly is under the center of mass of the ellipse that forms the back (but not so far under that the right vertex is above the plane of the seat). The seat, again I haven't had a chance to get too close, is another ellipse (or possibly an oval)–the back meets it along a chord that is not the major axis and, in fact, not quite parallel to the semi-axis. As a result the vertex of the ellipse that makes up the seat is considerably to the right of where the back meets the seat. The result is very pleasing–slightly asymmetrical, but with a deep sense of harmony, coming, I think, from the inherent symmetries of the ellipses. The scene is completed by some plantings selected by Ellen Shukis, director of the Botanic Garden. The whole effect is really lovely–I know of no other word.

Taking Haiti by Associate Professor of History Mary Renda has won the John Hope Franklin Prize of the American Studies Association for the best book in American studies published in 2001. This very prestigious prize honors the eminent and beloved scholar John Hope Franklin, professor emeritus at Duke and past president of the association. The last three prize winners were from Princeton, New York University, and Yale respectively. The prize will be presented on November 15 in Houston at the American Studies Association Annual Meeting. This is the second major prize that Mary's book has won. Last May it won the Stuart L. Bernath Prize of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations for the best first book on the history of American foreign relations.

--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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