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The O'Shea Report: October 2003

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 2003.


Jim Morrow, codirector of SummerMath and lecturer in mathematics, and Charlene Morrow, codirector of SummerMath and lecturer in psychology and education, have received a $9,500 Educational Opportunity Grant (McNair Grant) from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to provide full and partial scholarships to students in SummerMath.

Darby Dyar, associate professor of astronomy and geology, has received unofficial word that her collaborative proposal "Taking Apart the Rocks of Mars" has been funded by NASA. The award will go to Brown University, with a subcontract to MHC for curricular development over a three-year period. More details will follow when the award becomes official.


A new book by Anthony Lee, associate professor of art and chair of American studies, and his colleague, John Pulz of the University of Kansas, entitled "Diane Arbus: Family Albums," appeared last month from Yale University Press. As the preface by Mount Holyoke College Art Museum Director Marianne Doezema explains, the book was produced in conjunction with a major exhibit of Diane Arbus photographs at Mount Holyoke. As Tony points out, the circumstances of Arbus’s life and death tend to color interpretations of her work. Pulz and he, however, very convincingly frame Arbus and her work in relation both to the changing market for photographs and to the development of Arbus’s own style. Tony does not mince words in describing what he thinks of the main extant biography of Arbus (not much) and the reticence of the Arbus estate in displaying her work. His far-ranging discussion examines, among other things, the influence of the photographers Walker Evans and August Sander on Arbus, what Arbus thought of families and the mythologizing of the Jewish American family, and the actual details of how she photographed one specific family (the Matthaei family). This is a really fine book and it is clear, even to a non-expert such as myself, that it will be essential for future scholars who are working on Arbus or on the photography of the 1960s and 1970s. The authors had to overcome a number of setbacks that would have defeated a less determined pair. The Arbus estate would not let them publish photographs held by the Spencer Museum of Art, and one of the Matthaei daughters would not allow her picture to be reproduced. However, as readers of Tony’s previous book "Picturing Chinatown" know, he is a master at exploiting absence and the book does not suffer, but in some weird way actually gains.

Roberto Marquez, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, is arguably the leading authority in the world on the thought and work of the Cuban journalist, intellectual, and poet Nicolas Guillen. Enormously influential and well-known in Cuba and the Caribbean, Guillen is not as well-known within this country and the UK. None have done more than Roberto to rectify this. In a prolific burst timed to celebrate the centennial of Guillen’s birth last year, Roberto has given us not one but three books. The first, "El Appelido: My Last Name and Other Poems," which appeared with Mango Publishing, is an anthology of Guillen’s work, ranging over all periods of his life, from youth, through the revolution, into old age. Roberto edits, introduces, and largely translates the material. The work is stunning, especially to one such as myself, who does not read Spanish, and who is therefore encountering Guillen’s poetry for the first time. Roberto’s translations are often amazing. Consider, for example, his translation of the last stanza of the poem "Epigramas:" "The dancer that here you see / has rare ineptness as his mete: / he ever destroys with his head / all that he does with his feet." A second book, "The Great Zoo," is an edited translation of Guillen’s 1967 postrevolutionary bestiary. Deeply satiric, it has some of the most ironic last lines that I have ever encountered. Finally, the second edition of "Man-Making Words: Selected Poems of Nicolas Guillen," translated and edited by Roberto and D. A. McMurray, appeared in mid-September. This collection contains a very useful introduction to Guillen’s work by Roberto and a number of striking longer poems, many written in exile. In particular, it includes a set of beautiful elegies originally published in Argentina just before Batista fled Cuba. Roberto remarks that some readers will find them too heavy, too concentrated, and too lacking in subtlety. Not this one. They come straight from the heart and they are gorgeous. To read these collections is to understand Guillen’s appeal and his influence on Roberto’s thoughts on how race, racism, and history have shaped, and continue to shape, Afro-Latino identity and perspective in the Americas.

A book by Keti Kintsirashvili, visiting Fulbright scholar in Russian and Eurasian studies this spring, entitled "David Kakabadze" has just appeared with Arbat Press. The book is about the life and work of David Kakabadze, the early twentieth-century Georgian artist. More about this later.


A ton of papers appeared over the summer, most of which I have yet to read (and have no hope of understanding).

George Cobb, Robert L. Rooke Professor of Mathematics and Statistics, has a paper in the American Mathematical Monthly with Yung-Pin Chen entitled "An Application of Markov Chain Monte Carlo to Community Ecology." This is notable not just because the AMM is the most widely read mathematics journal in the world (and therefore one of the hardest in which to place a paper), but because the paper is wonderful. It recounts the application of a new area of mathematics to a hotly contested problem that arose as a result of some of Jared Diamond’s (of "Guns, Gems, and Steel" fame) work on bird species in the New Hebrides (now Vanuata). It contains a number of new results obtained jointly with REU students from Amherst, Lewis and Clark, Mount Holyoke, and New College Florida.

Mark McMenamin, professor of geology and chair of earth and environment, has published papers on the following subjects: ediacaran fossils (in Southeastern Geology); trilobites (in Northeastern Geology and Environmental Science); the appearance of complex life (in Earth System Science); the evolution of large predators (in the collection Kelley et al (eds), Predator-Prey Interations in the Fossil Record, Kluwer); and Teilhard de Chardin’s notion of the noosphere (Teilhard Studies).

Jill Bubier, assistant professor of environmental studies, has had a number of papers appear on various aspects of the ecology of peat bogs. In one (in Hydrological Processes), she studies the effect of snow on the emission of carbon dioxide, a topic of obvious importance as global warming reduces snow cover in the temperate zones.

Lowell Gudmundson, professor of Latin American studies and history, had two articles appear this summer. One (in The Americas) presents an instance in which a group of slaves negotiated better conditions with their Dominican masters and the very curious legal document that resulted. The other (in Clarence Smith and Topik, eds, "The Global Coffee Economy in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, 1500 - 1989," Cambridge University Press) is a cautionary analysis of an instance in Costa Rica in which small coffee growers were able to garner a large share of coffee production in an area in which any rational person would have predicted they would fail. Lowell’s analysis shows that the commonly received wisdom about the dynamics involved is false in this instance and, he maintains, in many other twentieth-century settings.

Gary Gillis, assistant professor of biological sciences, and two colleagues published a really neat paper (in Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, Part A) exemplifying the interplay between the construction of mathematical/physical models of muscular systems and the understanding of muscular action. Another paper of Gary’s (with A. Biewener in Bels et al (eds), "Vertebrate Biomechanics and Evolution," Oxford) explores the range of activities that a single muscle can perform in the same animal. The understanding that this is so has only recently emerged and become generally acknowledged and represents a mini-paradigm shift in the field.

Becky Packard, assistant professor of psychology and education, and Janice Hudgings, Clare Booth Luce Assistant Professor of Physics, recount their experiences (in Journal of College Science Teaching) constructing and using a Web site as an experimental supplement to a physics class. The site allowed students to explore the careers of women in physics-related fields. They hoped use of the site would make students more reflective about their own career aspirations and more critical of the stereotype of physicist as nerdy white male. Their findings are quite hopeful.

Geoff Sumi, associate professor of classics, has a great paper (in American Journal of Philology) on the theatrical elements of Roman funerals of the rich and famous. Actors impersonated the deceased, imitating and even mocking him or her. (This sounds better than Irish wakes.) He argues, intriguingly, that the purpose of such displays was apotropaic (and if, as was the case for me, you don’t know what this word means, you will have to read the article).

Scott Brown, director, Career Development Center, has published a number of articles in professional journals devoted to student affairs. He has an article on a particular research method for understanding student experience and an article on class rings (that’s right, rings).

Edwina Cruise, professor of Russian and chair of Russian and Eurasian studies, writes about women, sexuality, and family in Tolstoy (in Orwin, ed, "The Cambridge Companion to Tolstoy," Cambridge), with particular emphasis on the complexities of Anna Karenina’s Anna. Among other things, Edwina notes that Anna is the pinnacle of Tolstoy’s writing about human desire and sexuality, and that he subsequently avoids serious engagement with these issues.

Jens Christiansen, professor and chair of economics and chair of European studies, and his collaborator, Bob Buchele, contribute the lead article to the IEBM Handbook of Economics. They provide an overview of employment relations, pointing out the shortcomings of neoclassical economics, and giving an overview of worker representation in North America, western Europe, and Japan.

Susan Pliner, associate director, Weissman Center for Leadership and the Liberal Arts, has a couple of short articles on women with disabilities (in Women in Higher Education: An Encyclopedia) and disability access (in Higher Education in the United States: An Encyclopedia).

Darren Hamilton, Mary E. Woolley Assistant Professor of Chemistry, has published two papers with some colleagues and his students reporting on investigations of some molecular building blocks (certain diimides and triimides) that they prepared before Carr went off-line. One paper (in Organic Letters) reports on the electrochemical properties of these blocks (they are pretty amazing) and the other (in Journal of the American Chemical Society) on some new, and very promising, liquid crystal phases in molecules made of these blocks.

Two articles by Bob Schwartz, professor of history, have just appeared. One uses GIS (geographical information systems), a technology combining computerized mapping and data analysis, to study the role that railways played in rural development in Victorian England. Some of the results that he obtains are rather different from what one would naively expect. Another paper, written for a Festschrift to honor a colleague’s retirement, combines a literary analysis of a curious eighteenth-century novel, dismissed by critics as not worth the effort it took to read it, with Bob’s own work on rural France to draw conclusions about eighteenth-century attitudes. It is impossible to read the paper and not become very curious about the author of the novel, Nicolas Restif de la Bretonne, who seems to have been quite a character.


Francesca Santovetti, visiting associate professor of Italian, has won a Fellows Fellowship (in addition to the fellowship from the Bogliasco Foundation) for the spring 2004 semester to support her work on film studies.

--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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