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The O'Shea Report: December 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 December 2002.

The Dickinsons of Amherst by Jerome Liebling (photographs), Professor of English Christopher Benfey, Polly Longsworth, and Barton Levi St. Armand has been selected as the winner of the 2002 Umhoefer Prize for Achievement in the Humanities presented by the Arts and Humanities Foundation. The photographer and authors will receive a medallion and a cash prize. The foundation will announce the award with an advertisement in the late December double issue of the New Yorker magazine. Previous winners include John Singer Sargent, edited by Elaine Kilmurray and Richard Ormond, published by Princeton University Press, and The Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by R. W. Franklin, published by Harvard University Press.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology Paul Lopes's book The Rise of a Jazz Art World, which has just appeared with Cambridge University Press, provides a carefully written account of the jazz music world. It studies the emergence of jazz as high art from the interplay between the various musical/social worlds in twentieth-century America: vernacular and cultivated, European and American, high and popular. This entails fascinating discussions of the musicians, audiences, criticism (popular and professional), and music that made up each such world and the social and cultural substrate that framed them. The book is very accessible and clearly a work of love, and it shines as a result.

Professor of Sociology Richard Moran's book Executioner's Current: Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and the Invention of the Electric Chair has just appeared with Knopf. A brief forward describes the first execution (by lethal injection) that Richard witnessed. The first chapter sets the hook even deeper, recounting the execution of William Kemmler, the first use of the electric chair. The horrid details tumble out--the smell of burned flesh, the charred, smoking corpse. You'll find yourself following with morbid fascination as the whole story is revealed: the deliberations of a state commission to find a humane way to extinguish life, the delicate balance necessary to cleanly break a neck during a hanging (as opposed to popping the head off), the sad attempt of Edison to discredit his arch-rival George Westinghouse and alternating current, and the darkly humorous, deeply flawed experiments on animals by Edisonian sycophant Harold Brown. Without a single word of preaching, the book is a stunning indictment of capital punishment.

Visiting Professor of History Ming Chan's tenth book, Crisis and Transformation in China's Hong Kong, coedited with Alvin Y. So, appeared in late summer with Hong Kong University Press. The book is a collection of fifteen essays, three by Ming Chan, assessing the changes in Hong Kong since retrocession to China on July 1, 1997. The essays range widely over a variety of topics, including the education system, language study, housing, local government, the media, and the civil service and provide a very concrete case of postcolonial transition. Many of the changes are different from those expected, and the book conveys the surprising rapidity, and unpredictability, of economic and political change and of a city's fortunes. Ming Chan's prose is especially refreshing, and he does not mince words (what he has to say about Tung Chee-hwa is worth the price of the book).

Darby Dyar, associate professor of astronomy and geology, has had another proposal funded, this one from the National Science Foundation, for $86,000 to support her project "Hydrogen and Ferric Iron in Felsic Melts." The amount will support the work done by Darby and her students with another team at the University of Massachusetts. The ultimate aim of the work Darby proposes is to understand the presence and behavior of water in magmas. Darby and her colleague propose some new experimental methods to get at this. They also propose to test the widely held, but unconfirmed, hypothesis that the magma that first erupts contains more hydrogen and more water than magmas that erupt later. They will do this by measuring the amount of hydrogen in selected feldspar samples from Arizona, Chile, and Antarctica. If this hypothesis holds, and if their techniques work out, they will be in heaven. For feldspar is the most common mineral on earth, and they will have an efficient way of reconstructing the relative timing of ancient volcanic events almost everywhere. If the hypothesis does not hold, they will have the lesser, but still not neglible, satisfaction of having challenged a misleading assumption.

The National Science Foundation awarded Michelle Markley, Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Geology, $109,551 for her proposal "Fabric in Granite: The Vinalhaven and Cadillac Mountain Intrusive Complexes, Maine." The program director at NSF wrote to me saying that this was one of only five of about a hundred proposals that he thought was strong and that he was recommending directly for funding, without the usual panel review, and that he wanted me to know just how strong the work was and how unusual it was to find work of this caliber anywhere, much less at a purely undergraduate institution. The award will allow Michelle, Robert Wiebe of Franklin and Marshall College, and two Mount Holyoke students to build on earlier work at two old sites of exposed granite in Maine. The overriding question is how the Earth's crust makes room for big pools of liquid rock. Michelle proposes, among other things, to test an interesting hypothesis (the "trapdoor hypothesis," but a trapdoor active over millions of years) to explain the Cadillac Mountain intrusion. She and her students will also catalog and analyze the alignment of the granite and materials in it (the "fabric") and combine it with the chemical analyses Wiebe has carried out.

Stephen Jones, associate professor of Russian studies, will be the program director of a Georgian Library Professional Training program this January, which will bring sixteen Georgian librarians to Mount Holyoke College to receive training in various aspects of library science. The training will be conducted by Mount Holyoke librarians in conjunction with the Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science program, which has a branch here at Mount Holyoke. Stephen worked on the grant proposal together with International Training and Development (ITD), a local nonprofit in Amherst that has experience in exchange programs. Their main rival for the grant was the American Library Association. ITD received the $150,000 grant from the State Department Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs. Stephen was in Georgia this October selecting candidates and will direct the program in January (while also running an innovative J-Term course that brings Williams College and MHC students to Georgia).

--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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