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Hispanic Heritage Month Celebrated with Contemporary Cinema Series

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Wesleyan is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with the annual Contemporary Cinema from the Hispanic Wold film series. On Oct. 21, the series will feature the Spanish film Rosa’s Wedding, directed by Icíar Bollaín, 2020. Rosa, about to turn 45, realizes that she has always lived for others, so she decides to leave it all and grab hold of the reins of her life. But before all this, she wants to embark on a very special commitment: a marriage to herself. Marrying, even if it is with herself, will be the hardest thing she has ever done.

Since 2012, Associate Professor of Spanish Maria Ospina has worked with the Wesleyan Film Board to organize an annual film series titled Contemporary Cinema from the Hispanic World and celebrate Hispanic cultures following Hispanic Heritage Month. The series has run every year since then, except for in 2020 (during the pandemic).

This year, the series will occur in the Goldsmith Family Cinema on Thursdays at 8 p.m. from Oct.  7 to Nov. 4, with five recent award-winning films from Latin America and Spain featured in the span of a month.

“This film series aims to showcase cultural, social and political issues of the Spanish speaking worlds (worlds that are also plurilingual, of course) and contribute to the intellectual conversations and artistic life at Wesleyan,” said Ospina, who also chairs the Wesleyan’s Latin American Studies program. “This is particularly important in a country where the cultures and languages of these regions are central to the lives of so many, but where diverse groups and institutions are constantly attempting to ignore or erase this presence. There is a huge interest in the Wesleyan Community in Latinx and Latin American issues, and I think cinema is a great space where people can congregate to explore them in a profound way.”

The five films come from four countries: Lemebel (Chile, 2019), Identifying Features (Mexico and Spain, 2020), Rosa’s Wedding (Spain, 2020), The Wolf House (Chile, 2018), and Panquiaco (Panama, 2020).

Tan Authors Book on Chinese Power Development During Revolution and War

tan book Assistant Professor of History Ying Jia Tan authored a new book titled Recharging China in War and Revolution, 1882-1955, already available as an e-book and soon to be available in hardcover, beginning Oct. 15. The work, published by Cornell University Press, explores Chinese power consumption and electrical development throughout seventy-three years of war and revolution.

According to the book’s abstract:

Tan traces this history from the textile-factory power shortages of the late Qing, through the struggle over China’s electrical industries during its civil war, to the 1937 Japanese invasion that robbed China of 97 percent of its generative capacity.

Along the way, he demonstrates that power industries became an integral part of the nation’s military-industrial complex, showing how competing regimes asserted economic sovereignty through the nationalization of electricity. Based on a wide range of published records, engineering reports, and archival collections in China, Taiwan, Japan, and the United States, Recharging China in War and Revolution, 1882-1955 argues that, even in times of peace, the Chinese economy operated as though still at war, constructing power systems that met immediate demands but sacrificed efficiency and longevity.

At Wesleyan, Tan’s research primarily focuses on the history of energy development in China. He studies this subject in relation to environmental history, technology, and cartography. This semester, Tan is teaching HIST 223: Traditional China: Eco-Civilization and Its Discontents and HIST 362: Issues in Contemporary Historiography.

Wesleyan’s Japanese Garden Celebrates 25th Anniversary with Exhibit

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Paul Theriault, Center for the Arts art preparator; Stephen Morrell, Japanese garden architect; Ben Chaffee, associate director of visual arts; and Rosemary Lennox, exhibitions manager, gather outside the Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies Japanese Garden during its 25th-year celebration.

Since 1995, the Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies Japanese Garden—or Shôyôan Teien—has provided a serene space for meditation, tea ceremonies, and art classes.

Designed, built, and continuously cared for by Stephen Morrell, a landscape architect specializing in Japanese-style gardens, Wesleyan’s Shôyôan Teien is being celebrated through a new exhibit that contemplates the garden’s rich history.

“One’s experience of the garden is meant to be personal,” Morrell said. “By design, it encourages a peaceful intimate relationship where subjective and objective experience merges into present moment being. When that happens you become part of the garden.”

The exhibit, titled 25th Anniversary of the College of East Asian Studies Japanese Garden (Shôyôan Teien), held inside the Freeman Center’s Gallery, showcases sketches, photographs, models, poetry, video, and historical records of the garden.

The exhibition will run through Dec. 10. Gallery hours are noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.

japanese garden

The Japanese garden can be viewed through the Freeman Center’s tatami room (shôyôan). The tatami room was built in 1987 through the generosity of Mansfield Freeman from the Class of 1916. Planned as an educational resource, the ensemble of the tatami room and garden provides a tangible means of experiencing Japanese aesthetics and culture.

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Shôyôan was built in September 1987 by master carpenter Takagaki Hiroshi and his apprentice Kaneko Ryosei, using traditional Japanese tools and techniques. In a traditional Japanese house, a similar room would function as a multi-purpose space, serving alternately as a living room, dining room, bedroom, or study.

japanese garden

The garden is host to several plants and trees including Japanese box leaf holly, crimson pygmy barberry, Korean and Japanese boxwood, iris, Yakushima rhododendron, lilyturf, Japanese garden juniper, sedum, Japanese shield fern, and weeping hemlock.

japanese garden

Japanese garden architect Stephen Morrell also designed the meditation gardens for Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount Tremper, New York, and Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, as well as a tea garden exhibition for the New York Japan Society. Since 1981, he has been Curator of the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden in Mill Neck, New York.

Photos of the gallery exhibit are below: (Photos by Milly Hopkins ’25)

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japanese garden

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japanese garden

japanese garden

japanese garden

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Wesleyan in the News

NewsWesleyan’s intellectually dynamic faculty, students, alumni, staff, and parents frequently serve as expert sources for national media. Others are noted for recent achievements and accolades. A sampling of recent media hits is below:

Forbes ranks Netflix CMO Bozoma Saint John ’99 as the world’s most influential CMO. Saint John, who also is a member of Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees, took the helm of Netflix’s marketing department last year following her leadership roles at powerhouse brands including Endeavor, Apple and Uber. More than half of the honorees on this year’s list are women and around 20 percent of the list are CMOs who come from diverse backgrounds. (Sept. 29)

The Los Angeles Review of Books interviews New York Times best-selling author Maggie Nelson ’94 about her books The Argonauts and On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint. “My books tend to be very different from each other, so each requires new skills. That keeps me at the edge of what I feel able to do, as a writer,” she said. (Sept. 20)

Also, The New York Times reviews Nelson‘s new book On Freedom. “It’s fitting that On Freedom is dedicated to her son, Iggy, whose presence reminds us, as it has before in her writing (including, memorably, in the candid account of his birth in The Argonauts), that care both enables and constrains our freedom.” (Sept. 5)

In Lit Hub, Poet John Murillo, assistant professor of English and director of the creative writing program at Wesleyan, is mentioned for being nominated for the $10,000 Maya Angelou Book Award. “Throughout my writing life, I write from and about and to the lives of primarily people in urban situations, so there’s always an aspect of social justice in that sense,” Murillo said. (Sept. 29)

Robyn Autry, associate professor of sociology, speaks to The 19th News about the history of abduction in the United States. “The discrepancy between how women are treated is not surprising and doesn’t feel isolated or random,” Autry said. “It suggests something structural and systemic, and this racism is harder for the mainstream to wrap its mind around. You can get caught up in how these longer histories implicate our criminal justice system — more complicated and harder truths to face.” (Sept. 29)

The dedication of the Jeanine Basinger Center for Film Studies is featured in The Hartford Courant. The center has been in development since 2000. It was completed in three phases, one finished in 2004, one in 2007, and the final phase in 2020. “She is that rare scholar who speaks to diverse audiences through a combination of meticulous research, clear thinking, and elegant writing,” said Wesleyan President Michael Roth. “Jeanine has inspired loyalty and love from her students, and she has remained a mentor to many.” (Sept. 27)

On a new podcast hosted by PlayerFM, Ying Jia Tan, assistant professor of history, discusses his new book, In Recharging China in War and Revolution, 1882–1955 (Cornell University Press, 2021). Tan explores the fascinating politics of Chinese power consumption as electrical industries developed during seven decades of revolution and warfare. (Oct. 1)

Photographer Alana Perino ’11 is mentioned in V Magazine for being one of 20 finalists for the Creator Labs Photo Fund—a visual art platform which financially help artists who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. “From New York City and after having studied European Intellectual History and Photography at Wesleyan University, Alana Perino worked as a photojournalist in the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts territories. Returning to the United States, Alana continually have been completing several road trips across the country to photograph American landscapes as she seeks for land identity.” (Sept. 30)

In Times Reporter, Amy Swartelé ’93 is mentioned for showcasing her latest works in an exhibit titled “Supernormal” at the Massillon Museum in Ohio. “Supernormal” is a selection from Swartelé s “Carnival-Sideshow” series, where she envisions a group of characters as carnival sideshow performers. The characters combine species, genders, the animate and inanimate, and the paintings are mixed media, including graphite, charcoal, inks, acrylics and oils, on various surfaces. The works range in size from 15- to 64-inches. (Sept. 29)

News 8 WTNH reports that Martha Gilmore, George I. Seney Professor of Geology, is a finalist for the 17th annual Women of Innovation awards presented by the Connecticut Technology Council and Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology. (Sept. 28)

Wesleyan’s 16th annual Eat Local Challenge is featured in The Middletown Press. Themed “limited miles, unlimited flavors,” Wesleyan’s food service provider Bon Appétit was charged with crafting a meal from products and ingredients harvested within a 150-mile radius of the campus — without sacrificing flavor. (Sept. 27)

In The New York Post, Chris Erikson ’87 shares his memories of Willie Garson ’86. Erikson recalls meeting Garson “39 years ago this month, on our first night of Wesleyan University, when I was paired up with an 18-year-old sparkplug from New Jersey on a freshman-hall ice-breaking exercise.” (Sept. 25)

Garson also is featured in The Connecticut Post and The Middletown Press. John Carr, professor emeritus of theater at Wesleyan, recalls going bowling with Garson and now-director Jon Turtletaub. And members of the Theater Department communicated with Garson in 2020 for the college’s first digital alumni reunion. “He showed so much fondness for his Wesleyan background. It was a joy to hear him talk about his work in the TV/film industry. He is a bright star for us that will be missed,” said Assistant Professor of Theater Maria-Christina Oliveras. (Sept. 22)

In Hartford Business Journal and the CT Mirror, Balazs Zelity, assistant professor of economics, discusses why higher-income communities are doing better now because their residents recovered faster from the recession and resumed spending, “A large fraction of the money a person spends ends up in the local economy,” Zelity said. “If a number of local residents re-start their spending, a virtuous cycle of spending will ensue, triggering a recovery. The more residents are in a position to participate in this process, the stronger and quicker the recovery will be.”

The Connecticut Post reports that a team of researchers led by Huffington Foundation Professor in the College of the Environment Fred Cohan and PhD candidate Fatai Olabemiwo has discovered new strains of bacteria located on campus that may have the ability to break down microplastics, and aid in the world’s ongoing plastic waste crisis. (Oct. 3)

 

Wesleyan Participates in Efforts to Protect Visiting Scholars

Henry Meriki

Henry Meriki

One day, back in 2019, three armed men came to Henry Dilonga Meriki’s house. He knew why they were there—they needed money to keep the fight against the Cameroon government going, or, they’d resort to kidnapping him. Anticipating the worst, Meriki put on warm clothes and shoes that would allow him to walk miles into the bush to their camps.

They were separatists, a group of English-speaking fighters who have been battling with the government of Cameroon for over five years.

He gave them about $180—down from $1,100 they asked for—to let him go. “We had to negotiate, and it’s better to negotiate with them because if you report them to the military, they can become violent,” said Meriki.

Academics like Meriki are a desirable and lucrative target. “So many of my colleagues have been kidnapped. Others have been killed for not respecting the rules of not teaching or not going to school,” said Meriki, a visiting assistant professor of molecular biology and biochemistry.

People from both sides were watching. Meriki had been warned not to teach on Mondays or to work at the local hospital, where he served as a laboratory scientist. The Anglophone separatists had called a “ghost town” for Mondays—in solidarity with their leaders in detention and to showcase the crises to the international community.

Residents of the Anglophone regions in Cameroon are careful to respect “ghost town” days. No social or economic activities are allowed. Disobeying these orders can attract retaliation from the separatist fighters. For many of the supporters of the resistance, it was presumed that people who traveled or disrespected these orders sympathized or were working with the government.

It was, for most residents, an impossible situation. “You have to sit on the fence because you must mind who you have a conversation with. That is how people survived in that area,” Meriki said.

In order to escape the danger, Meriki joined the Wesleyan faculty this Fall through the Scholar Rescue Fund, an international organization committed to protecting intellectuals. The Institute for International Education (IIE), an independent non-profit organization, started the fund in 2002 to formalize its commitment to protecting the lives, voices, and ideas of scholars around the globe.

Since 2002, the program has placed 925 scholars from 60 countries into 425 colleges and universities across the globe. Meriki will be at Wesleyan for at least a year. This is Wesleyan’s first time participating in the program.

Stephen Angle, Mansfield Freeman Professor of East Asian Studies and director of the Fries Center for Global Studies, approached the University administration two years ago with a desire to participate in this program. “What we do, fundamentally as an educational institution is to promote the ability to speak, write, and research freely. Academic freedom lies at the core of what we do,” Angle said.

Some academics are persecuted based on their beliefs or the nature of their research. Many others, like Meriki, are harassed because of their ethnic identities. “It is not ideas that they are always after. It can literally be the individual,” Angle said.

The conflict between English-speaking Cameroonians and the French-speaking government dates back to the end of colonial rule six decades ago. Over time, the French-speaking government sought to remove what was left of Anglophone culture, putting unjust laws in place.

The latest violence stemmed back to 2016 when lawyers went on strike to prevent the changes to the judicial system that would conduct all court cases in French, regardless of whether the accused and judicial officers speak the language. Teachers joined the strike shortly afterward to protest similar prohibitions in the classroom. “In the beginning, it was a peaceful protest,” Meriki said.

Government troops attacked protestors, killing an undetermined number, sparking further armed conflict. Meriki’s neighborhood quickly became a war zone. It was one of the few areas through which the Anglophone separatists could strike at government forces and retreat back into the bush. Machine guns were poised directly behind his home. He routinely heard gunfire and saw bodies in the street.

Meriki applied to the program in 2019, but the global pandemic and the closure of consulates and embassies around the world made it extremely difficult to get a visa. Now that he’s on campus, he will be given opportunities to teach, continue his research, and network with other academics.

Despite Wesleyan’s intervention, Meriki’s future is uncertain. At the moment his family is safe, away from the violence but threatened given the uncertainty. He misses them, but chats with them every day. “I am only praying that they continue to remain safe until the day they can join me here,” he said.

Ideally, he hopes the violence calms down and he can return safely to Cameroon. He wants to help rebuild the country. He wants to perform research that would help improve the health of his fellow Cameroonians, for example, he is already learning COVID-19 protocols at Wesleyan that would be helpful back home.

“This has been a welcoming place. Donald (Oliver, chair, molecular biology and biochemistry) has been helpful from the first day I got in. So has every other member of the department and human resources. They have helped me settle in,” said Meriki.

Meriki will hopefully be the first of many visiting scholars coming to Wesleyan from the world’s hotspots. Angle said the university is currently working with the organization Scholars at Risk to bring an Afghan academic and their family to Wesleyan. The timing of their arrival on campus is unknown, Angle said. “We are in a place of privilege and should be trying to do what we can in collaboration with similar institutions,” Angle said.

Student Researchers Discover Potential “Plastic-Eating” Bacteria on Campus

Chloe De Palo '22

Chloe De Palo ’22 explains how potential plastic-degrading bacteria were collected from a soil sample at Long Lane Farm.

A team of researchers at Wesleyan has discovered new strains of bacteria—located on the University’s campus—that may have the ability to break down microplastics and aid in the world’s ongoing plastic waste crisis.

Microplastics, which measure less than .20 of an inch, enter the ecosystem— and our bodies— largely through the abrasion of larger plastic pieces dumped into the environment. According to a study published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, the average person consumes at least 50,000 particles of microplastic a year and inhales a similar quantity.

“Plastic is typically classified as a non-biodegradable substance. However, some bacteria have proven themselves to be capable of metabolizing plastics,” said Chloe De Palo ’22. “Ultimately, through our research and experiments, we hope to find an effective method of removing plastic pollutants from the environment.”

Fatai Olabemiwo

Fatai Olabemiwo

De Palo ’22, along with Rachel Hsu ’23; Claudia Kunney ’24; and biology PhD candidate Fatai Olabemiwo are members of the Cohan Laboratory in Microbiology, led by Fred Cohan, Huffington Foundation Professor in the College of the Environment, professor of biology. The team has spent almost two years working on a project titled “Isolating Potential Plastic Degraders from a Winogradsky Column.” They presented their most recent findings at Wesleyan’s Summer Research Poster Session.

On March 7, 2020 the research team gathered soil samples from Wesleyan’s Long Lane Farm. They placed samples of the agricultural soil, along with plastic strips, inside a modified Winogradsky column, a microbiological tool for culturing broad microbial diversity. The device—invented by Russian scientist Sergei Winogradsky in the 1880s—is still commonly used today to culture bacteria from natural soil and sediments.

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Pictured is a Winogradsky column on day 1 (March 7, 2020) and day 496 (June 28, 2021)

“We modified this wonderful device to yield a range of plastic degrades by placing plastic strips at four different zones inside the column,” Olabemiwo explained. “Then we added a medium called Bushnell-Haas Broth, which contains all the requirements for the growth of the microbes except for carbon, to the modified device.”

Now that the columns are sealed, it’s time to wait—for 16 months.

“During this time, we expected the bacteria to ‘tickle’ the strips and eventually adhere to the strips,” Olabemiwo said.

The experiment worked surprisingly well. After 496 days in the soil-broth mixture, Cohan Lab members removed the plastic strips aseptically. Not only did they weigh less, proving that bacteria were effectively decomposing the plastic, but the strips also hosted a diverse community of bacteria from which the lab members isolated 146 strains.

While the majority of the bacteria cultures could be identified through the National Center for Biotechnological Information (NCBI) taxonomy browser, the researchers learned that 24 were discovered species but not characterized and classified, and 28 were novel, undiscovered species.

“We’ll actually be naming them, genomically sequencing them, and adding them to the NCBI taxonomy browser, ” Cohan said.

Now that each bacterium is isolated, the Cohan Lab is working this fall to confirm their potential plastic-degrading abilities by feeding them minute plastic discs in a petri dish. If confirmed, the “plastic-eaters” could help biotechnological companies create a product that could remove microplastics from the environment.

Rachel Hsu '23, Kunney, Chloe De Palo '22

Rachel Hsu ’23, Chloe De Palo ’22, and Claudia Kunney ’24 are the undergraduate researchers working on the project.

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Rachel Hsu, a biology and psychology double major, holds samples of the isolated bacteria in a petri dish.

Betts Hon. ’21 Named a 2021 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow

Reginald Dwayne Betts Hon. '21 (Photo courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

Reginald Dwayne Betts Hon. ’21, who delivered Wesleyan’s Commencement Address for the Class of 2021, received a MacArthur Fellowship this month. (Photo courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

At the age of 16, Reginald Dwayne Betts was arrested for armed carjacking. He was sentenced to prison—where an unknown person slid a copy of Dudley Randall’s The Black Poets under his cell door.

It was this book that sparked a love for poetry and led to his lifelong interest in literature.

“I spent nine years, writing every day, reading every day, imagining that words would give me the freedom to sort of understand what got me in prison,” Betts said. “And when you’re trapped in the cell—literally— words are your only lifeline. And I committed myself to using them to find some semblance of hope.”

Now an award-winning author, poet, and lawyer, Betts—a 2021 Wesleyan Honorary Doctorate of Letters recipient—is the latest Wes alumnus to receive the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Colloquially referred to as a “genius” grant, the fellowship is awarded annually to 25 talented individuals “who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” The honor comes with a $625,000 unrestricted award.

Student Activity Groups Excited to Get Back to Normal


Like every other part of the campus community, Wesleyan’s student activity organizations are learning to adapt to the realities of the pandemic.

The biggest change for many of those groups is a simple one—having the ability to get back together again.

Hundreds of students attended the university’s annual Student Involvement Fair (view photos) in early September, and the excitement was, understandably, quite high. Wesleyan’s wide array of activities are always an opportunity for students to expand their intellectual and cultural horizons.

For many, stuck in a pandemic stasis for almost two years, the Involvement Fair is a chance to interact with many of their like-minded peers for the first time.

“I just missed out on a lot of events because of COVID,” said Avery Kelly ’23. “I am looking at a lot of fun activities—a music magazine, an arts magazine, a comedy club. Just fun group things. It is nice to talk to people who are really excited about their stuff.”

Cho to Join Washington Research Consortium on Korea

Joan Cho

Joan Cho

As a newly-selected non-resident adjunct fellow for the Washington Research Consortium on KoreaJoan Cho hopes to showcase South Korea’s democratization through a new scholarly book tentatively titled, Dictator’s Modernity Dilemma: Development and Democracy in South Korea, 1961-1987.

Cho, assistant professor of East Asian Studies, will participate in the multi-year laboratory research project until 2024 through the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). The project, titled “The South Korean Pathway: Understanding the Theoretical and Policy Significance of Korean Democracy and Foreign Policy,” will conduct an in-depth analysis of South Korea’s democracy and foreign policy to fill an important gap in the U.S. and European political science literature.

“Current literature overlooks the importance of Asian cases and to the extent that the political science literature uses Asian cases, these are overwhelmingly focused on using the China case to explain why Asia does not fit into mainstream theorizing,” Cho explained.

Collections Celebrated during Constitution Day

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During Wesleyan’s celebration of Consitution Day, Richard Dietrich III ’92 Dietrich showed George Washington’s personal copy of the Acts of Congress. Washington not only signed the book, but he also included handwritten words “”President,” “Powers,” and “Required” in the margins. Washington only made such notes in two books. “This is what’s so interesting about these original documents—is that you can see how somebody owned this and what they did with it. So this you know is something that you can interpret was a very important book to him,” Dietrich III said.

In 1789, Congress ordered the printing and distribution of 600 bound copies of the Acts of Congress that contained the founding documents of the Constitution and the establishment of the Union. Of those books, only three remain today, and one is George Washington’s personal copy.

This rare volume, which was bequeathed to Washington’s nephews in 1799, was exchanged and sold to several collectors for 165 years until it was acquired by former Wesleyan Trustee Richard Dietrich, Jr. ’60, P’92— who established the Dietrich American Foundation in 1963.

“This is the most important book that my father ever had,” said Dietrich’s son Richard Dietrich III ’92. “It immediately put him on the map as a big-time collector at a very, very early age— the age of 24.”

Dietrich III, who is now a director of the Dietrich American Foundation, shared the history of the book and his father’s legacy in collecting during Wesleyan’s annual celebration of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day on Sept. 17. Through a talk open to the entire Wesleyan community, Dietrich III and Suzy Taraba ’77, MALS ’10, director of Wesleyan’s Special Collections and Archives, offered a virtual viewing of documents that helped shaped our nation’s founding.

Although the items were presented virtually, both Taraba and Dietrich III noted that all items owned by the collections are available for in-person viewing. Special Collections and Archives houses more than 10,000 linear feet of university archives, local history, manuscripts, and 45,000 rare books including The Dietrich Foundation’s books and manuscript collection.

“We have a rich collection, and it’s meant to be a teaching collection,” Taraba said. “In a typical pre-pandemic academic year we were doing 80 to 120 class sessions a year across a very broad range of disciplines— from dance to earth and environmental sciences, history, English, many foreign language classes, to languages and literatures. Here, we can offer a very interactive class, rather than a lecture, where students can really have a hands-on opportunity to study and learn about these materials.”

Similarly, the Dietrich American Foundation offers its collection of 18th century American decorative and fine arts, books, and manuscripts to be loaned to museums for public consumption.

“My dad started collecting at Wesleyan. Wesleyan was a place that he loved … it’s a place that instilled in him a love of history and that’s really the sort of the touchstone of what this foundation is— it’s a collection of Americana furniture, paintings, other fine and decorative arts, and books and manuscripts,” Dietrich III said. “Those printed works, maps, atlases, letters, original documents—those to my father were really the raw materials of history and history was the thing that really drove him as a collector.”

hamilton letter

Dietrich III showed this signed letter from Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804) to Connecticut elector Jeremiah Wadsworth (1743-1804) about the presidential election of 1796. In it, Hamilton explains why New York should support either John Adams or Thomas Pinckney for the president, and not Thomas Jefferson.  Hamilton was an influential interpreter and promoter of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the founder of the Federalist Party.

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Dietrich shared a first edition 1777 printing of the Articles of Confederation. “This is a really rare, interesting piece that has real relevance to Constitution Day today. It took four years for states to ratify this … and it really set the stage until a real constitution is written.”

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The Federalist: A Collection of Essays Written in Favor of the New Constitution, as Agreed Upon by the Federal Convention, are a rare first-collection printing 85 seminal essays by Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804), James Madison (1750-1836), and John Jay (1745-1836). These volumes, which were gifted to the Dietrich American Foundation in 2007, remain in the original uncut publisher’s boards. The Federalist papers were published in 1788 and were written as part of an effort to ratify the Constitution.

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Taraba also shared a copy of The Federalist papers from Wesleyan’s Special Collections. She noted the pages’ raggedy edge, known as a deckle edge, and how the pages were not cut at the top. “So one thing we can tell for sure about this copy, is that no one actually read from start to finish. This is a copy that was prized from the beginning, kept in it as close as possible to its original state, meant to be saved for posterity, not meant to be devoured by a reader. It’s really fascinating to be able to see something like this and handle something like this in as close as possible to the original state.”

washington paper

In this handwritten letter, owned by the Dietrich American Foundation, George Washington congratulates Benjamin Franklin for successfully negotiating a Treaty of Alliance between France and the United States in 1778. The peace treaty helped secure the independence of the United States.

Dietrich book

Richard Dietrich IIII spoke about the book, In Pursuit of History A Lifetime Collecting Colonial American Art and Artifacts (Yale University Press, 2020), which showcases 18th century American fine and decorative arts owned by the Dietrich American Foundation collection. Dietrich is a co-editor of the volume.

 

67-Year-Old Time Capsule Discovered during PAC Renovation

time capsule

Amanda Nelson, university archivist at Olin Library’s Special Collections and Archives, prepares to open a time capsule discovered this month during the Public Affairs Center renovation.

The ongoing demolition of the 1954 wing of the Public Affairs Center (PAC) yielded a touch of history on Sept. 17 when crews unearthed a time capsule sealed into the concrete entry slab on the east side of the building.

A demolition contractor found a partially damaged copper box that had been encased in concrete. The outside of the box was green and brown with oxidation and dirt, but the inside retained its original bright sheen and color. This particular contractor had seen time capsules on other building projects and knew what he was dealing with.

Feller Pens Article Analyzing New Jewish Museum in Israel

Jeremy Zwelling Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies and Assistant Professor of Religion Yaniv Feller penned an article over the summer titled “Too Good to be True?” for the Tel Aviv Review of Books.

In the piece, Feller discusses the Museum of the Jewish People (ANU), which first opened March 2021. One of the museum’s main exhibits begins with a segment called “Mosaic: Identity and Culture in Our Times” before moving into the historical roots of Judaism, exploring different forms of Judaism in contemporary and historical contexts, as well as the diversity of the Jewish people and the way they observe their religion.

“The question of whether there is such a singular object of research called Jewish history—indeed, whether the history of the Jewish people is unified—has confronted every historian of the Jews. In implicitly answering it, the new exhibition at ANU offers a different historiography to that of its predecessor,” Feller writes.

He argues that the museum could have been constructed anywhere in the world but its specific location within Israel calls into question the role of Israeli politics in the Jewish faith. Feller cites various Israeli politicians who have fought against the LBGTQ+ community, contending that such people inherently affect the religion of the country they seek to represent.

“It is about who gets to define Jewishness,” Feller states.

Feller then analyzes the relationship between politics and Judaism, concluding that Judaism cannot be defined by any one place or identity.

“ANU is everything its creators hoped it would be. A cutting-edge, beautifully executed, comprehensive museum of the Jewish people. And precisely because of that, it feels at odds with its location. As the Museum of the Jewish People, its permanent exhibition is inspirational, but also aspirational. It is increasingly at odds with the diverging paths of the Jewish people and the State of Israel in which the museum is located.”