Arts & Culture

Curran Receives French Academy of Sciences Book Prize

Andy Curran

Andy Curran

Andrew Curran, the William Armstrong Professor of the Humanities, has received the 2018 Prix Monsieur et Madame Louis Marin from the Académie des sciences d’outre-mer for his 2017 book L’Anatomie de la noirceur [The Anatomy of Blackness], which was published by Classiques Garnier.

This prize, which is given by the French Académie des Sciences d’outre-mer, recognizes an outstanding work in the social sciences. The Académie des Sciences d’outre-mer was founded in 1922 and has conferred the Prix Marin since 1976.

Curran’s book, a translation of his Anatomy of Blackness: Science and Slavery in an Age of Enlightenment, is the first comprehensive history of the birth of race in French thought. Curran is also professor of French and chair of Romance languages and literatures.

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Recent Wesleyan News

  1. The Washington Post: “Major Trump Administration Climate Report Says Damage is ‘Intensifying Across the Country'”

Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, was widely quoted in the media about the fourth National Climate Assessment, the first to be released under the Trump Administration. “The impacts we’ve seen the last 15 years have continued to get stronger, and that will only continue,” Yohe, who served on the National Academy of Sciences panel that reviewed the report, told The Washington Post. “We have wasted 15 years of response time. If we waste another five years of response time, the story gets worse. The longer you wait, the faster you have to respond and the more expensive it will be.” Yohe was also quoted on the report in The Hill, The Verge, Al Jazeera, and many other news sources. He is also professor of economics, and professor, environmental studies.

2. The Hill: “If Brits Don’t Want a Redo on Brexit, They Should”

In this op-ed, Richard Grossman, professor and chair of economics, writes that Brexit, or Britain’s “divorce” from the European Union, is anticipated to “reduce Britain’s economic prospects in both the short and long run and leave the country poorer than it would have been had it remained within the European Union.” He writes: “There is a way out of this mess,” but the difficulties are political, not legal.

Sumarsam Named Honorary Member of the Society for Ethnomusicology

Sumarsam

Sumarsam, pictured standing, at right, was named an honorary member of the Society for Ethnomusicology.

For his contribution to the field of ethnomusicology and music scholarship, Sumarsam, the Winslow-Kaplan Professor of Music, was recently named an honorary member of the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM).

The encomium was presented by Wesleyan alumna Maria Mendonca MA ’90, PhD ’02, during the 63rd SEM General Membership Meeting, Nov. 17, in Albuquerque, N.M.

Sumarsam was commended for his scholarship on gamelan and wayang performance traditions, which inspired the SEM membership, explained Gregory Barz, president of the Society for Ethnomusicology.

“Your mentorship of countless students and colleagues, both directly and by example, is held in high esteem, and the ways that you simultaneously embrace and speak to the various subfields among the disciplines of music scholarship is exemplary,” Barz said. “You demonstrate not only a unique career, but one to which we all aspire.”

Sumarsam is the third Wesleyan faculty member to receive this award. The first one is the late David McAllester, professor of music and anthropology, emeritus (2001); the second is Mark Slobin, the Winslow-Kaplan Professor of Music, Emeritus (2013).

During the meeting, Sumarsam also attended a number of panels, the Society for Asian Music Business meeting, and the SEM Journal of Editorial Board meeting, in which he is a member.

Holtzberg ’79 Honored by American Folklore Society

Past prize winner Maida Owens (left) and AFS President Dorothy Noyes present Maggie Holtzberg (center) with the 2018 Benjamin A. Botkin Prize at the Annual Meeting of the American Folklore Society in Buffalo, New York. Photo credit: Meredith A. McGriff.

Past prizewinner Maida Owens (left) and AFS President Dorothy Noyes present Maggie Holtzberg (center) with the 2018 Benjamin A. Botkin Prize at the Annual Meeting of the American Folklore Society in Buffalo, New York. Photo credit: Meredith A. McGriff.

At its recent annual meeting in Buffalo, N.Y., the American Folklore Society (AFS) named prominent American folklorist Maggie Holtzberg ’79 of Boston, Mass., as the 2018 recipient of its prestigious Benjamin A. Botkin Prize.

The Botkin Prize is given each year by the American Folklore Society and its Public Programs Section in the name of Benjamin A. Botkin (1901–1975) to recognize lifetime achievement in public folklore. Botkin—eminent New Deal–era folklorist, national folklore editor of the Federal Writers’ Project in 1938–1939, advocate for the public responsibilities of folklorists, author and compiler of many publications on American folklore for general audiences, and head of the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress 1942–1945—has had a major impact on the field of public folklore and on the public understanding of folklore.

In its report, the 2018 Botkin Prize Committee praised the outstanding contribution of this year’s awardee, noting: “Maggie Holtzberg has surveyed, documented, and promoted public understanding of the traditional arts and heritage in three states.

Artist Melissa Stern ’80 on Strange Girls as a State of Being

Artist Melissa Stern ’80 and her piece, ‘Wig Shop,’ that appears in her latest exhibition, Strange Girls, now at the Garvey|Simon Gallery in New York City through Nov. 11. “All the people in my work and in my head are triumphant,” she says.

In this Q&A, we speak to artist Melissa Stern ’80, whose latest exhibition, Strange Girls, is open at the Garvey Simon Gallery in New York City Oct. 11–Nov. 11. Stern double-majored in anthropology and studio art at Wesleyan, and earned her MFA in ceramics from SUNY New Paltz. In Strange Girls, Stern uses media such as assemblage, ceramics, painting, drawings, and collage to explore girlhood as a state of being and state of mind.

Q: You have been exhibiting your art since the ’80s, and Strange Girls is your ninth solo show in New York. How is this exhibition a continuation of your past work, and how is it a departure?

A: I think that an artists’ work is like handwriting, if you look hard enough you will always recognize who they are from the work. If you look at my work from college on, maybe younger, you would always know it’s mine. Obviously, it’s changed. Hopefully it’s gotten better, more skillful, more developed, richer, but it is always a continuation of what’s going on in my head, what my cares and concerns are.

My interest in storytelling and narratives, none of that has fundamentally changed. This show is called Strange Girls, but, as I say in my artist statement, boys can be strange. It’s a show about the feeling of being on the outside. It’s about feelings that both genders have of trying to fit into the expectations of your gender, and the expectations of society. It’s about feeling like an outsider. It’s certainly more female-oriented because I’m a girl. My memories are of all of those things that you grow up with when you’re female, both positive and negative. The show encompasses a lot of ideas that I’ve always been interested in—identity, storytelling, and memory. I’m really interested in the stories that people have to tell. And the fact that my work can elicit a response, whether it be a story or a memory, a smile or a knowing laugh from someone is wonderful. This desire for connection is pretty fundamental to why I make things.

Bobkoff ’05 Explores Cultural History of ‘Household Name’ Brands in New Podcast

Dan Bobkoff '05 is the executive producer and host of the Household Name podcast from Business Insider.

Dan Bobkoff ’05 is the host and executive producer of the Household Name podcast from Business Insider.

Dan Bobkoff ’05 believes that, for better or worse, much of American life is lived through brands.

“Whether you like iPhones or Androids is almost like a religious affiliation,” he says. “Or you might have had a poignant family moment at McDonald’s.”

This is the lens through which Bobkoff explores brands in his new podcast, Household Name, from Business Insider. Bobkoff launched the podcast in July, and will produce and host 36 episodes over the course of the year. Its tagline—“Brands you know, stories you don’t”—captures the cultural history and surprising stories of unintended consequences that are featured in each episode about brands such as Pizza Hut, TGI Fridays, and Blockbuster.

“This is not a show for Wall Street traders. It’s a show for people who like stories and want to think about how we live,” he says.

Inaugural Liberal Arts + Forum in Shanghai Focused on Film Education, Collaborations

President Michael Roth moderated a discussion with alumni in the entertainment field, from left, Jon Turteltaub '85, Julia Zhu '91, and Jon Hoeber '93, on "practical idealism in action" at the inaugural Liberal Arts + forum in Shanghai on Oct. 20.

President Michael Roth moderated a discussion with alumni in the entertainment field—from left, Jon Turteltaub ’85, Julia Zhu ’91, and Jon Hoeber ’93—on “practical idealism in action” at the inaugural Liberal Arts + forum in Shanghai on Oct. 20.

On Oct. 20, Wesleyan held its inaugural Liberal Arts + forum in Shanghai, China. This year, the forum focused on film education and U.S.-China film collaborations, and featured discussions between three alumni in the entertainment industry; President Michael Roth; and Scott Higgins, director of the College of Film and the Moving Image. Each year, the forum will highlight a different area of liberal arts education for an audience of prospective families, alumni, and the general public in China.

The centerpiece of this public event, which was attended by approximately 80 people, was a panel discussion featuring Jon Hoeber ’93 and Jon Turteltaub ’85, screenwriter and director of the summer blockbuster, The Meg, as well as Julia Zhu ’91, a media and entertainment expert and entrepreneur and CEO of Phoenix TV Culture and Live Entertainment Company. Roth moderated the discussion, titled, “Practical Idealism in Action,” in which the three alumni described how their liberal arts educations prepared them for successful careers in the entertainment industry.

The three later shared insights into the future of film collaborations between the U.S. and China, in a conversation moderated by Higgins, who is also the Charles W. Fries Professor of Film Studies, chair of Film Studies, and curator of the Wesleyan Cinema Archives.

Higgins also offered a simulated film studies class for prospective students and others in the audience—bringing the Wesleyan liberal arts film education experience to Shanghai.

Higgins said of the Forum: “I learned a lot about how the Chinese and American media industries are interacting, and renewed my long-time interest in Chinese cinema. I also met with a few recent graduates who are now making commercials and short films in the country, and was introduced to a whole new generation who are just now applying to Wesleyan. It was touching to be so far away from Middletown and yet feel connected to our ever-growing community.”

Watch a video (created by Chengjun Huang) of the forum highlights below:


Additional photos (taken by Weiji Sun) of the forum are below:

Front row, from left, Julia Zhu, Scott Higgins, and Michael Roth.

Front row, from left, Julia Zhu ’91, Scott Higgins, and President Michael Roth.

Sousa ’03 Produces, Directs Native America Documentary for PBS

Clockwise from top left: Alan Hunt prepares to become a Kwakwaka'wakw Hereditary Chief; Potlatch cedar carving; Onondaga tribal member Angela Ferguson; Comanche tribal members Philip Bread and Jhane Myers. Credit: Providence Pictures

Joseph Sousa ’03 is the producer and director of a documentary titled “Native America.” Pictured are stills from the show. Clockwise from top left: Alan Hunt prepares to become a Kwakwaka’wakw Hereditary Chief; a Potlatch cedar carving; Onondaga tribal member Angela Ferguson; Comanche tribal members Philip Bread and Jhane Myers. (Photo courtesy of Providence Pictures)

A four-part documentary directed by Joseph Sousa ’03 will be released on Oct. 23 on PBS.

Native America, produced by Providence Pictures, weaves history and science with living indigenous traditions. The series travels through 15,000 years to showcase massive cities, unique systems of science, art, and writing, and 100 million people connected by social networks and spiritual beliefs spanning two continents.

Joseph Sousa '03

Joseph Sousa ’03 is a producer, director, and nonfiction writer of television, commercial content, and independent documentaries.

Sousa and his fellow producers and film crew were provided access to Native American communities, going behind the scenes at special events, including a pilgrimage to ancestral ruins at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, a trek across lost territories in the American West, and an investiture ceremony for a chief in the Pacific Northwest, surrounded by cedar totem poles and centuries of tradition. Tribal members and descendant communities, whose ancestors built this world, share their stories, revealing long-held oral traditions as the thread that runs through the past to these living cultures today.

Wesleyan Receives Major Grant to Teach Hindi and Urdu, Expand South Asian Programming

The annual Navaratri Festival is an example of Wesleyan’s long-time commitment to South Asian cultural programming.

Wesleyan has received a two-year $165,699 grant under the U.S. Department of Education’s Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language (UISFL) program to support the teaching of Hindi and Urdu, the research of STEM faculty and students in India, and the increase of cultural programming related to South Asia.

“This grant will allow Wesleyan to become one of a very small number of liberal arts institutions in the country with classroom instruction in Hindi and Urdu,” said Stephen Angle, director of the Fries Center for Global Studies. “We are excited about the ability this grant will give us to support STEM faculty and students doing summer research in India as a way of growing opportunities for international experiences in the sciences. Together with our existing faculty strength in South Asian studies (currently nine faculty across the arts, humanities, and social sciences) and the president’s initiative to expand Wesleyan’s visibility in India, the new grant will help to further solidify Wesleyan as a leader in South Asian studies.”

Slotkin Authors New Book of Semifictional Stories

Richard Slotkin, Olin Professor of English, Emeritus, is the author of a new book, Greenhorns: stories, published Oct. 10 by Leapfrog Press.

Slotkin writes more personally in Greenhorns than in his past nonfiction books, in a series of linked semifictional stories based on his ancestors’ immigration from Eastern Europe early in the 20th century.

A kosher butcher with gambling problems; a woman whose elegant persona conceals unspeakable horror; a Jewish Pygmalion who turns a wretched orphan into a “real American girl”; a boy who clings to his father’s old-world code of honor on the mean streets of Brooklyn; the “little man who wasn’t there,” whose absence reflects his family’s inability to deal with their memories—these tales of early 20th-century Jewish immigration blur memoir and fiction, recovering the violent circumstances, the emotional costs of uprooting that left people uncertain of their place in America and shaped the lives of their American descendants.