Basinger Reflects on Star Wars Sequel Success

Though movie sequels had been successful in the past, it was a huge surprise when The Empire Strikes Back turned out to be as popular as the original Star Wars film, Jeanine Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, told the website Boing Boing for a story reflecting on Empire 35 years after it arrived in cinemas.

“When you have set a level that you set with Star Wars in terms of financial success, critical success, audience success, quality of production, greatness of storytelling, you don’t really think even if the second one is going to be good that it can hit that same level twice because Star Wars was a real landmark film,” Basinger said. “It was a real big impact film and so you don’t expect the next one in that sequence to also be a landmark. It just doesn’t seem possible the way storytelling works but Empire was a movie that did not let down the standards set by Star Wars and that was great. Everybody was thrilled.”

She added that Empire opened up in a new way the possibility of sequential storytelling on a giant scale.

Basinger also is curator of the Wesleyan Cinema Archives.

Digital History Class Creates “A Spatial History of Wesleyan University”

Learn about the history of Wesleyan's campus in the new "Spatial History of Wesleyan University" website.

Learn about the history of Wesleyan’s campus in the new “Spatial History of Wesleyan University” website.


This semester, 18 students with an interest in communication and the history of Wesleyan University created a new website, “A Spatial History of Wesleyan University.”

The students, who were enrolled in the spring 2015 course, Digital History, conceived, designed, built, publicized, and launched this site. The class was taught by Amrys O. Williams, a visiting assistant professor of history, and was part of the university’s Digital and Computational Knowledge Initiative.

A Spatial History of Wesleyan University combines geographical and quantitative analysis with archival and oral history research to interpret the past in place. By studying the history of Wesleyan’s campus landscape and buildings alongside the university’s enrollment, tuition, and student body, website visitors can see the connections between the cultural life of the university and its physical environment.

The class brought together 18 students from across campus with varied skills and backgrounds who shared an interest in historical communication and making things.

The class brought together 18 students from across campus with varied skills and backgrounds who shared an interest in historical communication and making things.

The site has four main sections:

  • A historical narrative offers an overview of the major periods and episodes in the campus’s history, tracing student life, housing, and athletics, as well as the university’s changing educational mission and its relationship to other liberal arts schools in the area.
  • An interactive map allows readers to select and view different historical maps and aerial photographs of campus, learn more about individual buildings and see how the campus expanded over time.
  • A “By the Numbers” series of graphs trace data about enrollment, tuition and endowment over time, offering insights into the financial and demographic shifts that affected the shape and experience of campus.
  • Oral history video clips enrich these chronological, spatial, and quantitative stories with the voices of members of the Wesleyan community and their lived experiences of campus.

Roth Reviews Oliver Sacks’ New Memoir

Michael Roth

Michael Roth

Reviewing Oliver Sacks’ new memoir, On the Move, in The AtlanticPresident Michael Roth writes that the celebrated neurologist “opens himself to recognition, much as he has opened the lives of others to being recognized in their fullness.”

The memoir begins in Sacks’ early life, when a teacher noted in his report card that “Sacks will go far, if he does not go too far.” Sacks describes going to extremes in areas of his life ranging from recreational swimming to competitive weightlifting to drug use. A native of England, Sacks traveled to the United States after completing his medical training to get space from his parents and two brothers who all worked as doctors. Roth writes:

Going far career-wise was something Sacks fervently desired. “Here I am, look what I can do,” is how he describes his feelings about his first professional intervention into the American neurological community. Sacks would develop a genius for recognition of another sort, for paying attention to people whose illness might have rendered them invisible but for his gift of seeing them as beings with histories, with contexts. This genius he combined with his own craving for recognition—writing as a witness to the lives of others in such a way that he himself would be acknowledged through the quality of his testimony.

McAlister Speaks on American Evangelical Spiritual Warfare

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister, professor of religion, professor of African American studies, professor of American studies, spoke at DePaul University on May 11. The topic of her talk was “American Evangelical Spiritual Warfare and Vodou in Haiti.”

According to the flyer for the talk, one strand of American evangelicalism practices so-called “spiritual warfare” in which Christian “prayer warriors” pray against “territorial strongholds.” This group believes the world to be mapped into either Christian or demonic space, where Satanic forces operate as “strongholds” of evil. They believe that Haiti is under the influence of Satan. McAlister draws on recent ethnographic fieldwork in Haiti to examine how American missionaries are waging spiritual warfare on the traditional Afro-Haitian religion of Vodou, and how some Haitian Vodou practitioners are responding, paradoxically, by adopting evangelical modes of prayer, publicity and self-presentation.

Back in January, McAlister spoke on “The Militarization of American Prayer” at the Social Science Research Council.

Wesleyan Faculty Organize, Speak at StemCONN 2015

Gloster Aaron, associate professor of biology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, spoke at StemCONN 2015 in April.

Gloster Aaron, associate professor of biology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, spoke at StemCONN 2015 in April.

Wesleyan faculty members played key roles in StemCONN 2015, Connecticut’s stem cell and regenerative medicine conference, held April 27 in Hartford, Conn.

Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, director of the Center for Faculty Career Development, served on the conference’s organizing committee for the second time this year.

Gloster Aaron, associate professor of biology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, spoke at the conference on “Investigating how transplants reduce seizures: brain slice electrophysiology and ontogenetic stimulation of transplanted cells.” He discussed the collaborative work being done by his lab and those of Naegele and Laura Grabel, the Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, professor of biology, which aims to heal damaged areas of the brain that are the source of seizures in temporal lobe epilepsy by providing newborn neurons to those areas. The goal is for the newborn neurons to replace dead neurons and repair broken neuronal circuits that are thought to be a cause of temporal lobe epilepsy.

Nearly 500 scientists, business leaders and students attended the event, which is held every two years. The event was also attended by many Connecticut officials, including Gov. Dannel Malloy, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut State Rep. Lonnie Reed, and Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra. The conference was sponsored by Wesleyan, as well as Yale University, the University of Connecticut, the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering, Yale-New Haven Hospital, the City of Hartford, and other companies and non-profit organizations.

Taylor’s Paper Published in International Molecular Biosciences Journal

Erika Taylor

Erika Taylor

Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies, has co-authored a paper published in FEBS Letters, an international journal established for the rapid publication of final short reports in the fields of molecular biosciences.

The paper, which is an expansion of her lab’s work on the enzyme Heptosyltransferase I, is titled “Cloning and Characterization of the Escherichia coli Heptosyltransferase III: Exploring Substrate Specificity in Lipopolysaccharide Core Biosynthesis,” The paper is co-authored by her former graduate student Jagadesh Mudapaka. FEBS Letters is published by Elsevier on behalf of the Federation of European Biochemical Societies.

Grimmer-Solem Remembers the Sinking of the Lusitania

Erik Grimmer-Solem

Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem

The Hartford Courant turned to Erik Grimmer-Solem, associate professor of history, tutor in the College of Social Studies, for perspective on the sinking of the ocean liner R.M.S. Lusitania, one century later.

“The British were very effective in using the sinking of the Lusitania as a propaganda tool, portraying the Germans as beastly and dastardly,” he told the Courant. “But [Woodrow] Wilson was in a tough spot. The United States had a significant German population, who were certainly not in favor of war.”

Grimmer-Solem said the German government naturally viewed the horror of the Lusitania quite differently. He said the British had imposed a crippling blockade of the North Sea, including food, in violation of international conventions.

Also, maritime prize rules of the day required submarines to surface before carrying out searches of suspected vessels — a risky maneuver as the British were known to use decoy vessels to coax U-Boats into firing rage. The situation pushed the Germans toward a policy of “unrestricted” submarine warfare, he said.

“The Lusitania was seen by the Germans as a legitimate military target,” the professor said. “We know it was chock full of munitions, which the Germans had suspected. They were listed on the manifest. There were many tons aboard the vessel. The English were ruthless about [using passenger vessels for ferrying arms.] They did this in the Boer War.”

Sanislow Co-authors Paper on Personality Disorders, Suicide Risk

Chuck Sanislow

Chuck Sanislow

Charles Sanislow, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, is the co-author of a new paper published in the journal Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and TreatmentThe paper is titled “Personality Disorder Risk Factors for Suicide Attempts over 10 Years of Follow-Up.

The findings in the paper are from the Collaborative Longitudinal Personality Disorders Study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), on which Sanislow has been an investigator since it began in 1996.

Grant Supports Kirn’s Research on Adult Neurogenesis

John Kirn

Professor John Kirn recently received a three-year $225,000 grant from the Whitehall Foundation to look at the activity patterns of vocal control neurons formed in adult zebra finches. (Photo by Olivia Drake)


It may not be the most beautiful, or the most complex, or the most well known, but the simple song of the zebra finch is helping Professor John Kirn learn more about how new information is acquired and old information preserved during adult neurogenesis.

Faculty, Students Discuss Risk at Symposium

On May 2, the Wesleyan Symposium on Risk brought together faculty and students for an interdisciplinary discussion of risk. The event was sponsored by American Studies, the Center for the Humanities, the College of Letters, Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies, the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship, the Neuroscience and Behavior Program, the Science in Society Program, and the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies support funds. (Photos by Hannah Norman ’16)

Brian Stewart, professor of physics, professor of environmental studies, spoke on "The Metastasis of Risk."

Brian Stewart, professor of physics, professor of environmental studies, spoke on “The Metastasis of Risk.”

Female Voice in Politics Conference Inspires Future Leaders

On May 2, The Female Voice in Politics Conference brought notable and accomplished female politicians and leaders together at Daniel Family Commons in Usdan University Center to discuss the underrepresentation of women in U.S. politics and other issues facing women in the political arena today. Speakers included Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut; Connecticut State Sen. Toni Boucher; Dominique Thornton, former mayor of Middletown; Susan Bysiewicz, former Connecticut Secretary of State; Sidney Powell, attorney and author of Licensed to Lie; and Sarah Wiliarty, director of the Public Affairs Center, associate professor of government, tutor in the College of Social Sciences. The event was organized by Darcie Binder ’15 and Kevin Winnie ’16 and supported by the Government Department, Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, Public Affairs Center, American Studies Department, History Department, and Feminism, Gender and Sexuality Studies. (Photos by Hannah Norman ’16.)


Rosa DeLauro, U.S. Representative of Connecticut’s 3rd Congressional District, speaks to attendees at The Female Voice in Politics Conference.

Green Street Teaching and Learning Center Celebrates 10th Anniversary

Green Street director Sara MacSorley and Wesleyan provost Ruth Weissman celebrate Green Street's 10th anniversary. (photo c/o Lu Imbriano )

Green Street director Sara MacSorley and Wesleyan provost Ruth Weissman celebrate Green Street’s 10th anniversary.
(photo c/o Lu Imbriano )

On April 24, the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center celebrated its 10th anniversary at an event that brought together students, teachers, supporters, and advocates to celebrate the past decade.

The Green Street hip hop group performed at the anniversary celebrations.  (photo c/o Lu Imbriano )

The Green Street hip hop group performed at the anniversary celebrations.
(photo c/o Lu Imbriano )

Speakers at the event included Middletown Mayor Daniel Drew; Connecticut State Senator Paul Doyle; Pamela Tatge, director of the Center for the Arts; Robert Rosenthal, director of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life; and Sara MacSorley, director of the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center. Students from Wesleyan and Middlesex Community College spoke about the impact that working at Green Street has had on their college experiences. The attendees also watched a performance by the Green Street hip hop crew.

MacSorley said it was the community that made Green Street a success. “It was great to recognize so many of the people who played a role in getting the Green Street Arts Center started 10 years ago and those who have helped us transition to the Teaching and Learning Center this year. The support of Wesleyan and the greater Middletown community make it possible for us to do our work with area kids and teachers. It’s truly a team effort.”

Visitors view the art at the Green Street anniversary celebration.  (photo c/o Lu Imbriano )

Visitors view the art at the Green Street anniversary celebration.
(photo c/o Lu Imbriano )

MacSorley also acknowledged the service of another key individual: “We also got to recognize our AfterSchool Supervisor, Cookie Quinones, for her 10 years of service. She has been here since the beginning and is our biggest community liaison.”

In his speech, Drew announced that April 27 would be officially declared “Green Street Day” in Middletown.

For those who would like to support these efforts, Green Street is accepting donations here.