Faculty

OConnell, Dann ’17 Join 2021 Voices for Science Cohort

Suzanne O'Connell

Suzanne OConnell

Suzanne OConnell, professor of earth and environmental sciences, and Julian Dann ’17, a graduate student at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, were both selected to be part of the American Geophysical Union’s 2021 Voices for Science Cohort.

Hosted by the American Geophysical Union, Voices for Science aims to train scientists “to address the critical need for communicating the value and impact of Earth and space science to key decision makers, journalists, and public audiences,” according to the union’s website. Each cohort receives specialized training and mentoring throughout a 12-month period to hone their skills in communication and outreach.

Throughout the coming year, OConnell and Dann will participate in science communication workshops and work to promote the geosciences.

 

 

Murillo Honored with $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Award for Poetry

Poet John Murillo is the 2021 recipient of the Kingsley Tufts Award for his collection “Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry.” (Photo courtesy of Four Ways Books)

John Murillo is the 2021 recipient of the Kingsley Tufts Award for his collection Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry. (Photo courtesy of Four Ways Books)

On April 7, poet John Murillo, assistant professor of English, was named the 2021 winner of the Kingsley Tufts Award for his recent collection Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry (Four Way Books, 2020).

Murillo’s collection offers “a reflective look at the legacy of institutional, accepted violence against Blacks and Latinos and the personal and societal wreckage wrought by long histories of subjugation.”

The Kingsley Tufts Award is awarded to a mid-career poet and comes with a $100,000 prize.

Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry also was nominated for the 2021 PEN Open Book Award and the 2021 NAACP Images Awards in the Outstanding Literary Work — Poetry category.

This spring, Murillo is teaching ENGL 337: Advanced Poetry Workshop: Radical Revision.

American Oz by MacLowry, Strain to Premiere April 19

ozA film written, directed, and produced by College of Film and the Moving Image faculty Randall MacLowry and Tracy Heather Strain explores the life and times of author L. Frank Baum, the creator of the beloved classic American narrative, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

MacLowry is assistant professor of the practice in film studies and Strain is associate professor of film studies. Together they direct the Wesleyan Documentary Project.

Titled American Oz, the documentary depicts how Baum continued to reinvent himself—working as a chicken breeder, actor, marketer of petroleum products, shopkeeper, newspaperman, and traveling salesman—while reinterpreting his observations through films, books, and musicals.

Featuring interviews with Wesleyan’s Jeanine Basinger, Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, Emerita; Wicked author Gregory Maguire, and historian Philip Deloria, and others, American Oz shows how Baum wove together scraps and shards of his own experiences into an enduring work of the imagination. As a young husband and father, Baum was continually struggling to support his growing family. His quest to find his true calling led him through a dozen enterprises; some were abandoned for the next big thing and others failed. But each provided Baum with fodder that could be transformed in his writing.

The documentary premieres from 9 to 11 p.m. EST on Monday, April 19 on PBS, PBS.org, and the PBS Video App.

This spring at Wesleyan, MacLowry is teaching FILM 457: Advanced Filmmaking, and Strain is teaching FILM 384: Documentary Storytelling and FILM 430: Documentary Production.

Tucker Lectures on Victorian Aeronauts and the History of Ballooning

Photo of Jennifer Tucker

Jennifer Tucker

Jennifer Tucker, associate professor of history and chair of the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department, gave a virtual talk titled “Adventures of Victorian Aeronauts” on March 28. The lecture focused on the way balloon travel changed the landscape of Victorian aviation.

The talk was hosted by Profs & Pints, an online platform for professors to give lectures that reach a wide virtual audience.

Tucker began with a historical panorama of ballooning from its origins in Enlightenment science and Romanticism, to its uses for various purposes in the 19th century. She also explored balloon fashion and follies, accidents and mishaps, deaths and discoveries, personalities and scientific uses, as well as the technologies involved.

Tucker first wrote about aeronauts after the 2019 release of the Tom Harper-directed film “The Aeronauts.”

She also was featured in a radio podcast with comedian and regular NPR host Helen Hong and history teacher Matt Beat for iHeartRadio’s new podcast series, “Jobsolete.”

At Wesleyan, Tucker’s work focuses on the varied visual worlds of photographic and cinematic evidence in the fields of science, law, forensic medicine, news reporting, public trials, history, environment, as well as scientific discovery.

This spring, she’s teaching a sophomore history tutorial, CSS 240: The Emergence of Modern Europe.

baloon

Tuckers’ talk relates to the 2019 film “The Aeronauts,” directed by Tom Harper.

Smolkin Speaks about the History of Soviet Atheism on Moscow Radio Station

Victoria Smolkin

Victoria Smolkin

On March 28, Victoria Smolkin, associate professor of history and chair, Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies, was featured on the radio station Echo of Moscow.

Smolkin spoke on Soviet atheism on Irina Prokhorova’s program “Culture of Everyday Life.” The podcast is available in Russian online here.

Smolkin is the author of A Sacred Space Is Never Empty: A History of Soviet Atheism, which was recently translated into Russian.

Atheism prevailed in Soviet ideology, especially in the 1920s and 1930s. However, religion never fully disappeared from the life of Russia and the Soviet republics. In the broadcast, Smolkin and fellow panelists discussed why the Soviet government fought so hard against the church and religion, how Soviet atheism differs from the atheism of Western intellectuals, and how the history of Soviet atheism influenced the craving for mysticism and esotericism in Russia in the 1990s, among other topics.

Grossman Co-Authors Article on British Stock Market

Grossman

Richard Grossman

Richard Grossman, professor of economics, recently co-authored an article titled “Before the Cult of Equity: the British Stock Market, 1829-1929” in European Review of Economic History, published on March 24, 2021.

According to the paper’s abstract, the co-authors “analyze the development and performance of the British equity market during the era when it reigned supreme as the largest in the world. By using an extensive monthly dataset of thousands of companies, we identify the major peaks and troughs in the market and find a relationship with the timing of economic cycles. We also show that the equity risk premium was modest and, contrary to previous research, domestic and foreign stocks earned similar returns for much of the period. We also document the early dominance of the transport and finance sectors and the subsequent emergence of many new industries.”

Dierker to Teach Passion-Driven Statistics As Fulbright Specialist

dierker

Lisa Dierker began her four-year term as a Fulbright Specialist in January.

As a recipient of a Fulbright Specialist Award, Professor Lisa Dierker hopes to connect with academic partners across the world sharing her expertise and excitement in support of data analytics.

“High quality, accessible and manageable data have never been so critical to the well-being of people around the world,” Dierker said. “Increasing capacity to identify, gather and analyze relevant data is a key pathway for better-informed decision-making and will create a larger, more diverse workforce.”

Dierker, Walter Crowell University Professor of Social Sciences, professor of psychology and education studies, is a co-creator of Wesleyan’s “Passion-Driven Statistics” model, a data-driven, project-based introductory curriculum backed by the National Science Foundation. This flexible curriculum engages students from a range of disciplines with large, real-world data sets and code-based analytic software (e.g. SAS, R, Python, Stata, etc.), providing experience in the rich, complicated, decision-making process of real statistical inquiry. The model is being taught nationwide in colleges and universities and has reached more than 50,000 people worldwide through the Coursera class, Data Analysis and Interpretation, taught by Dierker and Jennifer Rose, professor of the practice in the Center for Pedagogical Innovation.

Östör Celebrates 6 Films Featured at Smithsonian Festival

Ákos Östör, professor of anthropology, emeritus, and his wife, Lina Fruzzetti, a professor of anthropology at Brown University, co-produced six films that are now being included in a retrospective hosted by the Smithsonian’s Recovering Voices Initiative for the annual Mother Tongue Film Festival.

The festival features diverse films which explore language and knowledge around the world. This year’s theme is “The Healing Power of Storytelling.” While the festival must take place online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, each film is available to stream throughout the spring for a certain window of time. Östör and Fruzzetti also participated in a virtual roundtable discussion on March 19 to discuss their films through an anthropological lens.

Of Östör and Fruzzetti’s six films in the festival, one is a documentary feature and the other five are documentary shorts.

mother's house The feature film, titled In My Mother’s House (2017), follows Fruzzetti as she uncovers the history of her Italian father and her Eritrean mother after receiving a letter from a long-lost relative. The film is set in the United States, Italy, and Eritrea as Fruzzetti learns more about the intersection of her family’s past and the history of these countries through her travels.

At the roundtable discussion, Fruzzetti spoke about the process of telling her mother’s story.

“Here is a story of a woman that gets appropriated across generations of people [who] come to see it,” Fruzzetti said. “But most people…tell us how the film affected them. We had no idea that’s what [would] happen to the film. My interest in the film isn’t in the technicalities of the filmmaking itself, but in the ethnography of it, in the stories that it tells. And every film, I think, has a powerful story that it can tell.”

Östör mentioned how working on In My Mother’s House combined different aspects of his and Fruzzetti’s professional work.

“Even in this film, very personal, the extraordinary thing was how much our work in publication and films and anthropology…coincided and brought together what I like to call the ethnographer’s knowledge with the filmmaker’s art and craft, and then developed these to the betterment of both,” Östör said.

He added that the intersection of anthropology and filmmaking happened naturally for himself and Fruzzetti.

“We never made a decision about whether we were doing film or anthropology. It was, again, because of this ethnographic critical knowledge… we had in the background [that] allowed us to respond,” Östör said.

Östör also spoke about his collaboration with Fruzzetti.

“The first few films in Bengal in fact gave a basis for what we did later,” Östör said. “But the pivotal film that we came to work on together was Seed and Earth, and this one was the product of various circumstances and unexpected developments in the field. But again, the background of fieldwork allowed us to…adapt and deal with what was the reality in front of us.”

Fruzzetti talked about the motivations for making such documentary films.

“All of these films we worked on, we didn’t think that we were doing them to get across [that] this is about change,” Fruzzetti said. “The person seeing them has to decide for himself or herself.”

She emphasized that such films hold the power to change people’s thought processes.

“[Ethnographic films] do change how we think about other people,” Fruzzetti said. “But [they] also change the people themselves who are a part of these films. It’s not like we went thinking ‘this is what’s going to happen.’ You don’t really know.”

Östör highlighted that the films were not intended to change situations, rather, he said they were made to hold up a mirror to life.

“We didn’t set out to make a film that was an intervention or that was investigative reporting, Östör said. “There are a lot of films today that are just that. Some of these films have been recently criticized, for example that they don’t interfere enough, that they don’t instigate. Our answer is that we try to be true to the truth and to the reality.”

The other five of Östör and Fruzzetti’s films are the following documentary shorts:

Seed and Earth (1995), set in India, follows the lives of two brothers and their families in West Bengal through a lens of age and gender.

Khalfan and Zanzibar (2000), set in Zanzibar, Tanzania. The film showcases Khalfan Hamid Khalfan, who runs the Association of the Disabled in Zanzibar, while exploring the island’s history and culture, as well as following members of its disabled population.

Fishers of Dar (2001), set in Tanzania, follows fishermen in Dar es Salaam for a day as they travel to the market and the harbor to carry out their work. Steven Ross ’75 directed the film.

Singing Pictures (2005), set in India, follows a group of women in the village of Naya who formed a cooperative focused on scroll-painting, which they learn and then practice. Their work changes to include contemporary concerns such as women’s issues and other concerns in their society.

Songs of a Sorrowful Man (2009), set in India, centers around Dukhashyam, an artist whose work focuses on Sufism, community engagement, and passing down the knowledge of art history and techniques with future artists.

 

OConnell Talks Ocean Exploration in Vox Podcast

Suzanne O'Connell

Suzanne OConnell

Suzanne OConnell, professor of earth and environmental sciences, is featured on Vox Media’s podcast Unexplainable in a March 17 episode titled “Journey Toward the Center of the Earth.”

The podcast explores unanswered scientific questions about mysterious aspects of the world and examines what scientists are doing to find answers. The episode with OConnell delves into a 20th-century quest to drill into the Earth’s layers through the ocean, specifically to learn more about a very dense region between the crust and the mantle called the Mohorovičić discontinuity, or the Moho.

“Project Moho was a bust, but it lay a foundation for exploring the ocean, which hadn’t been done before,” OConnell said in the podcast. “We still don’t know that much about it, and every day, almost, we learn something so exciting and so important about our planet.”

OConnell explained that drilling into the ocean allowed scientists to learn about past life and climate on Earth and discover life in the remotest depths of the ocean floor.

“Drilling into the surface sediment, we had no idea what the surface sediment of the ocean was like, and it defined a whole new field of geoscience: paleoceanography,” OConnell said. “And there could be a whole new field of mantle rheology that could be discovered with more pieces of mantle material.”

Read an accompanying Vox article titled “How an ill-fated undersea adventure in the 1960s changed the way scientists see the Earth” online here.

 

Volcanic Lake Study by Varekamp, Former Students, Published in Geology

Joop Varekamp

Joop Varekamp

Johan “Joop” Varekamp, Harold T. Stearns Professor in Earth Science, professor of earth and environmental studies, is the co-author of an article published in Geology, March 2021.

The study, titled “Volcanic Carbon Cycling in East Lake, Newberry Volcano, Oregon,” focuses on the bubbling East Lake, the site of the Newberry Volcano, and the geological implications of the carbon reactions happening there.

Varekamp co-authored the article with graduate student Christina Cauley and former students: Hilary Brumberg ’17, Lena Capece ’16, Celeste Smith ’19, Paula Tartell ’18, and Molly Wagner MA ’19. The team researched this geological phenomenon from 2015 to 2019, and they are currently preparing several longer papers on their Newberry lakes findings.

Varekamp’s research centers around volcanic lakes, mercury pollution, and rising sea levels.

Wightman Remembered for Being a Dedicated and Charismatic Teacher

Ann Wightman, professor of history, emerita, died on March 11 at the age of 70.

Wightman was born in South Euclid, Ohio. She earned her BA from Duke University and her MPhil and PhD from Yale. First arriving at Wesleyan as a visiting instructor in 1979, she remained here for 36 years until her retirement in 2015. Wightman was an accomplished scholar with a focus on Latin America. She felt that she found a “second home” doing research in the Andes, and she sought to capture the history of that region in her first book, Indigenous Migration and Social Change: The Foresteros of Cuzco, 1570-1720 (Duke University Press, 1990), which received the Herbert E. Bolton Memorial Prize for “the best English language book on any aspect of Latin American history.”

She was a mentor to many faculty and students, and a popular teacher. “Ann Wightman was an extraordinary and effective University colleague,” said Nathanael Greene, professor of history. “As a scholar, she won praise and prize; her teaching was uncommonly demanding but absolutely inspirational, and she was among the early recipients of the Binswanger Prize.”

Robert “Bo” Conn, professor of Spanish, said: “For decades students flocked to Ann’s courses. Walking around campus at reunion time with ‘Wightman,’ as students affectionately knew and even called her, was like walking around with a legend. They all had memories and stories of a dedicated and charismatic teacher who made Latin America come alive in the classroom with her brilliant lectures on colonialism, state formation, and cultural resistance, and who helped them to develop as critical thinkers and people.”

Wightman had a lasting impact on Wesleyan. She was instrumental in founding Wesleyan’s Center for the Americas, which brought the Latin American Studies and American Studies programs together as part of a common enterprise with shared, team-taught introductory courses.

“Ann was one of my best friends, and as colleagues, we worked together on creating the Center for the Americas,” said Patricia Hill, professor of American studies, emerita. “Ann was not only an admired colleague and teacher but a dear and best friend to many. She was devoted to the people of Wesleyan.”

Wightman is survived by her husband, Mal Bochner. Memorial contributions may be made to the Ann Wightman Scholarship Fund, c/o Wesleyan University Advancement, 291 Main Street, Middletown, CT 06457, Attn: Jennifer Opalacz.

Wesleyan Experts Explore Benefits of Vaccination

vaccinations

On March 15, a panel of Wesleyan faculty and staff experts discussed the importance of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine during a campus-wide webinar titled “Why Get Vaccinated?”

Speakers included Dr. Thomas McLarney, medical director of Davison Health Center; Donald Oliver, Daniel Ayres Professor of Biology, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry; Ishita Mukerji, Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry; William Johnston, John E. Andrus Professor of History; and Frederick Cohan, Huffington Foundation Professor in the College of the Environment, professor of biology. Janice Naegele, Alan M. Dachs Professor of Science, professor of biology, and Dean of the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Division moderated the discussion and welcomed questions from the audience.