Faculty

Cervantes Expert Ponce-Hegenauer Joins College of Letters

Gabrielle Ponce-Hegenauer

Gabrielle Ponce-Hegenauer

Last fall, the College of Letters (COL) welcomed Gabrielle Ponce-Hegenauer to the department as an assistant professor of letters. Ponce-Hegenauer is an expert on the biography and works of Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), author of Don Quixote.

She’s also interested in 16th-century translation theory and poetics; pre-Cartesian Renaissance philosophy; cultural and intellectual history in the Spanish Golden Age; early modern metaphysics; medicine and philosophy in 16th-century Spain; the history of the book and manuscript culture; Spanish theater; Renaissance and Baroque Spanish poetry; Spanish and Italian literary exchanges; the 19th-century imagination of the Golden Age; and 19th-century Spanish novelist Benito Pérez Galdós.

“I like locating the particularities of big ideas in specific texts,” she said. “I’m constantly moving between a microcosmic and macrocosmic perspective. Nuance, variation, paradox and metaphor: these are key.”

Ponce-Hegenauer, who is fluent in Spanish, Italian and French, earned a BA in rhetoric at the University of Illinois Urbana, as well as both an MFA in poetry and creative writing and a PhD in German and romance languages and literatures from The Johns Hopkins University. Her dissertation, published in April 2016, was titled Cervantes, Poet: Lyric Subjectivity as Practice in the Rise of the Novel in 16th-Century Spain. 

Parslow, Chenier Re-Create Ancient Roman “Pork Clock” at Wesleyan

A model of the "pork clock" sundial shows the time as 9 a.m. (Photo by Christopher Parslow. 3-D print by Christopher Chenier)

A model of the “pork clock” sundial shows the time as 9 a.m. (Photo by Christopher Parslow. 3-D print by Christopher Chenier)

The Ancient Romans relied on a curious object to tell time: a sundial in the shape of an Italian ham.

National Geographic has featured the work of Wesleyan’s Christopher Parslow to re-create this ancient “pork clock” through 3-D printing, which is helping researchers to better understand how it was used and what information it conveyed.

“It does represent a knowledge of how the sun works, and it can be used to tell time,” said Parslow, professor and chair of Classical studies, professor of archaeology, professor of art history.

The small, portable sundial—the “pocket watch of its day,” according to the article—was first excavated in the 1760s from the ruins of a grand country house in the Roman town of Herculaneum, which was destroyed by the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79.

Christopher Chenier, digital design technologist and visiting assistant professor of art, printed the “pork clock” on a 3-D printer at Wesleyan.

According to the article:

After Parslow was asked about the pork clock, he was inspired to build a 3-D model. He took dozens of photos of the timepiece at its home institution, Italy’s National Archaeological Museum of Naples. A 3-D printer at his university churned out the model—in plastic rather than the original silver-coated bronze—in a matter of hours.

Like the original, Parslow’s model bears a dial, in the form of a slightly distorted grid, on one side. The vertical lines are marked for the months of the year. The horizontal lines indicate the number of hours past sunrise or before sunset.

The original clock is missing its gnomon, the part of a sundial that casts a shadow, but an 18th-century museum curator described it having one in the shape of a pig’s tail, so Parslow re-created that, too.

Parslow then experimented with the sundial outdoors. The clock is hung from a string so that the sun falls on its left side, allowing the attached pig’s tail to cast a shadow across the grid.

The user aligns the clock so that the tip of the tail’s shadow falls on the vertical line for the current month. Finally, the user counts the number of horizontal lines from the top horizontal line to the horizontal line closest to the tip of the shadow. That indicates the number of hours after sunrise or before sunset.

Yohe Brings “Rap Guide to Climate Chaos” to Campus

On Feb. 2, the Wesleyan community will be treated to a performance of “The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos,” a one-man show written and performed by Baba Brinkman on the politics, economics and science of global warming.

The performance will begin at 7 p.m. in the Ring Family Performing Arts Hall. The event is free of charge.

Gary Yohe

Gary Yohe

Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, has worked with Brinkman in the past and was responsible for bringing his performance to Wesleyan. In May 2016, Brinkman invited Yohe to serve as the climate expert during an off-Broadway performance of the show at the SoHo Playhouse in New York City. Yohe spent 25 minutes on stage taking questions from the audience, which provided material for the closing raps.

Now, Yohe has sponsored the creation of a new rap, titled “Erosion,” that has been produced by Brinkman on climate change and the election of President Donald Trump. Yohe provided peer review to ensure the scientific accuracy of all climate science statements made in the rap. Watch the new rap online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EEx-F-pSdXA, or below.

During the Wesleyan performance on Feb. 2, Yohe will reprise his role as the climate expert on stage and Baba will offer the world premier performance of “Erosion.”

Yohe also has used “The Rap Guide to Climate Change” in a class he taught in the fall semester, ECON 212/ ENVS 310: The Economics of Sustainable Development, Vulnerability and Resilience.

“I taught my students how to apply IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and Department of Defense standards for confidence to statements in the show. Each student was assigned to research and provide literature on two tracks, then assess where the lyrics may have overstated confidence,” Yohe explained. “I shared the students’ work with Baba, and he was very appreciative; only a few sources of concern were detected.”

YouTube Preview Image

Nominate Wesleyan Professors for Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching

Wesleyan President Michael Roth honored James Lipton, professor of computer science; Demetrius Eudell, professor of history; and Sally Bachner, associate professor of English with Binswanger Prizes for Excellence in Teaching during the 184th Commencement Ceremony on May 22. (Photo by John Van Vlack)

Wesleyan President Michael Roth honored James Lipton, professor of computer science; Demetrius Eudell, professor of history; and Sally Bachner, associate professor of English with Binswanger Prizes for Excellence in Teaching during the 184th Commencement Ceremony on May 22, 2016. Nominations are now open for 2017 recipients.

The Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching recognizes Wesleyan faculty who have had a lasting impact on the academic and personal development of their students. Juniors, seniors, graduate students and Graduates of the Last Decade (GOLD) are able to nominate up to three professors for 2017 Binswanger Prizes, which will be awarded during Wesleyan’s Commencement Ceremony on May 28.

NOMINATE NOW.

The Binswanger Prize is made possible by gifts from the family of the late Frank Binswanger Sr. Hon. ’85, and underscore Wesleyan’s commitment to its scholar-teachers who are responsible for the university’s distinctive approach to liberal arts education.

Current faculty who have taught at Wesleyan for at least 10 years are eligible. Previous recipients are excluded for a period of 12 years after which they become eligible once again. Recipients are chosen by a selection committee of faculty and members of the Alumni Association Executive Committee.

(Read a Q&A with 2016 Binswanger Prize recipient James Lipton online here).

The criteria for selecting the recipients is excellence in teaching, as exemplified by commitment to the classroom and student accomplishment, intellectual demands placed on students, lucidity and passion. Recommendations may be based on any of the types of teaching that are done at the university including, but not limited to, teaching in lecture courses, seminars, laboratories, creative and performance-based courses, research tutorials and other individual and group tutorials at the undergraduate and graduate level.

Thomas Honored by Micropalaeontology Society

Ellen Thomas

Ellen Thomas holds two enlarged samples of microfossils in her lab at Wesleyan. Thomas was recently awarded a medal for her research efforts.

For her outstanding efforts in pioneering studies in micropalaeontology and natural history, The Micropalaeontological Society (TMS) awarded Wesleyan’s Ellen Thomas with the 2016 Brady Medal.

The Brady Medal is TMS’s most prestigious honor and is awarded to scientists who have had a major influence on micropalaeontology by means of a substantial body of research.

Thomas was honored for “communicating to an extremely broad audience fascinating, impactful and often thought-provoking research” and “academic encouragement of students and peers over the years with [her] generosity of time in a very busy and successful career,” noted TMS President F. John Gregory.

Thomas, research professor of earth and environmental sciences and the University Professor in the College of Integrative Sciences, investigates the impact of changes in environment and climate on living organisms on various time scales, with the common focal point of benthic foraminifera (eukaryotic unicellular organisms). She studies their assemblages, as well as trace element and isotope composition of their shells. Foraminifera live in salt or at least brackish water, so she concentrates her research on the oceans, from the deep sea up into tidal salt marshes.

The Brady Medal is cast in bronze from original sculptures commissioned by The Micropalaeontological Society in 2007.

The Brady Medal is cast in bronze.

The Micropalaeontological Society exists “to advance the education of the public in the study of Micropalaeontology” and is operated “exclusively for scientific and educational purposes and not for profit”. It was initiated as The British Micropalaeontological Group in 1970.

The Brady Medal is named in honor of George Stewardson Brady (1832-1921) and Henry Bowman Brady (1835-1891) in recognition of their outstanding pioneering studies in micropalaeontology.

Read more about Ellen Thomas in these past News @ Wesleyan articles.

Thomas’s Research on Marine Biota during a Period of Rapid Global Warming Published

Ellen Thomas

Ellen Thomas

Ellen Thomas, research professor of earth and environmental sciences, is the co-author of “Pteropoda (Mollusca, Gastropoda, Thecosomata) from the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum of the United States Atlantic Coastal Plain,” published in Palaeontologia Electronica, Article 19 (3) in October 2016.

The Paleocene Epoch lasted 65 to 54.8 million years ago and the Eocene Epoch lasted from 56 to 33.9 million years ago, and was a period of rapid global warming.

The response of many organisms to the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) has been documented, but marine mollusks are not known from any deposits of that age. For the first time, Thomas and her co-authors describe a PETM assemblage of pteropods (planktic mollusks), consisting of six species representing three genera (Altaspiratella, Heliconoides and Limacina). Four species could be identified to species level, and one of these, Limacina novacaesarea sp. nov., is described as new. Only the genus Heliconoides was previously known from pre-Eocene sediments, with a single Campanian specimen and one latest Paleocene species.

President Roth Defends Liberal Education in Op-Ed, Radio Interview

President Michael S. Roth

President Michael Roth

Following a visit to China Peking University–Shenzhen, which has decided to start an undergraduate liberal arts college, President Michael Roth reflects in an op-ed in The Washington Post on why commitment to a liberal education is more important today than ever. He contends, “This is a fragile time for liberal education, making commitment to it all the more urgent.”

Keeping in mind John Dewey, the pragmatist philosopher who visited China in 1919 to talk about education, Roth focuses on “two dangers and two possibilities.” He warns of the “danger of narrowing specialization” at a time when “we need more academics who can facilitate conversations between the sciences and the humanistic disciplines.” With an eye to the current political climate in the U.S., he cautions against the “danger of popular parochialism”:

It is especially urgent to advocate effectively for a broadly based pragmatic liberal education when confronted by ignorant authoritarians who reject inquiry in favor of fear mongering and prejudice. A broad education with a sense of history and cultural possibilities arms citizens against manipulation and allows them to see beyond allegiance to their own.

Undergraduate education – be it in China or the United States – should promote intellectual diversity in such ways that students are inspired to grapple with ideas that they never would have considered on their own. At Wesleyan University, creating more access for low-income students and military veterans has been an important part of this process.  Groups like these have been historically under-represented on our campus, but just having diverse groups is not enough. We must also devise programs to make these groups more likely to engage with one another, bursting protective bubbles of ideas that lead some campus radicals and free speech absolutists to have in common mostly a commitment to smug self-righteousness.

Roth concludes by discussing the “possibilities of open and reliable communication” among academic researchers in the sciences and humanities, and the importance of creating a “cosmopolitan” culture of openness and curiosity on campuses.

Also, in an interview with WBUR public radio, Roth defended the value of a broad liberal education today, at a time when many are calling for a narrower, more instrumental education.

“On our campuses, we have an academic culture that’s pretty much tilted to the left, in which people get increasingly used to talking to other people who agree with them already… In order to have a real education that’s broad and deep and challenges your own assumptions, you’ve got to talk to people who don’t agree with you. And you have to learn how to tolerate ambiguity and disagreement, and not just learn how to defend yourself and attack all people who don’t agree with you. The current climate is one in which people are very good at yelling at each other or fabricating tweets that make someone else feel really stupid, but that’s not the same as listening to someone else who has a different point of view and learning from that person.”

Roth said that Wesleyan has taken steps in the last five years to ensure diverse viewpoints exist among its student body, its faculty and visiting speakers.

Krishnan Named One of “10 Toronto Stage Artists to Watch”

(Photo by Michael Slobodian)

Hari Krishnan (Photo by Michael Slobodian)

Associate Professor of Dance Hari Krishnan has been named one of “10 Toronto Stage Artists to Watch This Winter” by NOW Toronto magazine, which highlights his upcoming spring production, “Holy Cow(s)!” exploring cultural appropriation. It will run March 23-25 at Harbourfront Centre Theatre.

The profile of Krishnan states: “A few years ago, Krishnan heated up the local dance scene with a sizzling, eyebrow-raising piece about queerness called SKIN. Now, just in time to melt winter’s last snow comes a white-hot mixed program sending up ideas about gender, sexuality and cultural taboos. The night of solos and ensemble pieces includes works by David Brick, Seán Curran and Jay Hirabayashi. But look for Krishnan’s signature style – which mixes contemporary with Indian Bharatanatyam – to get you to say that title out loud.”

Brazilian Play on Cannibalism, Translated by Jackson, to Make American Debut

Elizabeth Jackson

Elizabeth Jackson

A Brazilian play, translated by Wesleyan’s Elizabeth Jackson, will make its American premiere at The Yale Cabaret in early February.

“The Meal: Dramatic Essays on Cannibalism” tells three stories about people consuming — and being consumed. This poetic piece by Newton Moreno, one of Brazil’s leading contemporary playwrights, was translated into English by Jackson, adjunct associate professor of Portuguese for Wesleyan’s Romance Languages and Literatures Department.

Jackson’s translation of “The Meal” first appeared in Theater, Yale’s journal of criticism, plays, and reportage (Vol. 45 No. 2, 2015). “The Meal” is one of four texts by different playwrights that Jackson translated for the journal. In addition, Cláudia Tatinge Nascimento, professor of theater, co-edited this special issue on contemporary Brazilian plays.

“The Meal” will be performed at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. Feb. 2-4 at The Yale Cabaret. Tickets can be purchased online.

Hornstein Presents Papers at American Economic Association Conference

Abigail Hornstein

Abigail Hornstein

Abigail Hornstein, associate professor of economics, presented two papers at the 2017 American Economic Association meeting held Jan. 6-8 in Chicago.

In her working paper, “Words vs. Actions: International Variation in the Propensity to Honor Pledges,” Hornstein used data on contracted and utilized foreign direct investment in China to show that firms fulfill an average of 59 percent of their pledges within two years. “The propensity to fulfill contracts is lower for firms from countries with greater uncertainty avoidance, power distance and egalitarianism; and is higher if the source country is more traditional,” she explained. Prior literature has shown that these cultural characteristics are associated with higher levels of utilized foreign direct investment, while Hornstein shows that these cultural characteristics also affect the likelihood that planned corporate investments are actually made.

Her other working paper, “Board Overlaps in Mutual Fund Families” (co-authored by Elif Sisli Ciamarra of Brandeis University), is based on hand-collected data on directors at 3,948 U.S. equity mutual funds belonging to 328 fund families. Hornstein and Sisli Ciamarra used this data to document the prevalence and effects of a common board structure whereby a set of directors serves simultaneously on the boards of multiple funds within the family. Fifty-nine percent of all funds have unitary board structures where a single board serves all funds within the complex. “We find that overlapping boards generally represent 74 percent of the funds within a family, and that this overlapping board structure provides limited benefits to investors while benefiting the fund family,” she said.

In addition to her paper presentations, Hornstein also was elected to the executive board of the Association for Comparative Economics Studies, for a term ending in 2020.

Grossman Argues Truth Was Lost in the Election

Richard Grossman

Richard Grossman

Professor of Economics Richard Grossman tells his students that getting closer to the truth is what economic research is all about. That’s why he was so dismayed when “my devotion to, and belief in, the truth was battered by the presidential election,” he writes in an op-ed on The Hill.

He writes:

It turns out that polling data and analysis contained very little truth. The news were no better. The mainstream media got many things wrong. And there was no shortage of fake news. Although peddled as the real thing, it really wasn’t even trying to provide truth, only to shape opinion.

But by far the biggest letdown in the truth department was Donald Trump, who proved that telling lie upon lie upon lie need not prevent someone from being elected president.

“What should the truth-loving public do going forward?” Grossman asks.

First, pay attention to sources. It is relatively easy to construct a realistic website that has the look and feel of a real news organization or reputable think tank. Do not be fooled. If someone tells you something about the state of employment in the United States, double check facts at Bureau of Labor Statistics’ website. The U.S. government is the best, most reliable source for factual data about the nation’s economy. Obama didn’t fudge the numbers, and Trump is unlikely to be able to do so.

Second, even relatively trusted new sources have their less trustworthy bits. In print media, the division between truth and opinion is usually clear. You can generally trust what you read in the Wall Street Journal, until you get to the opinion pages. Television networks are less clear about separating fact from fiction. CNN’s hiring of Trump campaign employee Corey Lewandowski—while he was on the Trump payroll and still subject to a non-disclosure agreement—should have set off alarm bells among CNN viewers, not to mention the better journalistic instincts of CNN’s management.

Third, be demanding. I encourage my students to challenge the authors that they read in class, including me. Ask questions, check sources and verify the truth for yourself. Just because something has been shared on Facebook a million times does not mean it is true. We should challenge the assertions of politicians of all stripes just as vigorously.

Finally, we need to care more about the truth. One of the most troubling aspects of the election was that so many people voted for Trump despite being fully aware of his many lies because “he shouldn’t be taken literally.” At the risk of sounding naive again, approaching national elections with the attitude that outright lies don’t matter does not bode well for the future of our democracy.

Sultan Discusses Evolutionary Biology at the Royal Society in London

Sonia Sultan at the Royal Society, by Tom Parker for Quanta Magazine.

Sonia Sultan at the Royal Society. (Photo by Tom Parker for Quanta Magazine)

Sonia Sultan, professor of biology, professor of  environmental studies, was invited to speak at a major meeting of London’s Royal Society in November.

The theme of the meeting was “New Trends in Evolutionary Biology.” Sultan was joined by biologists, anthropologists, doctors, computer scientists and other visionaries to discuss the future of evolutionary biology.

Sultan discussed her research on the Polygonum plant, known by its common name “smartweed.” Her research shows that if genetically identical smartweed plants are raised under different conditions, the end result is plants that may look like they belong to different species.

Sultan is a plant evolutionary ecologist. She is a major contributor to the empirical and conceptual literatures on individual plasticity and its relation to ecological breadth and adaptive evolution. In 2015, she published many of these ideas in the book Organism and Environment: Ecological Development, Niche Construction and Adaptation (Oxford University Press).

In addition, Sultan is now affiliated with an international consortium of evolutionary biologists who are testing some of new ideas as part of a multi-million dollar grant project titled “The Extended Evolutionary Synthesis“, primarily funded by the John Templeton Foundation.