Faculty

Brunet’s Dissertation Summarized in the Journal of Economic History

A summary of Assistant Professor of Economics Gillian Brunet’s dissertation, “Understanding the Effects of Fiscal Policy: Measurement, Mechanisms, and Lessons from History,” was published in the June issue of the Journal of Economic History. She wrote the paper while pursuing her PhD in economics at the University of California, Berkeley.

The global recession of 2008 and the resulting fiscal stimulus packages in many countries have reignited academic interest in government spending multipliers. Despite a growing theoretical and empirical literature, there is little consensus on the impact of government spending on macroeconomic aggregates. Gillian Brunet’s dissertation makes significant contributions to this contested literature by focusing on the largest fiscal shock in modern American history—WWII. Besides providing novel estimates of the fiscal multiplier during the war period, her work also seeks to understand how the economic and institutional contexts affect this important statistic.

The dissertation also won the Economic History Association’s 2018 Allan Nevins Prize Competition.

Brunet’s research interests lie at the intersection of economic history, macroeconomics, and public economics. Her work uses microeconomic data to study macroeconomic questions, often in historical contexts. She is particularly interested in understanding the United States economy during and after World War II.

This fall, she is teaching Economics of Alexander Hamilton’s America and Macroeconomic Analysis.

Kuenzel’s Paper Examines the International Monetary Fund’s Forecast Accuracy

David Kuenzel

David Kuenzel

David Kuenzel, assistant professor of economics, is the co-author of a new paper published in the July–August issue of International Journal of Forecasting titled “Forecasts in Times of Crises.”

In the paper, Kuenzel and his co-authors examine the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) forecast accuracy of 29 key macroeconomic variables for countries in times of economic crises. In general, forecasts of the IMF add substantial informational value as they outperform naive forecast approaches. However, the paper also documents that there is room for improvement: Two-thirds of the examined macroeconomic variables are forecast inefficiently, and six variables (growth of nominal GDP, public investment, private investment, the current account, net transfers, and government expenditures) exhibit significant forecast biases.

These forecast biases and inefficiencies are mostly driven by low-income countries, perhaps reflecting larger shocks and lower data quality. Most importantly, errors in private consumption growth forecasts are the main drivers of GDP growth forecast errors. The results can help to shed light on which macroeconomic variables require further attention by the IMF in designing future forecast models.

The paper is co-authored by Theo Eicher (University of Washington), Chris Papageorgiou (International Monetary Fund), and Charis Christofides (International Monetary Fund).

Kuenzel is also the author of a paper published in the August issue of the Review of International Economics titled “Do trade flows respond to nudges? Evidence from the WTO’s Trade Policy Review Mechanism.” In the paper, Kuenzel examines whether interactions between WTO members through the Trade Policy Review Mechanism, the WTO’s prime transparency institution, lead to subsequent changes in trade flows. This question is of particular interest, as relatively little is known about the economic effects of WTO members’ communications outside of official negotiations and dispute proceedings. Kuenzel’s analysis shows that trade policy concern submissions by WTO members are more likely to lead to positive trade responses when (i) the receiving country is less concerned about terms‐of‐trade losses, (ii) the submitter is more willing to engage in WTO disputes with the reviewed member to challenge controversial trade policies, and (iii) the submitting country challenges trade policies in the nonchemical manufacturing sector. However, nudges through the TPR process are not successful in raising agricultural trade.

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.

Wesleyan in the News

1. Where We Live: “The Life and Legacy of American Composer Charles Ives”

Neely Bruce, the John Spencer Camp Professor of Music, is a guest on this show about the legacy of composer Charles Ives. Bruce is the only pianist who has ever played all of the Ives music for solo voice, in a project called the Ives Vocal Marathon, which took place at Wesleyan in 2009. He is also the co-editor of a new collection of Ives songs, a former member of the board of the Charles Ives Society, and the chair of the Artistic Advisory Committee of the society.

2. The New York Times: “Don’t Dismiss ‘Safe Spaces'”

In this op-ed, President Michael Roth argues that while “safe spaces” can be taken too far on college campuses, the much-maligned concept actually “underlies the university’s primary obligations” to its students. He advocates for creating “safe enough spaces,” which “promote a basic sense of inclusion and respect that enables students to learn and grow—to be open to ideas and perspectives so that the differences they encounter are educative.” Roth further explores this topic and many others in his new book, Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist’s Approach to Inclusion, Free Speech, and Political Correctness on College CampusesHe was interviewed recently about the book on several radio shows, including The Jim Bohannon Show, The Brian Lehrer Show, WGBH On Campus Radio, and Wisconsin Public Radio, among others, and published op-eds in the Boston Globe and The Atlantic.

A Right to Bear Arms? Coedited by Tucker Explores History of Gun Debate

Jennifer Tucker

Jennifer Tucker

Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker is coeditor of a new book, A Right to Bear Arms?: The Contested Role of History in Contemporary Debates on the Second Amendment, published Aug. 20 by the Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press.

This collection of essays offers a glimpse into how and why historical arguments have been marshaled on both sides of today’s debate over the Second Amendment. It includes writings by leading historians on firearms and the common law (including Saul Cornell, Kevin Sweeney, Joyce Malcolm, Priya Satia, Patrick Charles, Lois Schwoerer, Randolph Roth, and others) and—for the first time in one place—by the lawyers who have served as leading historical consultants in litigation for both sides (Mark Anthony Frassetto, counsel for Everytown for Gun Safety, and Stephen Halbrook, legal counsel for the National Rifle Association).

Taken together, these essays offer both general readers and specialists a valuable study of how history itself has become a contested site within the wider national legal debate about firearms. It fills a major gap in public historical writing about firearms and the law, a field characterized by strong polarities and in which scholarly exchanges among people with different perspectives on the history of firearms are relatively rare.

Board of Trustees Promotes 7 Faculty

On July 1, the Wesleyan Board of Trustees awarded tenure and promotions to seven faculty members.

The board conferred tenure with promotion to Ilesanmi Adeboye, associate professor of mathematics; Logan Dancey, associate professor of government; Meredith Hughes, associate professor of astronomy; and Stéphanie Ponsavady, associate professor of French. They join seven other faculty members who were awarded tenure earlier this spring.

In addition, three faculty members are being promoted: Hilary Barth, professor of psychology; Robert Conn, professor of Spanish; and Sanford Shieh, professor of philosophy. They join one other faculty member who was promoted earlier this spring.

Brief descriptions of their research and teaching appear below:

Ilesanmi Adeboye
Adeboye’s research lies at the intersection of topology and geometry, and is motivated by the foundational question: To what extent does the shape of a mathematical object specify the ways to measure it? He focuses on concepts of area and volume in non-Euclidean geometries, in particular hyperbolic geometry and projective geometry. In addition to his published articles, he has given 20 invited talks in the United States and internationally. His most recent publication is “The Area of Convex Projective Surfaces and Fock-Goncharov Coordinates” in Journal of Topology and Analysis (2018). He teaches a wide variety of courses, including Multivariable Calculus, Fundamentals of Analysis, Complex Analysis, Differential Equations, Differential Forms, and Topology.

Theater’s Oliveras Performs in World Premiere of Kiss My Aztec!

Desiree Rodriguez and Maria-Christina Oliveras in Kiss My Aztec! (Photo by Kevin Berne)

Desiree Rodriguez and Maria-Christina Oliveras in Kiss My Aztec! (Photo by Kevin Berne)

This summer, award-winning actor, singer, producer, and new assistant professor of theater Maria-Christina Oliveras acted in the world premiere of Kiss My Aztec, a new musical on Latino history.

Written by John Leguizamo and Tony Taccone, winners of the 2018 Special Tony Award for Latin History of Morons, the musical debuted May through July at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Performances will continue at La Jolla Playhouse starting Sept. 8.

Oliveras became involved in the musical’s developmental process in 2014, when it started out as a play and evolved over time.

“I am a new works junkie. There is nothing like ‘brain-childing’ a piece from its inception,” Oliveras said in a recent interview with Broadway World. She described the show as a “non-traditional epic musical comedy with teeth. It is brash, bold, hilarious and vulgar. An Aztec take or retake of history in the vein of Spamalot or Book of Mormon. We are not aiming for historical accuracy. And we are ‘equal opportunity offenders.'”

“Understanding Russia: A Dramatic Return to the World Stage” Topic of 2019 Shasha Seminar

RussiaThis year’s Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns, “Understanding Russia: A Dramatic Return to the World Stage,” will be held Oct. 11–12. It begins on Friday with a keynote address by Andrew Meier ’85, a former Moscow correspondent with Time. On Saturday, a full day of panel discussions led by Wesleyan professors and alumni who are leaders in their field will be available to registrants.

The Shasha Seminar, an educational forum for Wesleyan alumni, parents, and friends, explores issues of global concern in a small seminar environment. Endowed by James Shasha ’50, P’82, the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns supports lifelong learning and encourages participants to expand their knowledge and perspectives on significant issues. Last year, for example, the seminar explored suicide and resilience.

Peter Rutland

Professor Peter Rutland is directing the 2019 Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns.

In this Q&A, we speak to Shasha Seminar director Peter Rutland, Wesleyan’s Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought. Rutland frames the seminar in terms of providing discussion and insight into the recent aggressive behavior we’ve seen from Russia—military interventions in Ukraine and Syria, and interference in elections from Macedonia to Michigan, for instance.

Q: How did this year’s topic for the Shasha Seminar come about?

A:  I think this idea came from Marc Eisner, Henry Merritt Wriston Chair in Public Policy, who was dean of the social sciences last year, and who suggested a Shasha Seminar focused on Russia since it was in the news.

Wesleyan’s Girls in Science Summer Camp Gets Young Scientists Excited about STEM 

GIS

Marty Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor of earth and environmental sciences, leads an experiment about meteors during the Girls in Science Summer Camp Aug. 8. (Photo by Kerisha Harris)

(Story by Kerisha Harris)

For the sixth year in a row, the weeklong Wesleyan Girls in Science Summer Camp welcomed dozens of middle school-aged girls for a week of learning, exploration, and STEM-centered fun.

From Aug. 5-9 inside Exley Science Center, the 32 campers in grades 4-6 spent the week learning about everything from how to extract DNA from a strawberry, to the parts of the brain, and even how to make (but don’t touch) an ice-cold comet. By Friday, the young scientists were excited to share all they had learned with their friends and families, and did so through a poster presentation and art display.

Girls in Science participants observe a "comet" they created during the camp.

Girls in Science participants observe a “comet” they created during the camp.

This partnership between Wesleyan and Middletown Public Schools gives girls the chance to explore and cultivate their interest in science by conducting fun experiments in real-life labs, discovering scientific concepts, vocabulary and equipment, and learning from female Wesleyan professors and students in the sciences.

This year marked the first time in the program’s history that the camp took place fully under the umbrella of the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships.  Additionally, the Jewett Center partnered with In-Reach, a program coordinated by Melisa Olgun ’20, to bring local high school girls in as program assistants. These young scientists-in-training provided guidance and support for the campers, while also getting to spend time in research labs at Wesleyan.

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.

Wesleyan in the News

  1. The Hill: “Advice on Climate Policy for the 2020 Presidential Candidates”

In this op-ed, Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, Emeritus Gary Yohe and his coauthors write that they are encouraged by the “unprecedented attention being given to climate change among those vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination” and offer words of advice for creating an ambitious but credible climate policy.

2. AINT — BAD: “Isabella Convertino”

The photography of Isabella Convertino ’20 is featured on this website, an independent publisher of new photographic art. According to the article, “Her work has been published by ROMAN NVMERALS press, and was recently acquired by the MoMA library. Convertino’s images speak to the complications of adolescence, compounding memory and trauma as points of departure. Interested in the interplay between familial and gender structures, her work probes modes of power-inheritance and the potential devastation of genetic happenstance.”

3. EOS: “Resurrecting Interest in a ‘Dead’ Planet”

Martha Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology, is quoted in this article on new research suggesting that, contrary to popular belief, the surface of Venus actually may be quite active today. “Venus is an Earth-sized planet and now—who knew?!—there are Earth-sized planets all over the galaxy,” said Gilmore. “So now, Venus is even more relevant for that reason.”

4. The Middletown Press: “High School Students from Around World Take Part in Wesleyan Summer Arts Camp”

Sixty-eight Center for Creative Youth (CCY) participants from around the country and the world recently demonstrated the skills they had learned in just a week of intensive art study during a community share day. Wesleyan assumed leadership of CCY in fall 2018 as an official University program, and this is the first time the camp has been offered under Wesleyan’s management.

Barth, Patalano Receive $1.09M NSF Grant to Support Numerical Cognition Research

Sophie Charles ’20,

Student research assistant Sophie Charles ’20, a neuroscience and behavior major, shows the line estimation task used by the Psychology Department to understand how people make judgments about number and quantity.

Hilary Barth and Andrea Patalano, both professors of psychology, have received a major grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support collaborative research on numerical cognition.

Hilary Barth, professor of psychology, and Andrea Patalano, professor of psychology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, have received a major grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support collaborative research on numerical cognition.

Collaborative research by Hilary Barth and Andrea Patalano is supported by the National Science Foundation.

The three-year $1,091,303 grant, which is funded by NSF’s EHR Core Research program focused on STEM learning, includes support for Wesleyan student participation in the proposed research project, which will involve experimental studies of children’s and adults’ understanding of, and judgments about, number and quantity.

The two labs collaborate frequently, and have been working jointly on another project for the past three years supported by an earlier NSF grant. The new project is distinct, but grew out of a discovery made in the Barth lab during the earlier project related to a number line estimation task. In this task, participants are shown a line with numbers at each endpoint (e.g., 0 and 1,000) and asked to estimate where on the line a particular three-digit number would fall. The researchers found that participants had a tendency to place two numbers much farther apart on the line than they actually were when those numbers had a different first digit, even if they were quite close to each other in actuality (for example, 799 and 802). This was true even of adult participants, who have a good understanding of numbers.

Jenkins Analyzes 200-Year-Old Theatrical Tradition in New Bilingual Book

Ron Jenkins, pictured second from left, celebrated his new book in a garden of an 18th century villa with performances of the play that is the subject of his book, Resurrection of the Saints: Sacred Tragi-Comedy in Venafro. He's pictured with actors, from left, Adriano Cimino, Gianni Di Chiaro, and Emanuela Paolozzi along with the translator of the Italian version of the book, the poet Maria Giusti.

Ron Jenkins (pictured second from left) celebrated his new book in the garden of an 18th-century villa with performances of the play that is the subject of his book, Resurrection of the Saints: Sacred Tragi-Comedy in Venafro. He’s pictured with actors (from left) Adriano Cimino, Gianni Di Chiaro, and Emanuela Paolozzi, along with the translator of the Italian version of the book, the poet Maria Giusti.

Ron Jenkins, professor and chair of theater, is the author of a new book titled Resurrection of the Saints: Sacred Tragi-Comedy in Venafro published by Bulzoni in July 2019 as part of the company’s international series on “Theater and Memory.” The volume is in dual languages; the first part is in Italian, the second translated into English.

Resurrection of the Saints is an analysis of a 200-year-old theatrical tradition in the Italian village of Venafro, where the citizens still perform an 18th-century play that recounts the martyrdom of their patron saints in the third century. In 1792, Giuseppe Macchia wrote the play, “Religion Triumphant” and labeled it “a sacred tragicomedy.”

The book includes Jenkins’s translation of the play and interviews he conducted with the performers, whose professions include nurse, architect, graphic designer, and art restorer.

“Framed as a battle between an angel and a devil for the souls of the saints, the play is a lost link between the medieval traditions of sacred theater and the modern comic masterpieces of the late Italian Nobel Laureate, Dario Fo,” said Jenkins, who has translated Fo’s works for performance at the Yale Repertory Theater, Harvard’s American Repertory Theater, and other venues.

“My experience working with Fo helped me to capture the comic theatrical rhythms of Macchia’s play,” he said. “Anyone interested in the power of the arts to unite a community and preserve the traditions that define its cultural identity would enjoy the play and this book.”

Jenkins is the author of numerous books and was named Honorary Member of the Dante Society of America for having performed theatrical representations of excerpts from Dante’s “Divine Comedy” in prisons throughout Italy, Indonesia, and the United States. Resurrection of the Saints is part of Jenkins’s ongoing research on theater and community.

Matesan in The Conversation: Why Do Rebel Groups Apologize?

Ioana Emy Matesan

Ioana Emy Matesan

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” In a new article, Assistant Professor of Government Ioana Emy Matesan and Ronit Berger of Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya write about their research trying to understand when and why armed groups apologize for their mistakes. They hope this research will help to find ways to negotiate resolutions during conflicts.

Why Do Rebel Groups Apologize?

Armed groups often rely on violence and instilling fear to show strength and resilience. And yet, every so often, they are willing to apologize when things go wrong.

The New IRA recently apologized for killing Lyra McKee, an investigative journalist, during a riot in Derry. The group’s targets, which they described as “enemy forces,” were officers of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.