In the Media

Tucker Comments on Victorian Pseudoscience, Romance

Jennifer Tucker

Jennifer Tucker

The pseudoscientific myths about love and sexuality that abounded in the Victorian era, many of which seem “cruel and oppressive” by today’s standards, could also offer women relief from the era’s “rigid gender politics,” according to Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker, who comments on the topic for a Broadly article.

For much of the 19th century, the Western world was fascinated with a variety of pseudosciences, or theories that lack a basis in the scientific method.

“Definitions of science were malleable and hotly contested in the 19th century,” said Tucker, who is also associate professor of science in society, associate professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, and associate professor of environmental studies. “Far from being on the sidelines of intellectual life, spiritualism and other unconventional forms of knowledge often provided a means for Victorians from a variety of different social backgrounds to question scientific authority and to ask what counted as a proper science, or as a ‘scientific practice.'”

“One of the great myths about the Victorian age [was] that it was sexually repressive; on the contrary, Victorian society was obsessed with sexual reform, heterosexual and homosexual love, lust, and sex (as well as of the policing of sexual desires),” added Tucker. “Love and sex were both controversial and politicized.”

Pseudoscientific theories included phrenology (which was used to explain the different propensities of men and women toward love and sexual desire); the use of love potions made of dangerous ingredients such as arsenic and belladonna; beauty face masks made of raw beef; cures for low libido such as bull testicles; and vibrators used to treat “hysteria” in sexually frustrated women.

According to the story, “Victorians were also surprisingly progressive on what would eventually evolve into more enlightened views on gender.

“Theosophists [occult philosophers] believed that life in male and female bodies taught different lessons; for some, this meant that it was necessary for the Ego to incarnate many times as both female and male,” Tucker explains. “Many theosophists believed, for example, that in their evolutionary progress men reincarnated as women, and women as men. Therefore at any given time, as one believer in this theory said in 1892: ‘We have… men in women’s bodies, and women in men’s bodies.'”

Crosby Authors Essay on Injury and Grief

Christina Crosby, right, pictured with her partner Janet Jakobsen at a March 2015 event at Barnard College focused on Crosby's memoir, "A Body Undone: Living On After Great Pain."

Christina Crosby, right, pictured with her partner Janet Jakobsen at a March 2015 event at Barnard College focused on Crosby’s memoir, A Body Undone: Living On After Great Pain.

Christina Crosby, professor of English, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, is the author of an essay on injury and grief in a special issue of Guernica magazine on “The Future of the Body.”

Titled, “My Lost Body,” Crosby’s essay explores the grief she has experienced since a bicycle accident 13 years ago, just after her 50th birthday, left her paralyzed. The accident was the topic of her memoir, A Body, Undone: Living On After Great Pain (NYU Press, March 2016).

She writes, “Because of my transformation, I have worked hard to conceptualize how embodied memory works—like the muscle memory that allows you to ride a bike even if you haven’t been on one for years. Some phenomenologists use the neologism ‘bodymind’ and teach us that there is no separating body from mind. I think that’s right. What am I to make, then, of my profoundly altered state? The loss of the body that I was and the life that I had made is affectively as well as physically profound, and the sense of loss can be suddenly piercing when I see a cyclist with good form or ocean kayaks strapped to the roof of a car. For an instant, a vividly embodied memory of riding or paddling will come over me. Then the light will change, making a claim on my attention I can’t ignore, but the preemptory present cannot make me feel less alien to myself in such moments.

I recognize in that alienation the force of grief. Grief is a current running below the surface of my unremarkable days, sometimes drawing me into eddies where I spin round and round, sometimes pulling my mind insistently away from the day’s work and rushing me downward. Stiff-minded resistance is of little avail. We are counseled to surrender ourselves for a time after loss to the sheer force of grief, because only by giving yourself over to it will the pain lessen.”

Sawhney Authors Essay in Times Literary Supplement

Writing in The Times Literary SupplementAssistant Professor of English Hirsh Sawhney muses on the recent election of Donald Trump and the cultural divide in America while nursing “the second cheapest single malt Scotch” on the menu at a New Haven bar. He contemplates whiskey’s particular place in contemporary American culture, talks politics with others at the bar, draws from literature, and recalls the personal struggles of his family and friends. At the conclusion, while discussing the election with a neighbor (referred to, in jest, as “Professor Pesci”), Sawhney argues:

My point is that we teach our students to be wary of “othering” people who are different from us, the way Americans and Europeans have done to Asians or Muslims throughout the modern era. We write about the need to empathize with people who are driven to violent ideologies and actions as a consequence of their disenfranchisement. Should we not extend a similar empathy to white Americans who, we think, have committed a reckless and egregious act in voting for Trump? Professor Pesci says, “I just can’t see what end that would serve”. An end is quite clear to me as I sign my credit card receipt. If we don’t begin to understand and empathize with these people – not their mendacious leaders – their anger will grow, and they will do more irrational things that advance an agenda of hate and incompetence. And, in turn, our fear, desperation and anger will grow. Our politics will become further bifurcated, and our country will lie in ruin more quickly than is inevitable. And if this election has taught us liberals anything, it is that we care deeply for our country, despite our intellectual reservations about its ethical and historical record.

Grabel Warns of Threat to Embryonic Stem Cell Research in Op-ed

Laura Grabel

Laura Grabel

Laura Grabel, the Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, professor of biology, warns in a new op-ed that the progress of embryonic stem cell research in this country, always subject to the ups and down of politics, is currently under threat.

Co-authored with Diane Krause of Yale University, the op-ed in The Hartford Courant notes that Tom Price, President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services, is on record opposing embryonic stem cell research. They write:

As stem cell researchers, we fear that this appointment would endanger human embryonic stem cell research in the United States and reverse the substantial progress made in recent years. There are promising clinical trials underway for macular degeneration, spinal cord injury and diabetes with more possible, including for Parkinson’s disease.

The authors explain what has made this research so controversial, and argue why it is singularly valuable in its potential to treat life-threatening diseases and injuries.

Grabel also is professor of environmental studies, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Faculty 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 prosciutto 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 prosciutto 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.

Chris Chenier, digital design technologist and visiting assistant professor of art, printed the sundial on 3-D printers at Wesleyan, and Bill Herbst, the John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy assisted with the research. Parslow first presented his initial findings at a presentation in Wesleyan’s Wasch Center last December.

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.

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.”

Research by Redfield, Zachary ’17 Using Hubble, Voyager Probes Widely Reported

Astronomy student Julia Zachary '17 presented research at a press conference at the American Astronomical Society's 229th annual meeting on Jan. 6. (Photo by © CorporateEventImages/Todd Buchanan 2017)

Astronomy student Julia Zachary ’17 presented research at a press conference at the American Astronomical Society’s 229th annual meeting on Jan. 6. (Photo by © CorporateEventImages/Todd Buchanan)

Wesleyan Associate Professor of Astronomy Seth Redfield and astronomy student Julia Zachary ’17 recently reported at the 229th meeting of the American Astronomical Society on their research using data from the Hubble Space Telescope combined with two Voyager spacecraft probes, both very long-lived and successful NASA missions. The findings were shared in dozens of news outlets from the U.S. to India to Afghanistan.

According to Nature.com, “The work is a rare marriage of two of the most famous space missions — and an unprecedented glimpse at the realm between the stars.”

“If the Voyager spacecraft and the Google Street View car are going around your neighborhood taking pictures on the street, then Hubble is providing the overview, the road map for the Voyagers on their trip through interstellar space,” Zachary said at a press conference held Jan. 6.

Astronomers have used instruments such as Hubble to obtain indirect measurements of the material in interstellar space. But the Voyager probes are giving them a direct taste of this mysterious environment, sending back data on the electron density of their surroundings. “As an astronomer, I’m not used to having measurements from the place I’m observing,” Redfield said.

SpaceDaily.com reports: “A preliminary analysis of the Hubble observations reveals a rich, complex interstellar ecology, containing multiple clouds of hydrogen laced with other elements. Hubble data, combined with the Voyagers, have also provided new insights into how our sun travels through interstellar space.”

“This is a great opportunity to compare data from in situ measurements of the space environment by the Voyager spacecraft and telescopic measurements by Hubble,” said study leader Seth Redfield of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.

“The Voyagers are sampling tiny regions as they plow through space at roughly 38,000 miles per hour. But we have no idea if these small areas are typical or rare. The Hubble observations give us a broader view because the telescope is looking along a longer and wider path. So Hubble gives context to what each Voyager is passing through.”

Read more at Astronomy.comThe Indian ExpressEarthSky.org and International Business Times. See photos of Zachary at the press conference on the American Astronomical Society’s website. A press release can be found on HubbleSite.

Redfield also is associate professor of integrative sciences.

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.

Sutton ’86 Nominated for Grammy with The Sting Variations

The Sting Variations, the latest album by The Tierney Sutton [’86] Band was nominated for a 2017 Grammy in the Best Jazz Vocal Album category,

The Sting Variations, the latest album by The Tierney Sutton [’86] Band, was nominated for a 2017 Grammy in the Best Jazz Vocal Album category,

Tierney Sutton ’86 has been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album. The Sting Variations is a collection of Sting and Police songs reinterpreted by The Tierney Sutton Band and released on the BFM Jazz label. Sutton had previously explored the music of Bill Evans, Frank Sinatra, and most recently Joni Mitchell, with her 2013 album, After Blue.

In a September interview for Billboard, Sutton told writer Melinda Newman that the choice to explore Sting’s work was a natural one: “‘[Sting’s] autobiography is full of references to Miles and Coltrane and the Great American Song tradition.’”

The Sting Variations includes both well known songs by the artist, such as “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free,” and “Message in a Bottle,” as well as lesser known pieces among the 14 tracks. The first track, “Driven to Tears,” is highlighted on Sutton’s website as a video of the band performing this song.

Also this year, Tierney Sutton and her band’s co-leader and pianist Christian Jacob collaborated with Clint Eastwood on the soundtrack to the movie Sully, about the pilot, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (played by Tom Hanks), who, in 2009, became a national hero after successfully executing an emergency water landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River. Sutton described the experience with Eastwood as “really collaborative. …very much ‘Clint joins The Tierney Sutton Band.'” The singer and actor-director have even discussed further collaboration, Tierney told Billboard. The Sully soundtrack was released in October by Varese Sarabande.

Sutton was also recently announced as a member of the selection committee for the first-ever Wesleyan University Hamilton Prize for Creativity.

Green Street’s MacSorley Interviewed on iCRV Radio’s “Feel Good Friday”

macsorley

Pictured from left is Cynthia Clegg, Jill Bulter and Sara MacSorley.

Sara MacSorley, director of the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center, was invited to be a guest on iCRV radio’s “Feel Good Friday” segment in mid November. “Feel Good Friday” celebrates “good people doing good work” in the Connecticut River Valley. MacSorley was joined by the Director of the Community Foundation of Middlesex County, Cynthia Clegg, and local artist Jill Bulter.

Bulter got connected to the Community Foundation through their Fund for Girls and ended up creating her own fund, the York Butler Fund, to support programs for kids that used the arts. Two years ago, Green Street TLC received the first ever York Butler Fund grant to support scholarships for the kids taking arts classes in the Discovery AfterSchool program.

The radio program focused on the value of the arts, the importance of community engagement, and the power of making connections between organizations, programs and people. Connections brought MacSorley, Clegg and Bulter together and in the end, it helped support children in Middletown.

Attorney Hasselman ’91 Represents Standing Rock Sioux Against Dakota Access Pipeline

Attorney Jan Hasselman ’91 is representing Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, speaks to members of the media outside U.S. District Court in Washington, DC., Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016, as members of the tribe asked a federal judge to temporarily stop work on parts of the Dakota Access Pipeline to prevent the destruction of sacred and culturally significant sites near Lake Oahe. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Attorney Jan Hasselman ’91 is representing Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, speaks to members of the media outside U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., Sept. 6 as members of the tribe asked a federal judge to temporarily stop work on parts of the Dakota Access Pipeline to prevent the destruction of sacred and culturally significant sites near Lake Oahe. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Jan Hasselman ’91, a staff attorney with Earthjustice’s Northwest office in Seattle, serves as counsel for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in their efforts to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

An article in The Atlantic “The Legal Case for Blocking the Dakota Access Pipeline,” asks “Did the U.S. government help destroy a major Sioux archeological site?

The article is one of several in the media that highlight the work of the legal team and the questions they raise. At this time, the issue ongoing.

Atlantic Associate Editor Robinson Meyer writes in his Sept. 9 article:

“As part of the ongoing trial, the legal team for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe submitted documents to the court last Friday that certified one of their main claims in the case: that the pipeline will pass through and likely destroy Native burial sites and sacred places.

“These documents provided some of the first evidence that state authorities had missed major archeological discoveries in the path of the pipeline. For instance, they described a large stone feature that depicted the constellation Iyokaptan Tanka (the Big Dipper)—a sign that a major leader, likely a highly respected Chief, was buried nearby.

“‘This is one of the most significant archeological finds in North Dakota in many years,” said Tim Mentz, a Standing Rock Sioux member and a longtime Native archeologist in the Great Plains. “[Dakota Access Pipeline] consultants would have had to literally walk directly over some of these features. However, reviewing DAPL’s survey work, it appears that they did not independently survey this area but relied on a 1985 survey.”

Hasselman, who has been affiliated with Earthjustice since 1998, is working with colleagues Associate Attorney Stephanie Tsosie and Managing Attorney Patti Goldman on this project. An Earthjustice case overview offers a summary so far, updates, concerns, and a “What’s at Stake” summary: “The Army Corps’ approval of the permit allows the oil company to dig the pipeline under the Missouri River just upstream of the reservation and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s drinking water supply. An oil spill at this site would constitute an existential threat to the Tribe’s culture and way of life.”

When Democracy Now reported on Sept. 7, on a federal judge ruling that construction on sacred tribal burial sites could continue. Hasselman was quoted as saying, “We’re disappointed with what happened here today. We provided evidence on Friday of sacred sites that were directly in the pipeline’s route. By Saturday morning, those sites had been destroyed. And we saw things happening out at Standing Rock—dogs being put on protesters—that haven’t been seen in America in 40, 50 years.”

Hasselman, who majored in history at Wesleyan, is a graduate of Boston College Law School, where he was was executive editor of the Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review. While at Earthjustice, he has successfully litigated a number of regional and national issues, including listings of salmon under the Endangered Species Act, stormwater pollution, coal fired power plants, and forestry. He also serves on as an adjunct on the faculty of University of Washington and Seattle University law schools.