Faculty

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.

Recent Wesleyan News

1. Los Angeles Times“As the World Warms, Deadly and Disfiguring Tropical Diseases Are Inching Their Way Toward the U.S.”

In this op-ed, Professor of Biology Frederick Cohan and Isaac Klimasmith ’20, both in the College of the Environment, write that infectious disease is a growing threat, resulting from climate change, that humans may find hard to ignore. Cohan is also professor, environmental studies and professor, integrative sciences.

2. Hartford Courant: “Trump’s Immoral Response to Climate Report”

Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, writes in this op-ed that it is “irresponsible” and “immoral” to ignore the findings of a major new report on climate change. Delaying action to mitigate and adapt to climate change will be increasingly damaging and expensive, he writes. Yohe is also professor of economics and professor, environmental studies, and was a reviewer on the new National Climate Assessment.

Recent Alumni News

  1. The Takeaway; WNYC Studios: “Politics with Amy Walter: Pentagon’s First-Ever Audit Exposes Massive Accounting Fraud”

David Lindorff ’71, the investigative journalist who wrote an exclusive on the topic for The Nation, joins Walter’s guests—including Staff Sergeant Patricia King, Ambassador Eric Edelman, and Dr. Isaiah Wilson III, a retired Army colonel and senior lecturer with Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs—to discuss military spending and its alignment with the military’s strategic goals.

Smolkin Discusses Her New Book on the History of Soviet Atheism at Brother’s Accompanying Art Exhibit

Artist Vlad Smolkin; gallery curator Linda Pinn; Associate Professor of History Victoria Smolkin; book talk organizer Ellen Nodelman, and congregation member George Amarant gather at the Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek in Chester, Conn., where siblings Vlad and Victoria shared their recent work. (Photo by Deborah Rutty)

On Nov. 11, Victoria Smolkin, associate professor of history and Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian studies, joined forces with her brother, artist Vlad Smolkin, to share their work with the public at a new and revamped Main Street Gallery Art Opening/Books & Bagels Talk at Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek in Chester, Conn.

Smolkin is the author of a new book, A Sacred Space Is Never Empty: A History of Soviet Atheism, published by Princeton University Press in 2018. A scholar of Communism, the Cold War, and atheism and religion in Russia and the former Soviet Union, Smolkin’s expertise also covers religious politics and secularism and the Soviet space program.

In A Sacred Space Is Never Empty, Smolkin explores the meaning of atheism for religious life, for Communist ideology, and for Soviet politics. When the Bolsheviks set out to build a new world in the wake of the Russian Revolution, they expected religion to die off. Soviet power used a variety of tools—from education to propaganda to terror—to turn its vision of a Communist world without religion into reality. Yet even with its monopoly on ideology and power, the Soviet Communist Party never succeeded in creating an atheist society.

The book presents the first history of Soviet atheism from the 1917 revolution to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Drawing on a wealth of archival material and in-depth interviews with those who were on the front lines of Communist ideological campaigns, Smolkin argues that to understand the Soviet experiment, we must make sense of Soviet atheism. Smolkin shows how atheism was reimagined as an alternative cosmology with its own set of positive beliefs, practices, and spiritual commitments. Through its engagements with religion, the Soviet leadership realized that removing religion from the “sacred spaces” of Soviet life was not enough. Then, in the final years of the Soviet experiment, Mikhail Gorbachev—in a stunning and unexpected reversal—abandoned atheism and reintroduced religion into Soviet public life.

Victoria Smolkin discusses her new book at the art exhibition.

Victoria Smolkin discusses her new book at the art exhibition.

During the event, Victoria discussed her new book while Vlad debuted his art exhibition, Light Beams. The Smolkins were born in the Soviet Union and moved to the United States and at a young age; through their experiences, each sibling found a distinct way to explore, highlight, and celebrate their heritage.

Like Victoria’s book, Vlad’s art also showcases the themes of religion and outer space. His exhibition envisions how Judaism might exist on other planets. In his work, he looks at how the Western Wall might be transferred to Mars, and how the cultivation of flowers on Mars might be the last vestige of Jewish humanity.

Light Beams by Vlad Smolkin can be viewed from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday during December and the first three weeks of January 2019.

Vlad Smolkin, titled "Transfer of the Western Wall," 2018

“Transfer of the Western Wall” (2018) by Vlad Smolkin.

 

Shapiro Featured in Poetry Magazine Better Than Starbucks!

Norman Shapiro, professor of french.

Norman Shapiro

Four poems, translated by Distinguished Professor of Literary Translation and Poet in Residence Norman Shapiro, appear in the November 2018 Vol. III edition of the international esoteric journal, Better Than Starbucks!. This poetry magazine is edited by American poet and translator Michael Burch.

The poem below, titled “You …” is translated from the French of Cécile Périn and appeared in The Gentle Genius of Cécile Périn. (Copyright © 2016 by Norman Shapiro and Black Widow Press.)

You …

When you were but the merest tot,
Babbling in cowering awkwardness,
When you were only fresh-begot,
Flesh of my flesh, I loved you less …
What are you now? I scarce know what.

You are Yourself, not part of me:
So little mine, the soul within,
I cannot pierce your mystery!
Be beautiful, be good! Yes, be
Everything I could not have been.

I placed my desperate hopes upon
Your childhood … Light of heart, as then,
Joys will be born anew, anon,
As when you gave them birth. Though gone
Life holds them fast, to come again …

You are this, you are that … Ah yes …
You are our fruit of twofold race,
Who, with each step, bear off, caress
Against your breast, a bit of space.
You are this, you are that … Ah yes …

―Yet you are You, no more, no less.

View all of Shapiro’s poems published in Better than Starbucks here.

Shapiro also is a member of the Academy of American Poets, and Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres de la République Française.

Bloom ’75 Speaks on the Importance of Research in Storytelling, Character Development

Amy Bloom '75, the Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing, spoke on "Lies, Facts, and Research" during a Staff Luncheon Series talk Nov. 27 in Daniel Family Commons. Bloom, a New York Times best-seller, has been a nominee for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Bloom explained how she weaves historical events and research into her stories. "The story leads me to research, or research leads me to the story," Bloom said. "Research is behind the whole umbrella behind the story. It offers me so many opportunities to see, develop, and illuminate characters."

Amy Bloom ’75, the Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing, spoke on “Lies, Facts, and Research” during a Staff Luncheon Series talk Nov. 27 in Daniel Family Commons. Bloom, a New York Times best-selling author, has been a nominee for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Bloom explained how she weaves historical events and research into her stories. “The story leads me to research, or research leads me to the story,” Bloom said. “Research offers me so many opportunities to see, develop, and illuminate characters.”

Amy Bloom

For her most recent novel, White Houses (Penguin Random House 2018), Bloom studied approximately 3,000 letters written over a 30-year-period between Eleanor Roosevelt and journalist Lorena Hickok at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library to develop her new take on the secretive relationship between Eleanor and “Hick.” Bloom also is professor of the practice in creative writing and professor of the practice, English. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Ulysse Honored with Anthropology in Media Award

Gina Athena Ulysse accepted the Anthropology in Media Award (AIME) from American Anthropological Association President Alex Barker in November.

Professor Gina Athena Ulysse accepted the Anthropology in Media Award (AIME) from American Anthropological Association President Alex Barker in November.

Professor of Anthropology Gina Athena Ulysse was recently honored with the Anthropology in Media Award (AIME) from the American Anthropological Association (AAA). Established in 1987, the annual award recognizes the successful communication of anthropology to the general public through the media. Ulysse was presented with the award at the association’s 2018 Annual Meeting in San Jose, Calif. on Nov. 14–18.

According to AAA, Ulysse was honored for “her powerful and effective work communicating anthropological insights to the broad general public. Through her anthropological writings, blogs, talks, and her widely shared performance pieces, Ulysse has worked to expand her reach, presence, and impact to connect with as many people as possible, both within and beyond anthropology, academia, and the United States. She presents a breathtaking list of spoken word performances across the country and the world each year, including a recent commission for the British Museum.”

Curran Receives French Academy of Sciences Book Prize

Andy Curran

Andy Curran

Andrew Curran, the William Armstrong Professor of the Humanities, has received the 2018 Prix Monsieur et Madame Louis Marin from the Académie des sciences d’outre-mer for his 2017 book L’Anatomie de la noirceur [The Anatomy of Blackness], which was published by Classiques Garnier.

This prize, which is given by the French Académie des Sciences d’outre-mer, recognizes an outstanding work in the social sciences. The Académie des Sciences d’outre-mer was founded in 1922 and has conferred the Prix Marin since 1976.

Curran’s book, a translation of his Anatomy of Blackness: Science and Slavery in an Age of Enlightenment, is the first comprehensive history of the birth of race in French thought. Curran is also professor of French and chair of Romance languages and literatures.

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.

Recent Wesleyan News

  1. The Washington Post: “Major Trump Administration Climate Report Says Damage is ‘Intensifying Across the Country'”

Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, was widely quoted in the media about the fourth National Climate Assessment, the first to be released under the Trump Administration. “The impacts we’ve seen the last 15 years have continued to get stronger, and that will only continue,” Yohe, who served on the National Academy of Sciences panel that reviewed the report, told The Washington Post. “We have wasted 15 years of response time. If we waste another five years of response time, the story gets worse. The longer you wait, the faster you have to respond and the more expensive it will be.” Yohe was also quoted on the report in The Hill, The Verge, Al Jazeera, and many other news sources. He is also professor of economics, and professor, environmental studies.

2. The Hill: “If Brits Don’t Want a Redo on Brexit, They Should”

In this op-ed, Richard Grossman, professor and chair of economics, writes that Brexit, or Britain’s “divorce” from the European Union, is anticipated to “reduce Britain’s economic prospects in both the short and long run and leave the country poorer than it would have been had it remained within the European Union.” He writes: “There is a way out of this mess,” but the difficulties are political, not legal.

Sumarsam Named Honorary Member of the Society for Ethnomusicology

Sumarsam

Sumarsam, pictured standing, at right, was named an honorary member of the Society for Ethnomusicology.

For his contribution to the field of ethnomusicology and music scholarship, Sumarsam, the Winslow-Kaplan Professor of Music, was recently named an honorary member of the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM).

The encomium was presented by Wesleyan alumna Maria Mendonca MA ’90, PhD ’02, during the 63rd SEM General Membership Meeting, Nov. 17, in Albuquerque, N.M.

Sumarsam was commended for his scholarship on gamelan and wayang performance traditions, which inspired the SEM membership, explained Gregory Barz, president of the Society for Ethnomusicology.

“Your mentorship of countless students and colleagues, both directly and by example, is held in high esteem, and the ways that you simultaneously embrace and speak to the various subfields among the disciplines of music scholarship is exemplary,” Barz said. “You demonstrate not only a unique career, but one to which we all aspire.”

Sumarsam is the third Wesleyan faculty member to receive this award. The first one is the late David McAllester, professor of music and anthropology, emeritus (2001); the second is Mark Slobin, the Winslow-Kaplan Professor of Music, Emeritus (2013).

During the meeting, Sumarsam also attended a number of panels, the Society for Asian Music Business meeting, and the SEM Journal of Editorial Board meeting, in which he is a member.

Campaigns and Elections Class Conducts Real-World Exit Poll Research

Students in Assistant Professor of Government Logan Dancey's Campaigns and Elections course conducted exit polling around Connecticut's Fifth Congressional District on Election Day.

Students in Assistant Professor of Government Logan Dancey’s Campaigns and Elections course conducted exit polling around Connecticut’s Fifth Congressional District on Election Day.

Students in Assistant Professor of Government Logan Dancey’s GOVT 232 Campaigns and Elections course got a real-world lesson in the subject matter this Election Day.

On Nov. 6, the students stood out in the rain to field an exit poll—a survey of voters as they’re leaving their polling locations—in Connecticut’s Fifth Congressional District. The students conducted the surveys at nine different polling places spread out across six different towns in the district.

In order to generate a diverse sample that reflected the demographics of the congressional district, the precincts were intentionally selected to provide a balance of more Republican-leaning, Democratic-leaning, and balanced precincts. The survey included a mix of demographic and political questions, such as respondents’ race; sex; age; party identification; approval of Trump and Governor Dannel Malloy; vote choice for House, Senate, and governor; and positions on issues such as the Affordable Care Act, border wall, and abortion.

Chernoff Honored at “Sound of Science” Musical Premiere

Chernoff, second from right, at the concert November 10. He is pictured on stage with, from left, composer Felipe Perez Santiago, composer Graham Reynolds, and cellist Jeffrey Zeigler.

Barry Chernoff, second from right, is pictured on stage with, from left, composer Felipe Perez Santiago, composer Graham Reynolds, and cellist Jeffrey Zeigler.

Barry Chernoff, director of the College of the Environment, was one of eight scientists recently honored with a new musical composition based upon his research—part of a concert and album titled “The Sound of Science, performed in New York City on Nov. 10.

The project aims to build “bridges between the musical and scientific worlds, celebrating their shared culture of inquiry,” according to the website. The pieces were written by seven celebrated composers for amplified cello and electronics, and were all recorded and performed by world-renowned cellist Jeffrey Zeigler, longtime member of Kronos Quartet and several other groups. The Grammy Award–winning quartet has performed at Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts, most recently in April 2018.

Each composer was paired with a scientist of his or her choosing and tasked with creating music inspired by and reflective of the scientist’s life and practice.

Chernoff’s piece, titled, “Pastaza,” was composed by Graham Reynolds, an Austin-based composer-bandleader-improviser who creates, performs, and records music for film, theater, dance, rock clubs, and concert halls. “Pastaza” and the other works can be played online here.

According to the website: “Graham was drawn to Chernoff’s work for its influence and importance on this grand scale…. When it comes to considering what future we are creating, there is nothing more crucial than the planet, its limited resources, and how it will fare for generations to come.”

The piece aims to honor Chernoff’s “abundant curiosity for the world” around him, and to examine the ways in which his work influences our understanding of “what came before and what’s ahead.”

“I am incredibly honored to have a piece of music inspired by my research and conservation efforts in the Amazon and in South America—and I am in awe of Graham Reynolds’s ability to have imagined the music without having traveled by dugout in the Amazon basin himself!” said Chernoff. “His composition, ‘Pastaza’ is so beautiful, if not breathtaking. Hearing the music performed live by Jeffrey Zeigler with Graham’s electronic backing with my photos being displayed on the wall was an experience I will never forget.”

Chernoff is also the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, professor of biology, professor of earth and environmental sciences, and professor and chair of environmental studies.

Kottos Awarded $2.8M DARPA Grant for High-Level Photonic Research

Led by Professor of Physics Tsampikos Kottos, Wesleyan will serve as the lead institution for a four-year grant developing cutting-edge technology toward the next generation of navigation systems, optical diodes, efficient frequency converters for night vision, and high-powered filters.

Led by Professor of Physics Tsampikos Kottos, Wesleyan will serve as the lead institution for a four-year grant developing cutting-edge technology toward the next generation of navigation systems, optical diodes, efficient frequency converters for night vision, and high-powered filters.

Tsampikos Kottos, professor of physics, and Wesleyan University will lead a complex, multi-institution initiative to research and develop the next generation of national instrumentation technology thanks to a four-year, $2,794,606 grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Awarded this August, the grant is the culmination of at least eight years of photonics research by Kottos and his fellow collaborators, and will have significant implications for the future of a variety of technologies employed by the federal government and the private sector. An agency of the US Department of Defense, DARPA funds research and development projects that push the boundaries of technology and science. The focus of Kottos’s project is to “develop models and photonic devices that utilize dynamical (hidden) symmetries in order to achieve extreme light-matter interactions” and has three main targets:

  • Target 1: Develop the next generation of navigation instruments by designing photonic architectures with an extreme response to small perturbations. The goal is to use them to hone gyroscopes and accelerometers, which measure and guide the rotation and maneuvers of vehicles like race cars and jet airplanes.
  • Target 2: Utilize the temporal dimension (or time) as an altogether different degree of freedom in order to manipulate the flow of light. Applications vary from efficient night vision cameras, to management of thermal radiation in turbine aircraft engines.
  • Target 3: Investigate how to protect sensitive sensors from high-powered sources—this could include a pilot’s eyes from a laser source, an antenna from a directed electromagnetic burst, or a radar receiver from its own outbound signal.

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.

Recent Wesleyan News

1. Inside Higher Ed: “Voting Is Good, but Higher Ed Must Do More”

In this op-ed, President Michael S. Roth writes: “In a year when inducements to political violence have become normalized at the highest level, colleges and universities must do more than just encourage our students to vote.” It is crucial that colleges actively work to protect free expression, free inquiry, and fact-based discussion, Roth argues.