Lydialyle Gibson en Rosanna Warren’s odes to woundedness <div class="field field--name-field-letter-box-story-image field--type-image field--label-hidden field--item"> <img loading="lazy" src="/sites/default/files/19_Summer_Gibson_Listening-World.jpg" width="2000" height="1000" alt="" class="img-responsive" /> </div> <span><span>admin</span></span> <span>Fri, 08/09/2019 - 17:17</span> <div class="field field--name-field-caption field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>True to form: Rosanna Warren approaches her poetry with a painter’s eye for color and shape. (Photography by Anne Ryan)</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refauthors field--type-entity-reference field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field--label sr-only">Author</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field--item"> <div> <a href="/author/lydialyle-gibson"> <div class="field field--name-name field--type-string field--label-hidden field--item">Lydialyle Gibson</div> </a> </div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refsource field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/publication-sources/university-chicago-magazine" hreflang="en">The University of Chicago Magazine</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-issue field--type-text field--label-hidden field--item">Summer/19</div> <div class="field field--name-field-subhead field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>A poet reckons with a fractured world</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>The place <a href=""><strong>Rosanna Warren</strong></a> calls her “writing shack” is a tiny box of a building deep in the Green Mountains of Vermont that sits on a hillside at the edge of a vast, tumbling woods. From the outside, it looks about as large as a moderately generous walk-in closet, but once you step inside, the whole place deepens. There’s a small bench and bookshelf near the door, and on the other side of a thin partition, a built-in desk surrounded by windows that open out onto the forest. It feels like the world’s most private screened-in porch. Trees unfold into the distance—beech, birch, white pine, elm—and if you sit still, you can hear, amid the breeze and the birds and the gathering quiet, the sound of water in the stream below. Warren stands here, listening.</p> <p>“So,” she says finally, “this is where I sit and take dictation from the brook.”</p> <p>Today she has been taking dictation since about 8:30 in the morning. Now it’s close to 2 p.m., and time for lunch. This is the last weekend of August 2018, and her annual “summer migration” to Vermont is winding down. In a week, she will be on her way back to Chicago.</p> <p>Warren is the Hanna Holborn Gray Distinguished Service Professor in the <a href="">John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought</a>, and a poet and translator whom critics invariably seem to wish more people knew about. In 2017 the <em>Los Angeles Review of Books</em> revisited Warren’s second poetry collection, the Lamont Poetry Prize–winning <em>Stained Glass</em> (W. W. Norton, 1993), and praised her “perspicacious vision that relentlessly seeks truth not despite but through the ‘stain’ of the full range of humanity.” In 2002 Stephen Yenser gushed that even Warren’s earliest work was “not only ‘promising’ but truly precocious, proof of a talent already ripe.” Writing in the <em>New York Review of Books </em>in 2011 about Warren’s <em>Ghost in a Red Hat</em> (W. W. Norton), released that same year, Dan Chiasson spoke of the “shimmering shapes she devises,” her “arresting” plainspokenness and, in her more outward-looking poems, a “significant contribution to the national imaginary.” “Warren,” he argued, “is not as well known as she should be.”</p> <p>Her work is difficult to summarize. The style and subjects change from book to book, and from poem to poem. Most of the time she sticks to free verse, but not always. Some of her work is deeply personal: bracing elegies to her parents and to a close friend who died from breast cancer a few years ago. “Friendship is always travel,” Warren writes, en route to see her sick friend, “from the far country of my provisional health, / toward you in your new estate of illness, your suddenly acquired, / costly, irradiated expertise.”</p> <p>Other work contemplates lost love, a failing marriage, aging, illness, the meaning of home, the comforts of music and poetry. In “Cotillion Photo,” a framed image from a bygone debutante ball (“These young women will last forever, posed like greyhounds”) sparks a memory from childhood and a meditation on time and transformation, destiny and self-determination, in life and in art. “What was to come / would come in its own good time / outside the frame.”</p> <p>Other poems are overtly political. Warren has written mournful, angry, pungent lyrics about the depredations of Wall Street and the war in Iraq. After Hurricane Katrina, her younger daughter, now a social worker, went to New Orleans to volunteer with the recovery effort; Warren visited her there and helped rebuild homes that had been destroyed. Afterward she wrote about what she saw: “I lost count of slab after cement slab / where bungalows used to stand.” In “Earthworks,” a 15-page poem loosely set during the planning of New York’s Central Park, Warren imagines her way into the life and work of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, weaving details from his personal and professional experiences with meditations on civics and aesthetics, urban history, horticulture, the Civil War and slavery. It is a poem about designing a public park from the mud and muck of 19th-century Manhattan Island, but it is also a poem about trying to design a democracy from the “disunited, discordant parts” of American life.</p> <p>At 66, Warren has a quiet intensity that persists even after her guarded cheerfulness relaxes into warmth. “I think in the last few years, I have wanted my poems to be permeable and even more wounded by experiences,” she says. That may sound like an exalted concept, but what she’s talking about is a kind of radical openness to the world around her, a way of approaching what others might call the human condition, or the fallen world, or the inherent strangeness and fracture of existence. It is also, for her, a way of setting aside the self to find something deeper. “I want my poems to be concerned, however obliquely, with the lives of people besides myself,” she says, “and with a sense of the larger relations that govern us, in justice and injustice.”</p> <p>A lyric by the American poet Hart Crane helps illuminate what she means. “The Broken Tower,” written shortly before Crane’s death in 1932, is a kind of sacred text for Warren. It’s one of the many poems she knows by heart, and it helps guide her thoughts and actions, and her writing. One middle stanza reads like this: “And so it was I entered the broken world / To trace the visionary company of love, its voice / An instant in the wind (I know not whither hurled) / But not for long to hold each desperate choice.” To Warren, the poem speaks of “the sense of crucifixion at the heart of life,” she says: “the wound that opens us to reality, to the suffering of others, to the hugeness of being we cannot control.”</p> <p>Allowing that uncontrollable hugeness to break the surface of a poem leaves a mark—“wounds” it—and disrupts the form, the normal symmetry and sense of orderly closure. Warren’s work bears this out; in recent years, her poems seem increasingly cracked open and almost physically broken: irregular lines, unpunctuated sentences, interrupted syntaxes, synaptic leaps, voices that collide abruptly. In 2018 Warren explained to the literary journal <em>Five Points</em> that she was allowing more of the outside world into the territory of her poems: “If something or someone wants to knock on the door and enter a poem, why not let that happen?” The poet’s job, she says, is to find the artistic “shapeliness” in all of this wounding experience, the music. From that comes meaning, comes beauty—and discovery. “That’s why poetry matters. … If it discovers nothing, it’s worthless.”</p> <figure role="group"><img alt="Warren's Writing Shack" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="57b89dc7-d3d4-4302-a3f2-7a11ccbe153c" src="/sites/default/files/inline-images/19_Summer_Gibson_Listening-World_SpotA.jpg" /><figcaption>The world’s most private screened-in porch: Warren’s “writing shack” in Vermont was originally built for her father in 1964 by a neighbor who was a woodsman and carpenter. Like her father, Warren writes every day, from morning until midafternoon. (Photography by Lydialyle Gibson)</figcaption></figure><p><strong>Like many poets, Warren is a scavenger and inheritor</strong>, and her life has been shaped by two powerful influences: the shared human legacy of classical literature—ancient Greek and Latin poetry infuse her work at an almost cellular level—and her own family history. She is the daughter of two celebrated writers: the poet and novelist Robert Penn Warren, and essayist and novelist Eleanor Clark. (In fact, the family is full of writers and artists: Warren’s brother, Gabriel, is a sculptor; her nephew Noah a poet; her niece Sofia a cartoonist; and her daughter Chiara makes a living as a social worker but is also a poet and nonfiction writer.) From Warren’s earliest memories, their home was full of words. Her father was always reciting poems, she says, and for her and her family, “telling stories was like breathing.” She grew up with the idea that writing was “just what people did.”</p> <p>Much of that growing up happened here in rural Vermont, where her parents bought a small cabin in 1959, the year she turned six, and a few years later built a house on the same lot. During the school year, the family lived in Connecticut, where her father was a professor at Yale, but these woods were where they spent long summers and Christmas vacations, Easters and Thanksgivings, and weekends in between (especially winter weekends—Warren’s mother was a fanatical skier, and Mount Stratton, the highest peak in the southern Green Mountains, stands just five miles away). There was a tiny pond out front, where she and her brother used to swim, swinging out over the water on tree branches. And a creek where she once caught a trout using sewing twine, a safety pin, and a piece of bacon. Back in the woods stood the spring where Warren’s father would trek to get water for everyone’s baths during the years they spent in the cabin, which had no running water or electricity then. “In the winter, if there was six feet of snow,” she says, “he would have to dig a trench to get to the spring and then break the ice off the top with an axe and bring the water back in buckets.” One winter day, he carried in 27 buckets.</p> <p>This is the place Warren still migrates to every summer. The writing shack where she works once belonged to her father. Like her, he wrote every day, from nine in the morning until two in the afternoon.</p> <p>Warren’s early life with her parents seems to have been remarkably charmed. They were larger-than-life literary figures who were also loving and attentive to their children. The upbringing they gave Warren and her brother sounds almost mythical—“like a peaceable kingdom of weirdly docile geniuses, with a child in charge,” Chiasson writes—and yet also, in important and intentional ways, deeply grounded. Both parents had grown up poor: her mother in a “genteel but poverty-stricken family on a failed chicken farm,” Warren told <em>Five Points</em>, and her father in a small Kentucky town on the Tennessee border. His father had gone bankrupt during the Depression.</p> <p>Those experiences stayed with them, and even after they became famous, Warren says, her parents resisted glamour. In the afternoons, when they finished writing for the day, they usually turned to some kind of physical work, her mother in the garden, her father building a stone wall or something else around the house. “There was a sense of being responsible for the physical reality we were in,” Warren says. Life was about making things: stone walls, vegetable gardens, art, stories, poems.</p> <p>This intimate literary inheritance connected to a more universal one. Warren first encountered Greek and Latin poetry—and French and Italian literature, another influence—as a child traveling with her parents. Trips to foreign places gave her an early and sustained exposure to worlds and lives far outside her own, an awareness of wider human experiences. Usually the family went to tiny corners of Europe that were remote enough to be relatively inexpensive but also, in part because of their remoteness, somewhat fantastical.</p> <p>Every summer until she was five, the family rented space in a ruined fortress near an Italian fishing village, owned by an old woman who was such a miser, Warren says, that she ate moldy spaghetti. The family cooked on a charcoal stove and ate in what had been the stables for the soldiers’ horses; they slept on cots in the barracks. Chickens and scorpions and a goat roamed the courtyard.</p> <p>When Warren was 12, the family spent a year living in a village in southeastern France. For her, this was a turning point. She learned French and began memorizing poetry in school. She wrote poems in French too, imitating the rhythms and forms she saw in works by La Fontaine and Baudelaire (and later, Mallarmé, Apollinaire, Rimbaud—“these were my gods”). Perhaps even more crucially, she began studying Latin and translating ancient poems. The stanza shapes in Horace and Catullus were what thrilled her early on, and that excitement led her to other Roman poets, and to the ancient Greeks—Homer, Sappho, Alcaeus, Alcman.</p> <p>Becoming a translator helped Warren internalize the classics—the beauty of their language and idiom and meter, but also their sensibilities and perceptions. And their imperishable stories. Her published work contains straight translations (a verse rendering of Euripides’s <em>The Suppliant Women</em>, for example) and plenty of looser interpretations (a string of prose poems titled “Odyssey”). But mostly the classics are just simply everywhere in her poetry: they animate her metaphors and sharpen her sense of irony, lend her work an understanding of tragic limits, of the complexity of moral and political meanings, of what it means to write “in the light of death” and to try to wring something permanent from what is temporary.</p> <p>And so an elegy that compares Warren’s dying mother to a “crack Austrian skier” staring, petrified, down a plunging slope turns out to be an extended Homeric simile; in another elegy, her mother appears, 10 years after her death, as a vanishing orphic vision. A poem recalling long-ago airport goodbyes as a way of fathoming a sick friend’s passage into death (“we didn’t know / we were practicing”) is named after Charon, the underworld ferryman of Greek mythology. Even poems without overt allusion carry the classics in their bloodstream. Warren explained why to an interviewer from Columbia University a few years ago: “As much as I love poetry in Italian, French, English, these ancient poems, to me, have a concrete dramatic power that I don’t see anywhere else,” she said. “So, I want to steal that power. … It’s like putting your finger in an electric socket.”</p> <figure role="group"><img alt="Robert Penn Warren" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="bede1286-7f19-4d7d-96e2-f7b204931dc3" src="/sites/default/files/inline-images/19_Summer_Gibson_Listening-World_SpotB.jpg" /><figcaption>Warren’s father, the poet Robert Penn Warren, hauls leaves at the family’s Connecticut home in 1978. Growing up, she says, her parents imparted “a sense of being responsible for the physical reality we were in.” (Photography by William Ferris, William R. Ferris Collection, Southern Folklife Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)</figcaption></figure><p><strong>For a long time, Warren resisted becoming a writer. </strong>Her earliest ambition was instead to paint. Looking back now, she says, the incandescence of her parents’ careers would have been too much pressure for her younger self. But also, she fell in love with the work of Henri Matisse. From the time when she was a child looking through art books and going to museums, paintings like <em>French Window at Collioure</em>, <em>Goldfish and Palette</em>, and <em>The Red Studio</em> astonished her: Matisse’s sculptural sense of form, his “abstracting force,” his sumptuous, dramatic colors and subtle shades of black and white.</p> <p>And so Warren spent thousands of hours filling up hundreds of canvases, investigating shape and shade, the mystery of light and color and space, working to connect her inner world to the external one in front of her. At Yale she majored in painting and comparative literature and spent college summers in painting programs in Paris and New England. “I was almost trying not to write,” she says. “I was trying to paint.” And Warren never completely surrendered her first art. Its principles remain visible in her writing, and she still draws from time to time, “very privately, as a way of connecting with reality.”</p> <p>But in her early 20s, she came to the realization that she wasn’t a painter. “It broke my heart,” she says. Unwittingly, she’d been spending more of her time on poetry, a practice she had also never surrendered. And there were “internal pressures that I couldn’t control,” she says, ideas and experiences she couldn’t express except in words. Three years after graduating from college, she enrolled in the creative writing graduate program at Johns Hopkins University and afterward spent 30 years teaching literature, creative writing, and translation at Boston University, before coming to UChicago in 2012.</p> <p>In 2020, Warren will publish a long-term writing project that bridges—and in fact helped spark—her transition from painting to poetry. <em>Max Jacob: A Life in Art and Letters</em> (W. W. Norton) is a biography of the French painter and poet, whom she first discovered as a college student still intent on becoming a painter. While working in a Paris library to archive the painting papers of the Matisse contemporary André Derain, she ran across a mention of Jacob’s name and was intrigued.</p> <p>Jewish and gay, Jacob underwent a mystical conversion to Catholicism and spent two seven-year periods living in a Benedictine monastery before being taken by the Nazis in 1944; he died from pneumonia in Drancy internment camp. Two early poems Warren wrote and dedicated to Jacob were the first she ever showed to anyone besides her parents, and their publication effectively marked the start of her professional writing career. Fascinated with Jacob’s life and work, she has spent the past 30 years working on his biography. As both a painter and a poet, “he was divided in a way that I was feeling divided,” she says.</p> <p>This September she will also release a volume of selected poetry in French translation, <em>De notre vivant</em> (Æncrages &amp; Co.), and in 2020 a book of new poems, her fifth. Titled <em>So Forth </em>(W. W. Norton), it compiles nearly a decade’s worth of writing. A sequence of poems called “Legende of Good Women” is at its core, the title borrowed from an unfinished work by Geoffrey Chaucer that narrates the lives of 10 famous women from antiquity and mythology. Warren focuses on an updated cast: Renaissance poet and translator Mary Sidney, fashion designer Coco Chanel, singer and songwriter Marianne Faithfull, harpsichordist Sylvia Marlowe. The poems wind themselves around concerns that run throughout the book: womanhood, sexual identity, art and power, the damage we suffer and inflict. “There are many ways / to throw oneself away,” Warren reminds readers in “A Way,” about Faithfull. <em>So Forth</em>, Warren says, “is deeply about forms of woundedness and wounding, remorse, and perhaps healing.”</p> <p>Those themes play out sharply in another poem from the book, “For Chiara,” a deceptively slight lyric that returns to the woods of Vermont. On an evening walk, Warren and her daughter—who, the poem tells us, wants “to hold each wounded soul”—come across a garter snake injured by a passing car. Helpless to heal its agony, which they also cannot help but witness, they nudge the animal into the grass beside the road. It is autumn, and like the snake, the season bursts with a final wild vigor as death closes in: “fevered” and flaring, the crab-apple tree a “crimson pointilliste nimbus,” the crackling leaves underfoot “tinder, kindling” ready to catch fire.</p> <p>But autumn, Warren writes, “croons an old song,” and dust scuffs their feet as they walk. Alluding briefly to a story about the Gorgons, the snake-haired women of Greek mythology, the poem gestures toward an inherent, unavoidable connection between the power to heal and the power to kill. After Warren and her daughter edge the snake off the road, the poem asks, “Do we stop seeing / when we walk away?” That question hangs in the air as the final lines exhale: “The brook prattles on. / Home’s far off. Dusk settles, slowly, among leaves. / That’s not mercy, scattering from its hands.”</p> <p><strong><a href="">Read two poems by Rosanna Warren.</a></strong></p> <hr /><p><em>Lydialyle Gibson is an associate editor at </em>Harvard Magazine<em>.</em></p> <p><em>Updated 08.15.2019 to clarify that Warrenʼs book </em>So Forth<em> will be coming out in 2020.</em></p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-reftopic field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/topics/arts-humanities" hreflang="en">Arts &amp; Humanities</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/poetry" hreflang="en">Poetry</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/writing" hreflang="en">Writing</a></div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refuchicago field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/taxonomy/term/1497" hreflang="en">Faculty</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/committee-social-thought" hreflang="en">Committee on Social Thought</a></div> </div> Fri, 09 Aug 2019 22:17:25 +0000 admin 7149 at Science by the sea <div class="field field--name-field-letter-box-story-image field--type-image field--label-hidden field--item"> <img loading="lazy" src="/sites/default/files/story/images/18_Summer_Gibson_Science.jpg" width="2000" height="800" alt="Science by the sea" title="Science by the sea" class="img-responsive" /> </div> <span><span>admin</span></span> <span>Tue, 07/31/2018 - 15:03</span> <div class="field field--name-field-caption field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>University of Chicago students collect samples for Michael LaBarbera’s course Marine Invertebrates of Woods Hole. (Photography by Megan Costello)</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refauthors field--type-entity-reference field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field--label sr-only">Author</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field--item"> <div> <a href="/author/lydialyle-gibson"> <div class="field field--name-name field--type-string field--label-hidden field--item">Lydialyle Gibson</div> </a> </div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refsource field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/publication-sources/core" hreflang="en">The Core</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-issue field--type-text field--label-hidden field--item">Summer/18</div> <div class="field field--name-field-subhead field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>In three weeks, there are just over 500 hours. The students in the Marine Biological Laboratory’s September intensive courses tried to use them all.</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>In September 2017, the College offered its first three courses at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Taught by UChicago and MBL faculty, the intensive three-week courses are designed for students with a strong interest in research. The classes are scheduled to meet five or six days a week, eight hours per day—but most days run much longer.</p> <p>By the second day of the second week of <strong>Jack Gilbert</strong>’s course on microbiomes, time is starting to feel a little bent and fuzzy. Gilbert and his group—co-instructor David Mark Welch; teaching assistant <strong>Sophia Carryl</strong>, SM’17; and a dozen undergraduates—have spent most of the past 24 hours in the lab, working through the night on research projects begun only three days earlier. By the end of next week, those projects will have to be finished.</p> <p>Meanwhile, last week seems like a distant memory: introductory lectures from Gilbert, a microbial ecologist at UChicago and Argonne, and Mark Welch, an MBL evolutionary biologist, on ecology and microbes and microbiomes, how to investigate them, why they matter. (Some of the students are biology majors, but others come from economics, mathematics, computer science.)</p> <p>“And then we just gave them carte blanche to come up with research projects,” says a bleary Gilbert, making himself another cup of black tea in the laboratory kitchen.</p> <figure role="group"><img alt="Gaibo Zhang, SB'18" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="d191769f-e4d6-4981-a108-e9734ac8e132" src="/sites/default/files/inline-images/18_Summer_Gibson_Science_SpotA.jpg" /><figcaption>Gaibo Zhang, SB’18, measures a transect of Little Sippewissett Marsh, Falmouth, Massachusetts, for the Microbiomes Across Environments course. (Photography by David Mark Welch)</figcaption></figure><p>Students sampled the bacteria in the water and sand and wetlands around MBL; they sampled their own feces and skin. One student, researching whether tidal changes altered the microbiomes on the beach and in the surf, rose before five o’clock one morning to sample the sand at low tide. Another is studying how well bacteria from her fingers survive on coins of different metals—a nickel, a penny, a dime—and whether that microbial residue could be used to identify her. Another is comparing the microbiomes of newly hatched skates to those of adults.</p> <p>Last night and into this morning, the students extracted the DNA from their many samples and ran polymerase chain reactions to amplify it. It was the first time most of them had attempted either of these procedures. Now, at about 2 p.m. on Tuesday, a few students are trickling back from lunch; the rest are in the lab already, mixing gels and hovering near Carryl, a third-year graduate student whose own research examines avian microbiomes and who was the last one out of the lab the night before. She’s not sure what time that was.</p> <p>In the room next door, Mark Welch sits down beside a large tabletop device that looks like it might be about to lift off, white and semi-diamond-shaped and pointing toward the ceiling. Accompanied by a student in a blue polo shirt and khaki cargo shorts, he explains how the ultraviolet light inside the machine will activate the dye binding to fragments of DNA, which have been placed on a sheet of milky translucent agarose gel. If everything works—if the DNA sample was extracted properly and the polymerase chain reactions amplified it—then on the computer screen next to the device, “we should see a series of bright bands,” he says. If the results are good, the next step will be sending the DNA off for sequencing to identify the bacterial species.</p> <p>Mark Welch hesitates for a beat. “OK,” he says. “This is the moment.” He flips the switch to turn on the ultraviolet light. Against the dark background of the computer screen, two rows of white bands appear, some sharp, some ghostly, but all unmistakable. “Ah!” he exclaims. “Hoo-hoo! Oh, that’s beautiful.”</p> <p>Now it’s closing in on 3 p.m., and everyone trundles upstairs for three student presentations of scientific papers: the resilience of soil microbe diversity, the influence of architectural design on a hospital’s microbiome, the microbial “biogeography” of public restrooms. Being able to tell a compelling story about ideas and findings, Gilbert believes, is an important part of science. For his students, this is practice. It’s also a chance for them to poke around in published papers to look for holes.</p> <p>“Did they not measure the toilet plume?” one student asks at the end of the restroom study. “You know, like when you flush the toilet and bacteria from inside it go into the air?”</p> <p>“That’s actually a misnomer,” Gilbert pipes up from the back of the classroom.</p> <p>“Really?”</p> <p>“Yeah. Doesn’t actually happen.”</p> <p>“I’m glad to hear that.” But there is incredulity in her voice.</p> <p>Gilbert again: “There are so many bacteria on all the surfaces anyway, that we find no more bacteria associated with human stool in the bathroom than we did in the kitchens of homes. When you flush your toilet, you do get aerosolization, but you’re shedding more microbes into your environment than your toilet is generating.” That news comes as less of a comfort.</p> <figure role="group"><img alt="Jack Gilbert and Sophia Carryl, SM'17" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="40b6e94b-2ab7-430f-9989-a35579907949" src="/sites/default/files/inline-images/18_Summer_Gibson_Science_SpotB.jpg" /><figcaption>Jack Gilbert (right), coteacher of the microbiomes course, confers with teaching assistant Sophia Carryl, SM’17. (Photography by Tom Kleindinst)</figcaption></figure><p>The paper on architectural design raises other thorny questions, and, guided by Gilbert and Mark Welch, the class uncovers errors of procedure and analysis. “This is a great example of a paper where the authors had a really neat idea, and they went in and biased their entire interpretation,” Gilbert says. “This is an important thing: never color your vision. Take it where the data leads you, not where your impressions and biases lead you.”</p> <p>Afterward, the group heads back downstairs, where Carryl has been working through the rest of the students’ extracted DNA fragments, imaging everything in the ultraviolet lightbox. Most of the samples came through, she reports; a few did not. Some students will have to try re-extracting the DNA. “This is great,” says Gilbert, who feared that none of the DNA samples might work. Mark Welch concurs: “If this were a real experiment, you might spend multiple days optimizing this whole process”—the extraction, the polymerase chain reactions—“before doing it.”</p> <p>“And when he says multiple days, he means 30 or 40,” Gilbert adds. He is almost laughing with delight.</p> <figure role="group"><img alt="Drawings of marine organisms" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="749fd019-2d28-4f80-abaa-ae136b06f586" src="/sites/default/files/inline-images/18_Summer_Gibson_Science_SpotC.jpg" /><figcaption>Drawings of marine organisms and notes on their anatomy by Jennifer Teng, AB’18. (Photography by Kameleon007)</figcaption></figure><p class="Features_Features_Para_Opening_DropCap-Tier2"><strong><span class="_idGenDropcap-2">T</span>hey clamber out of the van in borrowed hip waders and rubber boots</strong>, chattering with nervous excitement, carrying tools they don’t quite know what to do with yet: shovels and buckets and heavy wood-framed sieves for sifting through the sand that suddenly lay before them on all sides. “All right,” calls <strong>Michael LaBarbera</strong>, UChicago biology professor emeritus, enunciating over the wind. “This is an exploration—anything<br /> you find out here is fair game.”</p> <p>It’s a little past 1:30 on a Thursday afternoon, day four of LaBarbera’s course on marine invertebrates, and the tide is falling at Little Sippewissett salt marsh, on the jagged eastern shore of Buzzards Bay, a 10-minute drive from MBL. LaBarbera and his dozen students will spend the next couple of hours here, collecting live creatures to bring back to the lab to study and identify before returning most of them to the ocean a few days later.</p> <p>Several students head first toward the beach; the rest turn inland, toward the heavy-husked marsh grasses and fingers of brackish water winding back toward the distant woods. LaBarbera goes inland too. He demonstrates how to dig under the sand, scoured clean by the current, to the muckier and darker soil just beneath. That’s where they’d find many more of the worms and mussels and snails they are looking for. Plus the nemerteans and hydrozoans and polychaetes and anomurans on the list LaBarbera handed out the first day of class. “Keep taking samples, even if it seems like there isn’t much,” he says.<br /> “I think you’ll discover you’re getting more organisms than you think.”</p> <p>He herds the students farther from the beach, deeper into the estuary, where they come upon colonies of fiddler crabs, slipping noiselessly into their burrows as soon as human shadows approach, and larger green crabs, an invasive species from Europe, LaBarbera explains, which came to America on the hulls of early 1800s ships.</p> <p>One student reports gleefully that a handful of tiny clear shrimp jumped into her bucket when she stooped to fill it with water. Another reaches into the creek and lifts out an empty, translucent, perfectly intact shell, left behind by a molting crab. Another finds a baby horseshoe crab, barely a month old and smaller than a thumbnail. LaBarbera has never seen one so young and tiny. “Newly metamorphosed,” he says. He will come back in a few days to return it to this exact spot to give the crab its best chance of survival. “If it gets through this next year, this guy can live another 20 years. Some things just pull your heartstrings.”</p> <figure role="group"><img alt="Jennifer Teng, AB'18, with a horseshoe crab" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="e24a0289-be93-4367-924b-48b0cc029647" src="/sites/default/files/inline-images/18_Summer_Gibson_Science_SpotD.jpg" /><figcaption>Jennifer Teng, AB’18, holds a horseshoe crab. (Photography by Megan Costello)</figcaption></figure><p>The students keep wading upstream. They find a rock covered in barnacles with an oyster attached, very much alive, with its shell tightly clenched.</p> <p>Someone finds a softshell blue crab. “Oh gosh!” The whole group comes splashing over. LaBarbera tells them the crabs often mate when females are molting—“partly because sperm transfer is more efficient then”—and afterward, the male will cradle the female in his legs, carrying her for the next 48 hours, while her new exoskeleton hardens. “Then they go their separate ways. You can view this as the male protecting his reproductive investment,” LaBarbera says, grinning slightly, “or you can view it as the only moment of romance in a blue crab’s life.”</p> <p>Another find. A student wades over to LaBarbera, holding out what looks like a tiny ice cream cone, two inches long and thinner than a straw. “Oh!” he says. “Anybody know what this is?”</p> <p>“It looks like an egg case?” the student guesses.</p> <p>“Nope,” LaBarbera says. “It’s a tube. The animal inside it—see in there?—that’s a worm. And it constructs this out of sand.” Each tube is one grain thick, built piece by piece like a brick wall. “The most amazing structure you’ve ever seen,” LaBarbera says. “We’ll take it back to the lab and you can look at it under the scope.” The worm, meanwhile (a <span class="CharOverride-3">Pectenaria</span>, though LaBarbera doesn’t give the name away—he wants the students to find it), is “astonishing,” he confides, after the others wade ahead. “It has these little chitin setae, these little hair-like structures that stick out the front, and they’re this brilliant golden color.” They look, he says, “ like a golden beard.”</p> <p>By now it’s getting close to 3:45, when the van will return to haul the group and their buckets full of specimens back to MBL, where the students will stay in the lab long past the official 5:30 p.m. quitting time, until 9 or 10, combing through reference books and lists of species, looking for what they had found, putting names to the nameless. They'll discover organisms in their buckets that they hadn’t realized they’d collected: sea snails as small as specks of dirt, a worm with a missing back end, an impossibly small anemone.</p> <p>LaBarbera watches them wind their way toward the back of the estuary, bending to shovel and sift the sand, then wading on a little further. He doesn’t want to summon them back just yet. “The longer they’re out here,” he says, “the more they’ll see.” He wants them to see it all.</p> <figure role="group"><img alt="Savy Johnson and Matthew Lawson, both Class of 2020" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="7dd92aef-2c1b-4099-b3c1-4fb26d240e77" src="/sites/default/files/inline-images/18_Summer_Gibson_Science_SpotE.jpg" /><figcaption>Savy Johnson and Matthew Lawson, both Class of 2020, build a circuit for a voltage clamp in the Proteins in Action course. (Photography by Tom Kleindinst)</figcaption></figure><p><strong>On the day before their last day at MBL</strong>, the students in neurobiologist <strong>Eric Schwartz</strong>’s course on proteins are huddled over microscopes and amplifiers and culture dishes, working to complete the laboratory projects begun barely 48 hours earlier—each one wound around a slightly different molecular mystery. Tomorrow afternoon, they’ll present their findings at an open house finale for the three September courses. The morning after that, they’ll all be en route back to Chicago. In one of the closet-sized chambers at the back of the lab, a pair of students is sending different voltage pulses into a frog oocyte, an immature and unfertilized egg cell, to see whether the proteins they injected into its membrane would fluoresce. Minute and bead-like and nut-brown, the oocyte, attached to two glass electrodes and suspended in a beam of light, sits atop a microscope that the students built themselves. There are lenses and mirrors and a photodiode to measure how much light comes off the cell.</p> <p>Three days ago, they hadn’t known how to assemble these parts into a working instrument. “It was kind of a steep learning curve,” says one student, a young man in shorts and glasses and a gray MBL hoodie. “More like learning skydiving than anything.” But now here he is, talking about the precise placement of the mirrors and the LED that will shine a light of a very specific wavelength, 470 nm—“very pure, very blue”—onto the oocyte. He explains that if the cell lights up then they’ll know that the protein they’ve injected was a genetically encoded voltage indicator: “The more voltage you put in, the more it fluoresces.”  </p> <p>The course, called Observing Proteins in Action: How to Design and Build Your Own Instruments, is really two courses, or maybe three. The students learn how to put together microscopes and amplifiers, after two weeks of lessons on optics and electronics. But they also learn the basics of proteins: how they function and influence the behavior of cells and organisms, how to isolate certain proteins and incorporate them into a cell membrane, how to monitor their activity, millisecond by millisecond.</p> <figure role="group"><img alt="Eric Schwartz; Nora Bradford, Class of 2019; and Elle Rathbun, SB'18" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="09b7dc6d-d20e-4b85-814a-e19f8d79da01" src="/sites/default/files/inline-images/18_Summer_Gibson_Science_SpotF.jpg" /><figcaption>Eric Schwartz helps Elle Rathbun, SBʼ18 (blue shirt), and Nora Bradford, Class of 2019, troubleshoot the construction of an integrated microscope and electronics workstation. (Photo courtesy MBL)</figcaption></figure><p>Schwartz, a professor in the Department of Pharmacological and Physiological Sciences, coteaches the course with three UChicago colleagues from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology: <strong>Ana Correa</strong>, <strong>Francisco Bezanilla</strong>, and <strong>Eduardo Perozo</strong>. One of the guiding concepts for the syllabus, Schwartz says, is a simple not-so-simple question: “How do we know what we know?” The answer, or one answer, is instruments—like microscopes. But that’s not simple either. How scientists modify instruments determines what things they can discover. “It changes what we know,” said Schwartz, who first came to MBL as a medical student 50 years ago, when he spent two summers as a research assistant. “The idea here was to have the students put everything together on their own, so they can understand not just what they’re measuring, but how.”</p> <p>In another little room off the lab, two young women, with their own hand-built microscope, are testing two potassium-blockers—they haven’t been told exactly what they are—to find out how the drugs work, by what mechanism they interfere with the oocyte’s potassium ion channel. The experiment involves sending voltage into the cell and reading the current that comes out. The students are watching to see how the bright green line on a graph on their laptop screen moves. “That’ll tell us what is being expressed in our frog egg with the RNA we inserted,” one student says. “That’s how we’ll know.”</p> <p>In the building next door, two other students are sitting in the cool dark hum of the MBL’s electron microscope, its long white tower of lenses rising from the desktop like a smokestack, or a periscope. The previous day, the students isolated and purified ribosomes—the cellular factories where proteins are made—from E. coli, then stained them. Now, under the electron microscope, with the magnification dialed up to 100,000, then 150,000, then 200,000, the ribosomes spring onto the computer screen in crisp black and white, perfectly formed Tetris-like shapes frozen in a dark sea. “That’s beautiful,” says teaching assistant <strong>Michael Clark</strong>, an MD/PhD student in the Pritzker School of Medicine. “Oh my goodness. Good job, guys.”</p> <p>Meanwhile, in the lab, the course’s only nonscience student—“I’m a humanities major,” she says, with a pleading laugh—is toiling away on a circuit to measure the dropping voltage across a very small area of a Venus flytrap after the plant’s trigger hairs are touched. “Because they’ve got these tiny hairs, right?” she explains. “And they’re super sensitive. And if you touch them, it triggers the opening of some ion channels, which will basically—see, one side of the cell membrane has more calcium than the other, and if you open the ion channels, the calcium floods in, and the water pressure in the plant goes way up, and the plant slams shut.”</p> <p>Amid that furious rush, the voltage in the flytrap’s membrane shifts. “What I’m trying to measure is that change in voltage.” She adjusts her glasses and picks up a blue marker to draw an explanatory diagram in a notebook full of crossed-out diagrams (“This is like six drawings of the same circuit, all drawn in slightly different wrong ways.”).</p> <p>She’s been at this work for hours, cheerfully, patiently, arranging switches and resistors and capacitors and amplifiers and function generators on a breadboard—a unit for building a simple electronic circuit without requiring any soldering. When everything else is ready, an electrode connected to a pipette holder will carefully touch the trigger hairs and conduct the charge from the excited plant to the circuit. “It’s going to be a teeny tiny signal,” she says. “If I get any measurement at all, I’ll be pleased.” </p> <p>Now dinnertime is approaching. It's going to be a long night for all of them. But after three weeks, they are used to that; they know how to pace themselves. The humanities major glances up at the big round clock on the back wall. It would carry some of them into the morning.</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-reftopic field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/topics/science-medicine" hreflang="en">Science &amp; Medicine</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/microbiology" hreflang="en">microbiology</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/biological-sciences" hreflang="en">Biological sciences</a></div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refuchicago field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/marine-biological-laboratory" hreflang="en">Marine Biological Laboratory</a></div> </div> Tue, 31 Jul 2018 20:03:56 +0000 admin 6939 at All American <div class="field field--name-field-letter-box-story-image field--type-image field--label-hidden field--item"> <img loading="lazy" src="/sites/default/files/1705_Gibson_All-American.jpg" width="1600" height="743" alt="" class="img-responsive" /> </div> <span><span>jmiller</span></span> <span>Wed, 05/10/2017 - 13:00</span> <div class="field field--name-field-caption field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Henry Steele Commager. (Amherst College Archives and Special Collections by permission of the trustees of Amherst College)</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refauthors field--type-entity-reference field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field--label sr-only">Author</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field--item"> <div> <a href="/author/lydialyle-gibson"> <div class="field field--name-name field--type-string field--label-hidden field--item">Lydialyle Gibson</div> </a> </div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refsource field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/publication-sources/university-chicago-magazine" hreflang="en">The University of Chicago Magazine</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-issue field--type-text field--label-hidden field--item">Spring/17</div> <div class="field field--name-field-subhead field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Henry Steele Commager (1902–1998), PhB’23, AM’24, PhD’28, was a US historian for the people.</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>He was everywhere, all the time. That’s how Lisa Commager remembers her father, the American historian Henry Steele Commager, PhB’23, AM’24, PhD’28. All vehemence and irrepressible energy. A poet friend of the family who came to the house for dinner once maybe said it best, she recalls. Amid the evening’s clamor, he proclaimed, “Commager! You’re nine men. Not the nine muses, not the nine justices on the Supreme Court—you’re the nine men on a baseball team!” Every outfielder, the pitcher and the catcher and the basemen and the shortstop. “Yep,” says Lisa Commager. “That was him.”</p> <p>For the wider public, it wasn’t much different. Henry Steele Commager was one of the 20th century’s most visible and popular scholars. A household name for decades, a public intellectual with an encyclopedic memory and a bouncy dynamism. There he was on television and the radio, interpreting America’s past for reporters and offering up lessons for the current moment; and in Congress, testifying before the Senate about presidential powers and foreign entanglements; and in the pages of newspapers and magazines, where for decades he unleashed a steady torrent of op-eds and essays and book reviews about the issues of the day.</p> <p>For 65 years Commager was a professor, first at New York University and Columbia University and then, for more than three decades, at Amherst College, where he taught well into his 80s. He had visiting professorships at Oxford and Cambridge; in Denmark and Sweden; and throughout Western Europe. When he wasn’t in the classroom, he was speaking to audiences in lecture halls across the country and abroad, for free to many groups that couldn’t afford to pay him. (Lisa Commager recalls her father flying to Charleston, South Carolina, in the mid-1970s, to deliver one of those free lectures, only to realize once he got there that he was in the wrong Charleston—the college he was speaking at was in West Virginia. So he hired an airplane to fly him there that night. “It never occurred to him,” she says, “that he didn’t have to get there on time.”)</p> <p>Commager wrote and edited more than 40 books altogether. At 28 years old, he published the once-ubiquitous textbook <em>The Growth of the American Republic</em> (1930, a collaboration with historian Samuel Eliot Morison); and later, another popular volume, <em>A Pocket History of the United States</em> (1943, with historian Allan Nevins). More than a few of his books were aimed at young people. Generations of high school and college students grew up reading Commager.</p> <p>At home, “he was like living with a hurricane,” Lisa says: bounding up and down the stairs at their house in Rye, New York (where they lived when Commager taught at Columbia), talking, shouting, laughing, banging from room to room and then back to work in his study, while Mozart or Schubert or Beethoven rang from the little record player in the living room. He was happiest when he was working, and he was almost always working. He typed—at lightning speed—using only his index fingers; he tapped his foot so hard that it shook the dining table. And he played ping-pong to win. “We had ping-pong tables wherever we went,” Lisa says.</p> <p>I never met Commager. I knew him first (and for a while, exclusively) as the author of a children’s book, <em>Chestnut Squirrel </em>(1952), one of several rotating volumes in the bedtime story set list my father read to me and one of many works of fiction that Commager wrote for children. With a little-boy squirrel who gets in and out of scrapes for a protagonist, the book originated, Lisa recalls, as a series of stories her father invented on long family drives to keep her from getting carsick.</p> <p>My father did know Commager, the laughing, banging, roaring one. “Uncle Felix,” he called him, using the nickname Commager’s first wife, my dad’s aunt Evan, had given him, from the Latin word for “happy.” Like his aunt, my dad grew up in South Carolina, and he remembered taking the train all the way north to visit. He celebrated his sixth birthday at the Commagers’ house in Vermont and went swimming with his cousins (besides Lisa, there was a sister, Nell, and a brother, Steele) in a rock quarry down the road, with the lights of Montpelier shining in the distance. Years later, at 14, away from home on his own for the first time, he came up to Amherst for Christmas. A Danish professor was also visiting that week, and he and my father spent the holiday making Scandinavian snow lanterns.</p> <p>By the time I was growing up in the 1980s, Commager had largely faded from the scene. Fewer people read him, or knew of him. He now seemed old fashioned.</p> <p>But for more than 50 years, he had been an everyday presence for many Americans (biographer Neil Jumonville recounts how, even with a bandaged eye from detached-cornea surgery, Commager went on television the night of John F. Kennedy’s assassination to talk to viewers about their fallen president). His legacy rests as much on his public engagement as on his academic scholarship. He was a public intellectual at a time when both halves of the term bore equal weight, when part of that work was to make challenging subjects accessible to all. “Commager always insisted that no matter how technical your subject, you must write so a general reader can understand you,” recalls former Amherst student Richard B. Bernstein, now a lecturer in political science at the City College of New York. “And if the general reader doesn’t understand you, it’s your fault.”</p> <p>The other part of the job was to fight. His academic peers sometimes groused at the amount of time he spent in front of the camera and on the lecture circuit, but fellow historian Alan Brinkley argued in a <em>New Republic </em>article that Commager wasn’t in it for glory of self-promotion; he wanted “to use his stature as a scholar to advance a set of beliefs to which he was deeply committed.” He felt it was his responsibility. A progressive liberal in the traditional 20th-century mold and a Jeffersonian defender of individual liberties, Commager was “a part of all the brawls,” says Bernstein. From the New Deal to the McCarthy hearings to Vietnam and Nixon, “he was right in the middle of it.” More than once, it proved a perilous place to be.</p> <p><strong>Commager was born in Pittsburgh in 1902.</strong> His parents divorced several years later, and when he was 9, his mother died. His two brothers went to live with aunts and uncles, but Henry, they said, was too energetic. Instead, he was sent to Chicago, to his grandfather Adam Dan, a Lutheran minister and church leader from Denmark, who wrote hymns and taught in Danish, and whose liberal reform beliefs ingrained in Commager an interest in politics and culture, an appreciation for democracy, and a lifelong sympathy for moral dissent.</p> <p>The family was poor, and Commager was expected to work. In the fall of 1918, just before he turned 16, he took a job at the University of Chicago Library. Working 40 or 50 hours a week, he put himself through college and took upper-level classes with UChicago historians William Dodd and Andrew McLaughlin. They planted in him the idea that historians have a role in public affairs, a responsibility to act and speak out. Dodd wrote essays for the <em>Nation</em> and campaigned for Woodrow Wilson and later for Franklin Roosevelt’s early New Deal ideas. (Dodd’s ensuing ambassadorship to Hitler’s Germany was volatile, and in 1937, under State Department pressure to attend an annual Nazi Party rally in Nuremburg—at the time the US government was still trying to maintain diplomatic relations with Hitler’s regime—Dodd left the post.) McLaughlin, meanwhile, had supported America’s entry into World War I and in 1918 stumped his way through Britain, giving speeches endorsing the two countries’ alliance.</p> <p>Alongside his activism, McLaughlin also believed that an important element of historians’ work lay in deciphering a nation’s character, its common essence, what he called “its most real self.” Commager, in his own books, would take up this aspiration again and again: to trace America’s Americanness and distill it into words. The volumes regarded now as his best work do this—1950’s <em>The American Mind</em>; 1977’s <em>The Empire of Reason</em>; even his 1936 biography of Theodore Parker, the 19th century Transcendentalist, abolitionist, and reformist Unitarian minister.</p> <p>After college Commager went on to graduate school at UChicago, specializing in constitutional history. He wrote his dissertation on the Danish reform movement led by physician and prime minister Johann Friedrich Struensee, who in the late 1700s abolished torture and censorship, fought corruption and aristocratic privilege, and banned the slave trade in Denmark’s colonies.</p> <p>An instructorship at New York University brought Commager east from Chicago in 1926. That’s where he met Evan. She was a shopgirl working the complaints desk at Lord &amp; Taylor, a job for which her Southern sweetness was apparently well suited—after talking with her, customers routinely left without filing any grievance. She would go on to become a well-known author of children’s books and young adult novels. Evan and Commager lived in the same building in Greenwich Village, and he sent her wry, punny notes.</p> <p>At one point during their courtship, he bought himself a piano, perhaps knowing it was too big to get up the stairs of their ramshackle building to his apartment. But Evan lived conveniently on the ground floor, and so it was installed in her tiny apartment. The piano was an excuse to see her often, but Commager truly did love to play, his daughter says. There’d been a piano in the basement of his grandfather’s house, and he taught himself to pick out tunes as a boy—with gloves on, he always said, because it was so cold. “He played by ear,” she says, “and he played horribly, you know. These big huge chords.” He tried to play whole symphonies at once.</p> <p>The Commagers got married in 1928. That same year, he came to the <em>New York Herald Tribune</em> offices with a letter of introduction, offering to write book reviews. His first assignment: <em>Our Revolutionary Forefathers</em>, a translation of letters from 18th-century French politician (and Thomas Jefferson correspondent) François Barbé-Marbois. The <em>Herald Tribune </em>editors liked Commager’s review so much, they gave him 24 more books to review that year. In the <em>Herald Tribune</em> and elsewhere, he reviewed history books but sometimes literature too, including <em>Gone with the Wind</em> in 1936 and Carl Sandburg’s collected poems in 1950.</p> <p>Over the next decades, he wrote regularly for a dozen or more magazines and newspapers, channeling his political advocacy into publications like the <em>Atlantic</em>, the <em>Nation</em>, <em>Harper’s</em>, the <em>New Republic</em>, the <em>Saturday Review</em>, and the <em>New York Review of Books</em>. From the late 1940s to the mid-1960s, the <em>New York Times Magazine</em> relied on him constantly for its lead essays. For him, all of this was pedagogy. “He really loved to teach,” says Bernstein, who was Commager’s student and research assistant as an Amherst undergraduate in the 1970s. “When he wrote for newspapers or magazines, for him it was just another form of teaching. Just a different audience in a different kind of classroom.”</p> <p>Commager was known for his richly rhetorical and literary prose style, not surprising for someone who took the general reader as his audience. “History is a story,” he wrote in <em>The Nature and Study of History </em>(1965), a book for fellow educators. “If history forgets or neglects to tell a story, it will inevitably forfeit much of its appeal and much of its authority as well.” In the <em>Iliad</em> and the <em>Odyssey</em>, he continued, storytelling and history are so “inextricably commingled” that “we do not to this day know whether to classify them as literature or as history; they are of course both.”</p> <p>This was a lesson he hammered home to his students. Bernstein had read <em>The Growth of the American Republic</em> and then, at 15, wrote a fan letter to Commager that blossomed into a correspondence. A few years later, Bernstein arrived at Amherst, where, he notes, the professor never tried to mold students in his image—there is no “Commager school” of history—but he did insist that they write well.</p> <p>“Henry thought in paragraphs” and loved words, says his second wife, Mary Powlesland Commager, whom he married in 1979, a decade after Evan’s death from cancer. The two met at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, where Commager had come to deliver a lecture and Mary, then a PhD student in Mexican history, was his appointed chauffeur. “He kept a complete set of the <em>Oxford English Dictionary</em> in the dining room,” she says, ready for when after-dinner discussion turned etymological.</p> <p>His books were known less for their precise analysis than for their broad sweep and searching narratives, and for his sense of optimism about the American project. “People always felt more hopeful when they went to hear him,” Mary Commager says. “Like, ‘OK, things can get better, things are going to get better.’” And in all his works he sought to uncover the nation’s defining spirit. In the preface to <em>The American Mind</em>, whose subtitle reads, <em>An Interpretation of American Thought and Character Since the 1880’s</em>, Commager wrote that he was concerned not with “abbreviated histories of American philosophy or religion, sociology or economics, politics or law,” but instead with the “ideas that illuminate the American mind and ways of using ideas that illustrate the American character.”</p> <p>The reviews were mixed: in a <em>New Republic</em> assessment headlined “The American Soul and the Brave Historian,” Harvard historian Morton G. White called the book “a daring leap”; philosopher Ralph Barton Perry, noting (mostly approvingly) in the <em>American Historical Review</em> that it “leaves the safer ground of documented statements of fact and roams at large over the unfenced ranges of human experience,” praised the way the book forced readers “to see, or to try to see, life whole.” But others criticized its conceptualism and generalizations, the roaming at large beyond documented facts.</p> <p>Later criticism of the book, and of Commager himself, noted what some historians believed to be a lack of urgency in his attention to the plight of African Americans. (A similar criticism arose from the fact that, although he supported the civil rights movement, he wrote and spoke about it only peripherally.) Reconsidering <em>The American Mind</em> decades later, in 1984, historian Robert Dawidoff wrote, “He does not take very seriously the possibility that American life was corrupt, liberty a privilege of class or race. American vulgarity, materialism, racism strike him not as conditions but as mistakes and faults, likely to be corrected by a fundamentally sound political system.” The ideas behind the nation’s founding, Commager believed, were sound, and so surely those ideas would win out.</p> <p><em>The Empire of Reason: How Europe Imagined and America Realized the Enlightenment</em>, Commager’s final full-length book, was the one the <em>New York Times</em> called “his most brilliant.” In the opening pages, Commager asserted his thesis: that Americans of the late 18th and early 19th centuries took the Enlightenment principles that Europe had envisioned and “tentatively” experimented with—principles such as religious and intellectual freedom, constitutional order, commitment to reason, progress, humanitarianism—and “wrote them into law, crystallized them into institutions, and put them to work. That, as much as the winning of independence and the creation of the nation,” he wrote, “<em>was</em> the American Revolution.”</p> <p><strong>But: those brawls.</strong> They were numerous. In the 1930s, Commager defended Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, and he was an early advocate for American involvement in the Second World War. He supported John F. Kennedy for president in 1960 and Robert Kennedy in 1968. He warned against sending US troops to Indochina and called the Vietnam War a moral catastrophe. In April 1967, when Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his searing condemnation of the Vietnam War to an overflow crowd at New York’s Riverside Church, Commager stood beside him on the dais.</p> <p>The historian was a profound critic of the Nixon administration (three days after Nixon resigned, Commager penned an op-ed in the <em>New York Times</em> titled “The Constitution is Alive and Well”) and a detractor of the Central Intelligence Agency, whose top-secret “black budget” he believed was unconstitutional. When presidents began assuming the war powers that the Constitution had reserved for Congress, Commager—who had initially supported Truman’s war-powers claim—became alarmed. He fought that battle into the Reagan years.</p> <p>Commager’s best-remembered combat, and maybe his bravest, was against Joseph McCarthy and the anticommunist witch hunts of the postwar decade. He spoke out long before it became safe to do so. Just days after McCarthy launched himself into the public eye in February 1950, waving what he claimed was a list of 205 known Communists in the State Department, Commager addressed a gathering of high school students at Columbia University, telling them that the country had “the jitters” and that loyalty oaths signaled its confusion and insecurity. No nation can flourish for long, he said, without criticism and originality. A year later, his biographer, Jumonville, recounts, before a gathering of 1,000 Barnard College students and faculty, Commager attacked the oaths as “fat-headed” and “feeble-minded.”</p> <p>Commager had sensed Americans’ rising anxiety almost as soon as the war had ended. In 1947 he railed in the <em>Nation</em> against “guilt by association with a vengeance,” and he published an essay in <em>Harper’s</em> whose title question, “Who Is Loyal to America?,” found its answer in rejecting conformity as loyalty. This “new loyalty,” he wrote, “takes the word for the deed, the gesture for the principle. It is content with the flag salute.” He included the <em>Harper’s</em> essay as one of five in a slim 1954 volume called <em>Freedom, Loyalty, Dissent.</em> (The book’s opening paragraph states, “It is a sobering fact … that each generation has to vindicate these freedoms”—of inquiry, criticism, and dissent—“anew, and for itself.”)</p> <p>All this public activity made Commager a target. There were lectures canceled and complaints made, and one of his publishers sent a note warning that his statements were making it difficult to sell his book. Commager was accused of being a Communist and attacked in the press. His stridency put him at odds with old friends, including fellow historians Allan Nevins, Samuel Eliot Morison, and Arthur Schlesinger Jr.</p> <p>In one bizarre incident, <em>National Review</em> editor William F. Buckley Jr. wrote to Commager in 1959, inquiring about his middle name and speculating that he had adopted it out of admiration for Joseph Stalin—<em>stahl</em> being the Russian word for “steel.” Buckley wrote that he had found out “that indeed your name was not always Henry Steele Commager.” That part was true: he was born Henry Irving Commager, and somewhere between his master’s thesis and his dissertation, he took the name Steele. But it was not after Stalin; his great-grandfather, Henry Steel Commagere, had fought with the Union Army during the Civil War. Commager’s reply to Buckley, Jumonville reports, was “hostile.”</p> <p><strong>Talking now to those who knew Commager,</strong> today’s politics unavoidably come up. Midway through a recollection about his exploits against McCarthyism, Mary Commager gives a little rueful sigh. She sees an unhappy parallel between that period in history and the current one, and thinks Commager would too. If he were still here, he’d be writing and speaking out furiously, she says. A friend of hers recently suggested opening a Twitter account in Commager’s name and posting quotes from his work in response to current events. Mary Commager considered it, but said no. “I think that would make me too sad.” Lisa Commager tells me that the night before we talked, she went online to order a used copy of <em>The Great Constitution</em>, Commager’s 1961 explainer for young people. Now more than ever, she says, “I need to know everything in it.”</p> <p>Bernstein finds himself returning to Commager’s words too, especially to <em>Freedom, Loyalty, Dissent</em>, but also to <em>The Empire of Reason</em>, the book he helped research as Commager’s assistant at Amherst in the mid-1970s. He believes that Commager, like him, would be “appalled” at the 2016 presidential election and the turn of current politics. But, Bernstein says, Commager counsels “not to despair”—after all, he never did—and to reconnect with the country’s ideals, the national character he spent half his life trying to define. What makes Americans American, Bernstein says, paraphrasing his old professor, is not ethnicity or religion or race or language, or even culture. It’s ideas.</p> <p><strong>The Commager book that I’ve spent the most time</strong> with is one that fits less readily into his canon than volumes like <em>The Empire of Reason</em>, or <em>The American Mind</em>, or even <em>Freedom, Loyalty, Dissent</em>. But in its own way it seeks—and, I think, finds—the American character. Some years ago, my father gave me a copy of <em>The Blue and the Gray: The Story of the Civil War as Told by Participants </em>(1950), a massive two-volume anthology of letters, memoirs, journal entries, poems, songs, newspaper clippings, and published autobiographies written by foot soldiers and their wives, generals, politicians, preachers, doctors, prisoners. The book took Commager more than 10 years to compile. In page after vellum-thin page, he gives each document a warm introduction. There’s a letter President Lincoln wrote to General Sherman, urging him to send his foot soldiers home to Indiana to vote in the 1864 state election (“This is in no sense an order, but …”), and a diary entry from an Illinois minister who traveled to Tennessee to recruit black soldiers for the Union.</p> <p>In her journal, Julia LeGrand describes the “wild confusion” of New Orleans’s 1862 surrender: “<em>The Women only did not seem afraid.</em> They were all in favor of resistance, <em>no matter how hopeless</em>.” A Virginia boy recounts Confederate prayer meetings in woods that “resound for miles around with the unscientific but earnest music of the rough veterans of Lee’s army.” <em>The Blue and the Gray</em>, along with a parallel volume, <em>Documents of American History </em>(1934), led one historian to call Commager “the greatest anthologist America ever produced.” I think it goes deeper than that. I dip into <em>The Blue and the Gray</em> and find it moving to spend time, as Commager did, with the men and women whose words he sifted and gathered. And with the country that was striving, amid its failings and chaos and violence, to live up to itself.</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-reftopic field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/topics/law-policy-society" hreflang="en">Law, Policy &amp; Society</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-refformats field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/formats/profile" hreflang="en">Profile</a></div> Wed, 10 May 2017 18:00:35 +0000 jmiller 6449 at A tale of wonder tales <div class="field field--name-field-letter-box-story-image field--type-image field--label-hidden field--item"> <img loading="lazy" src="/sites/default/files/1512_Gibson_tale.jpg" width="1600" height="743" alt="" class="img-responsive" /> </div> <span><span>jmiller</span></span> <span>Wed, 12/09/2015 - 11:48</span> <div class="field field--name-field-caption field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item">Quvenzhane Wallis as Hushpuppy in <em>Beasts of the Southern Wild</em>. (All photos courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures)</div> <div class="field field--name-field-refauthors field--type-entity-reference field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field--label sr-only">Author</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field--item"> <div> <a href="/author/lydialyle-gibson"> <div class="field field--name-name field--type-string field--label-hidden field--item">Lydialyle Gibson</div> </a> </div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refsource field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/publication-sources/web-exclusives" hreflang="en">Web exclusives</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-issue field--type-text field--label-hidden field--item"><p>12.09.2015</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-subhead field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>UChicago literary scholar Armando Maggi, PhD’95, suggests a better term for fairy tales and reveals what recent story cast a spell on him.</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>In the opening paragraphs of the earliest written version of <em>Cinderella</em>, set down in 1634 by a Neapolitan poet and courtier named Giambattista Basile, the young protagonist murders her first stepmother, slamming the lid of a chest down on her neck, so that the girl’s governess—who later turns out to be wicked—can become her “new mother.” (Borrowing from Basile’s <em>Tale of Tales</em> 200 years later, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm added another gruesome detail: to fit her foot into the magic slipper, one stepsister cuts off part of her heel; blood dripping from the shoe gives her away.) Basile’s version of <em>Sleeping Beauty</em> involves rape, infanticide, and cannibalism. Snow White is a slave named Lisa whose jealous aunt drags her around by the hair until her mouth “looked like she had eaten raw pigeons.”</p> <p>In his new book <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Preserving the Spell: Basile’s “The Tale of Tales” and Its Afterlife in the Fairy-Tale Tradition</em></a> (University of Chicago Press), <a href="" target="_blank">Armando Maggi</a>, PhD’95, a UChicago scholar of Italian literature and cultural history, urges readers to revisit these early versions of modern-day fairy tales. Complicated and messy, full of danger and difficulty and moral ambiguity, they still hold power and meaning that today’s clean-cut fairy tales have lost, Maggi says.</p> <p>But he also believes that new fairy tales are being produced, even if we don’t necessarily recognize them. In the book’s last chapter, he describes <em><a href="" target="_blank">Beasts of the Southern Wild</a></em>, a 2012 film about a little girl and her father living in a Louisiana bayou community on the eve of a great storm.</p> <p align="center"><img src="" /></p> <p>[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"3166","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"369","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"500"}}]]</p> <h2>In the book, you write that “the first and enduring impression” made by <em>Beasts of the Southern Wild </em>&nbsp;“is of something overwhelmingly new and unexpected, as if this low-budget film were the first magic tale ever told.”</h2> <p>I was in awe when I saw the movie. First of all, it felt radically new: there was something truly magical about it, and yet there was absolutely no allusion, no hint, direct or indirect, to <a href="" target="_blank">Walt Disney</a> or what we now associate with fairy tales. And I think that in this case, it’s really useful to talk about a “wonder tale” rather than “fairy tale.”</p> <p>[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"3165","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"324","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"500"}}]]</p> <h2>Wonder tale?</h2> <p>Some critics say that “fairy tale” is the wrong name. It was used in Spanish and in French, but in German and Italian—the languages of the earliest tales—you don’t have the word “fairy.” There is no allusion to a fairy. And many so-called fairy tales don’t have any fairies.</p> <p><em>Beasts of the Southern Wild</em> was for me wonderful because it was a magic tale that takes place in the United States. Usually what we think of as fairy tales are set in this lost magical land from the 19th century or earlier—the woods, the peasants, the places where Brothers Grimm would go and record folk stories. Somewhere apart from what we know. But here the magical place is <a href="" target="_blank">Louisiana</a>. And yet it is completely new. There is an element of apocalypticism—that we are at the end of something. But this kind of end of the world is the end of the world of a child.</p> <p>[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"3167","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"340","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"500"}}]]</p> <h2>You’ve said this movie reminds you of Basile.</h2> <p>Yes, it’s the closest thing I’ve seen to Basile. The stories in <em>The</em> <em>Tale of Tales</em> are disconnected, disjointed, unruly. Not everything makes sense; there aren’t always straight lines. And the film is like that. All of the sudden you see this bunch of girls jumping into the ocean and swimming, and you don’t know exactly what’s happening, how they got there. And suddenly they’re on board a tugboat. And the little girl, Hushpuppy, is looking for her disappeared mother, and it’s never completely explained.</p> <p>There are a lot of things that are not totally connected from a narrative point of view. That’s part of what gives the film its emotional power. It has a very raw way of unfolding.</p> <p>At the same time, this is a real, contemporary landscape that is magical. Just as Basile set many of his tales in Naples and its surrounding area, we don’t need to go anywhere; reality is right there. In the beginning of the film, the father and daughter look at the other side of the levees, and they talk about the people who buy fish in plastic bags, how they’re not in contact with nature—which itself can be brutal and dangerous and hostile. These themes are common to fairy tales: the conflict of an industrial world versus natural, a world that’s lost its soul.</p> <p>[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"3168","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"307","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"500"}}]]</p> <h2>You subtitled this chapter of the book “A New Beginning.”</h2> <p>I’m not pessimistic. I really think this urge, this need for a new way of telling stories that is not trite and not repetitive, is real. It’s going to bring new tales. <em>Beasts of the Southern Wild</em> was a low-budget movie, but it made it to the Oscars.</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-reftopic field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/topics/arts-humanities" hreflang="en">Arts &amp; Humanities</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/fairy-tales" hreflang="en">Fairy Tales</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/storytelling" hreflang="en">Storytelling</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/film" hreflang="en">Film</a></div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refformats field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/formats/interview" hreflang="en">Interview</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-relatedstories field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item">“<a href="" target="_self">Memoir: The New Fairy Tale</a>” (<em>University of Chicago Magazine</em>, web exclusives, 11.04.2015) “<a href="" target="_self">Spellbound</a>” (<em>University of Chicago Magazine</em>, May–June/12) “<a href="" target="_self">Told and Retold</a>” (<em>University of Chicago Magazine</em>, May–June/12) “<a href="" target="_self">Demon Lover</a>” (<em>University of Chicago Magazine</em>, Dec/05)</div> <div class="field field--name-field-relatedlinks field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item">Learn more about <a href="" target="_blank">Maggi’s new book</a>. Follow @<a href="" target="_blank">UChicagoHum</a>. <a href="" target="_blank">Join the campaign</a> and nurture the arts at UChicago. Support the Division of the Humanities as they work to establish new professorships, artist residencies, and student fellowships to inspire the creative potential of students, faculty, and working artists.</div> Wed, 09 Dec 2015 17:48:03 +0000 jmiller 5279 at Memoir: The new fairy tale <div class="field field--name-field-letter-box-story-image field--type-image field--label-hidden field--item"> <img loading="lazy" src="/sites/default/files/1511_Gibson_Memoir-fairy-tale.jpg" width="1600" height="743" alt="" class="img-responsive" /> </div> <span><span>jmiller</span></span> <span>Tue, 11/03/2015 - 22:02</span> <div class="field field--name-field-caption field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item">(Photo via Pixabay, public domain)</div> <div class="field field--name-field-refauthors field--type-entity-reference field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field--label sr-only">Author</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field--item"> <div> <a href="/author/lydialyle-gibson"> <div class="field field--name-name field--type-string field--label-hidden field--item">Lydialyle Gibson</div> </a> </div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refsource field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/publication-sources/web-exclusives" hreflang="en">Web exclusives</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-issue field--type-text field--label-hidden field--item"><p>11.04.2015</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-subhead field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item">UChicago literary scholar Armando Maggi, PhD’95, says “once upon a time” is now.</div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>For years, <a href="" target="_blank">Armando Maggi</a>, PhD’95, professor of Italian literature and a scholar of Renaissance culture, has been telling Americans that our fairy tales are all used up. That Cinderella and Snow White and Sleeping Beauty—at least as we know them today, with their bright, orderly narratives and easy happy endings—don’t have much left to teach us.</p> <h5>[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"3030","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"374","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"500"}}]] Illustration of Sleeping Beauty from <em>Three Fairy Princesses: Snow-White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella</em> (1885) by C. Paterson. (Public domain)</h5> <p><img src="" width="150" align="right" />And that even as we return to them again and again, attempting to mine new truths from their exhausted mythologies, they offer little meaning. “We are, in a sense, beating a dead horse,” Maggi <a href="" target="_blank">told the <em>Magazine</em></a> in 2012. “We feel like this horse could still ride us somewhere, but it can’t. We need to find another vehicle.”</p> <p>He thinks perhaps he’s found one. This year Maggi published <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Preserving the Spell: Basile’s</em> <em>“The Tale of Tales” and Its Afterlife in the Fairy-Tale Tradition</em></a> (University of Chicago Press). The book traces the evolution of modern-day fairy tales from their 17th-century Italian origins, but it also imagines a way forward: memoir.</p> <p align="center"><img src="" width="450" /></p> <h2>What do you mean, memoirs are the new fairy tales?</h2> <p>When I was doing my research, I went to <a href="" target="_blank">57th Street Books</a>, and I bought piles of memoirs. I just got everything they had.</p> <p>The thread that emerges from all these works is that our life is somehow magical itself. That’s what American memoirs are about. They detail some kind of turning point in a person’s life, an experience that becomes a trial.</p> <p>This is typical of a fairy tale: the hero who has to face a trial and overcomes it. In memoirs, having a difficulty, like a drug addiction, an abusive parent, or a child who suffers from mental illness, marks the beginning of a person’s life and then is followed by a journey toward healing and resurrection. That is a fairy tale.</p> <p>Maybe an American reader is not totally aware of the uniqueness of the American memoir. The genre is not so widespread in other Western cultures.</p> <p><img src="" width="150" align="right" />Here, even Joan Didion, who writes the most unmagical book, because she wants to be very scientific. But in her memoir, <em><a href="" target="_blank">The Year of Magical Thinking</a></em>, magic is everywhere. Going through the ritual of saying, “I cannot give my dead husband’s shoes away, because how can he come back without shoes? I have to keep the shoes.” And, “If I am by myself in the bedroom he will overcome his shyness and be able to come back.”</p> <h2>Why is memoir culture so different here?</h2> <p>I think there’s a parallel with the enormous production in the United States of stories, movies, television shows, graphic novels, and so on, that are about the fairy tales we all know. Retelling them, remixing them. There is no comparison with the rest of Western culture.</p> <p>Here we take fairy tales, magic tales, and wonder tales so seriously. This is the land of magic. I think it’s because overall American culture is still able to dream about a better future, to dream that something better is going to come. It’s part of the American DNA.</p> <p>That’s also why we take memoirs so seriously. Do you remember James Frey’s <em><a href="" target="_blank">A Million Little Pieces</a></em>? And what happened to the author when people found out that it wasn’t all completely true? The intense anger and sense of betrayal.</p> <p><img src="" width="150" align="right" />It was like he had insulted a religious practice, like he had done something heretical. It was like, “How dare you?” And then he was excommunicated. It was like he had come up with a sacred text that said, “See, I can be saved. I can be born again. Look at what I went through, and now I’m a new person.”</p> <p>Even though the bottom line of his struggle with addiction and alcohol was pretty faithful, the fact that he had not been 100 percent faithful to reality was seen as a complete betrayal.</p> <h2>The uproar was so intense—much more so than, for instance, the reaction when a journalist is found to have plagiarized or fabricated a story.</h2> <p>Yes. I think it’s because the memoir touched upon the deep-seated desire for change that is inside of us. The desire for improving ourselves, for becoming better people, for finding a better life.</p> <p>The happy ending for all of us. Then this story turned out to be not completely faithful to his story.</p> <h2>In the book, you use the phrase the “magic of reality,” to describe what memoirs are doing.</h2> <p>In the beginning, I looked at memoirs in a more negative light. A lot of critics say there are too many memoirs. Everyone is writing memoirs. But then I realized that if they are written, it’s because we read them and we need them. They are necessary. They are a new kind of fairy tale.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-reftopic field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/topics/arts-humanities" hreflang="en">Arts &amp; Humanities</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/books" hreflang="en">Books</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/reading" hreflang="en">Reading</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/memoirs" hreflang="en">Memoirs</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/fairy-tales" hreflang="en">Fairy Tales</a></div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refuchicago field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/humanities-division" hreflang="en">Division of the Humanities</a></div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refformats field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/formats/interview" hreflang="en">Interview</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-relatedstories field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item">“<a href="" target="_blank">Spellbound</a>” (<em>University of Chicago Magazine</em>, May-June/12) “<a href="" target="_blank">Told and Retold</a>” (<em>University of Chicago Magazine</em>, May–June/12)</div> <div class="field field--name-field-relatedlinks field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item">Learn more about <a href="" target="_blank">Maggi’s new book</a>. Follow @<a href="" target="_blank">UChicagoHum</a>. <a href="" target="_blank">Join the campaign</a> and nurture the arts at UChicago. Support the Division of the Humanities as they work to establish new professorships, artist residencies, and student fellowships to inspire the creative potential of students, faculty, and working artists.</div> Wed, 04 Nov 2015 04:02:30 +0000 jmiller 5158 at Share and protect <div class="field field--name-field-letter-box-story-image field--type-image field--label-hidden field--item"> <img loading="lazy" src="/sites/default/files/1511_Gibson_Share-protect.jpg" width="1600" height="743" alt="" class="img-responsive" /> </div> <span><span>jmiller</span></span> <span>Wed, 10/28/2015 - 14:44</span> <div class="field field--name-field-caption field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Craig Futterman meets with students in the Civil Rights and Police Accountability Project at the Law School. (Photography by Lloyd Degrane, courtesy the University of Chicago Law School)</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refauthors field--type-entity-reference field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field--label sr-only">Author</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field--item"> <div> <a href="/author/lydialyle-gibson"> <div class="field field--name-name field--type-string field--label-hidden field--item">Lydialyle Gibson</div> </a> </div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refsource field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/publication-sources/university-chicago-magazine" hreflang="en">The University of Chicago Magazine</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-issue field--type-text field--label-hidden field--item">Fall/15</div> <div class="field field--name-field-subhead field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Craig Futterman and his students work to make police departments more transparent, starting in Chicago.</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>In March 2014 clinical law professor <a href="" target="_blank">Craig Futterman</a> and his students in the <a href="" target="_blank">Law School</a>’s <a href="" target="_blank">Civil Rights and Police Accountability Project</a> won a stunning legal victory when an Illinois appellate court ruled that the <a href="" target="_blank">Chicago Police Department</a>’s misconduct records be opened to the public. It was a watershed moment. Thousands of documents that Futterman and his students had sought, files pertaining to citizen claims of police abuse, were suddenly available for anyone to access. They revealed what Futterman called a “broken system” that for decades had allowed abusive officers to act with impunity.</p> <p>Futterman knows that system well: in 2000 he founded the Civil Rights and Police Accountability Project at UChicago, the first of its kind in the nation. In the years since, he has worked alongside hundreds of law students, coaching them as they strive to free clients falsely accused of crimes and as they litigate—and very often win—civil lawsuits over false arrests, kidnappings, beatings, and other civil rights violations by police.</p> <p>The appellate victory in <em><a href="" target="_blank">Kalven v. Chicago</a></em>, a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed on behalf of Hyde Park journalist and activist <a href="" target="_blank">Jamie Kalven</a> whose success opened up the misconduct records, was the culmination of a 10-year litigation fight for Futterman and his students. But he is careful never to call it an ending. “I don’t want to diminish it—this is real reform,” he said in August 2014, “but by itself it doesn’t fix the system. By itself it doesn’t end abuse; it doesn’t end racism; it doesn’t end the police code of silence.”</p> <p>Fifteen months later, Futterman is on the verge of that next step. He and his students will return to the courtroom to defend the <em>Kalven</em> decision. In December 2014, as city officials prepared to hand over a complete list of abuse allegations from 1967 to the present—“a staggering, unprecedented amount of information,” Futterman says—the police officer advocacy organization the <a href="" target="_blank">Fraternal Order of Police</a> secured a temporary injunction barring the release of any records dating back farther than four years. Now it is seeking in court to have that older data destroyed, citing collective bargaining agreements between the city and the police union. Futterman and his students are fighting that effort. “You can’t privately agree to keep secret what the law requires you to share,” he says.</p> <p>In late October Futterman and Kalven launched an open database to collect and organize police misconduct information. The database, accessible at <a href="" target="_blank"></a>, currently includes 54,581 complaints for 8,337 officers during the periods May 2001 to December 2008 and March 2011 to March 2015—records obtained in the Kalven lawsuit and by a series of FOIA requests filed in the wake of the decision. Futterman and Kalven plan to add more records as they become public. “Now we can have honest conversations with common data sets, common pools of information—the department’s own information,” Futterman says. “This fundamentally redistributes power.”</p> <p>The clearinghouse, as Futterman calls it, allows users to analyze misconduct information by geography—neighborhoods, wards, police districts, and schools—and by category of complaint. Users can see which officers are implicated together in alleged abuse. They can also see digital copies of the original documents. One unmistakable finding, says Kalven, is that a tiny fraction of officers provoke most of the complaints. Some accumulate them by the dozens, to little or no consequence. The vast majority of other officers, by contrast, have between zero and four.</p> <p>Futterman hopes the database will foster an “ethos of sharing” among lawyers, journalists, researchers, and others who come into possession of police records through their own FOIA requests. “We hope people will contribute the documents they obtain, and help make the database more and more robust,” he says. Wide and free access was the original intent of the lawsuit, Kalven adds: “We’re not proprietary about any of these documents. When we said public, we meant public.”</p> <p>Futterman also hopes to encourage more police officers to report their own concerns about abuse. The database includes a function that allows people to share information with the clinic confidentially. “What police departments don’t do is protect officers from retaliation when they break the code of silence,” Futterman says. He offers an example of the difference it can make when police officers do speak up: the case of Laquan McDonald.</p> <p>In October 2014, McDonald, a 17-year-old African American, was shot and killed by a police officer in the Chicago Lawn District on the Southwest Side. McDonald was shot 16 times, and the incident was captured by another police car’s dashboard camera. Representing an independent journalist named <a href="" target="_blank">Brandon Smith</a>, Futterman and his students have filed suit to have the video released to the public. He has not yet seen it, but confidential sources within the city alerted him to its existence and described what it shows, he says, as “an execution.” Investigating the incident further, he and his colleagues interviewed other witnesses who corroborated that description. (The Chicago City Council approved a $5 million settlement with McDonald’s family before a lawsuit was filed.)</p> <p>In April the US attorney’s office announced a criminal probe, which could result in the first-ever criminal prosecution of a Chicago police officer for an on-duty shooting. Crucial information that fueled his investigation, Futterman says, came from law enforcement officials who “stuck their necks out and had the courage to report abuse,” he says. “The database will provide the means for others to do so with less personal risk. … This is something that can fundamentally transform policing and the relationship between police and communities.”</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-reftopic field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/topics/law-policy-society" hreflang="en">Law, Policy &amp; Society</a></div> Wed, 28 Oct 2015 19:44:11 +0000 jmiller 5138 at Faculty research <div class="field field--name-field-letter-box-story-image field--type-image field--label-hidden field--item"> <img loading="lazy" src="/sites/default/files/1511_Citations.jpg" width="1600" height="743" alt="" class="img-responsive" /> </div> <span><span>jmiller</span></span> <span>Wed, 10/28/2015 - 13:53</span> <div class="field field--name-field-caption field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Liquid crystals can help scientists see and study protein aggregates linked to neurodegenerative diseases. (Courtesy Advanced Functional Materials, Sadati, et al.)</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refauthors field--type-entity-reference field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field--label sr-only">Author</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field--item"> <div> <a href="/author/lydialyle-gibson"> <div class="field field--name-name field--type-string field--label-hidden field--item">Lydialyle Gibson</div> </a> </div> </div> <div class="field--item"> <div> <a href="/author/helen-gregg-ab09"> <div class="field field--name-name field--type-string field--label-hidden field--item">Helen Gregg, AB’09</div> </a> </div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refsource field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/publication-sources/university-chicago-magazine" hreflang="en">The University of Chicago Magazine</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-issue field--type-text field--label-hidden field--item">Fall/15</div> <div class="field field--name-field-subhead field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>A selection of recent faculty research news.</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><h2><strong><span style="line-height: 1.538em;">Data-driven decisions</span></strong></h2> <p>The Research Opportunity Index (ROI), a computational model developed by University scientists, could help better allocate US biomedical research resources. <a href="" target="_blank">Described in the August issue</a> of <em><a href="" target="_blank">Nature Biotechnology</a></em>, the data-driven model looks for discrepancies between human and financial resources dedicated to a disease and its relative burden on society as measured by frequency of diagnosis and insurance and other costs.</p> <p>The ROI helps identify diseases like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the most common cause of hypothyroidism, that have the most investment potential. “Resources are finite and attention to each problem ideally should be proportional to the need,” said senior study author <a href="" target="_blank">Andrey Rzhetsky</a>, professor in genetic medicine and senior fellow at the <a href="" target="_blank">Institute for Genomics and Systems Biology</a>. Associate professor of <a href="" target="_blank">sociology</a> <a href="" target="_blank">James A. Evans</a>, director of the University’s <a href="" target="_blank">Knowledge Lab</a>, also collaborated on the study.</p> <h2><strong>Dusty planets</strong></h2> <p>Those dust clumps in your bedroom have something in common with newly forming planets. UChicago researchers used such dust-sized particles to observe zero-gravity particle collisions in order to simulate events such as the formation of new planets. The study, led by graduate student Victor Lee, AM’15, along with Scott Waitukaitis, PhD’13; Marc Miskin, PhD’14; and <a href="" target="_blank">Heinrich Jaeger</a>, the William J. Friedman and Alicia Townsend Professor in <a href="" target="_blank">Physics</a>, found that the electrical charges of these particles cause them to form orbital patterns around each other.</p> <p>Bonds are formed as more particles pass nearby, causing them to accumulate into larger masses. Such formations had been previously hypothesized, but by using a high-speed camera to record the particles in a vacuum chamber, the research team was able to observe them for the first time. Their findings were <a href="" target="_blank">published in the August <em>Nature Physics</em></a>.</p> <h2><strong>Crystal-clear vision</strong></h2> <p>The liquid crystals used to make computer displays and TVs may be able to help in the early detection of type 2 diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. The protein aggregates associated with the diseases’ development are too small to be seen with a microscope, but researchers from the <a href="" target="_blank">Institute for Molecular Engineering</a> and colleagues from the <a href="" target="_blank">University of Wisconsin</a> used a film of liquid crystal molecules to make an amplified imprint of the proteins that could then be studied.</p> <p>Their work, which was <a href=";jsessionid=CFC3367DB863BF83DE733E08ED9F0092.f03t" target="_blank">published online September 9</a> by the journal <em><a href="" target="_blank">Advanced Functional Materials</a></em>, could lead to less elaborate and costly early-detection tests for patients and new ways to study the long-term effects of treatments, said research group leader <a href="" target="_blank">Juan de Pablo</a>, the Liew Family Professor in <a href="" target="_blank">Molecular Engineering</a>.</p> <h2><strong>Gut reaction</strong></h2> <p>The composition of gut microbiomes, or the communities of mutually beneficial bacteria that live in the gastrointestinal tract, may influence the development of food allergies in children, according to <a href="" target="_blank">research published September 22</a> in the <em><a href="" target="_blank">ISME Journal</a></em>.</p> <p>University of Chicago researchers, led by Bunning Food Allergy Professor <a href="" target="_blank">Cathryn Nagler</a>, working with researchers from the <a href="" target="_blank">University of Naples</a> in Italy, found that the gut microbiomes of infants without a milk allergy and those whose intolerance had been treated with a probiotic formula contained higher levels of certain bacteria that help maintain homeostasis in the digestive system. Identifying the bacteria that could prevent or treat food allergies is “a fundamental advance,” said coauthor <a href="" target="_blank">Jack Gilbert</a>, associate professor in the <a href="" target="_blank">Department of Ecology and Evolution</a>. “Translating these findings into clinical treatments is our next goal.”</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-reftopic field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/topics/university-news" hreflang="en">University News</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-refformats field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/formats/citations" hreflang="en">Citations</a></div> Wed, 28 Oct 2015 18:53:40 +0000 jmiller 5136 at Brain power <div class="field field--name-field-letter-box-story-image field--type-image field--label-hidden field--item"> <img loading="lazy" src="/sites/default/files/1511_Gibson_Brain-power.jpg" width="1600" height="743" alt="" class="img-responsive" /> </div> <span><span>jmiller</span></span> <span>Wed, 10/28/2015 - 12:32</span> <div class="field field--name-field-caption field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p><em>Octopus bimaculoides</em>. (<a href="" target="_blank">Photo</a> courtesy <em>Science Life</em> blog)</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refauthors field--type-entity-reference field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field--label sr-only">Author</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field--item"> <div> <a href="/author/lydialyle-gibson"> <div class="field field--name-name field--type-string field--label-hidden field--item">Lydialyle Gibson</div> </a> </div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refsource field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/publication-sources/university-chicago-magazine" hreflang="en">The University of Chicago Magazine</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-issue field--type-text field--label-hidden field--item">Fall/15</div> <div class="field field--name-field-subhead field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>As a researcher, Caroline Albertin, SM’12, a PhD student in organismal biology and anatomy, has always been partial to weird animals: mussels, centipedes, cave fish—and cephalopods.</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>On a 2009 campus visit as a prospective student, Caroline Albertin got a tour of UChicago’s octopus facility from neurobiologist <a href="" target="_blank">Clifton Ragsdale</a>. Usually the aquariums are full of animals, but that day there was just one little egg. “And as we’re peering over it, watching,” she recalls, “suddenly it hatches out, changes color, inks, and swims away.” She’s been an octopus researcher ever since.</p> <p>Albertin and Ragsdale were part of a team that <a href="" target="_blank">recently sequenced</a>, for the first time, an octopus genome: the California two-spot octopus, <em>Octopus bimaculoides</em>. Albertin was lead author on the study, <a href="" target="_blank">published August 13 in <em>Nature</em></a>, which sought a better understanding of the genetic and molecular mechanisms underlying traits specific to cephalopods, a 500-million-year-old class of predatory mollusks that includes octopuses, cuttlefish, and squids. She was especially interested in how the animals developed their large and complex brains. With the equivalent of a spinal cord running down each of their eight arms, octopuses are highly intelligent; they demonstrate a strong ability to learn and to solve problems.</p> <p>Among the study’s findings was an unexpected abundance of a family of genes called protocadherins, which until recently were thought to exist only in vertebrates. “Cadherins are cell adhesion molecules,” Albertin says. “They stick out from a cell and allow that cell to glue itself to other cells that have a cadherin domain sticking out too.” Protocadherins—a subfamily—regulate neuronal development. “They’re expressed during the early development of the brain,” says Albertin. “It’s thought that they act as little signposts important in setting up the wiring” by determining which neurons should stick together. The octopus genome contains a whopping 168 protocadherin genes, vastly outnumbering those in other animals’ genomes. Humans, for example, only have around 60 protocadherins.</p> <p>This phylogenetic tree of cadherin genes is separated by type (the protocadherins are at the bottom half of the circle, labeled III) and color-coded by animal. The brackets inside the circle show taxonomic connections between individual genes. Looking further, the researchers found that the octopus’s protocadherins were most expressed in neural tissues. “Exactly what role they’re playing—we have a lot of work to do to find out,” Albertin says. “But we speculate that this is part of the molecular bar code for setting up the cephalopod nervous system, and that this is why they have big brains.”</p> <p><a name="infographic" id="infographic"></a></p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-reftopic field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/topics/science-medicine" hreflang="en">Science &amp; Medicine</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-refformats field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/formats/fig-1" hreflang="en">Fig. 1</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-storymedia field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><h2 class="media-icon media-icon-infographic">Infographic</h2> <p> <img src="" /></p> <p><a class="more-link" href="#infographic">VIEW LARGER INFOGRAPHIC</a></p> </div> Wed, 28 Oct 2015 17:32:36 +0000 jmiller 5133 at Sweet honey in the rocks <div class="field field--name-field-letter-box-story-image field--type-image field--label-hidden field--item"> <img loading="lazy" src="/sites/default/files/1511_Stein_Bees.jpg" width="1600" height="743" alt="" class="img-responsive" /> </div> <span><span>jmiller</span></span> <span>Wed, 10/28/2015 - 11:27</span> <div class="field field--name-field-caption field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>(Illustration by Elvis Swift)</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refauthors field--type-entity-reference field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field--label sr-only">Author</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field--item"> <div> <a href="/author/lydialyle-gibson"> <div class="field field--name-name field--type-string field--label-hidden field--item">Lydialyle Gibson</div> </a> </div> </div> <div class="field--item"> <div> <a href="/author/gil-stein"> <div class="field field--name-name field--type-string field--label-hidden field--item">Gil Stein</div> </a> </div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refsource field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/publication-sources/university-chicago-magazine" hreflang="en">The University of Chicago Magazine</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-issue field--type-text field--label-hidden field--item">Fall/15</div> <div class="field field--name-field-subhead field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>The history of beekeeping stretches back centuries, the director of the Oriental Institute found when a hobby turned into a scholarly pursuit.</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Archaeologist Gil Stein is director of the Oriental Institute and professor of archaeology in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. From 1992 through 1997, he led excavations at Hacinebi, a Mesopotamian colony in Turkey, part of the world’s first-known colonial system.</p> <p>Stein is also a beekeeper. He and his wife have about a dozen hives, and their experience raising bees and collecting honey sparked his interest in the history of beekeeping, particularly in the ancient Near East. Stein spoke to the <em>Magazine</em> about the insects and their Old World story.<em>—Lydia Gibson</em></p> <hr /><p><strong>My wife, Liz, is the one who really got me interested</strong>—she’s been a beekeeper for more than 10 years. She and I are both archaeologists, and for me it was a natural progression from intense curiosity about bees and beekeeping, and thinking how strange and wonderful this practice is, to wondering about its history. Beekeeping is pervasive in our culture and in cultures around the world. How old is it anyway? What’s the archaeology of it? How did people keep bees and think about honey in the ancient world? What did it mean to them?</p> <p>So I started to investigate. As I talked to people—friends who are colleagues at the Oriental Institute, who are specialists in the textual record of ancient Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt—I’d say, “Do you have any material about honey and bees and beekeeping?” And they’d say, “Yeah, we have material about honey everywhere.” I’d say, “Great! Can you steer me to articles that give an overview?” And they all said no. It’s just bits and pieces here and there.</p> <p>Sometimes those are the most interesting problems: when something is so completely pervasive in our lives, we don’t even think about it; we don’t question it. Once you start looking, you realize that honey and bees and beekeeping are everywhere in the Old World—in ancient Europe and Eurasia and Africa and in the ancient Middle East. Honeybees are an Old World group of species.</p> <p>Honey was considered an almost magical substance in the ancient Near East. People used it for everything: as a food and as a raw material to make alcoholic beverages like mead and honey wine. There was honey in the alcoholic beverages found in the tomb of King Midas, he of the fabled golden touch. And it’s the most common ingredient in ancient medicine in Mesopotamia and Egypt. It has antimicrobial and antibiotic properties; honey will kill <em>Staphylococcus</em> and <em>E. coli</em>. It will suck the moisture out of wounds. And it’s invaluable in treating burns. Ancient people also used honey as a universal sweetener, of course, because it’s one of the sweetest substances in nature. They even used it for mummification. When Alexander the Great died in Babylon in 323 BC, he was preserved in honey and placed in an enormous golden sarcophagus drawn by 64 mules.</p> <p>There are representations of ancient Egyptians beekeeping—tomb paintings that show people managing beehives, using techniques that are recognizable today. Once you know the artistic conventions, you can easily see it. They’re applying smoke to pacify the bees and then drawing honey out of the hives. One of the clearest examples is from the Tomb of Rekhmire in ancient Thebes, which dates to the 15th century BC. That was almost three and a half thousand years ago. Beekeeping is really deep in culture.</p> <p>You see honey in literature and religious texts as a common metaphor for love, for God’s love for his people, and for God’s law. Psalm 19 says that the Lord’s ordinances are “sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” In Exodus, God talks about delivering his people from Egypt and bringing them to “a land flowing with milk and honey.”</p> <p><strong>Then there’s the big question:</strong> how did beekeeping originate? The Egyptians seem to have taken it up, at an industrial scale, long before the Mesopotamians did. The earliest evidence we have of beekeeping in the Near East is from Egypt—those tomb paintings. They were also keeping bees very early on in Anatolia, which is now Turkey. Hittite laws dating to the 13th or 14th century BC contain severe punishments for thieves of bee swarms or beehives. Honey was commonly used in rituals there, and it was readily available and inexpensive; “honey bread” sold for the price of a single portion of lard or butter.</p> <p>The first known mention of beekeeping in the Mesopotamian cuneiform record is centuries later. It comes from the stele of ama-re-uzur, a regional governor on the Syrian Euphrates in the middle of the eighth century BC, who claimed to have been the first among his people to capture and domesticate wild bees: “I, Samas-res-uzur, governor of the land of Suhu and Mari, I brought bees—that collect honey and which from the time of my fathers and forefathers no one had seen nor brought to the land of Suhu—down from the mountains of the Habha people and settled them in the gardens of the town of Algabbaribani.”</p> <p>So, did beekeeping develop independently in different parts of the ancient Near East, or did it spread from one place to another? That’s one thing I’m trying to find out. I think probably there were two independent centers of invention, in Egypt and Anatolia, because there’s no evidence of beekeeping in Israel for several centuries after those two places. But we don’t know for sure. The evidence is spotty and scattered around.</p> <p>One thing we do know is that the shapes of beehives in the ancient Near East seems to be a common technology used all over: clay cylinders laid on their sides, with a lid at one end where you would reach in and get the honey, and a little hole at the other end where the bees would fly in and out. It makes sense; that shape mimics the hollow of a tree, where many wild bees build their hives. In modern-day Egypt you can still see some of these traditional cylindrical hives, stacked up in rows.</p> <p>One of the first people to pull together the information we have about ancient beekeeping was Eva Crane. Her <em>Archaeology of Beekeeping </em>[Duckworth], a wonderful book, is essentially the standard work on the subject. Since it was published in 1983, we’ve gotten more information. Several years ago, Israeli archaeologists working at a site called Tel Rehov, in the Jordan River Valley, excavated the remains of an Iron Age beekeeping complex, a huge apiary. At one time, there were stacks and stacks of ceramic hives. They found about 100 hives, which could have housed as many as 1.5 million bees.</p> <p>For archaeologists, a huge part of the work is simply knowing what you’re looking for. These ancient cylindrical beehives don’t look like the box hives that most of us are used to seeing today: the Langstroth hive, which was invented in the 19th century by an American. Many people would see the remains of these ancient cylindrical hives and think, “Oh, those are roof tiles,” because you see a curved shape. Or, “Those are drainpipes.” I’m certain that there are many, many ancient beehives out there misidentified as drainpipes. That’s why we’re so lucky to have these Egyptian tomb paintings. It’s undeniable proof.</p> <p><strong>I read a little bit about beekeeping almost every day.</strong> My wife and I have 11 or 12 hives, which is really small scale but still an amazing experience. Bees are such an alien species, so different from all the other domesticated animals that humans have been breeding and exploiting for millennia. We’re used to cattle and pigs and chickens and goats. But enormous colonies of insects? And this stuff they create, which we steal from them? Honey and pollen, beeswax and propolis, the resin-like substance that bees use to seal the hive and keep out pests and predators. It’s a very hard glue that also has incredible antibiotic properties to it, just like honey does.</p> <p>And bees’ social intelligence is incredible. For bees, the unit is not the individual, but the collective. A beehive has 50,000 bees, and they communicate with each other using pheromones and with what’s called a “waggle dance”—used by the scout bees to tell the rest of the colony where a good source of nectar is located. The Austrian ethologist Karl von Frisch won a Nobel Prize in 1973 for figuring out the waggle dance. Bees have a division of labor and a complex social hierarchy. Virgil describes it vividly in the <em>Georgics</em>: “Some supervise the gathering of food, and work in the fields to an agreed rule: some, walled in their homes, lay the first foundations of the comb, with drops of gum taken from narcissi, and sticky glue from tree-bark, then hang the clinging wax: others lead the mature young, their nation’s hope, others pack purest honey together, and swell the cells with liquid nectar: there are those whose lot is to guard the gates.”</p> <p>The population of a hive is not constant through the year. It peaks at about 50,000 to 60,000 in the summer, during the honey flows, and then it drops off in October and November. During the winter, a solid basketball-sized clump of bees will cluster, huddled tightly together for warmth. And they’re all beating their wings constantly. Inside the hive, it can be 92 degrees in the dead of winter.</p> <p>In keeping bees and doing this research, I’ve learned wonderful and surprising things. One of my favorites relates to the apiary at the eighth century BC site of Tel Rehov, whose excavation tells a very interesting economic story. The Jordan River Valley, where Tel Rehov is located, has a native honeybee: the Palestinian honeybee. But when entomologists looked under the scanning electron microscope at the bees they found in the residue inside the hives, those were Anatolian honeybees—a different subspecies. So the people in ancient Israel were importing honeybees all the way from Turkey, easily 1,000 kilometers away, bringing them across Syria and into the Jordan River Valley, and keeping hives of Anatolian honeybees. Because they’re gentler bees and they make more honey.</p> <p>So that tells you something about how economically important these insects were. People were raising them on an industrial scale and importing colonies from across the region. You can just picture some caravan transporting these bees for weeks, all the way across Syria. How could they do that? How did they keep the bees alive? But they did. If you were on the road in the ancient Near East, you might come across a bee caravan.</p> <p><strong>That’s what my wife and I do too, in a way:</strong> we buy boxes of bees that get shipped to us from California. People were doing the same thing almost 3,000 years ago. That’s fascinating. And what I love is, when you ask the right question, archaeologists can actually find the answer. Not every time, but often. It’s amazing.<em>—Gil Stein</em></p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-reftopic field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/topics/arts-humanities" hreflang="en">Arts &amp; Humanities</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/ancient-culture" hreflang="en">Ancient culture</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/bees" hreflang="en">Bees</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/beekeeping" hreflang="en">Beekeeping</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/archaeology" hreflang="en">Archaeology</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/insects" hreflang="en">insects</a></div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refuchicago field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/oriental-institute" hreflang="en">Oriental Institute</a></div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refformats field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/formats/told" hreflang="en">As told to</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-relatedlinks field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Visit the <a href="" target="_blank">Oriental Institute</a> website. Follow @<a href="" target="_blank">orientalinst</a>. <a href="" target="_blank">Join the campaign</a> and help the Oriental Institute promote understanding of our history, our identity, and what it means to be human.</p> </div> Wed, 28 Oct 2015 16:27:44 +0000 jmiller 5129 at Feel the learn <div class="field field--name-field-letter-box-story-image field--type-image field--label-hidden field--item"> <img loading="lazy" src="/sites/default/files/1508_Gibson_Feel-learn.jpg" width="1600" height="743" alt="" class="img-responsive" /> </div> <span><span>jmiller</span></span> <span>Tue, 07/21/2015 - 14:02</span> <div class="field field--name-field-caption field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Clockwise, left to right: Student brain scans; Beilock and her colleagues find physically engaging students in the learning process helps learning; an example problem from a quiz taken by subjects who were in the functional MRI scanner. (Images courtesy Sian Beilock)</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refauthors field--type-entity-reference field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field--label sr-only">Author</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field--item"> <div> <a href="/author/lydialyle-gibson"> <div class="field field--name-name field--type-string field--label-hidden field--item">Lydialyle Gibson</div> </a> </div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refsource field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/publication-sources/university-chicago-magazine" hreflang="en">The University of Chicago Magazine</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-issue field--type-text field--label-hidden field--item">July–Aug/15</div> <div class="field field--name-field-subhead field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Professor Sian Beilock explains how using the body helps students better learn science.</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>When students learn by doing they absorb information more deeply and durably than they do from a book or a lecture. UChicago psychologist <a href="" target="_blank">Sian Beilock</a> and coauthors monitored undergraduates learning the concepts of angular momentum and torque. Some received a hands-on lesson: two bicycle wheels spinning independently on a single axis, which the students held and tilted from horizontal to vertical while trying to keep a laser pointer steady at a target. Other students watched but didn’t participate.</p> <p>In follow-up tests, the students who’d held the spinning wheels scored higher (see graph below), and brain imaging showed the sensory and motor-related parts of their brains—important for understanding forces, angles, and trajectories—lit up as they recalled the concepts. Published <a href="" target="_blank">online April 24</a> in <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Psychological Science</em> </a>and in Beilock’s <em><a href="" target="_blank">How the Body Knows Its Mind</a></em> (<a href="" target="_blank">Atria Books</a>, 2015), the study was coauthored by <a href="" target="_blank">Carly Kontra</a>, AM’14, PhD’14, and postdoc Daniel J. Lyons. “We need to rethink the role of the body in teaching math and science,” Beilock says. That’s perhaps especially true in an era of online classes and virtual laboratories.</p> <p><a name="infographic" id="infographic"></a></p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-reftopic field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/topics/science-medicine" hreflang="en">Science &amp; Medicine</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/psychology" hreflang="en">Psychology</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/learning" hreflang="en">Learning</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/education" hreflang="en">Education</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/mathematics" hreflang="en">Mathematics</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/technology" hreflang="en">Technology</a></div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refformats field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/formats/fig-1" hreflang="en">Fig. 1</a></div> Tue, 21 Jul 2015 19:02:54 +0000 jmiller 4870 at