Readers weigh in on 100 years of the Oriental Institute, the life of David Bevington, the merits of college athletics, and more.
In the last issue (“The OI at 100,” Summer/19) we asked readers to share their memories of the Oriental Institute as it turns 100. Here are a few of your responses.—Ed.
While I have many fond memories of the Oriental Institute from my orientation week in 2003 and the remainder of my time at UChicago, my most recent memory sticks with me.
April 27, 2019: My then fiancé, now husband, Chad Rubalcaba, AB’00, JD’07, and I were between setting up the reception venue and exchanging vows in Bond Chapel. I was so anxious managing family dynamics and the impending snow (yes, in April) that we decided to take a break. Having explored the Co-op and taken in the quads, we found ourselves in Breasted Hall. We shared our stories of the OI, how it represented our love of exploration and the significance of the written word (they were reworking part of the early writing exhibit) and our awe of the Assyrian bulls. It was what we needed to clear our minds and prepare to be wed.
Carl G. Streed Jr., SB’07
My family has a long history both in the Hyde Park neighborhood and with the University of Chicago. The Oriental Institute played an important role in the lives of my aunt and uncle, Cissy Haas and Albert Haas, LAB’33. Their lifelong interest in the history and archaeology of the Middle East culminated in 2005 with the opening of the Haas and Schwartz Megiddo Gallery at the Oriental Institute. The OI printed a touching memorial to my aunt when she died in 2011.
My aunt and uncle were also close friends of J. R. Kantor, PhB 1914, PhD 1917, and his daughter Helene Kantor, PhD’45, an archaeologist and art historian in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and the Oriental Institute from the 1960s to the ’80s.
In the summer of 1974, when my cousin Ron and I were visiting our aunt and uncle, Professor Kantor invited us to accompany her into the basement of the OI and talked to us about some of the many artifacts being restored and cataloged there. I have an indelible memory of her nonchalantly passing us priceless ancient artifacts that we gingerly held with trembling hands as she told us about their history and significance in the archaeological world.
As a UChicago alum, over the years I visited the Oriental Institute many times and was always impressed by the depth of knowledge and information about each of the artifacts and the ongoing work being done there. I was proud to show my son, Charlie Fisher, SB’14, around the OI several times during his years at UChicago as well. I look forward to hearing about the plans for the next century of work and discoveries.
Caryl Lee (Rubin) Fisher, AB’82
New York City
In my high school history class, students were required to select a book that could be used to contribute to class discussions. Somewhat arbitrarily, I chose a volume by James Henry Breasted. Later that year, I arrived on campus for orientation on a Sunday and proceeded to take a self-guided tour of the campus. Walking down University Avenue from my dorm, the subsequently razed Pierce Tower, I happened upon what seemed like the Emerald City—the Oriental Institute.
I was particularly excited to discover that the museum was open on Sunday. I will never forget my overwhelming sense of awe when I saw the human-headed winged bull, the first artifact I encountered inside.
The Oriental Institute is now an obligatory stop whenever I am on campus with a friend.
Lionel E. Deimel, AB’68
I thoroughly enjoyed the Magazine’s in-depth articles celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Oriental Institute. The OI is indeed a jewel in the UChicago crown, and its exceptionally wide range of Middle Eastern research and archaeological and philological undertakings is truly, as OI director Christopher Woods put it, “very UChicago”—something all alumni can rightfully be proud of.
For those who would like to know more about the OI’s early years, I strongly recommend Jeffrey Abt’s excellent biography of the institute’s founder, American Egyptologist: The Life of James Henry Breasted and the Creation of His Oriental Institute (University of Chicago Press, 2011). It’s available in a beautifully illustrated paperback.
John S. Willson, MBA’68
As a student in the Divinity School in the early 1970s, I addressed one area of my ignorance by electing a course on Islam. It was taught in the Oriental Institute, a building I had walked by many times but never entered. I went looking for the assigned classroom and was immediately struck by the magnificent sculptures and enchanted by the reading room. Someone directed me to the office of Fazlur Rahman, the Harold H. Swift Distinguished Service Professor of Islamic Thought, and I discovered with some anxiety that there was only a handful of students in the class (no back row!). Professor Rahman was both considerate of our naivete and immensely knowledgeable. He apologized that he would have to adjust a couple of classes when out of town. I later discovered that he was providing background on schools of sharia jurisprudence to Pakistani officials trying to develop modern law codes.
As the term went on, I arrived earlier and lingered longer in the OI’s exhibits, reflecting on connections between ancient monuments and contemporary striving. I came to feel that the ultimate goal was to not only “furnish a basis for the history and development of civilization” but also to use that knowledge to influence future courses of development. Long after that term the OI remained one of my favorite and most thought-provoking haunts on campus.
Thomas D. Rainey, EX’73
Warwick, Rhode Island
My father, William A. Irwin, was a professor at the Oriental Institute from 1930 to 1950. As a child, I spent many hours there, drawing pictures on the blackboard in his office, talking to the secretaries, and roaming around the museum. Like most faculty brats, I attended the Laboratory Schools. It was a short walk after school to the OI, where I would hang out until my daddy was ready to walk home with me.
Even as an adult, I was afraid to put my hand in one of the lions’ mouths on the stairs to the second floor.
I loved the museum. Sometimes the guard would let me in after hours. I was alone with the mummies, the Assyrian bull, the gigantic statue of Nebuchadnezzar and his tiny wife at his feet, to name just a few. I developed a lifelong love of archaeology and history.
Best wishes for the next 100 years.
Susan Irwin Smith, LAB’49
I had the privilege of meeting Barbara Flynn Currie, LAB’58, AB’68, AM’73 (“Local Interest,” Summer/19), when she was running for her first term in the Illinois House. She has had a remarkable career.
But I would humbly suggest that she didn’t cosponsor a bill legalizing gay marriage but rather a bill legalizing marriage equality.
The GLAAD Media Reference Guide states that “preferred terminology includes marriage equality and marriage for same-sex couples. Note, the terms ‘gay marriage’ and ‘same-sex marriage’ should be avoided, as they can suggest marriage for same-sex couples is somehow different than other marriages.”
Slate notes that the choice of term has impact. Elected officials and candidates who support marriage equality tend to use that term, while those who oppose marriage equality use “gay marriage,” reinforcing the idea that marriage between two people of the same sex is somehow abnormal.
In fact, the synopsis of HB5170 never uses the term “gay marriage” but refers to same-sex and different-sex couples.
I urge you to adopt “marriage equality” or at least “same-sex marriage” as the standard for the Magazine.
Victor S. Sloan, AB’80
Flemington, New Jersey
We thank the writer for raising this issue. We agree that “marriage equality” is the more accurate term and will use it going forward.—Ed.
I enjoyed the story about Elizabeth Gordon, PhB’27, and House Beautiful (Legacy, “American Style,” Summer/19). While writing Our Own Devices: The Past and Future of Body Technology (Knopf, 2003), I found that magazine a trove of images and ideas, and ran across Gordon’s strange manifesto. Overwrought as it was, it succeeded admirably in attracting attention as a more restrained critique would never have done. [Architectural Forum editor Peter] Blake’s sneering comment shows how needed it was; men like Tom Wolfe could get away with even more hyperbole in architecture criticism.
Gordon had a valid point. The International School, despite its progressive origins, was in practice an elitist movement that aimed to bring a factory aesthetic into domestic life and even to raze entire cities, as Le Corbusier planned to do to Paris. At its extreme it was an ideological attack on domesticity. There was a 1990s exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art and a book on this subject, titled Not at Home: The Suppression of Domesticity in Modern Art and Architecture (Thames & Hudson, 1996).
One of Gordon’s favorite contributors, Francis de N. Schroeder, was among the most insightful design historians I encountered. Schroeder was also a pioneer of ergonomics and design. His books, including Anatomy for Interior Designers, and How to Talk to a Client (Whitney Publications, 1948), are thoughtful as well as beautiful in themselves.
Edward Tenner, AM’67, PhD’72
Plainsboro, New Jersey
I read with interest Lester Munson’s (JD’67) piece in the Summer/19 issue (“Brains beside Brawn”)—not only because it was topical and a story well told, but also because I went to the College with his son, Les Munson III, AB’89, and Bruce Montella, AB’86, MD’90, both of whom are mentioned.
While I agree with Mr. Munson that the U of C in many ways represents the true spirit of college athletics, the article only addresses the extremes: athletes such as Montella, who toiled in relative obscurity, and those in powerhouse Division I programs where the pursuit of knowledge is often eclipsed—and, it must be said, corrupted—by the almighty dollar. There are, however, many shades of gray in between.
My daughter just began her sophomore year at a small East Coast college (approximately 3,500 students), where she’s pursuing both a collegiate athletic career and a five-year degree. Perhaps it’s the institution itself—its principles, mission, and values—or the fact that the program is in just its first year of Division I competition, but for now there seems to be the right balance between sports and classes. She and her fellow athletes are, in fact, engaged in “a pursuit of excellence in academics, teamwork, discipline, perseverance, and leadership,” just as Mr. Munson described.
I believe the same is true for dozens, possibly hundreds, of other Division I schools out there, not all of which aspire to the TV time and revenue numbers that seem to drive the biggest programs and, sadly, devalue learning.
Peter Leeds, AB’88
A teammate remembered
I was saddened by news of the November 2018 passing of Victor I. Carlson, AB’55, AM’59 (Deaths, Summer/19), for I have fond memories of competing with him on the University’s track team in the late 1950s. Ivan (he preferred being called by his middle name) was one of the foursome that won races at the Drake and Ohio Relays and other meets. I ran the first leg and could always depend on him to hold the lead when I passed the baton to him. His father was an official in the US Foreign Service, and Ivan spent some summers with him on assignments in various countries. One of Ivan’s favorite stories was of an early morning run in Pakistan. The streets were deserted at first but quickly filled with crowds that lined the route to cheer for the lone blond Caucasian who strode past for no apparent reason.
Hosea Martin, AB’60
Hyde Park roots
I decided to at last come forward and tell how the tree in front of the former Woodworth’s Bookstore became the “want-ad tree” (Alumni News, Summer/19).
I pinned a note on the tree back in 1948 (or thereabouts) requesting that whoever found the earring I lost one evening in the vicinity of the store return it to me. I also posted notes on other vertical surfaces that lent themselves to my search.
Well, the earring was never returned. The pair was handcrafted by a Hyde Park jeweler who specialized in “avant-garde” jewelry—each work one of a kind. I suspect the earring may be buried somewhere along 57th Street.
I feel sure I posted the first note on the tree. I had never seen one there before. Amazing how it became the “want-ad tree.”
June Biber Freeman, PhB’47, SB’49, EX’53
Little Rock, Arkansas
I enjoyed your conversation with Cecelia Watson, AM’05, concerning her book about the semicolon (“Semiotics,” Summer/19) but I feel that both you and she missed an important UChicago connection: Erin McKean, AB’93, AM’93. Erin is the founder of the online dictionary Wordnik, as well as a writer, lexicographer, and coder. But all of this may pale in comparison, in the eyes of some, to her role as the designer and dispenser of merchandise that showcases the Semicolon Appreciation Society; I urge all to google it.
Orin K. Hargraves, AB’77
A university’s purpose, cont.
I could not help but note Michael J. Sanders’s letter (Spring/19) essentially disinheriting the University, apparently for the transgression of not making sense to conservatives. His letter extols the virtues of Milton Friedman, AM’33.
Mr. Sanders might be surprised to learn that Friedman’s advocacy of a negative income tax as a more productive method of income redistribution has emerged once more in current discussions of income inequality.
In the mid-1960s, when I was a member of the faculty of the School of Social Service Administration, my colleague Edward E. Schwartz, PhD’55, and I worked closely with Friedman in assembling a collection of scholarly papers on the GMI (“guaranteed minimum income” as it was sometimes called) as part of a planned symposium. We received papers from, among others, Martin Marty, PhD’56, of the Divinity School and Friedman himself.
Unfortunately, the symposium did not come to fruition. The idea itself, given a certain air of respectability by Friedman, has again come to light as an income maintenance policy to be seriously considered. Regardless, I shall never forget the conversations with Friedman, Schwartz, and others as the essence of the kind of collaborative spirit inspired by the University of Chicago that has been a sustaining force in my life.
Alan D. Wade, PhD’60
The September 21 New York Times contains not one but two articles reporting on anti-union actions taken by the University: an article describing UChicago Medicine’s hiring of temporary nurses after talks with National Nurses United broke down, and a separate article recounting the University’s opposition to the unionization of teaching assistants.
Recruited over 50 years ago to the College from Austin High School, located in a working-class neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago, I am disappointed at the University for taking so retrograde a stance with regard to working people.
My Shakespeare teacher doubled as University registrar. There was no football team. The Bartlett Gym’s weight-training equipment consisted of a couple of bars with old tin cans at each end filled with hardened concrete. As a reader of the Magazine and other University publications, I’m aware that the University today bears little resemblance to the relatively spartan school of the late 1960s. In the process of change, the University appears to have decided that more specialization and richer amenities should take precedence over workers’ rights and benefits.
I have no personal experience from which to speak to the nurses’ situation. However, as a former teaching assistant at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a former resident adviser and teaching assistant at the University of Iowa when no union option was available, I can say that graduate students holding such appointments are workers deserving of union representation. That the University does not recognize, or willfully denies, this reality seems to me to be an error in judgment that the University community needs to set about correcting.
Dan Campion, AB’70
Iowa City, Iowa
A longtime English professor and beloved member of the UChicago community, David Bevington died August 2 in Chicago. Below is a selection of the personal remembrances we received. For more on Bevington’s life and career, see Deaths.
I was very sorry to learn of the loss of David Bevington. I think I may have written the first PhD dissertation he directed at the University of Chicago. I came to Chicago in 1966; he arrived in 1967. I had two seminars with Bevington and liked him very much. He was an excellent teacher, nurturing and supportive. So I approached him with a proposal to do a dissertation on Christopher Marlowe. He agreed to direct it, and medievalist Arthur Heiserman, AB’48, AM’51, PhD’59, served as my second reader. I could not have had a better team.
They were ideal dissertation directors, rigorous but encouraging. The title of the dissertation was “Christopher Marlowe and the Politics of Power,” influenced by Bevington’s From “Mankind” to Marlowe: Growth of Structure in the Popular Drama of Tudor England (Harvard University Press, 1962) but less interested in topicality than politics more broadly.
When it was published, an Oxford professor with an outsized reputation reviewed it. She complained that I was more interested in homosexuality than in Marlowe. She intended the snide comment to be dismissive, but she unintentionally put her finger on what made the dissertation original and valuable. It offered the fullest exploration of homosexuality in Marlowe’s plays yet attempted. Preceding the gay studies movement, it was also the first study of Marlowe that treated the homosexuality of his plays sympathetically rather than censoriously. That no doubt was what the reviewer found distasteful. However, David and Arthur were fully supportive of my work. I was very fortunate to have studied with them.
Although Arthur died at a tragically young age soon after my dissertation was finished, David remained a generous and supportive mentor throughout my career.
Claude J. Summers, AM’67, PhD’70
I shared a music stand (viola) with David Bevington during a Gilbert and Sullivan performance in summer 1991. He was so kind and generous. He invited the whole cast to his house after one performance and not only served food and beverages but put out chamber music, which people played spontaneously. He was the only professor who ever invited me to his or her house, and it was meaningful to me. Sadly, I never took one of his courses, but I fondly remember him as an amateur viola player.
Laura (Pinnas) Sagerman, AB’94
Mr. Bevington was a genial classroom instructor, but I got to know him better after he agreed to oversee an independent study for which I wrote a three-act play in 1993. To note that patience and humor were two of his prominent qualities is to recognize how immature I was in those days. Among his many other talents, he had a gift for redirecting raw enthusiasm, which was about the only thing I had going for myself, into viable dramatic forms. I don’t know why he took my juvenile ideas seriously, but I’m grateful that he did. I try to keep these traits in mind in dealing with my own students.
He rode that bike like a demon. Once I saw him catch about 16 inches of air on the sidewalk outside Pick Hall. And he loved Doc Films. He’d turn up for the most obscure screenings. It could be a snowy Wednesday night in February, with a movie only the U of C film brats would love, and there would be Mr. Bevington, Renaissance man, sitting down front along the left, ready to roll.
Robert A. Jackson, AB’93
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