Faculty of Note: Summer 2011

Elizabeth V. Spelman, the Barbara Richmond 1940 Professor in the Humanities, explored what our castoffs say about us Elizabeth Spelmanwhen she delivered the 53rd annual Katharine Asher Engel ’20 Lecture in March, “Combing Through the Trash: Philosophy Goes Rummaging.”

“By its very definition, trash is what we throw out, get rid of, implicitly pronounce as no longer belonging to us,” explains Spelman. “At the same time, there are many reasons we may not want anyone going through it, even though it is the very same stuff we’ve come to regard as no longer really ‘ours.’ The fact that some cases of trash-combing and garbage-diving have captured the attention not only of celebrity watchers but the Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States suggests that we’re anxious and uncertain about just what our garbage does or doesn’t tell about us, should or should not be used to tell about us.”

The Engel Lecture is granted to a Smith faculty member who has made a significant contribution to his or her field. Spelman, who joined the Smith faculty in 1982, became interested in trash as an academic topic when participating in a Kahn Liberal Arts Institute seminar “The Meaning of Matter.”

“I’ve been filling trashcans at Smith for almost 30 years,” Spelman jokes. “But I am drawn to topics involving common features of human life that are both ripe for philosophical reflection and on the whole have not been systematically addressed by philosophers.”

Nobel Prize-winning scientists and other world-renowned scientific leaders make regular visits to Michael Barresi’s biology classrooms, thanks to Skype software and the Internet. “This pedagogical approach is one of the best things I’ve done,” said Barresi, who has been coordinating Web conferences for biology courses since 2005. “It really gets to the heart of learning. We’re going straight to the source.”

Barresi, assistant professor of biological sciences, teaches courses in developmental biology. In the description of his seminar on stem cells, he writes, “Course material will mainly be derived from primary research literature that we will use as a springboard for video conference discussions with the actual researchers who conducted the work. This is a fantastic experience that will force you to interact with the material and more experts in the field in completely novel ways.”

Steve Waksman, associate professor of music and American studies, won the 2010 Woody Guthrie Award for This Ain’t the Summer of Love: Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk (University of California Press, 2009). The award was presented in March in Cincinnati during the annual conference of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music.

“Waksman successfully makes connections between two genres usually understood to have little to do with each other, and in so doing significantly revises the history of recent popular music,” said award committee chairman David Shumway of Carnegie Mellon University.

Waksman’s essays on the guitar have appeared in the Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World and The Cambridge Companion to the Guitar, and in 2008 he was the keynote speaker at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “American Music Masters” conference honoring Les Paul.

At Rally Day in February, students announced the Student Government Association’s selections for faculty teaching awards. They named French professor Dawn Fulton in the tenured category for giving students the “courage to take risks,” and non-tenured assistant professor of history Elizabeth Pryor, who “fosters an atmosphere where students can ask fraught questions.”

Ellen Doré Watson, director of the Poetry Center, has been appointed to a five-year term as an elector of Poets’ Corner in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. The Poets’ Corner was created in 1984 as a memorial to preeminent American writers. More than thirty writers have been inducted since its inception in 1984, including, last November, Sylvia Plath ’55.

David Newbury, Gwendolen Carter Professor of African Studies, is the editor of a new book, Defeat Is the Only Bad News: Rwanda under Musinga, 1896–1931, by Alison Liebhafsky Des Forges, published in May by the University of Wisconsin Press. The book recounts the ambitions, strategies, and intrigues of an African royal court under Yuhi Musinga, the Rwandan ruler from 1896 to 1931.

SAQ Summer 2011

Photo: Jim Gipe