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  • Saving snapshots of history

    first_imgFour curators from the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, received lessons in photo conservation during a 10-day visit to Harvard, as part of a $3.4 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to establish a conservation program at the Hermitage.The stakes are high. Russia’s signature museum, founded by Empress Catherine the Great in 1764, houses more than 470,000 aging and vulnerable photographs, some bound in fragile, ornate 19th century albums that belonged to the last czar.From Jan. 20 to Feb. 1, the visitors — already skilled in organic materials, paper, paintings, and other conservation areas — worked with authorities at the Weissman Preservation Center, an arm of the Harvard Library devoted to assessing, treating, and preserving rare photos, paintings, paper artifacts, and other treasures.During hands-on workshops, the Russian conservators studied photo album terminology and structure; digitization technology and work flows; survey methods; surface cleaning techniques; cataloging and housing; safe-handling strategies; and the ethical and practical considerations of removing photographs from albums and “disbanding” them.“Albums have context” and should be preserved intact for their historical value, said Peter Kosewski, the Harvard Library’s director of publications and communications.The visitors concentrated on assessing, treating, and preserving photo albums from the Hermitage collection.“They had never seen things like book wedges before,” said Weissman Preservation Center Director Brenda Bernier, the Paul M. and Harriet L. Weissman Senior Photograph Conservator, who observed the visitors during their first hands-on workshop on albums. “Now they’re going to take their first solo flight.”In the Weissman Center’s sunny fourth-floor conservation laboratory, the materials are so rare that elevator access requires a special code. While Bernier looked on, Catherine Badot-Costello, a book conservator at the Harvard Library, stood over a fragile album. It lay on a wedgelike foam cradle to relieve stress on the old binding.She talked about issues like surface dust, leaf tearing, and planar distortion, the wavelike curl old pages can assume. “There are many problems with this structure,” said Badot-Costello.That set off a bilingual conversation on the ethics of replacing or adding interleaving, the thin sheets of blank paper between album pages. Such changes can be “provocative,” said Harvard photo conservator and St. Petersburg native Elena Bulat, who provided translation when necessary.The photographic holdings at the Hermitage represent “a very rare collection,” she said, including gift albums to the royal family from around the world, studio portraits, and even ethnographic views of 19th century Siberia, where the czar Nicholas II funded oil exploration.Many photos were destroyed after the 1917 Russian Revolution, said Bulat. “Unfortunately, history in Russia worked that way.” But thousands of others were saved, guarded in remote corners of the Hermitage through several wars, she said. “Now the interest in this collection is incredible.”The ethics of interleaving were just one of the discussions of conservation minutiae that drove the Russians’ visit. There were lessons on archival-level photo cleaning, starting with soft brushes and cotton, and then moving to white erasers and solvents, such as water-ethanol.And there were lessons on paste recipes — concoctions of purified wheat starch that are reversible and that will not degrade fragile photographs and other objects. Such recipes are little known in Russia, said Bernier, so the visitors will go home with a recipe from Harvard.The Russians were even treated to a close look at salt prints, the earliest kind of photographs, which date to 1839. Harvard has close to 3,000 of them, a high number. (University-wide, there are 8 million photographic images spread over about 50 repositories.)Most discussions related to what experts call “treatment decisions.” The starting place is an assessment of each photograph or album, based on a detailed survey method developed at Harvard. The survey, designed to go directly to a computer program, was developed to assess the preservation needs in diverse, highly decentralized collections like those at both the Hermitage and Harvard.The 10-day course on photo conservation was daunting and detailed. “Right now,” said visitor Natalia Avetyan, “my head is a hot pot.” She is curator of photographs in the Department of Russian History and Culture at the Hermitage.The Hermitage already has 17 conservation laboratories, said Avetyan, and 126 staff conservators who are experts in painting, stained glass, archaeological artifacts, and other facets of art.But the museum will soon have new storage systems and a laboratory devoted just to photographs, modeled on the Weissman system. And that model might one day spread Russia-wide, said Avetyan, simply because of the prestige of the Hermitage museum.A department of photo conservation at the Hermitage could easily be considered just an administrative concern, an entity with a budget, staff, and space, said Boston photo conservator and consultant Paul Messier. “But to train the personnel … is quite another matter. This is where the Weissman Center really fits in. It’s a vital piece in the training curriculum for our Russian colleagues.”Messier is co-director of the Mellon Foundation grant, which has a four-year clock that started ticking last March. The initiative to start up the Hermitage photo conservation program is led by the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.Messier called the Weissman Center an ideal, comprehensive model for the Hermitage, since it’s a coordinated, multidisciplinary group of experts “all working together for a single mission.” Conservators, technicians, and catalogers join as a unit, often in support of digitization projects.The Weissman template could be “scaled up” worldwide, said Messier, “to fundamentally establish photo conservation where it doesn’t exist, like Russia.”Bernier said the Russians’ visit helped the University’s experts take a fresh look at photo conservation.  “We’re very lucky that we have this very well thought out photo conservation program here at Harvard,” she said. “It’s gratifying to know it’s being looked at worldwide as a model.”Natalia Avetyan examines a volume of photographs.last_img read more

  • A tale of two sisters

    first_imgTayari Jones grew up hearing the story: Mary Woodson White, scorned girlfriend of R&B legend Al Green, doused him with hot grits, supposedly because he refused to marry her.In her acclaimed new novel, “Silver Sparrow,” Green’s partner makes a cameo, popping into an Atlanta hair salon on that now infamous, grit-laden trek to Memphis. “I was 4 years old when it happened,” said Jones, an Atlanta native.“I was thinking about the woman who threw grits on Al Green throughout ‘Silver Sparrow’ because, particularly in the black community in the South, that story is referenced so much. Southern people think of history living with us all the time. In the South, we don’t necessarily refer to it as ‘history with a capital H,’ it’s more like shared history. Even in Southern novels that are contemporary, people are always referring to historical events, even just in a casual way. ”Set in her hometown, “Silver Sparrow” traces the adolescence of Dana Yarboro and Chaurisse Witherspoon, who share the same father, James Witherspoon, a bigamist. James keeps Dana and her mother sequestered from his other wife and daughter, with whom he lives. Only Dana and her mother know about his dual life and heartbreakingly vie for his affections.Issues between women and men drive Jones’ heartrending — yet funny — book.Soundbytes: A tale of two sistersJones, now a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, calls herself “a daughter in a family of sons.”“I’m from a family that loves its sons,” she said. “So being a daughter, I know what it is to not be the front-runner, and I was able to tap into my own experiences for both the characters of Dana and Chaurisse.”Aside from her brothers, Jones also has two older sisters with whom she shares a father, but not a mother. “My situation isn’t that remarkable,” she said. “But you know how when you get divorced, you share custody of the children? Well, the children actually have custody of the parents. And I had custody of my father. So growing up, I’ve always just thought about how my life was different than my sisters’. I had a lot of privileges they didn’t have.”Now fast at work on a fourth novel, Jones writes on a vintage pink typewriter she scored on eBay and had refurbished here in Cambridge.Titled “Dear History,” the novel is about an innocent man who is released from prison.“When you see a story like this on TV, or a documentary, you always see him freed, the triumphant ending,” said Jones. “But I’m writing a novel that asks, ‘Now what?’ And a section of the novel is his letters to his wife, and the typewriter is perfect for it because when you’re writing about someone who is under hardship, the easiness of your own life can keep you from grasping the voice.”Voice is critical in “Silver Sparrow.” Jones wrote half the book in the guise of Dana, before shifting to Chaurisse’s point of view.Southern writing tends to be a little talky, acknowledged Jones. “You know how the French love speaking French? I think Southerners are self-aware that we love talking Southern. We take a pleasure in language and a pleasure in the way we communicate, and I think that joy comes off in writing. Even if it’s not a happy story, you know the writer is having pleasure in a specific way of communication.”A faculty member at Rutgers University in Newark, N.J., Jones confesses she never knew how Southern she was until she left the region.“Leaving the South is a big cultural shift that you don’t anticipate when you live there. It’s such a cliché to say Southerners are friendlier, but they are,” she said.“I totally consider myself a Southern writer. I am not a writer that gets weirded out by labels. I don’t mind labels, as long as I can have as many labels as I want.”Tayari Jones reads from “Silver Sparrow” on Oct. 13 at 7 p.m. at Harvard Book Store.last_img read more

  • Magazine recognizes Justin Kasper

    first_imgPopular Science magazine has selected Center for Astrophysics astronomer Justin Kasper as one of this year’s “Brilliant Ten” scientists. According to the magazine, the Brilliant Ten — all researchers under the age of 40 — represent the best of what science can achieve and demonstrate America’s continuing cutting-edge research.Kasper was recognized for his work designing and developing an instrument that will literally “touch” the sun. When NASA’s Solar Probe Plus launches before the end of the decade, it will carry the Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons (SWEAP) Investigation — the first instruments ever to directly sample the sun’s outer atmosphere.“Popular Science was my first magazine subscription and a big inspiration for my interest in the physical sciences. I’m honored to be selected by Popular Science for this recognition, and delighted by the opportunity to talk about the amazing teams working on SWEAP and Solar Probe Plus,” said Kasper.last_img read more

  • Harvard Kennedy School faculty reflect on the death of Kim Jong Il

    first_imgThe death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il brings up many questions about the future of the communist country and the Korean peninsula as a whole, where remnants of the cold war are still felt.“Internally, the North Korean regime will need to show consistently that they’re in command since the U.S. and South Korean militaries are prepared to respond to instability,” said John Park, Belfer Center fellow and senior program officer who directs Northeast Asia projects at the U.S. Institute of Peace. “Washington and Seoul’s concern is that instability will lead to a breakdown of command and control in a country that has active nuclear weapons programs. Beijing’s major concern is a massive outflow of North Korean refugees into the Chinese provinces in the border region.”In terms of the U.S. strategy in North Korea, Nicholas Burns, the Sultan of Oman Professor of the Practice of International Relations and former U.S. undersecretary of state said, “I think sitting tight is very important, expressing strong support for the South Korean and Japanese governments, making sure the North Koreans realize the strength of our alliance. I think that’s where the [Obama] administration is putting its attention and that’s what it should be doing.”Joseph Nye, Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor, writes, “In the short term of months, I do not expect great change in Pyongyang, but over the next year or so, Kim Jong Un [Kim’s son and successor] may find it difficult to consolidate his power with the old guard, particularly in the army.”last_img read more

  • Protecting the heart with optimism

    first_imgOver the last few decades numerous studies have shown negative states, such as depression, anger, anxiety, and hostility, to be detrimental to cardiovascular health. Less is known about how positive psychological characteristics are related to heart health. In the first and largest systematic review on the topic, Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers found a connection between psychological well-being and a reduced risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular events.The study was published online April 17 in Psychological Bulletin.More than 2,200 Americans die of cardiovascular disease (CVD) each day, an average of one death every 39 seconds, according to the American Heart Association. Stroke accounts for about one of every 18 U.S. deaths.“The absence of the negative is not the same thing as the presence of the positive. We found that factors such as optimism, life satisfaction, and happiness are associated with reduced risk of CVD regardless of such factors as a person’s age, socioeconomic status, smoking status, or body weight,” said lead author Julia Boehm, research fellow in the Department of Society, Human Development, and Health at HSPH. “For example, the most optimistic individuals had an approximately 50 percent reduced risk of experiencing an initial cardiovascular event compared to their less optimistic peers,” she said.In a review of more than 200 studies published in two major scientific databases, Boehm and senior author Laura Kubzansky, associate professor of society, human development, and health at HSPH, found that there are psychological assets, such as optimism and positive emotion, that afford protection against cardiovascular disease. It also appears that these factors slow the progression of disease.To further understand how psychological well-being and CVD might be related, Boehm and Kubzansky investigated well-being’s association with cardiovascular-related health behaviors and biological markers. They found that individuals with a sense of well-being engaged in healthier behaviors such as exercising, eating a balanced diet, and getting sufficient sleep. In addition, greater well-being was related to better biological function, such as lower blood pressure, healthier lipid (blood fat) profiles, and normal body weight.“These findings suggest that an emphasis on bolstering psychological strengths rather than simply mitigating psychological deficits may improve cardiovascular health,” Kubzansky said.The study was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio through the grant “Exploring Concepts of Positive Health.”last_img read more

  • Text of Zakaria’s Commencement address

    first_img“We live in an age of progress”Commencement address by Fareed Zakaria [as prepared]May 24, 2012Thank you so much, President Faust, Fellows of the Corporation, Overseers, Ladies and Gentlemen, and graduates.To the graduates in particular, I have to tell you, you’re way ahead of me already. I never made it to my commencement, either from college or graduate school. I went to college south of here, in a small town called New Haven, Connecticut. And, well, I celebrated a bit the night before the ceremony. The honest truth is, I slept through much of my commencement. Then, after I had finally made it to Harvard for graduate school, I took a job before I had finished my Ph.D., and wrote the final chapters while working in New York. I couldn’t get away from work for Commencement, and I got my degree in the mail. So, 19 years later, it is a great honor to receive, in person, a Harvard degree.Harvard was, for me, a revelation. Contrary to the conventional wisdom on this campus, it is possible to receive a fine education at Yale, and I did. But Harvard’s great graduate programs have an ambition, energy, and range that, for me, made it a dazzling, electric experience. Getting a Ph.D. involves many hours of grueling work, but, if you do it right, also many hours of goofing off with friends, acquiring new hobbies and interests, and working your way through the great resources here — from the libraries to cafes. I fully availed myself of these opportunities, and the time spent not working (in a formal sense) was as valuable as the hours in seminar rooms. I learned from students, faculty, and visitors. Harvard is really where I learned to think, and I owe this University a deep debt of gratitude, as most of you do as well — something the University will remind you of from time to time.I have always been wary of making commencement speeches because I don’t think of myself as old enough to have any real wisdom to impart on such an august occasion. I’d like to think I’m still vaguely post-graduate. But there’s nothing like having kids to remind me of how deeply uncool I am. So I accept this task, with some trepidation.The best commencement speech I ever read was by the humorist Art Buchwald. He was brief, saying simply, “Remember, we are leaving you a perfect world. Don’t screw it up.”You are not going to hear that message much these days. Instead, you’re likely to hear that we are living through grim economic times, that the graduates are entering the slowest recovery since the Great Depression. The worries are not just economic. Ever since 9/11, we have lived in an age of terror, and our lives remain altered by the fears of future attacks and a future of new threats and dangers. Then there are larger concerns that you hear about: The Earth is warming; we’re running out of water and other vital resources; we have a billion people on the globe trapped in terrible poverty.So, I want to sketch out for you, perhaps with a little bit of historical context, the world as I see it.The world we live in is, first of all, at peace — profoundly at peace. The richest countries of the world are not in geopolitical competition with one another, fighting wars, proxy wars, or even engaging in arms races or “cold wars.” This is a historical rarity. You would have to go back hundreds of years to find a similar period of great power peace. I know that you watch a bomb going off in Afghanistan or hear of a terror plot in this country and think we live in dangerous times. But here is the data. The number of people who have died as a result of war, civil war, and, yes, terrorism, is down 50 percent this decade from the 1990s. It is down 75 percent from the preceding five decades, the decades of the Cold War, and it is, of course, down 99 percent from the decade before that, which is World War II. Steven Pinker says that we are living in the most peaceful times in human history, and he must be right because he is a Harvard professor.The political stability we have experienced has allowed the creation of a single global economic system, in which countries around the world are participating and flourishing. In 1980, the number of countries that were growing at 4 percent a year — robust growth — was around 60. By 2007, it had doubled. Even now, after the financial crisis, that number is more than 80. Even in the current period of slow growth, keep in mind that the global economy as a whole will grow 10 to 20 percent faster this decade than it did a decade ago, 60 percent faster than it did two decades ago, and five times as fast as it did three decades ago.The result: The United Nations estimates that poverty has been reduced more in the past 50 years than in the previous 500 years. And much of that reduction has taken place in the last 20 years. The average Chinese person is 10 times richer than he or she was 50 years ago — and lives for 25 years longer. Life expectancy across the world has risen dramatically. We gain five hours of life expectancy every day — without even exercising! A third of all the babies born in the developed world this year will live to be 100.All this is because of rising standards of living, hygiene, and, of course, medicine. Atul Gawande, a Harvard professor who is also a practicing surgeon, and who also writes about medicine for The New Yorker, writes about a 19th century operation in which the surgeon was trying to amputate his patient’s leg. He succeeded — at that — but accidentally amputated his assistant’s finger as well. Both died of sepsis, and an onlooker died of shock. It is the only known medical procedure to have a 300 percent fatality rate. We’ve come a long way.To understand the astonishing age of progress we are living in, you just look at the cellphones in your pockets. (Many of you have them out and were already looking at them. Don’t think I can’t see you.) Your cellphones have more computing power than the Apollo space capsule. That capsule couldn’t even Tweet! So just imagine the opportunities that lie ahead. Moore’s Law — that computing power doubles every 18 months while costs halve — may be slowing down in the world of computers, but it is accelerating in other fields. The human genome is being sequenced at a pace faster than Moore’s Law. A “Third Industrial Revolution,” involving material science and the customization of manufacturing, is yet in its infancy. And all these fields are beginning to intersect and produce new opportunities that we cannot really foresee.The good news goes on. Look at the number of college graduates globally. It has risen fourfold in the last four decades for men, but it has risen sevenfold for women. I believe that the empowerment of women, whether in a village in Africa or a boardroom in America, is good for the world. If you are wondering whether women are in fact smarter than men, the evidence now is overwhelming: yes. My favorite example of this is a study done over the last 25 years in which it found that female representatives in the House of Congress were able to bring back $49 million more in federal grants than their male counterparts. So it turns out women are better than men even at pork-barrel spending. We can look forward to a world enriched and ennobled by women’s voices.Now you might listen to me and say “This is all wonderful for the world at large, but what does this mean for America?” Well, for America and for most places, peace and broader prosperity — “the rise of the rest” — means more opportunities. I remind you that this is a country that still has the largest and most dynamic economy in the world, that dominates the age of technology, that hosts hundreds of the world’s greatest companies, that houses its largest, deepest capital markets, and that has almost all of the world’s greatest universities. There is no equivalent of Harvard in China or India, nor will there be one for decades, perhaps longer.The United States is also a vital society. It is the only country in the industrialized world that is demographically vibrant. We add 3,000,000 people to the country every year. That itself is a powerful life force, and it is made stronger by the fact that so many of these people are immigrants. They — I should say we — come to this country with aspirations, with hunger, with drive, with determination, and with a fierce love for America. By 2050, America will have a better demographic profile than China. This country has its problems, but I would rather have America’s problems than most any other place in the world.When I tell you that we live in an age of progress, I am not urging complacency — far from it. We have had daunting challenges over the last 100 years: a depression, two world wars, a Cold War, 9/11, and global economic crisis. But we have overcome them by our response. Human action and human achievement have managed to tackle terrible problems.We forget our successes. In 2009, the H1N1 virus broke out in Mexico. Now, if you looked back at the trajectory of these kinds of viruses, it is quite conceivable this one would have spread like the Asian flu in 1957 or 1968, in which 4,000,000 people died. But this time, the Mexican health authorities identified the problem early, shared the information with the WHO, learned best practices fast, tracked down where the outbreak began, quarantined people, and vaccinated others. The country went on a full-scale alert, banning any large gatherings. In a Catholic country, you couldn’t go to church for three Sundays. Perhaps more importantly, you couldn’t go to soccer matches either. The result was that the virus was contained, to the point where, three months later, people wondered what the big fuss was and asked if we had all overreacted. We didn’t overreact; we reacted, we responded, and we solved the problem.There are other examples. In the 12 months following the economic peak in 2008, industrial production fell by as much as it did in the first year of the depression. Equity prices and global trade fell more. Yet this time, no Great Depression followed. Why? Because of the coordinated actions of governments around the world. 9/11 did not usher in an age of terrorism, with al-Qaida going from strength to strength. Why? Because countries cooperated in fighting them and other terror groups, with considerable success. When we can come together, when we cooperate, when we put aside petty differences, the results are astounding.So, when we look at the problems we face — economic crises, terrorism, climate change, resource scarcity — keep in mind that these problems are real, but also that the human reaction and response to them will also be real. We can more easily map out the big problem than the thousands of individual actions governments, firms, organizations, and people will take that will constitute the solution.In a sense, I’m betting on the graduates in this great audience. I believe that your actions will have consequences. Your efforts will make a difference.And turning to the graduates, I know I am expected to provide some advice at a commencement. Should you go into nanotechnology or bioengineering? What are the industries of the future? Honestly, I have no idea. But one thing I do know is that human beings will reward and honor those talents of heart and mind they have always honored for thousands of years: intelligence, hard work, discipline, courage, loyalty and, perhaps above all, love and a generosity of spirit. Those are the qualities that, at the end of the day, make you live a great life, one that is rewarded by the outside world, and a good life, one that is rewarded only by those who know you best. These are the virtues that people honor, that they built statues for 5,000 years ago. Well, nobody builds statues anymore. They build weird, modernist sculptures with strange pieces of metal falling off of them, but you get my idea. Trust yourself; you know what you should do. You know the kind of life you should live. You don’t need an ethics course to know what you shouldn’t do. Just trust in your instincts, be true to them, and you will make for yourself a great and a good life. And, in doing so, you will change the world.I said that at my age I don’t feel competent to give you much advice, but I will give you one last piece of wisdom that comes with age. For all of you who are graduating students or, really, anyone who is still young, trust me. You cannot possibly understand the love that your parents have for you until you have children of your own. Once you have your own kids, their strange behavior will suddenly make sense. But don’t wait that long. On this day of all days, give them a hug, and tell them that you love them.Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, and to the graduates of Harvard University’s Class of 2012, Godspeed.last_img read more

  • Law students take Hague Convention case to trial

    first_imgOn Jan. 28, Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB) student attorneys Nicholas Pastan ’15 and Breana Ware ’14 found themselves conducting a trial in federal court and asking a judge to decline to enforce a petition brought against their client pursuant to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. In a one-day trial in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, the students helped their client testify about the years of sexual and emotional abuse she and her children suffered. They fled in mid-September 2013, when they walked across the Canadian border to the United States.Although Pastan and Ware knew from the beginning that this case was not the typical HLAB case, they never imagined that they would find themselves in a federal courtroom only 12 weeks after signing on as the client’s student attorneys.In early December, Pastan and Ware received notice from the U.S. State Department that the children’s father had filed a petition pursuant to the Hague Convention in Federal District Court in Massachusetts. “We realized that under the Hague Convention, the case had to go to trial in no more than six weeks,” Pastan said. “That’s the amazing thing about HLAB; the second we looked back and said we wanted to represent this woman the whole organization got on board to help.” Read Full Storylast_img read more

  • Vietnam, the ongoing memory

    first_imgThe United States will soon mark the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. A few images from the war’s last day — April 30, 1975 — remain embedded in American culture. They are largely representations of shame, waste, and defeat. A Huey helicopter perches on a Saigon rooftop while refugees line up below. At the deserted American embassy, North Vietnamese tanks burst through the front gates. On the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, sailors tip a scrapped chopper into the China Sea.The U.S. phase of the war lasted 20 years and cost the lives of 58,220 American service members. Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos suffered more than 3 million military and civilian deaths. Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), where the final helicopter fled from, is far away: 8,770 miles from Harvard Yard.But this fall, 14 students were undeterred by time or distance. They recently finished the final exam for HIST-LIT 90ak, a seminar on the Vietnam War in American culture. They read novels, poetry, and letters. They watched Hollywood movies, pondered grave documentaries, and pored over public documents.“The Vietnam War produced a remarkably wide array of representations,” said course instructor Steven Biel, executive director of the Mahindra Humanities Center and senior lecturer on history and literature. What drew him, in part, to teach the course, he said, was “the richness of the archive.”The seminar was in its third iteration, and the same offering next fall will likely be the last. Biel co-taught the course first in 2011 and then again in 2012 with then-lecturer Jeanne Follansbee, a specialist in 20th century American literature. Before that, the two had teamed up for a sophomore tutorial on methods in American history. A half-semester unit on Vietnam took off like a rocket.“The discussions were so terrific,” said Biel, that a full course was in order, creating an “inviting way for freshmen and sophomores to see what kind of interdisciplinary work we do” in history and literature. It helped that during and after the war a steady stream of poetry, fiction, films, and pop music about Vietnam continued to appear.The young look backIn the seminar, age was a force multiplier. On average, the seminar students this fall were 19 — the same age, Biel pointed out, as the average American enlisted man who served in Vietnam. That matched a theme of the course: that the experience of teenage soldiers at the tip of the spear was central.“We wanted to start with the grunts. These are people who were exactly their age,” said Biel, “who were thrust into a situation of extraordinary confusion, violence, and horror. It does give you a real entry point into the realm of affect. What did it feel like to fight?”“Affect” refers to experiencing an emotional state. It is felt rather than thought. The affective realm the course meant to stimulate was not just about the American experience of the war. Students also read and watched in order to feel the effects of the war on those who fought for South and North Vietnam and the Viet Cong. They took in the suffering of civilians in the war zone as well as those left at home to powerlessly worry, and sometimes to mourn.A North Korean villager surveys the damages after a U.S. air raid destroys his home, killing his family.In “Regret to Inform,” a 1998 documentary viewed late in the semester, a Vietnamese bar girl forced into prostitution told how the tides of war swept her helplessly along. “When people decide to go to war, they wouldn’t come and ask people like me,” she said. “We were so naïve. We expected the world to love and protect us.” In the same film, a woman imprisoned by the South Vietnamese said, “The cruelty we experienced is longer than a river.”There is power in every narrative, but Biel had a related lesson to impart, a sense that everything has to be subject to a critical eye. Of the course, he said, “We don’t look at anything as a transparent window into the war.”When the American phase ended, Biel himself was just 14 years old. But the echoes of Vietnam were felt then, and now. One student said, “This war seems more real to me than any other.” Both her parents had been war protesters.The power of analogies“I don’t think this war is particularly remote,” said Biel, especially since Vietnam is still so powerful as an analogy. “That’s what draws a lot of students to the course,” he added. “Analogies are constantly being made to the Vietnam War.”The students learn to see these descriptive parallels to present wars as both “inviting and problematic,” said Biel. “But when we talked about [Daniel] Ellsberg and ‘The Pentagon Papers,’ it was inevitable that [Edward] Snowden would come up — and the ethics of whistle-blowing.”Not a lot of time was spent on the policy-making legacies of the war, he said, but “there is inevitably a significant amount of attention in the course to issues of culpability and responsibility,” moral quandaries that litter any battlefield, like bodies. The course also invited “questions of imperialism and self-determination,” said Biel, “those big questions that clearly resonate with students and don’t seem distant.”A question that resonated with John Manzo ’15, an economics concentrator, was the idea of grand deceit at high levels of the government. “To read ‘The Pentagon Papers’ and to know the facts of what was being told the American people was like a punch in the gut,” he said. “I never though you could make lies on that grand a scale.”Manzo had grown up listening to an uncle talk about his years as a protester and about one legacy of the war, a mistrust of government. Offered Manzo, “This has really made me take a second look at what he said.”To start out, the course focused less on grand ideas and more on the experience of grunts. On the reading list was Michael Herr’s vivid and hallucinatory “Dispatches” (1977). So was Tim O’Brien’s classic view from inside a flak jacket, “The Things They Carried” (1990). “Platoon” (1986), a film written and directed by Vietnam veteran Oliver Stone, took the class inside the murk and mayhem of combat.Manzo absorbed a related lesson, one that makes him sound like many college students — and combat soldiers — 40 years ago. “People didn’t know who the enemy was,” he said, “so everybody was.”Presidents and policymakers and protesters were discussed, too. Students read selections from documents like “The Pentagon Papers,” from journalists like Frances FitzGerald, David Halberstam, Seymour Hersh, and Stewart Alsop, and from commentaries on the Weather Underground, about racial tensions in the military, the draft, POWs, war widows, the My Lai massacre, and the cultural function of memorials.The students even looked further back, to a time when Vietnam was a proxy American war and not a hot, high-numbers conflict. That view is reflected in “The Quiet American,” Graham Greene’s 1955 novel about Alden Pyle, a well-meaning American naïf whose idealism is pitted against the fatalism of Thomas Fowler, a British journalist covering the war.Students heard Greene’s story twice, the second time in the 1958 film version, whose script made Fowler not a font of rough wisdom but a dupe of the communists. Still, Greene’s unintentional prophecy about the fate of the war was preserved in both the book and film. Pyle is killed — the early embodiment of that helicopter tipped into the sea. Pyle had become, Fowler observed, a “very quiet” American.Meaning and memoryAny war is rich territory for a course meant to examine the complex machinery of cultural history, said Biel, since “conflicts over meaning and memory” live on well after the fighting.Some of those postwar conflicts got played out on the big screen. The students watched a string of Hollywood movies released barely after the war had ended: “Coming Home” (1978), “Apocalypse Now” (1979), and “The Deer Hunter” (1979). They were all anti-war films, though full of leavening sympathies for those who fought, and of moments of wishfully rewritten history. (In “The Deer Hunter,” Robert De Niro attempts to save villagers from a My Lai-style massacre, this one perpetrated by North Vietnamese.)By 1985, in “Rambo: First Blood Part II,” the history of the war is not rewritten, but it is revenged: A ripped Sylvester Stallone, complete with a disco hairdo and stylish knife, rescues forgotten POWs. Meanwhile, the enemy soldiers, in a nod to the Cold War of the Reagan years, have morphed into Soviet look-alikes.But let judgment wait, cautioned Biel. “For all their limitations, evasions, and problems, those films are attempting some kind of reconciliation to the war.”The course’s documentary offerings attempt to get closer to the truth but still fail to evoke a totality of experience. “Hearts and Minds” (1974), “Regret To Inform” (1998), and “The Fog of War” (2004) are single chapters in a big book about the war that is still being written.The course was only half over when Biel and Follansbee took in a late-October screening of “Hearts and Minds” at the Harvard Film Archive, in time for the documentary’s 40th anniversary. (It won an Oscar in 1975, a month before the war ended.) Among the panelists on hand was director Peter Davis, who was in Vietnam with a camera crew for seven weeks in 1972. They shot 200 hours of film that was whittled to under two hours.Before going, Davis did little but read and watch films on the war, most of them expository. He wanted to make a film that was impressionistic instead. “I wanted to show,” said Davis, “not tell.”His appearance, and the screening, co-sponsored by the Mahindra Center, was a gift to Biel’s course, which met once a week at the Barker Center. The panel largely ruminated on the power of the past, including Kenneth T. Young Professor of Sino-Vietnamese History Hue-Tam Ho Tai. She is the author of “The Country of Memory” (2001), about how the Vietnamese experienced the war, and she witnessed both a Vietnam at war and — as a graduate student at Harvard 40 years ago — a United States roiling with protest.“The documentary is very powerful, was very necessary,” she said of the Davis film. “But it was done 40 years ago.”“It’s true,” said filmmaker Robb Moss, professor of visual and environmental studies. “Documentaries always sit in time.” But the catharsis that “Hearts and Minds” created in 1974 is still possible. “The divisions were so profound,” he said. “We’re still living them today.”Memories of another war haunt the film, and Vietnam itself, said Joseph Pellegrino University Professor Peter Galison, also a filmmaker, whose class in high school was the last to get draft cards. “Vietnam seems very much a piece of World War II,” he said, including in patriotic platitudes and even in the “bearing of the officers.” Today, added Galison, unafraid of analogies, the war “seems very present.”That wasn’t always so, said Davis, who traveled to Vietnam after the war to find that Americans were well-liked and the conflict seemed distant. But then came 9/11 and the string of conflicts afterwards, which broke the spell of lessons learned. Once again, he said, “We flew to war on the wings of lies.”The film, the course, and the study of history and literature itself are about investigating the power of personalities and events that are materially gone but culturally remain. At the screening, Mahindra Humanities Center Director Homi Bhabha told Davis what he might have told Biel, too: “I want to thank you for helping us not forget the past.”last_img read more

  • Dunster House renewed

    first_img 1Dunster House and the Weeks Bridge seen from the Mather House tower. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer Shivangi Parmar ’17 thinks life in newly renovated Dunster House is “fantastic.”The plethora of common rooms, lounging areas, the student grill, and conference rooms “collectively provide students with opportunities to interact with their friends while offering them plenty of spaces to work privately,” she said. “Not to mention the renovation is absolutely beautiful and new visitors to the House are always pleasantly surprised!”Dunster House is the first House to be completely renewed, informed by test projects that transformed Stone Hall at Quincy House and McKinlock Hall at Leverett House. With wonderful discoveries at every turn — a merger of the modern and the historical — perhaps the greatest revelation found beneath the surface in Dunster House is the commitment to sustainability coupled with community-minded design.After living in the updated Dunster for a semester, students continue to be delighted by its offerings. “I feel so incredibly lucky to be in Dunster for the next few years,” said Spencer Kiehm ’18. “Whether I want to spend some time exercising in the weight room, studying with my friends in one of the common spaces, or hanging out and playing pool, there is always a beautiful space in the new house to do whatever I want.”“I’m grateful for the tremendous job that the project managers have done and look forward to seeing their upcoming makeover of Winthrop House,” echoed Kevin Chen ’17. 11A Dunster House roof shield with bird motifs glows gold in the sunset. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer 3Sally Gee ’16 locks up her bike on new bike racks outside of Dunster House. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer 2Roommates Kevin Chen ’17 (left) and Ayomide Opeyemi ’17 greet tour groups in the building manager’s office inside Dunster House. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer 10On move-in day, students marvel at the sight of a new squash court with a basketball hoop inside Dunster House. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer 4Isabella Diaz, daughter of resident dean Carlos Diaz and his wife, Martha Diaz, a teaching assistant in romance languages and literatures, drives her toy electric car past a sundial in Dunster House courtyard. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer 6Elena Breer ’18 enjoys the Harvard Library study room in the newly renovated Dunster House. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographercenter_img 12Students use social media on swinging chairs in the Dunster House courtyard. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer 9The Dunster House dining hall operates in full swing during lunch service. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer 8Kevin Chen ’17 (pink shirt), Ayomide Opeyemi ’17, and their roommates decorate their room with flags of Mexico and the United States. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer 13A view of Dunster House from the Charles River. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer 7Spencer Kiehm ’18, a member of the wrestling team, works out in a Dunster House gym. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer 5Kulbir Parmar (right) helps his daughter Shivangi Parmar ’17 during move-in day at Dunster House. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographerlast_img read more

  • 2016 Cabot Fellows named

    first_imgEleven faculty members have been awarded 2016 Walter Channing Cabot Fellowships for their outstanding publications. The 2016 honorees are:Suzanne Preston Blier, Allen Whitehill Clowes Professor of Fine Arts and of African and African American Studies, “Art and Risk in Ancient Yoruba: Ife History, Power, and Identity c. 1300” (Cambridge University Press, 2015)Khaled El-Rouayheb, James Richard Jewett Professor of Arabic and of Islamic Intellectual History, “Islamic Intellectual History in the Seventeenth-Century: Scholarly Currents in the Ottoman Empire and the Maghreb” (Cambridge University Press, 2015)Marla Frederick, Professor of African and African American Studies and of Religion, “Colored Television: American Religion Gone Global” (Stanford University Press, 2015)Susan Greenhalgh, John King and Wilma Cannon Fairbank Professor of Chinese Society, “Fat-talk Nation: The Human Costs of America’s War on Fat” (Cornell University Press, 2015)Jeffrey Hamburger, Kuno Francke Professor of German Art & Culture, “The Prayer Book of Ursula Begerin” co–authored with Nigel Palmer, 2 vols. (Urs Graf Verlag, 2015) and “Unter Druck: Mitteleuropäische Buchmalerei im Zeitalter Gutenbergs” co–authored with Robert Suckale and Gude Suckale–Redlefsen (Quaternio Verlag, 2015). [‘Under Pressure’: Central European Manuscript Illumination in the Age of Gutenberg]Tamar Herzog, Monroe Gutman Professor of Latin American Affairs and Radcliffe Alumnae Professor, “Frontiers of Possession: Spain and Portugal in Europe and the Americas” (Harvard University Press, 2015)Robin Kelsey, Shirley Carter Burden Professor of Photography, “Photography and the Art of Chance” (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2015)Deidre Shauna Lynch, Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature, “Loving Literature: A Cultural History” (University of Chicago Press, 2015)John M. Mugane, Professor of the Practice of African Languages and Cultures and Director of the African Language Program, “The Story of Swahili” (Ohio University Press, 2015)Kate van Orden, Dwight P. Robinson Jr. Professor of Music, “Materialities: Books, Readers, and the Chanson in 16th-Century Europe” (Oxford University Press, 2015)Nicholas Watson, Henry B. and Anne M. Cabot Professor of English Literature, “John of Morigny’s Liber florum celestis doctrine: An Edition and Commentary” with Claire Fanger (Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2015)last_img read more