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Flexner Lectures  on Middle East

Rashid Khalidi, one of the foremost authorities on the history of the modern Middle East, delivered the 2007 Mary Flexner Lectures in October and November on “The United States, the Middle East and the Cold War.”

The topics of Khalidi’s three lectures were “Rethinking the Cold War in the Middle East,” “Oil, Strategy and the Cold War in the Middle East,” and “The Middle East in the Cold War and Afterwards.” Discussions on the lectures and workshops on associated subjects with Khalidi were held for faculty, staff and students.

In the October 24 lecture, Khalidi argued that it is important for today’s students to understand how and why America was engaged in the Middle East during the 1970s and ’80s, particularly in Afghanistan, because “the ghosts of the Cold War still walk in the hearts and minds of those who make U.S. foreign policy.” Stalin had no plan for global domination after World War II; what galvanized the Cold War was U.S. interest in controlling the energy reserves of the Middle East, he argued.

Historians don’t predict the future, Khalidi said, but “lost wars have a leaven of their own.” It may be that a change of mind about Iraq similar to the Indochina and Vietnam wars will have an effect. Regardless of party leadership after the next election, however, without “acts of legislative courage” to check “a bloated imperial executive branch,” the war in the Middle East may get “longer and hotter,” Khalidi said.

Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies and Director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University. He has published scores of scholarly works on the history and politics of the Middle East. In recent years, Khalidi has also embraced the role of a public intellectual: his five monographs and two edited volumes include works intended for a general audience, and he has appeared on numerous radio and television news and public-affairs broadcasts. He has also published opinion pieces in the popular press, often urging more consultation with Middle East experts in the shaping of U.S. foreign policy.

Established in honor of Mary Flexner, a Bryn Mawr graduate of the class of 1895, the Flexner Lectures have brought some of the world’s best-known scholars of the humanities to Bryn Mawr’s campus and have resulted in some of the most influential books of the 20th century. That tradition continues into the 21st century, thanks to an agreement between the College and Harvard University Press to publish the lectures. The 2005 series by K. Anthony Appiah will be available through HUP in January 2008 as Experiments in Ethics.


BMC website displays community

The College’s website will get a fresh look in January, four years after its last redesign went live. Behind the new graphics will be the latest web technology, allowing easier maintenance and updating of content.

RSS feeds will distribute pertinent data—such as media reports, menus and schedules—to departments behind the main page, and blogging software will help students maintain sites for clubs and activities.

Users will be able to customize their own gateway pages and keep track of the departments they have visited. The site also will be wider.

“We can tell what kind of equipment visitors are using,” said Janet Scannell, director of computing and information services. “Screen resolution has increased. This makes us more flexible in allowing different options for personal sites and in the overall navigation scheme.”

The site’s graphic look is “simpler, cleaner and draws more attention to content,” said Scannell. It coordinates with the new admissions viewbook for prospective students, which resembles a color-coded naturalist’s field guide. Stories of community members will be shared on the website, and there will be a strong alumnae/i presence. “Students look to alumnae as models,” said Scannell. “Our buildings have per­son­alities, too, and there will be more information about them and the beauty of the physical plant.”

Electronic Ink, the Philadelphia-based research and design firm creating the site, interviewed students, pro­spective students and their parents, and alumnae. At a September presentation, EI representatives who worked on the project said they were deeply impressed by the passion of students and alumnae for Bryn Mawr and by what makes it such a special place.


Dangerous Behavior

A review panel of the massacre at Virginia Tech pointed to failures by the university in disclosure and counseling, but concluded that Seung-Hui Cho, the subject of concern and outreach through­out his life, “himself was the biggest impediment to stabilizing his mental health” in college. And although such mass shootings on college campuses are rare­—the last in 1966 at the University of Texas—the tragedy has raised a debate over what colleges should do about dangerous behavior on campus.

Dr. Eileen Bazelon, resident psychiatrist at the College’s Health Center, convened a group of nationally-recognized experts on September 24 to discuss the law and ethics of balancing students’ right to privacy against their own safety and that of their communities. The one-day conference, held in Thomas Great Hall, drew more than 150 college and university administrators, counselors, deans, security officers, and legal counselors from the Philadelphia area and as far away as Florida.

Keynote speaker Gary Pavela, director of judicial programs at the University of Maryland-College Park and an authority on academic ethics, noted that college campuses are very protective environments. “In general there is half the suicide rate of that in the same aged population not in school,” he said. Pavela argued for the importance of building relationships with troubled students, “getting into their hearts and heads,” and assuring faculty that they are supported by a team trained in threat assessment. Colleges and universities have, however, “erred on the side of underreaction, in terms of notifying parents, of hospitali­zation, of therapeutic resources” to deal with students who are at risk of suicide, he said. “The law (the Federal Disabilities Act and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) is reasonably balanced and interpreted; the institution is not handcuffed to permit violent behavior. But discretion is also an important tool for keeping order. If students cannot trust teachers and administrators, they will be reluctant to report concerns.”

Moral courage

A panel discussion that followed covered a range of positions. Karen Bower, senior attorney with the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, successfully sued Hunter College and George Washington University on behalf of students who were excluded from the university after expressing suicidal thoughts or making suicide gestures. Bower argued that the majority of students with mental disabilities are not dangerous but in crisis and should get help, not punitive action. “To use a disciplinary process for self-injury discourages them and others from getting help,” she said.

Arthur Caplan, the Emmanuel and Robert Hart Professor of Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and director of the Center for Bioethics, addressed ethical points about intervention. “Our culture doesn’t like people who intervene in other people’s problems,” Caplan said. “The fate of whistleblowers is not usually a pretty one. But in building a community, it is your business to know what’s going on with your family members—students, faculty, staff. People have a responsibility to report someone acting strangely, and you need some feedback to the community when action is taken.”

“The gold standard is danger to oneself and others,” said Mark Olshaker, author of Obsession and Mindhunter. Olshaker collaborated on these and other books with former FBI Agent John Douglas, who helped develop the practice of criminal profiling. “If there is someone with the capacity to harm, I have serious concerns about protecting their rights,” Olshaker said. “In most situations, there is no substitute for moral courage.”

“Autonomy has limits, and you have to lay that out,” said Caplan. “Following the law blindly is not what the law demands. Do what you think is right and then defend it; don’t hide behind the law.”

Carroll Ellis, director of victim services for the Fairfax County Police Department and member of the Virginia Tech Task Force, stressed the importance of equal support for students with mental disabilities and for those who are victims of crime on campus such as sexual assault and stalking. She praised those at the scene of the massacre: “I would have fallen apart if I had been there—they were brave.”

Remove stigma

Participants agreed that stigma prevents students from finding resources and support available to them, let alone seeking them out.

“You hear a lot of rhetoric about diversity and the value of different learning styles on college campuses,” Caplan said, “but the students themselves don’t accept peers with mental disabilities. They tend to move on. The culture doesn’t support them, and there are not many success stories.”

In the afternoon, conference attendees separated into breakout groups. “We wanted them to teach each other and reassure each other, and that seemed to have happened,” said Bazelon. “We had great feedback from the groups.”

Closing the conference, Alison Malmon, founder and executive director of Active Minds, spoke about forming the organization in 2001 on her campus at the University of Pennsylvania after the suicide of her only sibling, 22-year-old brother Brian Malmon, to promote an open, enlightened dialogue around the issues.

The Bryn Mawr chapter of Active Minds, which strung educational postcards along the walk from Erdman to Thomas Great Hall for the conference, seeks to promote mental health awareness, advocacy and education on campus. “Because Bryn Mawr women have high expectations for themselves and their peers, asking for help is often seen as a sign of weakness,” said Co-President Katherine Penzo ’09, who is also a member of the organization’s national student advisory council. “As a chapter, we are actively working against this notion.”

Bazelon thanked the College for underwriting the conference. “The Dean’s office, in person of Karen Tidmarsh, and Health Center Director Kay Kerr were unbelievably helpful in every possible way,” she said.

“We do have people who are depressed, and we are seeing a large percentage of the student body,” said Bazelon. “We’re lucky because the community is so rich in outside therapists; if we get overwhelmed or students can afford it, we refer them outside our service. We never turn anyone away because of money, however, which is amazing because most college services do—and we carry people for a lengthy period of time if they have no money. We also have 24-hour-a-day service, something that almost no one else has at this point. Yes, students do take leaves of absence at times but those leaves are often very beneficial. I have many students who come back and say they were so glad they did so. Exit interviews usually affirm our work. If there are other things we should be doing, let me know!”

On November 30, Active Minds will host a fundraiser at the College for The Forteniters Club, Inc., a Norristown-based organization that helps the severely mentally ill to establish friendships, seek out housing and employment, and gain social acceptance within the community. The fundraiser will feature a raffle and silent auction, including items made by campus community artists, and Bryn Mawr performance groups.

Bazelon has served as a psychiatrist at Bryn Mawr for more than 30 years and is an associate professor of psychiatry at the Drexel University College of Medicine. She is a member of the board of trustees of the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, whose mission is to protect and advance the rights of adults and children who have mental disabilities.

Over the summer, the College implemented a new emergency communication system to provide immediate information in various electronic forms to students, faculty, staff, parents and other interested parties in the event of any campus emergency.


New Tenure Track Faculty

Assistant Professor of Classics Annette Baertschi has taught a variety of courses in Latin and Greek language and literature, from elementary to advanced level. At Bryn Mawr this semester, she is teaching Intermediate Latin and a Classical Studies course on Lucan’s Civil War.

Baertschi’s special interests are in imperial epic poetry and tragedy, ancient magic, classics in film, and the reception of classical literature in general. She is currently researching and writing about the narrative strategies in Senecan messenger scenes and their reception in early modern European drama; ancient consolatory literature; and the tears and lament of military leaders in post-Augustan epic.

The interdisciplinary research of Assistant Professor of Biology Monica Chander reflects her interest in understanding how bacteria regulate cellular activities, particularly metal-dependent proteins, in response to environmental signals. “My research can broadly be applied to learning more about cancer mechanisms because I look at oxidative stress responses in bacteria—free radical generation and how cells cope with this,” she notes.

Chandler received her undergraduate degree from Mount Holy­oke and returned there to teach and do research for three years prior to coming to Bryn Mawr. “The students at both campuses are a special breed—motivated, confident, mature and well-rounded individuals,” she said. “I’ve noticed in my short time here, though, that Bryn Mawr women tend to generally be more outspoken (in a positive way) than Mount Holyoke women. I find this very stimulating—especially in the classroom­—where there’s a real give-and-take.” This semester Chandler is teaching Introductory Biology I, and Integrated Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, both with Tamara Davis.

Assistant Professor of English Walter Liu writes about the relation­ship between Asian Ameri­can literature, literary experi­mentation, and political representation. He also works more broadly on post-1950 American poetry and fiction, focusing on questions of race and ethnicity, experimental forms, and interpretive modes and models.

Liu is teaching a College Seminar, Destination LA, and a new course on Asian American Poetry from 1900 to the Present. Liu says, “At the heart of the course lies a perhaps unanswerable, but productively troublesome, set of questions: What makes a poem ‘Asian American?’ How do we define a form with, or without, explicit reference to authorial identity, ethnicity, race, gender, class? What role does history play in such formal definitions?”

Three of Liu’s own were included in the anthology Asian-American Poets: The Next Generation.

Assistant Professor of Social Work and Social Research Kevin Robinson was a W.K. Kellogg Community Health Scholar at The University of Michigan School of Public Health last year. His dissertation for Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, from which he received his PhD in 2006, was a descriptive case study of a 51-year-old African American gay man’s experiences living with AIDS. His current research projects are extensions of his dissertation research and are integral components of two projects of the Prevention Research Center of Michigan—The Community Capacity Building to Reduce Health Disparities and the 2005 Speak to Your Health! Community Survey and Qualitative Assessment.

Assistant Professor of Physics Michael Schulz’s research seeks to understand nature at its most funda­mental level, focusing on string theory and its appli­cations to quantum field theory, cosmology and particle physics.

Schulz’s teaching and research mentoring are based on the assump­tion that all students have an intrinsic love of learning. He seeks to help each student navigate her own path through the terrain of a given course and develop her own individual approach to lifelong learning. He believes that a healthy balance between theory and practice is essential for continued motivation and discovery on this journey. Schulz worked jointly at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and the Institute for Theoretical Physics. He spent three years at Caltech as a Postdoctoral Scholar in Theoretical Physics before returning to the East Coast in 2005 to join the High Energy Theory Group at UPenn as a Postdoctoral Fellow.

Lecturer in History Jennifer Spohrer specializes in modern European history. Her research interests center around the increasing transnational communication of goods, ideas, and culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
While these developments created new links among European countries and between Europe and the world, they also created profound tensions within nations, destabilizing the control that traditional elites exercised over national politics, the economy, and culture. Spohrer has looked closely at the history of the media, for example. She wants to incorporate into her courses the ambivalence of Europeans toward international connections and their attempts to master and direct them through inter-governmental and non-governmental networks. She is also designing a course on the history of European food consumption.



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BMC robotics on the move

Bryn Mawr College, along with four U.S. and three Korean universities, has won a five-year NSF Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) grant for $2.5 million designed to advance humanoid design and capabilities in the United States and Korea.

Humanoids (HUBOs) are bipedal robots engineered to mimic human locomotion, balance and coordination. HUBOs have given researchers insight on issues ranging from balance disorders to cognition and perception. The goal of the project is to create a 3-tier tool set of virtual, mini and on-line HUBOs. Bryn Mawr students will be involved with all tiers, but will focus on virtual HUBOs. (The other four U.S. schools are Drexel, UPenn, Virginia Tech and Swarthmore.)

Associate Professor and Chair of Computer Science Douglas Blank, who is a co-principle investigator of the project, sees it as the logical extension of robotics research taking place at Bryn Mawr that has involved wheeled or four-legged robots.

Last year, Bryn Mawr joined Georgia Tech and the Microsoft Corporation to create the Institute for Personal Robots in Education (IPRE). IPRE is developing an introductory computer-science course, now being taught at Bryn Mawr for the second year, in which every student is given a personal robot to program and debug.

The first activity this fall, “robo-archaeologist,” challenged students to program their robot to enter a pyramid, photograph the hieroglyphics inside (provided by Bryn Mawr archaeologists), send the photos back for analysis, and then make it out of the tomb.

Lucy Shoe and Dorothy Burr have tea at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, 1934. Photo courtesy Lucy Shoe Meritt Papers, Bryn Mawr College.


Bryn Mawr’s women archaeologists

Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway, PhD ’58, Rhys Carpenter Professor Emerita of Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology, offered a spirited oral history of the extraordinary female archaeologists who came out of Bryn Mawr. Her September 25 lecture accompanied the opening of the exhibition “Breaking Ground, Breaking Tradition: Bryn Mawr and the First Generations of Women Archaeologists.”

The exhibition focuses on a group of women who trained at Bryn Mawr at a time when archaeology was still a very young, very male-dominated discipline, and their professors, Mary Hamilton Swindler, PhD ’12 and Rhys Carpenter. Edith Hall Dohan, PhD 1906, and Hetty Goldman, A.B. 1903, were two of the first women to lead field excavations. Dorothy Burr Thompson ’23, PhD ’31; Virginia Grace ’22, PhD ’34; and Lucy Shoe Meritt ’27, PhD ’35, transformed the field of archaeology through their meticulous research and scholarship.

Ridgway, who has taught at Bryn Mawr since 1957 and is herself one of the foremost authorities on sculpture in the ancient world, discussed the work of Thompson, Grace and Meritt on Hellenistic terracotta figurines, stamped amphora handles, and moldings in architecture.

“I owe the honor of opening this exhibition to fact that I knew three very well, barely one more, who were the teachers of the great trio that I’m going to talk about today and some of their contemporaries—so you can see that there are some advantages to being over three quarters of a century old,” Ridgway said. “I felt I owe it to the younger generation of students to hear about these big names of the past, because they really were fantastic women.

“I will start by explaining their academic achievements because they were remarkable for each one of them and then I shall try to talk about them as persons --- what they had in common and what they for the field.

“Let me try a trick that I used with my students when I was teaching. I’m going to ask you to freeze—don’t move, don’t look around; just look at me. How many moldings are in this room? Honestly, had you seen any moldings? Had you looked at moldings. I must say, none of my students had seen moldings—as a matter of fact, many of them didn’t even know what a molding was, so I looked it up. It is supposed to be: “an ornamental strip, either flat or curved, added to a surface for decorative purposes.” This doesn’t sound very intriguing, does it? As a matter of fact, it doesn’t do it justice. If you are confronted with the majesty of a Greek temple, you are going to look at the columns, at the pedimental sculptures—if you are at the Parthenon—all of the other elements of a Greek temple that are so impressive—look at our banks and neoclassical buildings. You don’t really look for moldings, but the Greeks did. To the Greeks, it was very important. The molding was not just a practical way of moving from one part of the architecture to the next one—it was not a way to see the join­—it was a way of expressing the grades of the building, the inner meaning, especially to the decorator of the molding, as I know that one of your own people is trying to prove in book form now.

“So to a Greek, a molding was much more than a decorative strip, and would have been immediately aware of it. Now Lucy Shoe realized that, even though she had been taught, you know, “The Greeks derived from the two Egyptian moldings, the cavetto and the half-round, the variety of their own and they used them in certain positions.” Well, she saw that, yes, they used them in certain positions, but only in certain places, at certain times, with different outlines, with different profiles, with different decorations. The idea of a molding changed with time; the shape of the molding changed with time, and she went on to demonstrate. And this wasn’t an easy thing. You’ve seen the photo on the poster advertising today’s talk—Lucy Shoe on a ladder trying to measure the molding of an anta on the Temple of Hephaistus in the Athenian Agora. It was dangerous work. She went all over the place with a template that she designed herself as a way of outlining the profile of the molding.

“There was a special place for each molding at each time. This also created a major chronological sequence, a major indication of what was popular in a certain area—for instance, in Athens of the 5th century, the so-called Periclean moldings. When she went to Italy, she found that there was a completely different system of molds. An Ionic capital in Rome and an Ionic capital in Greece, are totally different, even in conception. She found out all these subtle things by looking at moldings, even though it was not very easy. As a result, she created a system of chronology and even of geographic contact and attribution that has become fundamental in architecture. No one today can write a book on a piece of Greece architecture without mentioning moldings and without mentioning Lucy Shoe. From this point of view, her work has been colossal and monumental.” (Read this article celebrating Lucy Shoe in the Spring 2001 Alumnae Bulletin)

“From ornamental temples we are going to amphoras, not the big large pithoi that you see in Crete or other areas that contained a lot of liquids or grains or other things. These are vessels that can be lifted, although it usually takes more than one person because they are heavy, especially when they are full, and you pick them up on both sides. Usually they have a pointed bottom so that you can tilt it. They are the equivalent of today’s plastic containers. You can put practically anything in an amphora, and the Greeks did—wine, oil, grain. The interiors were coated with pine resin, and in the case of wine, this gave it a special flavor, retsina. We even know from excavations at Corinth that they put salted fish in amphoras. They excavated fish scales—can you imagine, very carefully—and they proved that’s what these amphoras were used for.

“Now here is another great woman, Virginia Grace, who noticed that amphoras are practically indestructible. You can break them up in many pieces, and they’re useful for a variety of purposes, as filling, media, for example, or refill them after they’re empty because they are expensive items.  But she also noticed that there was a way in which the handles of the amphoras could tell a story because they were stamped. Now two places were especially important during the Hellenistic period in the stamping of their amphoras, Leros and Rhodes. They wanted to advertise how good their wine was; Rhodes stamped the handles of its amphoras with the sign of the rose, which gives the name to Rhodos, the island of the roses. That same symbol appears on their coins. Not only that, they even put in the name of their magistrate under whom that particular vessel had been constructed—maybe it was a way of showing the vintage of the wine; maybe it was a way of guaranteeing the purity of the product—in any case, it gave a very good indication of time. Now because you find amphoras in pieces, you cannot just rely on the handles to see what they looked like. Fortunately, Virginia Grace worked for Athenian Agora, the marketplace, which has been an American excavation from the 1930s. There, because it was the center of commerce, there were lots of amphoras. Many of them were whole, and some were in fragments but she could also figure out outlines and shapes, and they were coming from a variety of places. Through the stamps on the handles, she could figure out when they were made, at what time, and from which area, because obviously they were coming from a variety of sites. Now because they were so reuseable, the fact that you have a stamp of a certain date doesn’t date the stratigraphy in which you find it. On the other hand, it will give you a terminus post quem—it has to be after that date.

“Virginia trained many, many people in a field that until that point had been completely neglected—a  completely new area of archaeology, something that has really thrilled people, so that she went from site to site, especially through Alexandria in Egypt, where she did a lot of work. In Samos she worked for the German excavations at the Sanctuary of Hera. There is practically no site where amphoras have been found that was not followed by Virginia Grace.

“The third person is Dorothy Thompson, who looked at terracotta figurines, which might have been considered relatively unimportant, they are very plentiful. You find them everywhere in sanctuaries. They’re not the beautiful stone sculptures, the bronzes, the great monuments—they are cheap offerings that people can make by mold. People thought, ‘These are no great artistic inspirations; they’re mold made. You can just change a head here, an arm position there, you can reproduce them over and over.’ Yes, maybe you can date the molds stylistically, but then how do you know how many more times the same mold has been used in later years? Nobody had paid that much attention to that.

“Dorothy Thompson saw the terracottas as much more than just cheap offerings. She saw them as echoes of contemporary style and contemporary sculptures. Moreover, in terracottas she could see details that were lost on marble sculptures—she could see colors. Now we have done enough studies with ultraviolet and infrared photography to know that the marbles that we always thought were white were very heavily painted. … Dorothy Thompson was able to say, ‘These are works of great importance for our history of knowledge.’ The moment she started working in the Agora, and she started excavating wells, where the material was more or less stratified, then she could tell how the changes in style gave an idea of chronology. So there too, she could use the terracottas as an element of dating other monuments.” 

Ridgway noted that Thompson, Meritt and Shoe shared the “great teachers of Bryn Mawr,” years with the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, and a deep love for the countries where they excavated. “If America as a whole had more respect for the cultures where we go, instead of making the terrible mistakes that we are making now, I think the situation would be so much better,” Ridgway concluded. “If we only understood the other side, if we spoke the language. These women stand for all of this. I hope the students here will keep it in mind and do the same.”

The exhibition, curated by Megan Risse, a PhD. candidate in classical and Near Eastern archaeology runs, through December 21 in the Class of 1912 Rare Book Room in Mariam Coffin Canaday Library.


On paper gifts

Two alumnae have added significant items to Bryn Mawr’s collection of works on paper, used regularly for class research and reports. Ten prints from Eleanor May Morris ’41, M.A. ’70, include two Rembrandt van Rijn etchings, an engraving of Albrecht Durer, and six early 19th century Japanese color woodblock prints. The Margery Peterson Lee (’51) and B. Herbert Lee Collection comprises eight contemporary prints by prominent artists, including Jody Pinto, Jim Dine and James Rosenquist, and one dye coupler photograph.

Lucy Show and Doroth Burr have tea at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, 1934. Photo courtesy Lucy Shoe Meritt Papers, Bryn Mawr College.


Volunteer Awards

Kimberly J. Blessing ’97, representative for electronic communications to the Executive Board of the Alumnae Association, received the Young Alumnae Service award at Alumnae Council in October for her volunteer efforts, leadership initiative and dedication to the Association and College. The awards for Distinguished Service, to Justine Jentes ’88, and for Lifetime Service, to Barbara Goldman Aaron ’53, will be presented at Reunion 2008.

Kimberly J. Blessing ’97 and President of the College Nancy J. Vickers. Photo by Paola Nogueras ’84.




Return to November 2007 Highlights





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