Alumnae Bulletin November 2009


Phyllis Goodhart Gordan '35: Renaissance scholar, Renaissance woman.
Howard L. Goodhart and his daughter, Phyllis G. Gordan '35.

Perhaps the most famous collection at Bryn Mawr is the Marjorie Walter Goodhart Memorial Library of 15thcentury printed books, or incunabula, the third largest such collection at an academic institution in the United States, behind only Harvard and Yale. The books were acquired by Howard Lehman Goodhart, who began collecting them in the 1930s to support the research interests of his only child, Phyllis Goodhart Gordan '35.

At Bryn Mawr, she majored in Latin, studying with Bob Broughton, Lily Ross Taylor, Berthe Marti, and a very young Agnes Kirsopp Michels (Nan Michels), then Agnes Lake '30. Taylor was a famous and charismatic teacher, but probably none of her assignments ever had a greater impact on the life of one of her students than Phyllis Goodhart's paper on Italian humanist, Poggio Bracciolini (1380–1459), papal secretary and researcher in 15th-century libraries, who remained at the center of her lifelong scholarly investigations and also provided the impetus for her father's collecting.

Gordan recalled, "I was studying Renaissance Latin [at Bryn Mawr] and some of the texts had rarely been printed since the 15th century.My father's purpose in collecting may sound today like a very extravagant gesture, but in the early 1930s it was not. Reprints which are common now did not exist then; microfilm was almost unknown.My father, who was of a financial turn of mind, carefully compared the cost of the incunabula he bought for my work with the cost of photostats from the New York Public Library and found that he was coming out ahead."

Goodhart had married Marjorie Walter, Class of 1912, in 1913, and her untimely death in 1920 was an exceedingly heavy blow to him; he never remarried. He gave Bryn Mawr College Marjorie Walter Goodhart Hall in 1928.

As Curt Bühler wrote in a biographical retrospective for the 75th anniversary of the Grolier Club in New York, following his wife's death, "Goodhart finally forsook the fascinations, wiles, and heartaches of the New York Stock Exchange in order to devote himself to interests which he strongly felt were far more worthwhile and rewarding—his daughter and his books." For the January 1939 Alumnae Bulletin, Gordan recalled one of her early journeys in search of manuscripts, beginning when she was just 12 years old. "[My father and I] had not meant to become dwellers in libraries, but our first experience in a European library in the summer of 1925, when we visited Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, permanently addicted us to this form of entertainment.We saw the earliest manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and an illuminated manuscript of the Bible with a capital O showing Jonah climbing up a ladder out of the whale's mouth. It may have been the depressed expression of the whale; it may have been the fact that we had been taught manuscript writing at school and urged to think of ourselves as successors of the monks in their scriptoria; at any rate, our interest in manuscripts was aroused. After a time, the smell of crumbling leather bindings became our favorite and the only leaves we could recognize at a glance were those of the British Museum catalogue."

Goodhart established the collection at Bryn Mawr shortly before his death in 1951 with a donation of nearly 1,000 volumes. Phyllis Goodhart Gordan carried on the family's close relationship with Bryn Mawr. She was one of the seven alumnae who founded the Friends of the Bryn Mawr College Library in 1951, and served as a member of the College's Board of Trustees for many years. Her work on Renaissance Humanism continued to be her passion long after leaving Bryn Mawr, and in 1974 Columbia University Press published her major work, Two Renaissance Book Hunters: The Letters of Poggius Bracciolini to Nicolaus de Niccolis

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Theater: Bryn Mawr's binding tradition
treasures"Theater has allowed Mawrtyrs, both actors and spectators, to forget, if only momentarily, the piles of work awaiting them."—Ada Link '09 and Anastasia Milazzo '10
Laurie Medill ‘75 as Orfeo.

Bryn Mawr students in History 325 have been investigating the history of women's education, particularly at the College. Taught by Elliott Shore, chief information officer, Constance A. Jones Director of Libraries, and professor of history, the course, taught last spring and next year, will provide material for a book to be published in celebration of Bryn Mawr's 125th anniversary.

Students have interviewed alumnae, faculty and past administrators as well as doing research in the College's Archives. Topics include an investigation of whether Bryn Mawr educates its students properly about gender issues and the discrimination faced by women; the reactions on campus to the Vietnam war and invasion of Cambodia; and the role played by the Student Government Association in gaining more freedom of choice for Bryn Mawr students.

Students are also interested in the rich internal world, sometimes unkindly called the "Bryn Mawr Bubble," that is characterized by the life of the mind and by traditions. The four major traditions of Parade Night, Lantern Night, Hell Week and May Day are well known. In "All the Mawr's a Stage," Ada Link '09 and Anastasia Milazzo '10 researched the history of student theatrical productions at Bryn Mawr and argue that they are one of its oldest and most important tradition. The renovation of Goodhart Hall and creation of a second teaching stage testify to a robust student interest in theater that extends beyond the formal Bryn Mawr-Haverford Theater Department, directed by Mark Lord, to a variety of smaller groups.

Theater originally flourished at Bryn Mawr as a class activity. (The first performing arts group, a Glee Club, was not formed until the early 1920s.) As early as 1892, the Freshman Show was a musical comedy with adapted or original lyrics, usually about College life. Performed for the sophomores, it centered around a class animal kept a secret until the night of the play. Presented during Hell Week, the Freshman Show served as a "final test" of the freshmen's understanding of how the college operates, "both mechanically and spiritually," argues Virgina Wolf Briscoe in a 1981 University of Pennsylvania dissertation on women's rituals as expressive behavior at Bryn Mawr, used as a source by Link and Milazzo. Brisoe also argues that the Hall plays, skits presented by the freshmen in the fall, showed their perceptions of the Bryn Mawr community and thus helped deans and faculty measure their adjustment to the college scene.

Freshman Shows continued until the early 1990s, with the last, Les Ms. put on by the Class of 2000 in 1997. The Junior Show was on a grander scale and sometimes made headlines in The Philadelphia Inquirer and The New York Times but occurred with less frequency in the 1960s and 70s. Bricoe gives several reasons, including the growing numbers of students taking their junior year abroad and an increase of academic work. (Also gone are the amazing faculty shows, described by Professor Emeritus of Greek Mabel L. Lang, Ph.D. '43 in a 2005 presentation, www.bryn facshow.html)

From the late 1920s through the 1940s, some form of a Varsity Dramatics Association or Varsity Players Club was the dominant group on campus, producing plays and offering technical training. The forerunner to today's Bi-Co Theater was the Bryn Mawr College Theater, lead by Robert Butman, an English professor at Haverford from the late 1950s onward. This became the Bryn Mawr-Haverford Drama Club in the 1970s.

The binding function of class plays does "continue in conjunction with major traditions such as Hell Week and Step Sing, when students are able to partake in theatrics in a more informal manner," Link and Milazzo write.

The photographs, reviews, essays, and interviews they analyzed for their project show that "theater is, and was always meant to be, fun.While there was often hard work involved in putting together productions, and sometimes [the] consequences of academic probation, Bryn Mawr student theater can be viewed as one of the oldest ways in which Mawrtyrs were able to balance heavy work loads with a social life.

From the frivolous Freshman Shows to the bawdy antics of reproducing the Bard, theater has allowed Mawrtyrs, both actors and spectators, to forget, if only momentarily, the piles of work awaiting them.

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New faculty do nano, evo, fossils, primates and fairy tales

From left: Xuemei May Cheng, Pedro Jose Marenco, Michael W. Sears, Rudy Le Menthéour, Denise Fay-Shen Su.
Photos by Jim Roese

"The students at Bryn Mawr amaze me at every turn, from their enthusiasm for the outcrop to their bottomless curiosity in the classroom." —Pedro Jose Marenco

Xuemei May Cheng joins the physics department, where she will continue her research and teaching on all things nano. Cheng says, "I find that teaching at Bryn Mawr is fun, challenging, and rewarding, because my students are highly motivated and actively engaged into the class." Cheng earned a bachelor of science degree in physics from Nanjing University in China, under the Department of Intensive Instructions for Talented Undergraduates program. She also has a master's degree in microelectronics and solid state electronics from Nanjing, as well as a master's degree and doctorate in physics from Johns Hopkins. Her long list of publications includes one paper that has been cited 217 times since 2003.

Pedro Jose Marenco joins the geology department.Marenco teaches paleontology, paleobiology and oceanography. Coming from the West Coast,Marenco earned his bachelor's (2000),master's (2002) and doctoral (2007) degrees from the University of Southern California.While doing his master's program, he published a book chapter, "Noonday tubes: observations and reinterpretations based on better preservation from a new locality," in Proterozoic-Cambrian of the Great Basin and Beyond. This year,Marenco was awarded a National Science Foundation award ($209,256) for research; he will be the principal investigator.

Rudy Le Menthéour joins the French department, where he will continue his research on and teaching about French Enlightenment literature, history of 18th-century medicine,moral philosophy in 18th-century France, French theater and the fairy tale. His book, Baroque et classicisme: anthologie, appears this year.Menthéour has two bachelor degrees from the Université Paris 1-Sorbonne (history and philosophy), a master's degree in the history of art from Ecole Normale Supérieure, rue d'Ulm, and a doctorate in French literature from the Université Grenoble 3.

Michael W. Sears joins the biology department, where he has taught Mawrtyrs about developing individuallybased landscape models for predicting species distributions. He is a four-time recipient of funding from the National Science Foundation. Sears earned his bachelor's degree in biology from Rhodes College in Memphis, and his doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Pennsylvania. Sears has been invited 20 times to speak at seminars and symposia on a range of topics, including "turning up the heat on lizards."

Denise Fay-Shen Su joins the anthropology department, bringing her expertise in paleoecology to the classroom. Principal investigator of five research projects, Su was invited this year to lecture to the New York Consortium of Evolutionary Primatology Conference. She coauthored one of a suite of papers about Ardipithecus ramidus, the earliest known hominid skeleton, that were published on October 2 in Science. Su earned her bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of California-Berkeley, and her master's and doctoral degrees from New York University

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Moving-in day

International students
in the Class of 2013.

Anna Roma '13 says good-bye to her mother,
Rizalina, in her room in Merion.

Photos by Paola Nogueras
The Class of 2013 is "the most international" yet, coming from 28 foreign countries. California, for the first time this year, tied New Jersey as the home of more incoming students than any other state in the Union. Students of color from the United States make up a record 35 percent of the class. Almost a fifth of the class consists of students who belong to the first generation of their families to attend a fouryear college, a figure consistent with Bryn Mawr's top-five ranking in socioeconomic diversity among liberal-arts colleges in the United States. President of the College Jane McAuliffe welcomed the new class, along with 11 transfers, five McBride Scholars (students of nontraditional age), and families and friends of the new students, as the first audience to assemble in the newly renovated Goodhart Hall.

The landmark 1928 building, which serves as the anchor of the College's performing-arts programs, recently underwent a $19 million overhaul that included the replacement of antiquated utility systems, the expansion of the main stage, and the addition of an intimate performance space for teaching and small audiences

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Ashley Gavin '10, Alex Funk '11, Associate Professor of Computer Science Doug Blank and Meena Seralanthan (Hfd '11) with the Robonova. Blank is considering having students program a soccer team of Robonovas next spring. Below: a Sidwell Friends School student interacts with one of Bryn Mawr's Scribblers, the personal robot used in Introduction to Computing, at the Congressional Robotics Caucus in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Paola Nogueras '84
Teyvonia Thomas '09 meets HUBO in Korea.
Photo by Doug Blank

Bryn Mawr undergraduates work towards creating robots that learn, have their own motivations, are curious and want to try new things.

Photo by Deepak Kumar
Humanoids aren't science fiction

Three undergraduates in Bryn Mawr's summer science research program have made advances in the design of humanoid-robots. Ashley Gavin '10, Alex Funk '11, and Meena Seralanthan, Hfd '11, worked this summer with Associate Professor of Computer Science Douglas Blank as part of a collaborative project with U.S. and Korean universities They were joined by Teyvonia Thomas '09, who is working for a robotics lab at Penn and is the lab instructor for Introduction to Computing at Bryn Mawr this semester.

Humanoids are two-legged robots engineered to mimic human locomotion, balance and coordination. They have given researchers insight on issues ranging from balance disorders to cognition and perception. "What is a robot?" is one of the first questions discussed in the opening lectures of Bryn Mawr's Introduction to Computing, now in its third year of a curriculum designed around a personal robot, the "Scribbler." Although the popular view of robots is that they "look human,"what is important to robotics engineers is that they are guided by automatic controls, with sensors that gather data and have the ability to make choices based on that information. Looking like a human has its advantages, however. Alex Funk is passionate about human-robot interaction (HRI) and artificial intelligence, and interested in social robotics. "Robots, and technology in general, are becoming so integrated into our everyday lives," she said. "I'd like to be a part of making that process as natural as possible.When people are distressed they are comforted by the familiar and humanoids are familiar."

HRI is applied in many fields, including law enforcement, entertainment, scientific exploration, search and rescue, caring for the sick and elderly, and working with children. "In many cases, a robot becomes more than a tool, serving almost as another member of the team," Funk said. "Thus, these robots must not only coordinate their behavior with the requirements and expectations of human team members, but must also be able to integrate their tasks with those of their human counterparts."

Walking and balance are some of the most complicated areas for humanoids. Because of the mechanical differences among robots, algorithms, or programming steps for walking, are robot specific and not easily generalized. Thomas, a physics major who took Introduction to Computing herself only two years ago, hopes to go to graduate school in engineering. In the summer of 2008, she designed and built a six-legged robot, TevBot, that moves by using the wavy, stabilizing gait of centipedes and other terrestrial arthropods, where one leg is not lifted until the one behind is has been put down. "We used the hexapod to get familiar with some of the issues involved in bi-pedal walking," Blank said. This summer, Thomas worked on improving a walk engine for the Nao humanoid Robot, using a 3D simulated version.

For her senior thesis, Thomas further developed the robot to carry out search and rescue operations. "Search and rescue operations can be extremely dangerous not just for rescue workers but for the individuals being rescued as well," she said. "Small mobile robots equipped with a variety of sensors can enter confined or toxic areas that aren't easily accessible to humans, and search dogs can then search for signs of life and report their findings back to waiting rescue operators.' Ashley Gavin '10 worked on a generalized algorithm for "inverse kinematics,"which determines how a leg should move starting backwards from the final position of the foot, and then adjusts the joint rotations required based on that position.

Gavin tested her abstraction by using simulation software of two vastly different robots, The Nao, which has many infrared sensors, foot sensors and six joints in its leg, and the Robonova, which has no sensors and five joints in its legs. Using HRI and computer vision, the science and technology of machines that see, Funk is developing a facial recognition system to create "eye contact" between a robot and a human being. She is making the system work on a humanoid Bryn Mawr is building, the mini-HUBA, that will have dexterous fingers and a pan and tilt neck. Robots eat up a lot of batteries, so Bryn Mawr is also exploring alternative energy sources for such as super capacitors, which store energy through a static charge.

Funk hopes to continue to use the robot during the rest of her undergraduate career to experiment with social robotics. "When most people think of humanoid robots, they think of the Terminator or other pop-culture figures," she said. "I love that I'm being given the opportunity to show people real world applications of humanoids. Humanoids aren't science fiction, they're real and they're useful."

Gavin used her simulated robot and a robot controller to test whether or not humanoid robots can be creative, or reach their goals in a creative way." "I have learned more about modeling robots than I thought I could," said Gavin, who is teaching a group of Baldwin School students to program the Scribbler as a Praxis course this semester. "I am most fascinated by the different algorithms I studied and worked on this summer, particularly neural networks, growing neural gas, and Intelligent Adaptive Curiosity,"Gavin said. "All of these algorithms have one thing in common: they can be used to bring a robot to life, in some sense.

They endow a robot with the ability to learn, to seek out what they desire, to be inquisitive, and to explore the world around them." Meena Seralanthan looked at the ability of neural networks to help a robot find patterns in sequential data over time or generalize different sets of data. The goal is to develop a learning system independent of constant human input that relies solely on robots' experiences, allowing them to learn about their environment as they explore it, and in their ability to remember what they have learned. "For example, if a cat was continuously walking back and forth along a wall," said Seralanthan, "the robot should be able to see the cat at the leftmost part of the wall, remember that the cat was there, see the cat in the middle of the wall, and predict that the cat will be at the right-most part of the wall the next time the robot sees it.

"Robotics is a fantastic field to which anyone can contribute—whether the person is a psychologist, a mathematician, a hard-core mechanical engineer, or an artist. Being able to visualize how a humanoid should work is a contribution; being able to build a humanoid is a contribution; being able to explain the human mind is a contribution; being able to translate human thought into numbers and mathematical calculations is a contribution."

PIRE project builds humanoids

Two years ago, Bryn Mawr, Drexel, Penn, Virginia Tech, Swarthmore, and three Korean universities were awarded a five-year National Science Foundation Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) grant for $2.5 million to advance humanoid-robot design and capabilities in the United States and Korea. The Korean universities are the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), Seoul National University and Korea University.

The lack of universally available platforms—chassis, motors, parts, controllers and software—has prevented an advance in robotics. One of the project's goals is to create and make available three tiers of these tools. Bryn Mawr is working on a virtual HUBO, or simulation program to test artificial intelligence and information technology concepts. Virginia Tech designed a Mini HUBO, a low-cost (about $5,000), 18- inch tall version of the full-sized humanoid for running and testing algorithms. Each school builds their own, changing the platform to suit their individual needs. Finally, Drexel has built "Jaemi," a newer version of the HUBO robot developed by KAIST that specializes in humanoid leg and body design; walking, running, kicking; and balance.

Jaemi stands 4' 3' in an aluminum endoskeleton, and can be controlled and monitored online by the robotics community. (A frame and tether prevent the actual robot from catastrophic falls.)

Goals for Jaemi include the ability to move over rugged, unstructured terrain and to interact socially with humans and handle objects. It also makes visits to the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia for demonstrations. ("Jaemi" is a gender-neutral prefix roughly translating to "American-born Korean Humanoid Robot.")

On October 15, Blank, Professor of Computer Science Deepak Kumar and Assistant Professor of Computer Science Dianna Xu discussed and showcased their projects and programs at a briefing in Washington, D.C. on robotics and K-12 education for the Congressional Bi-Partisan Robotics Caucus, formed in 2007 to focus on issues based on emerging technology that face the nation's robotics industry. A record 70 students are taking Introduction to Computing this fall. The course was developed by the Institute for Personal Robots in Education (IPRE), a joint venture of Bryn Mawr, Georgia Tech and Microsoft Research aimed at increasing student enrollment—particularly of women and underrepresented minorities—in computer science.Microsoft funded the first three years of the project, and NSF has funded Phase II. The course, taught at Bryn Mawr and Georgia Tech, covers the standard topics taught in an introductory college computer science course, but in an untraditional way. Each student learns programming concepts by making his or her Scribbler travel about, navigate obstacles, "see" objects and play music by writing computer programs in Python, a code that uses English words and basic algebraic notation.

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Madeline Berkowitz ‘10 won a Johnson Award for her psychology research with Megan Roberts ‘10. (Opposite page) Yuan Qiao ‘10 received one of five MIT Lincoln Laboratory Awards for her chemistry research.
Photos by Paola Nogueras ‘84.
Summer science undergraduate research

Since 1989, the College has provided 35-45 undergraduates with 10-week research stipends to do discovery-based research in the laboratory or field with Bryn Mawr faculty in the sciences and mathematics. The 38 projects for the summer 2009 program ranged from an analysis of the clays sold as traditional digestive cleaners and nutritional supplements to molecular wires.

Julie Griffin '11, one of four students who received an Ann Lutes Johnson '58 Award, researched the concept that sea levels have varied from slightly higher and lower than at the present. She analyzed sediment core samples, taken from a salt marsh lying between two sandy beach ridges on Cedar Island, North Carolina, for organic matter, sand and metal content.

"Global sea level has been thought to be near its present elevation, or gradually rising for the past 5,000 years," Griffith said. "Recent research has suggested that there may have been oscillations in global ocean volume over this time. "Previous research has indicated that sedimentary features such as this sequence of beach ridges are directly related to sea level change. Laboratory analyses of sediment cored from among the ridges will help determine whether sea-level fluctuations were indeed the primary factor in the development of the beach ridge complex, and if so, what the timing and magnitude of the fluctuations has been."

Griffin could not form a clear picture of the entire sequence because cores were taken from only one ridge, so she returned to Cedar Island with advisor Don Barber, associate professor of geology, and Sophia Wolfenden '10. Laboratory work with the same methods used earlier in this study is being continued on these extra cores.

"Hopefully, when all the data has been put together, these small beach ridges will tell us how sea level fell during the Holocene, since the last glacial maximum,"Griffin said. "A refreezing event of some ice sheets is truly the only cause of world-wide sea level fall, and has not yet been considered to be possible during the overall retreat of ice sheets. The concept of a cooling planet has many more implications for the sea level changes that we are facing in our environmental struggles today."

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Grant to encourage K-12 math and science teachers

Bryn Mawr and Haverford have received a $897,000 grant from the National Science Foundation's Robert Noyce Teacher/Scholar Program, which seeks to encourage talented science, technology, engineering, and mathematics majors and professionals to become K-12 mathematics and science teachers. Over three years, three sets of three students will receive two-year scholarships, to complete a disciplinary major in their senior years and their education requirements in a fifth year. In exchange for each year of scholarship, recipients give two years of service by teaching in high-need school districts. The program also provides mentoring and professional development support during their first two years of teaching.

To raise the profile of math and science education careers, the program will sponsor panels by alumnae/i in these fields to talk to undergraduates. The program will also fund a number of week-long internships over spring break each year so that students can shadow teachers. "We hope that these initiatives will help build a strong network of connections among alumnae in math and science education," said Professor of Mathematics Victor Donnay. Alumnae who would like to be a resource for the Noyce program are invited to contact the program administrator Kim Lipetiz (

Also helping to raise the profile on campus is Howard Glasser, Hfd '00, a post-doctoral fellow in science education this year through Bryn Mawr's Howard Hughes grant. Glasser's main interests are equity, social justice, and underrepresentation issues in education, and he is teaching Changing Pedagogies in Math and Science Education. A critical shortage of well-qualified math and science teachers in the United States seriously limits literacy in those areas among students who will become the next generation of decision makers. A research component of the project will look at the appropriate role for liberal arts colleges and their students to play in addressing this shortage as well as the supports and barriers students face when considering a career in math and science teaching. Joy Quill '66, who specializes in evaluating human service programs, is external evaluator for the program and will help with this research agenda.

The leadership team includes Donnay, Professor of Biology Peter Brodfeuhrer, Senior Lecturer in Education Alice Lesnick, and Robert Fairman and Joshua Sabloff of Haverford. The project grows out of Donnay's previous involvement with the Math Science Partnership of Greater Philadelphia, which focused on improving secondary math and science education.

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"There is pornography that I find so upsetting and so disturbing that it's difficult for me even to think about it conceptually let alone actually look at it, but it's also true that I grew up in a very conservative, religious home and I didn't have much exposure to sexuality." —Sarah Schenck '87
Contradictions undergird indie comedy about porn and feminism

Hepburn Fellow Sarah Schenck '87 visited campus on September 24 for a screening and discussion with students of her comedy Slippery Slope, which won the 2007 Best Feature award at the Broad Humor Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Gillian Black, a fierce young feminist filmmaker, needs $50,000 to pay the lab for the print of her documentary, Feminism for Dummies, which has been accepted into the Cannes Film Festival. Her husband, Hugh, is desperate to have a baby; Gillian is not interested in having sex but intent on realizing her career dreams and secretly takes a job directing a pornographic spoof of Shakespeare's The Tempest. Gillian brings her feminist ideals to the porn set, but the experience unexpectedly awakens her slumbering sexuality, arousing Hugh's suspicions and threatening her marriage.

The film is funny, even slapstick, but undercut by contradictions and complications. Gillian does not take the female porn actors seriously or try to understand their motivations, and the slippery slope of the exploitation of women also becomes that of her own closemindedness. "In Hugh, I wanted to write about a man who in many ways seems like an ideal, supporting, loving partner, but he and Gillian are out of touch with each other," Schenck said. "In my own experience and those of people with whom I talk, the stereotype that men want to have sex more than women wouldn't hold true.

When things are out of sync in another aspect of a couple's relationship, it often manifests itself first sexually. I also think the idea that women are really keen on having kids and men are less interested is a stereotype.My friends and I were really ambivalent about having kids for a long time. Having kids has been an incredibly fulfilling part of my life, and I love being a mom, but it's still the case that women do more work around the house. Once you put children into the equation, things get even more out of whack and that often has a deleterious effect on a woman's career."

An idea for the plot came from Schenck's own life. "One of my closest friends since college, an amazing documentary filmmaker in her own right, and I were struggling to find financing for our films," she said. "We were joking one day about how we should make porn films to finance our legitimate productions; we'd call it ‘Mostly Butter Productions,' as in bread and butter. I was living in New York City, and did consider it, but decided, ‘I don't think that is the right choice for me.' I have really complicated feelings about porn and you see some of that in the film. There is pornography that I find so upsetting and so disturbing that it's difficult for me even to think about it conceptually let alone actually look at it, but it's also true that I grew up in a very conservative, religious home and I didn't have much exposure to sexuality.

I had found some while babysitting, and looked at it; I find some porn exciting and interesting. In terms of what happens to people who work in the porn industry, again I think that's a very complicated question—people come to it from a lot of different backgrounds." Four other Bryn Mawr graduates— Kristen Coveleskie '06, Kristy Fallica '06, Sarah Melker '06, and Andrea Piskora '04—worked with Schenck on Slippery Slope at various stages of its production, thanks to Schenck's participation in the Bryn Mawr-Haverford Career Development Office's extern program.

Indie film producers ‘prophetic'


MacArthur Fellow Sherry Ortner ‘62

MacArthur Fellow Sherry Ortner '62, widely regarded as a "founding mother" of feminist anthropology, returned to Bryn Mawr on September 21 to discuss her ethnographic study of independent filmmakers.

Ortner has interviewed more than 60 producers, directors, and writers. She has also spent time on the sets of several movies and attended numerous screenings and showcases to observe the workings of the industry.

Outside Hollywood value system "In the late 1980s, a new cultural scene emerged in the U.S. of independent films that gained a great deal of attention in the mainstream, and although still relatively highbrow, attracted substantial audiences, in many cases earning much better than box office expected returns," Ortner said. "Indies are films made outside of and against the Hollywood world view, value system and aesthetic. They are more sophisticated, with more difficult subject matter,more complex plots and stories, and sometimes more experimental filmmaking techniques. Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee and the Coen brothers are all examples. Virtually all documentaries are independent films because they do not fulfill the Hollywood mandate of entertaining an audience, and hence are not seen as commercial enough."

Ortner argues that the emergence of the indie scene grows out of the increasing polarization of the post-World War II American middle class that started in the 1970s. "A small proportion of it has taken off, achieving for themselves and their children a very wealthy and sophisticated lifestyle, based largely in education and professionalization rather than money,"Ortner said. "This group is called the professional managerial class (pmc).

"By the 1980s, this sizeable audience had emerged that was capable of appreciating more difficult and sophisticated works. Films found this audience, which contributed to its continuing emergence." Ortner said that while producers, come almost entirely from the same class as their audiences, the pcm, and tend to be highly educated, directors and writers come from much more varied backgrounds— from lower classes, racial ethnic or sexual minorities and other countries. ‘They may be more politically radical, in a more ongoing conversation with their unconscious minds than the rest of us and so on." she said. "They often write from those places. In turn indie producers figuratively go there with them, and in effect bring their stories back to more comfortable, usually white,mostly straight folks of the pmc. Higher education ideally provides a sense of and appreciation for a wider world than the one in which one grew up. The stories producers bring are like Biblical prophecies,meant to reveal new truths and disturb viewers, to call into question their values and ways of seeing the world.What is interesting about the success of indie film is that it suggests that the pmc is ready to be disturbed, which seems to be to be a fundamentally good thing."

Model for students Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles, Ortner has been a leading figure in social, cultural, and feminist theory since the 1972 publication of her now-classic paper "Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture?" After spending many years studying Nepal's Sherpa people, Ortner found a fresh subject at the 30th reunion of her graduating class at Weequahic High School in Newark, New Jersey, New Jersey Dreaming: Capital, Culture, and the Class of '58.

"The trajectory of Sherry's intellectual life is a model for that our students because her life work represents decades of engaged and always evolving, always expanding, fieldwork and reflection," said Senior Lecturer in English Anne Dalke, who invited Ortner to speak to the interdisciplinary core course for the gender studies program that she teaches.

"I love Sherry's essays," said Dalke. "They always begin by laying out the landscape, reviewing what others have said and done, and then she steps directly into it and alters it for good. "Sherry notes in footnote 18 of Borderland Politics and Erotics that she owes her ability to do this to Bryn Mawr College. She is talking at this point in the essay about women mountaineers who climb together because ‘they didn't have to rely on men to worry, they said, that one might question our strength or our ability to climb where only men have gone before.' And then Sherry brings it home in this footnote: ‘I went to a women's college and in retrospect, I think it was essentially for these kinds of reasons. Perhaps this is the place to thank Bryn Mawr College, without which I am quite sure I would not be doing what I am doing today.' "

The lecture was sponsored by the department of anthropology, the film studies program, the bi-college gender and sexuality program, and Haverford provost's office.

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Darwin exhibit opens


Collecting, describing and classifying the natural world.

The Bryn Mawr College Library will celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of his landmark book On the Origin of Species with its new exhibition, Darwin's Ancestors: Tracing the Origins of the Origin of Species, which will run through February 2010 in the Class of 1912 Rare Book Room in Canaday Library.

The exhibition opened on Oct. 22, with a lecture by Swarthmore College Professor of Biology Scott Gilbert, "Disagreements Among Friends: How T. H. Morgan and E.B.Wilson's Agreeing to Disagree Helped Establish Genetics and the Modern Synthesis."Wilson was Bryn Mawr's first biology professor and Morgan the second, and both played prominent roles in the international debates over evolution during the first half of the 20th century.

Darwin's Ancestors examines the development of natural history from the mid-16th century, when the field was transformed by the appearance of strange new plants and animals brought to Europe from Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Over the following 300 years, amateur and professional scientists enthusiastically collected, described, and classified the natural world both at home and abroad, and looked for ways of understanding the relationships among species. The exhibition features the work of many of the key collectors, classifiers, and theorists, from Leonhart Fuchs and Conrad Gesner in the early period, through John Ray and Linnaeus in the late 17th and 18th centuries, to Alexander von Humboldt, Charles Lyell, and Darwin himself in the 19th century. The curators of the Bryn Mawr exhibition are Angelique Wille, a graduate student in the history of art; Marybeth Matlock '10, a senior medieval-studies major, and Eric Pumroy, director of library collections.

Darwin's Ancestors: Tracing the Origins of the Origin of Species is sponsored by the Friends of the Library. The show is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For additional information, please contact the Library's Special Collections Department: 610.526.6576 or

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Sanjay Subrahmanyam
Flexner lecturer: Eurasian courtly encounters

In November, Bryn Mawr hosted the 37th Mary Flexner Lecturer, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, professor and Navin and Pratima Doshi Chair of Indian History at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Subrahmanyam was in residence for the month of November and gave a three-part lecture series, "Courtly Encounters: Translating Courtliness in Early Modern Eurasia," a broad-ranging reflection on the worlds of early modern Islam, Counter-Reformation Catholicism, Protestantism and a newly emergent Hindu sphere. The lectures focused on the crucial role that 16th and 17th century Eurasian courtly encounters played in shaping Muslim, Hindu and Christian group perceptions of one another at that time. Subrahmanyam argued that contemporary debates on a variety of matters, including secularism and cosmopolitanism, can be illuminated by turning to this earlier phase of interactions and conflicts.

The first lecture examined how Muslim and non-Muslim states in South Asia dealt with one other as court-systems in a situation of mutual borrowing as well as intense competition, which sometimes became violent conflict. The second lecture turned to narratives of successful and failed conversion, dealing in particular with the relations between Muslims and Christians. The third and concluding lecture will turn to how South Asian states were depicted in European visual representations The series, established in 1928 in honor of Mary Flexner, class of 1895, has brought some of the world's best-known humanists to campus, including Ralph Vaughn Williams, Gisela Richter, Isaiah Berlin, Frank Kermode, Arnaldo Momigliano, Natalie Davis, Harold Bloom, Anthony Appiah, and Rashid Khalidi. The College now offers the Lectureship in partnership with Harvard University Press. President Jane McAuliffe said, "Our collaborative purpose is to present the scholarship of leading humanists to Bryn Mawr faculty, students and alumnae/i, and then to the broader academic community."

In inviting students, faculty and staff to attend, President Jane McAuliffe wrote, "As members of our global scholarly community, please join me in welcoming Professor Subrahmanyam to Bryn Mawr College. The Mary Flexner Lectureship celebrates Bryn Mawr's legacy as a college that draws prominent faculty-scholars to its campus for collaborative interdisciplinary conversation that can ignite research and deepen our collective understanding of core humanistic concerns." From his lectures and the rich dialogue among students and faculty in the Tri-Co that they prompted, Subrahmanyam will produce a manuscript for Harvard University Press that will be published as part of the "Mary Flexner Lecture Series of Bryn Mawr College." For more information about the books published as part of the Mary Flexner Lecture Series, visit

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