Dean of the Faculty

Senior Sabbatical Fellowship Awards 2005/2006

The H. Axel Schupf ’57 Fund for Intellectual Life supports the Senior Sabbatical Fellowship Program, which increases tenured faculty members’ salaries for one semester of leave from 80 to 100 percent. The fellowships are competitive, and they are awarded by the Dean of the Faculty and the Committee of Six once their recommendations are approved by the President and the Trustees. The following are summaries of the 2005-2006 Fellowship recipients’ research projects.

Carol Clark, Professor of Fine Arts and American Studies
Research Project: Charles Deas: Telling Tales to 1840s America

Professor Clark will use her sabbatical to complete her book on the nineteenth-century American painter Charles Deas (1818-1867), whose works on the subject of frontier life, she argues, expressed themes that defined the 1840s—racial conflict, brutal competition, and the national significance of Western lands that tempted American conquest. The book will accompany an exhibition on the artist that is scheduled to open at the Denver Art Museum in October 2008. Professor Clark will also curate that exhibition, which is funded in part by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation’s Luce Fund in American Art. Though Deas’s depictions of Indians, trappers, and mountain men were well known to his contemporaries, at his death he was virtually unknown and by the 1950s scholars could locate only six of his paintings. Through her research, Professor Clark has added significantly to the known body of Deas’s work and to the details of his life, the memory of which is shaped by his confinement to a mental institution from the age of twenty-nine. Today, Professor Clark can identify fifty paintings, drawings, and watercolors from a total body of about one hundred works. In her book, Professor Clark connects Deas’s paintings to other cultural expressions, particularly popular literature, to better understand this crucial decade, and she discusses how Deas both shaped and was affected by this climate. Professor Clark also explores how Deas’s popular Western pictures contributed to the changing construction of national identity. Professor Clark will also use her leave to co-curate a 2008 national traveling exhibition, American Wilderness: The Rustic in Art and Architecture, being mounted by the American Federation of Arts, and to write one of the five essays that will constitute the accompanying book.

Robert Doran, Samuel Williston Professor of Greek and Hebrew
Research Project: Translation of, and Commentary on, Second Maccabees

Professor Doran will use his sabbatical to finish writing his commentary on Second Maccabees for the prestigious Hermeneia Series. Second Maccabees was written in Greek by a Jewish author, probably during the late second century BCE, and is a major source for the study of the revolt of the Jews against their Greek Seleucid overlords in the mid-second century BCE. Considered to be one of the defining moments in Jewish history, the Maccabean revolt has been interpreted as heralding the triumph of Judaism over Hellenism. In his careful reading of the text, however, Professor Doran has explored the more complicated agenda of the author. Concentrating on an exploration of the characters who have so often been portrayed as evil Hellenizers, the high priests Jason and Menelaus, Professor Doran will suggest that their roles be re-examined. He theorizes that Jason was not attempting to introduce a change in the political constitution of Jerusalem, but rather an educational reform which emphasized military training and preparedness. Of Menelaus, Professor Doran writes, “...one must rethink the role of Menelaus in the rebellion. Was his the fate of all those caught in the middle between powerful masters and militant radicals, to be despised as a traitor by the one and tossed aside in the end by the other?” Professor Doran will argue that the epitome was written from the perspective of an author who viewed Jason’s building of a gymnasion in Jerusalem as undoing the traditional culture of Judea. Two of the work’s dominant themes, that Jews are good citizens and that they should refrain from being educated in a Greek-style gymnasion, suggest that the author himself was living in a Greek city where he felt that the local Jewish community was in danger of losing its culture and traditions. Professor Doran suggests that the work offers insight into the interplay between different religious and cultural communities in the late second and early first century BCE and that it brings to the fore issues involved in maintaining one’s cultural and ancestral identity when living in the midst of a more diverse and challenging society.

Thomas L. Dumm, Professor of Political Science
Research Project: The Lonely Self: A Genealogy of Western Individuality

Professor Dumm is completing a study on the history of the Western self. This study, which he began six years ago and which earned him a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2001, will culminate in a book tentatively titled The Lonely Self: A Genealogy of Western Individuality. In his study, Professor Dumm traces the roots of modern loneliness and the circumstances in which the modern self finds itself to the writings of the seventeenth-century philosopher, Rene Descartes, and his belief in free will and the sovereign status of the reasoning human being. Professor Dumm sees a deeply political character to the “lonely reason” of Cartesianism, and he believes that the political culture most expressive of and indebted to this Cartesian dream of reason is that of the United States. The Lonely Self examines the daily experience of the modern self in relation to the philosophical concerns of the Emersonian heritage and the poetics of American experience. Using examples taken from literature and film, Professor Dumm proposes a way of comprehending the history of the Western individual that takes into greater account the poetics of the modern self than is currently made available by canonical political theory.

Stephen A. George, Manwell Family Professor in Life Sciences
Research Project: Optokineteic Nystagmus and Visual Plasticity

Professor George continues his research on brain plasticity, one of the most fundamental and exciting puzzles of modern neuroscience. Experience can change behavior, and behavior is produced by the activity of the brain. Therefore the brain must be able to change in some way in response to experience, but in what ways does the brain change, and how does an organism's experience cause the changes? In a series of experiments involving the effects of visual deprivation on the visual behavior of frogs, Professor George and his students will use physiological and biochemical methods to study factors that trigger changes at the cellular and molecular level. They will also investigate the nature of the brain changes produced by visual deprivation. A probable site of changes involved in experience-induced plasticity has been identified as the synapses, the connections between nerve cells and neurotransmitter receptors found at these synapses have been implicated in some types of plasticity. Professor George and his students will concentrate on one particularly promising neurotransmitter receptor, the AMPA subtype of the receptor for glutamate. Professor George hopes his research will contribute to the larger effort within the field of neuroscience that aims to understand how people learn and remember at the level of cells and molecules in the brain.

Deborah B. Gewertz, G. Henry Whitcomb 1874 Professor of Anthropology
Research Project: Trade Made Flesh: The Flow of Fatty Meats in the Pacific

Professor Gewertz will use her sabbatical to investigate ethnographically the complex articulations necessary to move cheap, fatty meats from first-world pastures and pens to third-world pots and plates. In particular, she is interested in the controversial flow of lamb or mutton flaps (sheep bellies) from New Zealand and Australia to Papua New Guinea (where they are still consumed to the satisfaction of many) and Fiji (where they have been recently banned to the regret of many). She sees this trade as an embodiment of first- and third-world differences. After all, it is in the third-world contexts of poor Melanesian countries that many citizens/consumers are the often willing recipients of what the first world views as inferior. Moreover, in proposing an ethnographically grounded study of fatty meat—a sort of gastrology—she wants to trace a commodity chain so as to address one of the more significant contemporary problems in social theory, namely the linkage of transnational studies with studies of local places. Professor Gewertz also received Faculty Research Award Program funding for this project.

Jenny L. Kallick, Professor of Music
Research Project: Composing a Space: An Original Music Drama Based on the Life and Architecture of Louis Kahn

Louis Kahn, foremost twentieth-century American architect, perceived that buildings express a kind of music. This guiding precept underscored the spiritual connection in his creative world between space and sound. In his words: “To hear a sound is to see its space. Space has tonality, and I imagine myself composing a space lofty, vaulted, or under a dome, attributing to it a sound character alternating with the tones of a space, narrow and high, with graduating silver, light to darkness.” (“Space and Inspirations,” 1967). The Kahn Project, a collaboration led by Professor Kallick, proposes to capture this sound-space connection and recreate Kahn’s perceptual world in a musical drama. Kahn’s sites will be visited to compile a source book of sounds and images. Concurrently, properties of these sounds will be explored, and they will be enhanced through electronic means. Finally, in a fully staged narrative, this musical drama will be realized in collaboration with theatrical and musical performers. A sampling of project field work is available at www.amherst.edu/~kahn. Professor Kallick also received Faculty Research Award Program funding for this project.

Steven G. Rivkin, Associate Professor of Economics
Research Project: Economics of Public Elementary and Secondary Education

Professor Rivkin will use his year-long sabbatical to conduct five separate research projects related to the economics of public elementary and secondary education in the Texas school system. Professor Rivkin’s first project is an extension of a senior thesis written by his student Megan Kahn ’04 on the effects of air pollution on school absenteeism. Building on his and Megan’s previous findings that exposure to carbon monoxide is the pollutant that has the largest effect on school attendance, Professor Rivkin will analyze additional data to improve the evaluation of air pollution effects. In addition, he plans to investigate the linkages among pollution, absenteeism, and academic achievement. Professor Rivkin’s second project is a revision of an earlier study of the effects of charter schools on academic achievement. He now plans to undertake a more ambitious study of the market for charter schools in an effort to learn more about the determinants of charter school locations and the effects of such schools on the quality of education in the regular public schools. He will analyze specific factors that might determine the location of a charter school, including the racial, ethnic, and income composition of a community, and population density. In three related projects, Professor Rivkin will examine the relationship between class size and teacher quality, the racial achievement gap, and the educational experiences of recent immigrants. Most of Professor Rivkin’s research is based on empirical analyses of large administrative data sets that will require substantial time devoted to date set preparation and statistical analysis.

Natasha Staller, Associate Professor of Fine Arts
Research Project: The Spanish Monster

Professor Staller is writing a book that explores the centuries old Spanish fascination with monsters and monstrous forms—which was central to the works of most of its greatest painters and writers. Critical to The Spanish Monster is Professor Staller’s detailed study of Goya’s Black Pictures. Using the methodological approach she developed in her book A Sum of Destructions: Picasso’s Cultures and the Creation of Cubism, Professor Staller will interpret Goya’s images by examining, for example, what witches meant during his time. Professor Staller spent the last two summers working in the archives of the Inquisition in Spain. She presented some of her new research at a conference in Princeton last April. She will make additional trips to Spain next year before finishing her book—to do research, as well as to lecture in Málaga and Barcelona.

Robert C. Townsend, Class of 1959 Professor of English
Research Project: Exploring Friendship

Professor Townsend is currently at work on a book about friendship, a topic that has interested him for more than thirty years, and which has been the subject of several of his First-Year Seminars. Professor Townsend’s discussion of friendship reflects his personal and intellectual commitment to a way of life, which has been informed by the writings on friendship of such great thinkers as Montaigne, Bacon, Johnson, and Emerson. In the opening chapter, Professor Townsend will address what he calls “the issue of personality and impersonality in friendship,” contrasting the commonly held understanding of the nature of friendship—that it implies obligation, understanding, and trust—with the opposing view expressed, for example, by Simone Weil, that there should be “something not unlike complete indifference” in “pure friendship.” Subsequent chapters will focus on friendship and love (philia and eros), definitions of friendship and the rarity of friendship, and finally, qualities that define the highest forms of friendship and examples of great friendships that exhibit these qualities. Professor Townsend states that his purpose for writing this book is not such much to convert anyone to his views on friendship, but rather to engender thinking and conversation about it. As Professor Townsend writes, “for though the word [friendship] is on everyone’s lips, we give relatively little thought to it, and I think it follows, our lives are more impoverished.”