Professor Nusrat S. Chowdhury on the Importance of Throwing Things: Pelting as Popular Politics

Submitted on Tuesday, 9/19/2023, at 1:55 PM

Public Seminar – “Aggrieved crowds have been throwing objects—stones, shoes, pies, eggs—that have doled out insult and injury in equal measure seemingly for centuries,” writes Chowdhury, associate professor of anthropology, in an excerpt from an essay first published in Social Research: An International Quarterly. “A common show of collective grievance, pelting has lost neither its significance nor its frequency over time.”

Chowdhury gives historical examples of displeased audiences pelting public figures, from the Roman emperor Vespasian, to playwright Oscar Wilde, to the newly crowned King Charles III of England. She relates pelting to other scholars’ theories about crowds and “the ‘carnivalesque,’ a term Mikhail Bakhtin used to describe an ethos similar to that of the medieval carnival.”

“Even when individual perpetrators of pelting are heroized or punished (remember Muntadhar Al-Zaidi, the Iraqi shoe thrower?), pelting is a performance of crowd sovereignty in all its joyous, violent, fun, furious, and law breaking glory,” the professor writes. “Spontaneous and ritualistic, orgiastic and meticulous, funny and somber, pelting is both a medium and a metaphor of the crowd.”

How Lauren Groff ’01, One of “Our Finest Living Writers,” Does Her Work

Submitted on Monday, 9/11/2023, at 12:26 PM

The New York Times – Groff takes reporter Elizabeth A. Harris on a hike through the Florida woods to give insight into her writing, reading and athletic habits. The acclaimed author’s newest book is the novel The Vaster Wilds, “in which a young woman escapes from Jamestown, Va., in the 17th century, and tries to survive on her own in the wilderness.”

“Groff played soccer at Amherst College and met her husband, Clay Kallman [’00], on the crew team,” Harris writes. Kallman is then quoted as saying, “For her, writing has been a great outlet, and so have athletic pursuits.”

“Groff, whose work slides back and forth between historical and contemporary settings, has had three New York Times best sellers and is unusually productive for a literary writer,” the article says, identifying those three bestselling books as 2015’s Fates and Furies, 2018’s Florida and 2021’s Matrix. “She’s able to keep up her publishing pace by working on several projects, even several novels, simultaneously, holding entire, vibrant worlds distinct in her mind.” She also reads an estimated 300 books per year.

Professor Ilan Stavans on “Blue Beetle,” Latino Representation and the Danger of a Single Superhero Story

Submitted on Monday, 8/28/2023, at 4:33 PM

The Boston Globe – “The Latino imagination isn’t an empty vessel easily filled with recycled parts. From time immemorial, we’ve had an extraordinary assortment of superheroes,” Stavans writes in a critique of the new hit movie based on a DC Comics character.

Stavans, the Lewis-Sebring Professor of Humanities and Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst, begins by listing some of the heroic figures of “the Mexico of the 1970s where I grew up,” such as Kalimán, el hombre increíble, and “the Aztec deity Quetzalcóatl, a proto-superhero with magical powers.” 

He then expresses disappointment that Blue Beetle places a Mexican American family at the center of a derivative mass-market movie whose title hero, dating back to comic books of 1939, didn’t even originate as a Latino character: in the new film, “the protagonist’s Latinidad feels more like a corporate ploy than an authentic feature.” The professor muses on parallels between Blue Beetle, Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Cervantes’ Don Quixote, but laments that the movie itself doesn’t make the most of those parallels.

Q&A with Dr. Ali Thaler ’11, Neurologist and Author

Submitted on Friday, 8/25/2023, at 1:48 PM

The Student Doctor Network – Thaler is an assistant professor of neurology at Mount Sinai Hospital, specializing in treatment of stroke and headache patients, and a co-author of The Only Neurology Book You’ll Ever Need. Here, she answers questions about her education and career path and how she balances writing, teaching and practicing medicine.

“I decided to become a physician when I was in college,” says Thaler, who majored in English and neuroscience at Amherst. “I loved my science classes—I found evidence-based thinking incredibly satisfying—and, even more, loved the idea that I could one day use the information I was learning to help take care of patients … [plus] I knew I could keep writing as a physician.”

The doctor responds to further questions from Laura Turner about attending the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, her day-to-day work as a neurologist and professor, problems in the U.S. health care system, and more.

Charlie Odulio ’26 on Searching for Meaning in the Music of Mahler

Submitted on Friday, 8/18/2023, at 4:45 PM

Of Note – As part of a summer internship with WDAV Classical Public Radio, Odulio—a music major and trumpet player at Amherst—presents a two-part multimedia blog post about Gustav Mahler’s Third Symphony and its renowned “posthorn solo.”

“There are entire books written about this symphony,” Odulio writes, “so while we can’t cover the full scope of the piece in this two part series, I hope to provide some insight that might help you understand and appreciate this wonderful Mahler masterwork.” 

Part 1 of Odulio’s essay outlines and analyzes the six movements of the 1896 symphony, concluding that it “is a colossal affirmation of human life that does not shy away from the suffering we experience, but invites us to flourish in spite of it.” Part 2 delves into the third movement, which “contains one of the most iconic trumpet solos in the entire orchestral repertoire.” Both blog entries include photos, audio, video, and links to sources and further reading.

Comedian Aparna Nancherla ’05E’s Failure Résumé

Submitted on Friday, 8/11/2023, at 4:17 PM

The New Yorker – Instead of touting her many successes in stand-up, writing and acting, Nancherla lists a lifetime of mistakes and disappointments in an excerpt from her forthcoming book, Unreliable Narrator: Me, Myself, and Impostor Syndrome.

“I got my first supporting part in a movie, and they forgot to invite me to the première,” Nancherla writes. “Learned secondhand from a co-worker at my first late-night writing job that one of my bosses ‘does not get what it is you do exactly.’ Hard agree! Let me know if you ever figure it out!” The résumé also describes how she lied her way to third place in a science fair at age 14 and got stood up by her own therapist at 31. Her “Special Skills” include “Not brushing my teeth correctly (according to my dentist).”

Under “Education,” Nancherla lists her B.A. in psychology from Amherst College, noting: “Have barely used degree except during small talk (most often to polite nods), though it has led to a real weakness for online personality tests.” She does not know where her diploma is.

Author Catherine Newman ’90 on Discovering the Loss, Pain and Beauty at the End of Life

Submitted on Tuesday, 8/8/2023, at 1:44 PM

Read. Talk. Grow. – On a Mayo Clinic podcast about books and women’s health, Newman discusses We All Want Impossible Things, her 2022 novel about hospice care and navigating a friend’s death from ovarian cancer. Known for many books, essays and columns, Newman is a hospice volunteer and the academic department coordinator for Amherst College’s Writing Center.

The podcast episode is hosted by Dr. Denise Millstine and also includes Dr. Maisha T. Robinson, chair of the Mayo Clinic’s Division of Palliative Medicine. With Newman, they talk about services offered in palliative care, the best ways to support not only patients themselves but also their friends and family, and the humor that can arise even when dealing with illness and death. 

Newman comments on moments in her fictional novel, as well as her real-life experiences with caring for, and then losing, a terminally ill friend. “I thought of it as shoveling out this massive hole, like we were working all day doing this thing, and then the person dies and there’s a hole there. Then there is the grief,” she says. “The death, for the survivors, is really just the beginning of something, and that also really surprised me.”

Psychology Professor Catherine A. Sanderson on How to Get Rid of Hazing

Submitted on Monday, 7/31/2023, at 6:56 PM

The Conversation – “Understanding the psychological processes that lead them to misperceive what those around them are actually thinking is the first step in helping students speak up in the face of bad behavior,” Sanderson writes. “The next—and crucial—step is to shift norms about what group loyalty means.”

Sanderson is the Poler Family Professor of Psychology and chair of psychology at Amherst. Her most recent book is 2020’s Why We Act: Turning Bystanders into Moral Rebels. In this essay, she describes a tragedy at her son’s college: a student who had been drinking sustained a head injury and later died because his friends delayed seeking help. She relates this story to other “problematic behavior in group settings” such as fraternity hazing. 

One reason people fail to intervene in bad behavior, the professor explains, is pluralistic ignorance, wherein a “majority of people privately believe one thing” (i.e., that the behavior is wrong or risky) “but incorrectly assume that most others feel differently” (i.e., that the behavior is nothing to worry about). Another reason is that loyalty drives them to keep quiet, lest reporting the behavior get their friends in trouble. Sanderson suggests a better understanding of loyalty: “Being a good friend, fraternity brother, or teammate means speaking up, not staying silent.”

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A New Symphony Celebrates JFK’s 1963 Speech at Amherst

Submitted on Friday, 7/14/2023, at 11:41 AM

Colorado Public Radio – “When the American poet Robert Frost died in 1963, President John F. Kennedy stood up and addressed a memorial service gathered at Amherst College,” writes reporter Eden Lane. Now Neil Bicknell ’64 “is working with renowned American composer Adolphus Hailstork to create a new work that includes lines from JFK’s Amherst speech interspersed with lines from poems by Robert Frost.”

The symphony, which will have its world premiere at the Colorado Music Festival (CMF) on July 16, shares its title, JFK: The Last Speech, with a book, documentary and website produced by the Amherst class of 1964. Kennedy’s Amherst address is known as his “last speech” because he delivered it just weeks before his November 1963 assassination. Lane’s article includes quotes from the speech itself, as well as from Bicknell, Hailstork and CMF Music Director Peter Oundjian.

The symphony will also be performed by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and National Symphony Orchestra in October, and at Amherst College on Nov. 11.

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To Improve Girls’ Well-Being, Get Them on the Rugby Pitch, Says Christine Bader ’93

Submitted on Monday, 7/10/2023, at 4:07 PM

Yamhill County’s News-Register – In an article for a local newspaper in Oregon, illustrated with a clipping from a 1992 issue of The Amherst Student, Bader argues that participation in sports—particularly rugby—has physical, psychological and social benefits for adolescent girls. A former college rugby player herself, she now coaches a girls’ team.

Bader, who also teaches in Linfield University’s master of science in business program, begins by citing statistics about the current mental health crisis among teen girls—with 57 percent feeling “persistently sad or hopeless” as of 2021—and then points out more positive findings: “Girls who play sports are more likely than non-athletes to eat healthy foods, get ample exercise and sleep, and refrain from smoking cigarettes. Female athletes are also more likely to report high self-esteem and plan to graduate from a four-year college.”

Emphasizing the camaraderie fostered in rugby, Bader recalls “beer and singing” with teammates at Amherst. She notes some deterrents to girls’ equal participation in athletics, especially the relative lack of coaches who are women. She also quotes several current and former athletes’ testimonies to the positive impact of sports on their lives.  

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Professor Jen Manion on Trans-ing Gender in Early America

Submitted on Monday, 6/26/2023, at 2:24 PM

Ben Franklin’s World – Manion, a professor of history and sexuality, women’s and gender studies at Amherst, joins historian and podcast host Liz Covart for an extensive discussion of the cases and ideas in Manion’s 2020 book, Female Husbands: A Trans History. “Female husbands” was a term used in the 18th- and 19th-century U.S. and Britain for people assigned female at birth who later lived and worked as men and who married women. 

The conversation delves into numerous questions, such as: How has Americans’ understanding of gender and sexuality changed since colonial times? What are the difficulties in finding historical sources of information about people we might today recognize as LGBTQ+? Why did early American and British trans people often work as soldiers or sailors?

Manion explains how the idea for Female Husbands grew out of research for their 2015 book, Liberty’s Prisoners: Carceral Culture in Early America. The professor notes their current research interest in “the medicalization of gender and sexuality, which occurred roughly in the 1880s into the early decades of the 1900s” and the role of medical stigma “in the shaping and limiting of queer and trans identity in the 20th and 21st century.”

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New Study Highlights Vital Contribution of Colleges and Universities to Western Massachusetts Communities

Submitted on Thursday, 6/15/2023, at 2:19 PM

MassLive – Amherst’s President Michael A. Elliott is among the college presidents in the region who have united to write about recent findings that the “11 private colleges and universities of western Mass contribute $3.3 billion annually to the regional economy and are responsible for 19,400 jobs.”

These findings come from Econsult Solutions, Inc.’s “exhaustive independent study of the economic impact of the 59 private colleges and universities that comprise the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts,” they write. The economic activities of these colleges can be broken down into day-to-day campus operations, “student and visitor spending in the community,” and spending on construction of campus facilities.   

“Private colleges and universities in Massachusetts serve the majority of low-income students, first-generation college attendees and Pell Grant students,” the column notes in addition. “At Amherst College, need-blind admission and no-loan financial aid allow the College to enroll talented students from Massachusetts and around the world regardless of economic status.” 

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Understanding the SCOTUS Shadow Docket with Steve Vladeck ’01

Submitted on Thursday, 6/8/2023, at 4:24 PM

Texas Appellate Law Podcast – In an extensive interview, Vladeck, the Charles Alan Wright Chair in Federal Courts at the University of Texas School of Law, describes his career path through studying, clerking, practicing and teaching law. He also discusses his new book, The Shadow Docket: How the Supreme Court Uses Stealth Rulings to Amass Power and Undermine the Republic.

“I had a professor who was jointly appointed in the history and law jurisprudence and social thought departments at Amherst College,” Vladeck says, possibly alluding to Professor Lawrence Douglas. “He opened my eyes to the interaction and the inner relationship between law and history, law and politics, and the relevance of how the law responds to historical trauma and tries to react to historical trauma, things like war crimes trials and truth commissions.”

Vladeck went on from Amherst to earn a J.D. at Yale, where he “focused on the United States post-9/11 policy landscape and legal landscape.” He has held two clerkships, argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, taught at the University of Miami and American University before moving to Texas, and hosted law-related podcasts of his own. 

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Professor Pawan Dhingra on What It Takes to Become a Spelling Bee Champ

Submitted on Tuesday, 5/30/2023, at 2:55 PM

The Conversation – “Whenever the Scripps National Spelling Bee takes place, parents and children may wonder: What does it take to become a champion?” writes Dhingra. “[A]s I state in my book Hyper Education: Why Good Schools, Good Grades, and Good Behavior Are Not Enough, there are certain practices that can greatly boost a child’s chances of becoming an excellent speller.”

Dhingra, who is Amherst’s associate provost and associate dean of the faculty as well as the Aliki Perroti and Seth Frank ’55 Professor of U.S. Immigration Studies in American Studies, elaborates upon five general pieces of advice for succeeding at the Scripps bee, which takes place on May 31 and June 1 this year: “1. Invest in study materials,” “2. Practice independently,” “3. Make studying a family affair,” “4. Form study groups” and “5. Read a lot.”

“With all this being said, it’s important for families—and the contestants themselves—to pay attention to how they are feeling about the preparation,” he concludes. “Burning out on a single competition isn’t worth it if it undermines a student’s passion for learning.”

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Dr. Alison Christy ’02 Embroiders Brain Images, Writes and Creates Games

Submitted on Monday, 5/22/2023, at 3:12 PM

Neurology Today – “I’ve spent my life in between the arts and the sciences, and I don't think you have to pick one,” says Christy, a pediatric neurologist and neuroimmunologist who features her colorful embroidered images of neurons on her Instagram account.

“I went to Amherst College, a liberal arts school, and majored in neuroscience,” she says in this Q&A, which also touches upon her earlier education in Alabama and her later enrollment in medical school, where she discovered joy in working with children. Today she is clinical director of pediatric neurology for Providence Health and Services Northern Oregon and director of the Providence Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis and Neuroimmunology Center.

Christy talks about her recent embroidery hobby, saying, “I think the brain is really beautiful.” One of her pieces has been added to the art collection of the Jane and John Justin Neurosciences Center at Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas. Christy also writes essays and short fiction, and has co-created “a card game called Endowed Chairs, featuring 12 prominent women from the history of neurology.”

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