A Mammoth Modern Art Acquisition

Submitted on Friday, 8/16/2019, at 3:37 PM

News of the recent anonymous gift of more than 170 works of contemporary art to the Mead Art Museum hit the art world and beyond this week. Pieces in The Boston Globe, Artnews, Artforum, WBUR and more celebrated the acquisition, which includes works by established artists such as Mona Hatoum, David Hockney, Thomas Ruff, and Cindy Sherman, and number of pieces by a diverse roster of artists from across the United States and around the world such as Dario Escobar, Toba Khedoori, Robin Rhode, and Analia Saban.

“It can be rough out there for museums affiliated with small liberal arts colleges,” wrote The Observer. “No matter how much time and effort is sunk into establishing fantastic facilities and organizing stimulating exhibitions, it’s an unfortunate truth that way more capital and press attention is going to flow towards huge museums in major metropolitan areas. Sometimes, though, a windfall appears out of nowhere.”

“To be able to get that scope of work has a tremendous impact on us, and the quality as well,” David E. Little, director and chief curator of the Mead Art Museum, told The Boston Globe.

“He’s looking forward to the opportunities for students to interact with the works as research resources for projects, and he says he hopes to invite many of the living artists in the collection to speak on campus,” the Globe wrote. “With a student body around 45 percent composed of students of color, Amherst College should offer students access to artwork that speaks to them, Little believes. He hopes this gift will help make that goal a reality.”

Redirecting the Discussion of Access: Tony Jack '07

Submitted on Friday, 8/16/2019, at 10:36 AM

The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students, written by Anthony Jack ’07, was recently reviewed by The New Yorker as “A Refreshing Antidote to Our Obsession with the College-Admissions Scandal.”

“Recent debates over privilege and adversity in higher education have evinced a myopic obsession with the question of access: who gets in, and why,” wrote The New Yorker’s Eren Orbey. “Jack’s investigation redirects attention from the matter of access to the matter of inclusion. Rather than parse the spurious meritocracy of admissions, his book challenges universities to support the diversity they indulge in advertising.”

“Jack spent hundreds of hours listening to his subjects, offering attention and advice in seemingly equal measure. The lasting beauty of his ethnography is that it gives a voice to the students who, as his research ends up revealing, most need it,” Orbey wrote.

Update: Jack recently brought his message to the Association of American Medical Colleges, as speaker at the AAMC's Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona. "What I want all graduate students, all graduate schools to understand, whether it's professional or for research, is the same thing I'm trying to get colleges to fully commit to believing: Acceptance does not wash away poverty, it does not wash away disadvantage," he said in an interview with AAMC News. "These students aren’t looking for a handout. They’re ready to put in the work of going to medical school. If you’re willing to do that, you're not taking the easy road out."

Finding the Widow Washington

Submitted on Friday, 8/2/2019, at 9:48 AM

In reviewing Martha Saxton’s new book The Widow Washington: The Life of Mary Washington for the Washington Post, Marjoleine Kars, who teaches history at the University of Maryland, noted the challenges in writing about George Washington’s mother. She wrote that it was a task successfully met by Saxton, Professor of History and Sexuality, Women's and Gender Studies and Elizabeth W. Bruss Reader, Emerita.

“Saxton’s task proved challenging as Mary left no journal and few letters. But by piecing together and reinterpreting insights from family correspondence, from the books Mary treasured and especially from her eldest son’s obsessive records, Saxton creates a sensitive and plausible, if at times speculative, picture that richly evokes Mary’s interior life and the world of a slaveholding widow and planter in 18th-century Virginia,” Kars wrote.

She concluded, “In Saxton’s able hands, Mary Washington’s story vividly illuminates the role white women played in the creation and transmission of wealth in early America, the frictions that patriarchal inheritance created between mothers and sons, and the tremendous price paid by the enslaved people who made much of Virginia’s wealth possible.”

Towards a Gender-Neutral Workplace

Submitted on Friday, 8/2/2019, at 9:45 AM

For the recent piece “He, She or They: How Companies are Starting to Address Calls for a Gender-Neutral Workplace,” the Chicago Tribune turned to the expertise of Jen Manion, Associate Professor of History. Manion, who has written extensively about gender and sexuality, was cited in a discussion about workplace practices regarding gender identification.

"Human resources practices are usually very binary,” Manion told the Tribune, explaining that most employee forms and records require employees to check “male” or “female.”

“At the same time, gender-neutral bathrooms are a bigger step forward than meetings in which people go around the room stating the pronouns they use, Manion said.”

Bursting Onto the Stage Like a ‘Bat Out of Hell’

Submitted on Friday, 7/26/2019, at 2:19 PM

With Bat Out of Hell — The Musical coming to the New York stage, New York Times cultural reporter Dave Itzkoff wrote an extensive article tracing the journey of composer/lyricist Jim Steinman ’69, all the way back to his days as an Amherst student.

“The musical based on the grandiose Meat Loaf album shines a light on its songwriter, Jim Steinman, and the many twists and turns it took to get both projects made,” Itzkoff wrote. “Though its songs may be pure ear candy to fans, they encapsulate for him a lifetime’s worth of stops and starts, frustrating near-misses and occasional head-on collisions with Meat Loaf, his friend and collaborator.”

“From its inception, Bat Out of Hell has swerved all over the boundary between sincerity and absurdity,” Itzkoff wrote. “As an Amherst student, Mr. Steinman first conceived of and starred in The Dream Engine, a rock musical about a tribe of wild teens in a dystopian metropolis. Joseph Papp, the Public Theater founder, expressed interest in the project, and over the next several years, Mr. Steinman adapted it into a new work called Neverland, with characters and settings that more overtly referenced J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.”

An abridged version of the original musical shocker was staged at this year’s Reunion, starring Andrew Polec, who is headlining the New York production of Bat Out of Hell — The Musical.

From New England to Nepal: The Positives of Land Conservation

Submitted on Friday, 7/26/2019, at 2:07 PM

Continuing to challenge the narrative that land conservation is bad for business growth, Katharine Sims, associate professor of economics and environmental studies and chair of the economics department, is now getting attention for a pair of recent studies on the impact of protection efforts in New England and Nepal.

Sims recently spoke with WGBY’s Connecting Point about her recent paper in Conservation Biology, which looked at the impacts of public land protection in New England from 1990 to 2015.

The study, funded by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Program, “revealed that when land conservation increased, employment also increased over the five-year period that followed,” Farm and Dairy reported. “If a town with 50,000 employed citizens increased its land protection by 50 percent, it saw, on average, 750 additional people employed in the next five years.”

[UPDATE July 2019: Sims has published a column for The Conversation summarising the findings of the New England study.]

Scienmag and Science Daily reported on a University of Manchester study published in Nature Sustainability, for which Sims joined the a UK team looking at conservation in Nepal. The study found that areas with community forest management were 51% more likely to witness simultaneous reductions in deforestation and poverty.

“We sought to learn from Nepal’s experience implementing an innovative conservation policy,” Sims told Scienmag. We hope our methods will be useful for future study of community forestry in different contexts and compared to alternate governance structures.”

Giving Back to Jamaica

Submitted on Friday, 7/19/2019, at 3:50 PM

Jenine Shepherd ’20, the subject of a Spring 2019 Amherst Magazine article, was recently quoted by Caribbean Life concerning efforts to better encourage young educated professionals from her native Jamaica to give back to their birthplace.

“Jamaica is in the top 20 countries for the highest immigration rate of educated people,” said Shepherd, speaking at the 8th Biennial Jamaica Diaspora Conference, held mid-June in Kingston.

Jamaica’s “brain drain” means a financial loss for the country, she told conference attendees. “The government is missing out on valuable revenue they could have gained from taxes, or other investments made in the country,” she said.

“Shepherd, who received the Prime Minister’s Award for Nation Building, and is in the process of expanding her company to the USA and the Netherlands where she will build schools for refugees and inner-city children with the support of their heads of government and the UN, noted that Jamaica needs [young diaspora professionals] to make a contribution,” the publication reported.

She proposed that the Global Jamaica Youth Council back a Jamaica Youth Network initiative, a “transformative arm of the council” dedicated to better connecting Jamaicans with each other in the diaspora. 

“She has been working closely with the US Embassy, consulates and the ministry to ensure that the voices of approximately 800,000 Jamaicans residing in the USA are heard on issues of cultural estrangement how they can get involved in policy making,” Caribbean Life added.

Solving a Mural Mystery

Submitted on Friday, 7/19/2019, at 3:47 PM

The San Diego Union-Tribune recently told the story of one intrepid Amherst College student who took to sleuthing out the provenance of a mural that has for decades adorned the main archway at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

“I basically contacted every single person who might have an idea,”said Dean Gordon '22, who became engrossed with the mural on a tour a few years back, and was not content to hear that the artist was unidentified. He contacted “every archivist, historian or professor who might have some connection to the mural,” rumored to have been painted before the Coliseum hosted the 1932 Olympics.

The article tells of how he eventually traced the mural to Heinz Rosien, a German immigrant who was hired in 1969 to spruce up the archway in hopes of helping the city win a bid for the 1976 Olympics. Gordon would ultimately connect with Rosien’s son Igor Rosien, who had assisted with the painting.

“Thankfully, Dean didn’t take ‘mystery mural’ as an answer,” Igor Rosien told the newspaper.

Ken Danford '88 and the No-School Option

Submitted on Friday, 7/12/2019, at 11:27 AM

Ken Danford ’88, who walked away from a potential career as a school administrator to found a nontraditional learning center for teens, has a new book out, and the Greenfield Recorder’s Richie Davis spoke with him about it.

Danford taught public school in Maryland and eventually grew disillusioned with his career path while teaching in Amherst. He dropped out of a UMass doctoral program in school administration, to launch North Star (originally called Pathfinder) with Joshua Hornick in 1996, as a resource for teens who want to pursue their own interests without school.

His new book, Learning is Natural; School is Optional, discusses his motivations behind starting North Star as an alternative to more traditional middle and high schools. The Sunderland-based program enrolls about 60 teens each year for classes, one-on-one tutorials, and self-directed activities and volunteer experiences.

“North Star, Danford is quick to point out, isn’t a school,” Davis writes. “Attitudes among parents have changed since North Star was created, he says, and it’s now easier to explain it as ‘a clubhouse to help you home school’”.

“It’s still a misunderstood movement, but more people have somehow been touched in their neighborhood or extended families with the idea that someone’s being homeschooled, so it’s a little less of an uphill climb right now. And that doesn’t have to mean getting the curriculum at home. It can mean doing alternative stuff,” Danford said.

The center, which recently ended its fourth year in its fourth location, has helped 800 students from within a 40-minute radius. A number of similar centers throughout the country belong to a network following the North Star model.

Amherst, First in Baseball

Submitted on Thursday, 7/11/2019, at 5:01 PM

July 1 marked the 160th anniversary of the first collegiate baseball game, which pitted Amherst College against rival Williams College at in Pittsfield, Mass., and Amherst College won.

NCAA.com recently ran an account of that historic 1859 game, noting that modern ball fans might have been confused had they been there.

The teams played following Massachusetts rules of the day: “The playing field was a square with no foul territory, with the ‘striker’ setting up on a line halfway between first base and home base … there were no balls in pitching. If a striker swung at a pitch and missed, he received a strike. But if he repeatedly decided not to swing at good pitches in an attempt to delay the game, the referee would give a warning,” Daniel Wilco wrote.

“One of the most significant differences under Massachusetts rules was the ability to get a runner out by throwing the ball at him and hitting him. Seems just slightly dangerous,” he continued.

The two teams agreed to limit the game to 65 “tallies” (or runs), and that each team would consist of 13 players. Each inning only lasted for one out, meaning it took 25 innings before Amherst beat Williams 73-32.

“And for good measure, the two teams played a chess match afterwards, which Amherst also won,” Wilco wrote.

Later in 1859, St. John’s College Fordham Rose Hill Baseball Club (now known as Fordham University) played against St. Francis Xavier College in what would be the first collegiate game with the modern rules of the game.