New Biography of Science Professor and College President Edward Hitchcock

Submitted on Monday, 5/10/2021, at 12:54 PM

The Daily Hampshire Gazette’s Book Bag column features All the Light Here Comes from Above: The Life and Legacy of Edward Hitchcock, by local author Robert T. McMaster (UnQuomonk Press). Hitchcock (1793–1864) was a pastor, geologist and paleontologist who taught at Amherst and served as the College’s third president.

“In an introduction to this in-depth work, for which he says he’s relied heavily on Hitchcock’s voluminous writings—studies, letters, diary entries, sermons—McMaster recalls visiting the Pratt Museum of Natural History at Amherst as a boy and being impressed even then with the number of artifacts, such as dinosaur tracks in stone, that Hitchcock had discovered,” DHG staff writer Steve Pfarrer notes in the column.

Pfarrer writes that Hitchcock “is remembered as well for helping rescue Amherst College from dire financial circumstances after he became president in 1845, and for his promotion of women’s education.”

McMaster’s book also gives credit to Edward’s wife, Orra White Hitchcock, a scientific illustrator who bolstered her husband’s work with both her artistic talent and her emotional support.

Joseph Stiglitz ’64: “The Major Challenge Facing Every University, Every Teacher, Is How to Teach Creativity”

Submitted on Tuesday, 4/20/2021, at 2:53 PM

Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and professor at Columbia University, spoke about education at the 13th annual Columbia China Business Conference on April 6, according to a Yahoo Finance article.

Stiglitz emphasized the need for schools—in the United States, in China and around the world— to foster creativity, individuality and critical thinking. He touted liberal arts colleges such as Amherst: “These schools have a disproportionate role in creating original, creative people.”

The economist also criticized U.S. elementary and secondary schools for failing to bring “the vast part of the country” to a desired level of education. But he also praised the country’s state universities, saying he hoped “we can get continued support and maintain access to [higher education] by lowering the tuition and providing funds for people of ordinary means to go to school.”

Professor Jen Manion on the Challenges of Telling LGBTQ History

Submitted on Monday, 4/19/2021, at 4:40 PM

Manion was one of four historians who took part in a panel discussion now featured on the website for BBC History Magazine and BBC History Revealed.

“I think what’s been really exciting in the past decade is how much the LGBTQ community, and especially young people, has been really interested in our history,” said Manion, an associate professor of history and author of Female Husbands: A Trans History (Cambridge, 2020). “I see it especially in the transgender community: people are really hungry to understand the longer lineage of these kinds of experiences, and what a trans life was like before modern times.”

Manion also commented on the “distrust within the queer community about what publishers and professional historians do with the records of our lives” and the importance of fighting against efforts to suppress and marginalize queer history.

Chris Bohjalian ’82 on the Pandemic, War and Social Injustice as “Hour of the Witch” Draws Nigh

Submitted on Friday, 4/16/2021, at 4:04 PM

The Armenian Weekly interviews the bestselling author and shares the prologue of Hour of the Witch, his novel that will be released on May 4.

Reporter Pauline Getzoyan speaks with Bohjalian about the new novel, which is set in 17th-century Puritan New England, and about what it has been like for him to write while in lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. “In short, the whole awful year impacted my process and what I do, both emotionally and logistically,” he says.

The interview also addresses the Armenian Genocide of 1915–17—which was the subject of Bohjalian’s 2013 novel The Sandcastle Girls—as well as the violent conflict that took place in the fall of 2020 in a disputed region called Artsakh, whose population is majority Armenian. 

Bohjalian, who is Armenian American, says the following about including Armenian characters in his fiction: “I do try and do two things when I can: first, show Armenians living in the world as it is, whether the world is in Yerevan or Los Angeles; second, show something of Armenian culture, whether it’s as simple as a building or an earring or a song. It’s a way of reminding my readers, ‘We’re still here, thank you very much. And we are not just victims.’” 

Amy Ziering ’83, #MeToo’s Preeminent Documentarian, Is Just Getting Started

Submitted on Friday, 4/16/2021, at 1:36 PM

Bustle profiles Ziering, maker of several influential films—including The Invisible War, The Hunting Ground, On the Record and Allen v. Farrow—that address sexual assault.

The article, by Dana Getz, touches upon Ziering’s early life: her father was a Holocaust survivor, both of her parents engaged in philanthropy and political activism, and she began studying feminist theory at Amherst. 

The article also describes the impact of Ziering’s documentaries, both on U.S. society and on the filmmaker herself. “The Invisible War led to sweeping policy change, five congressional hearings, and the passing of over 35 pieces of legislation,” Getz writes. “The Hunting Ground incited the introduction of three bills in U.S. Congress and 28 in state legislatures; On the Record opened the conversation about sexual assault to Black survivors long left out of it; and Allen v. Farrow spurred a nearly 20% increase in calls per week to RAINN, America’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.” And the process of creating the documentaries has led to an evolution in Ziering’s own understanding of the issue, while also leaving her with “secondary PTSD.”

Library Director Martin Garnar Receives Award for Defense of Intellectual Freedom

Submitted on Wednesday, 3/31/2021, at 3:34 PM

Martin Garnar, director of the library at Amherst, has received the 2021 John Phillip Immroth Memorial Award from Intellectual Freedom Round Table (IFRT) of the American Library Association (ALA).

Garnar “is an active leader of the ALA intellectual freedom community, having served the profession in every capacity imaginable,” according to an ALA press release. “Martin has served as a trustee and president of the Freedom to Read Foundation, chair of the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee, chair of the ALA Committee on Professional Ethics, chair of the IFC Privacy Subcommittee, trustee of the Leroy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund, editor of the 10th edition and co-editor of the 9th edition of the Intellectual Freedom Manual, and councilor of IFRT.” 

The $500 annual award was established in 1979 in memory of John Phillip Immroth, the teacher, author, scholar and advocate who founded the IFRT in 1973.

Dania Hallak ’24 Details Her Happy Childhood in Syria, Her Love for the Country and the Pain of Loss

Submitted on Friday, 3/19/2021, at 6:00 PM

The UMass Daily Collegian has published a feature on Hallak, who grew up in the city of Aleppo before moving to Lebanon to escape the Syrian civil war and is now a first-year student at Amherst.

Hallak’s childhood in the lively metropolis was “like a dream,” she says, but she recalls the war gradually growing to affect Syria’s economy and erode citizens’ sense of safety. After the University of Aleppo, very near Hallak’s home, was bombed in 2013, her family fled to Lebanon, where she faced discrimination as a Syrian immigrant. The ongoing war has killed an estimated  500,000 people and displaced half of Syria’s population.

“Halak [sic] now proudly carries her Syrian identity in Amherst, fervently telling her friends about the rich history and sublime culture of Syria—home to poets, scholars and pioneers in medicine and education,” writes Daily Collegian reporter Saliha Bayrak. “Above all, Halak wants the world to know of the kind hearts of Syrians and their love for knowledge, history and literature.”

Hallak also expresses the hope that the bombing in her home country will end, so that it can be rebuilt and she can someday return and raise children there.

Ghenete “G” Wright Muir ’95’s Thou Art Woman: Archiving the Lives of Black and Brown LBT Women in South Florida

Submitted on Friday, 3/19/2021, at 4:45 PM

South Florida Gay News profiles Wright Muir, a law professor and co-founder of Thou Art Woman, “an event series that celebrates LBT women and their allies through narrative, performance, and visual arts.”

The article describes Wright Muir’s multifaceted law career, her early life and family, and her coming out as gender-nonconforming and a lesbian in 2013. She helped to launch Thou Art Woman the following year, and it has since “expanded and evolved into a three-day weekend event that features visual and performing arts, networking mixers, and tons of live music,” writes reporter Carina Mask. “It’s a place where women can speak freely and express themselves and talk about subjects such as oppression, modern-day feminism, race, and marginalization.” 

The event series had to be postponed in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Wright Muir says she hopes to archive its videos and other materials for posterity, “while moving forward to produce virtual events to keep our community connected, engaged and entertained in 2021 and beyond.”

The article also delves into the history of racism and segregation in South Florida, and how this history repeated itself for Wright Muir in the form of an altercation in a public swimming pool in 2020.

Patrice Peck ’09 Pens an Open Letter to Black Girls

Submitted on Friday, 3/19/2021, at 3:54 PM

“Black girls, this is a letter to help you feel less alone, to remind you all just how powerful you are,” writes Peck, a columnist for MSNBC. “[Y]ou are not imaging the pain you and other girls like you feel at all. It is unacceptable that it exists, because you are just as human and valuable as the people who cause it.”

Peck’s letter acknowledges how many adults in positions of authority have been “behaving in ways that are harmful, unreasonable and just straight-up foul toward Black girls and young women”—from the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor, to politicians who are trying to ban transgender girls from participating in school sports, to religious leaders who impose “narrow definitions … of what is good and right and proper” for women’s conduct.

But the letter also provides reassurance that there “are Black women of all different professional backgrounds using their careers and their work to tackle systemic structural violence against Black girls.” And Peck celebrates the influential successes of young Black girls on social media, in the performing arts and in political movements around the world.

Harlan Coben ’84, P’17, Suburban Dad with 75 Million Books in Print

Submitted on Thursday, 3/11/2021, at 2:41 PM

The New York Times profiles the bestselling thriller novelist, giving a glimpse into his writing habits, his 14-project Netflix deal and his family—which includes his wife, Dr. Anne Armstrong-Coben ’85, and their eldest daughter, Charlotte Coben ’17.

Harlan Coben is the author of 33 books, including the newly released murder mystery novel Win, whose title character “was originally modeled on Coben’s best friend from Amherst,” writes NYT reporter Elizabeth A. Harris. Amherst is also mentioned as the place where Coben and his future wife met as members of the men’s and women’s basketball teams.

In contrast to his “oeuvre full of kidnapping, murder and narrative twists,” Harris adds, “he is also a menschy suburban dad who likes to talk about his four children and dotes on his two shaggy Havanese, Winslow and Laszlo, who trail him around his New Jersey house like eager little mops.”

To work on his many books in the years before the COVID-19 pandemic, Coben says, “I would find a coffee shop or a library or any weird place. I keep changing places. Most writers have a set routine, a set place. My routine is to not have a routine.”

1 Year Ago, Amherst College Was Among First to Go Remote: “We Had Some Very Challenging Meetings”

Submitted on Thursday, 3/11/2021, at 2:08 PM

Marking the anniversary of Amherst’s switch to a remote learning model to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus, New England Public Media interviewed Chief Financial and Administrative Officer Kevin Weinman about that decision and how the pandemic has since affected the College.

“We were one of the first colleges to announce that we were sending our students home,” says Weinman, referring to the decision made in March 2020 that most students would not be allowed to return to campus after spring break. “So we did go through two or three days when our students in particular were extremely upset, for understandable reasons.” But he asserts that, over the ensuing weeks and months, it “ultimately clearly proved to be the right decision.”

Weinman also discusses the stringent protocols put in place at Amherst over the past year—particularly frequent COVID-19 testing for all on-campus students, faculty and staff—as well as the effects of the pandemic on the College’s finances. The interview ends with an uncertain but hopeful look toward possibilities for the fall semester of 2021, as vaccination becomes more prevalent and COVID-19 less so. 

Foraging in Japan with Winifred Bird ’02

Submitted on Monday, 3/8/2021, at 12:38 PM reviews Bird’s new book, Eating Wild Japan: Tracking the Culture of Foraged Foods, with a Guide to Plants and Recipes. Bird is a journalist and translator, originally from San Francisco, who farmed and foraged in the countryside of Mie and Nagano prefectures from 2004 to 2014.

The review describes the book as “a botanist’s guide to edible plants, a cookbook, a collection of insightful essays about Japanese food culture, and a memoir about life in rural Japan.” Eating Wild Japan also includes illustrations by Paul Poynter.

“Everything is seamlessly connected to food,” Bird tells the reviewer. “As an environmental writer when I was in Japan, I often wanted to do better in showing the connections, to be free to write about food, culture, history, economy and the environment as one topic, because I don’t think you can separate them. You can’t understand each of them fully without talking about all of them as one. What we eat is incredibly important in determining how we use the land and how we connect to the land and nature.”

Professor Ilan Stavans on Spanglish as the Language of the Future

Submitted on Monday, 3/1/2021, at 2:21 PM

“[Spanglish] is the fastest growing hybrid language in the world,” says Stavans in a recent video for NBCLX. “I would say it is the most important linguistic phenomenon in the Hispanic world, in the Spanish-speaking world, and in the English-speaking world.”

Stavans, the Lewis-Sebring Professor of Humanities and Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst, is quoted, along with many other scholars and media personalities, about the growing phenomenon of Spanglish, a blend of Spanish and English dating back to the 19th century and now spoken across the United States, especially by Latinx immigrants and their children and grandchildren. Spanglish appears today in popular music, in advertising campaigns and on television news programs.

Stavans is the author of the 2003 book Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language and has taught a course on Spanglish in past semesters—making Amherst one of the growing number of colleges and universities, as mentioned in the video, that include Spanglish in their curricula.

Visiting Professor Tess Wise Interviewed 48 Bankrupt Americans—Here’s Who They Blame for Their Financial Troubles

Submitted on Thursday, 2/18/2021, at 3:56 PM

In an article for The Conversation, Wise, a Karl Loewenstein Fellow and visiting assistant professor of political science at Amherst, describes what she found when she interviewed dozens of Americans who have filed for bankruptcy to get rid of personal debt.

“My research participants would likely bristle at the idea they were receiving a handout,” Wise writes. “They saw themselves as hardworking people who’d unfairly fallen on hard times while everyone else—particularly women, minorities and millennials—got an undeserved handout.” Her interview subjects’ invocations of stereotypes about women, Black people, Latinx people and young adults have prompted Wise to compare them to Archie Bunker, a character from the 1970s sitcom All in the Family “who railed against social change and political correctness.”

Wise studies American political economy, with a focus on middle-class economic precarity. She notes that Chapter 13 personal bankruptcy is “primarily filed by people making above-median income or trying to save a home from foreclosure,” and that there is an unusually high bankruptcy rate among those arrested in connection to the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection.

Pioneer Valley Symphony to Host Evening with Professor Emeritus Lewis Spratlan

Submitted on Thursday, 2/18/2021, at 1:56 PM

The Pioneer Valley Symphony has announced that it will present Life Is a Dream: Celebration of Lewis Spratlan on Saturday, Feb. 20, at 7 p.m. The virtual event will honor the 80th birthday of Spratlan, Amherst’s Peter R. Pouncey Professor of Music, Emeritus, and the 10th anniversary of the world premiere of Life Is a Dream, the opera whose second act garnered him a Pulitzer Prize in 2000.

An article in the Greenfield Recorder describes the opera’s “journey from completion to production.” Spratlan wrote it in the 1970s, while on the Amherst faculty; its full world premiere with The Santa Fe Orchestra came decades later. 

The Feb. 20 event “will explore many different works by Spratlan and include reflections from the composer himself via Zoom,” according to the article. “The event will also include brief footage from the original run of Life is a Dream, courtesy of The Santa Fe Opera.”

Also mentioned is a virtual Music at Amherst event, scheduled for May 9, at which the Boston Modern Orchestra Project will premiere Spratlan’s “Chamber Symphony.”