Reading "The Limits of the World"

Submitted on Friday, 1/3/2020, at 2:50 PM

Citing it as a 2019 novel that should be on people’s 2020 reading list, Krupa Shandilya, associate professor of Sexuality, Women’s and Gender Studies, recently penned a review for The Los Angeles Review of Books about Jennifer Acker’s debut novel, The Limits of the World.

In the novel, Acker, a member of Amherst’s Class of 2000 and founder and editor in chief of the Amherst-based literary journal The Common, tells the story of multiple migrations of the Chandaria family from India to Kenya, and then to the United States, as each subsequent generation seeks a better life elsewhere.

“What is home? In another, less accomplished novel, this question might be answered by heavy-handed expositions on intersectional identity positions. But in Acker’s novel, the question lingers like the scent of a departed lover, illuminating the past through the warm flow of memory and pressing on the conflicts of the present like the dull ache of a forgotten wound,” Shandilya wrote.

“It’s very rare to see a white novelist take on the lives of immigrants with such sensitivity and insight,” she continued. “Acker’s formidable research into the little-known world of Indian immigrants in Kenya is apparent in the many small details of her novel … It’s an act of great courage to write a story that is not one’s own, and to write it with dexterity and finesse is simply a magnificent achievement.”

Coping With Loss Over the Holidays: Sanderson

Submitted on Friday, 12/20/2019, at 3:51 PM

Insider recently spoke with a group of experts about how to make it through the holidays when you’re still reeling from the death of a loved one.

Catherine Sanderson, Manwell Family Professor in Life Sciences (Psychology) and author of The Positive Shift, said it’s important to remember that many people have this struggle.

“It’s important to recognize that the glowing holiday portrayals on social media don’t necessarily represent reality,” she said. “You are not alone in feeling sadness, grief, and loss – in fact, many people find the holidays really difficult, even if they aren’t sharing those feelings openly on social media.”

Jen Manion on the Rich History of "They"

Submitted on Friday, 12/20/2019, at 3:50 PM

This year, the Merriam-Webster dictionary introduced a new definition of "they" as a gender-neutral singular pronoun, and named the word its 2019 word of the year. The recognition of "they" in such a manner in contemporary writing has been a long time coming, history professor Jen Manion wrote in a recent Los Angeles Times opinion piece.

“For decades, transgender rights advocates have noted that literary giants Emily Dickinson, William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, and Geoffrey Chaucer all used singular they in their writing. In a letter dated Sept. 24, 1881, Dickinson wrote: ‘Almost anyone under the circumstances would have doubted if [the letter] were theirs, or indeed if they were themself — but to us it was clear,’” Manion wrote.

“The dictionary matters because language matters,” Manion concluded. “As history shows, language is a very powerful tool. It can dehumanize and erase. It can empower and render visible. It doesn’t take much to get it right. I’m sure Emily Dickinson would approve.”

Boucher: Greta is Correct, But No Prophet

Submitted on Friday, 12/20/2019, at 3:46 PM

Asking, “is a climate messiah even necessary?” Ellen Boucher, associate professor of history wrote in The Conversation that the personality cult surrounding teen environmental activist Greta Thunberg, characterizing her as a prophet, does a disservice to Thunberg and her cause.

“As a researcher on the history of childhood, I’ve been disturbed to see Thunberg described and depicted as a prophet. To me, it risks distorting her message. And it can easily be exploited by climate deniers seeking to counter the appeal of her activism,” she wrote.

“Classically, prophets are messengers who communicate the voice of God,” she wrote. “Thunberg, on the other hand, is simply telling us what we already know. Within the scientific community, there is an overwhelming consensus – going back decades – that humans are causing global warming.

“Thunberg is not unraveling the mysteries of our era, or a time traveler sent to stop climate change. Rather, she is a child admonishing selfishness and pleading for fairness,” she concluded. “That’s not prophetic. It’s common sense.”

Manuela Picq on the Fall of Morales

Submitted on Friday, 12/13/2019, at 11:45 AM

For a recent  piece on the rise and fall Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, National Public Radio spoke with Manuela Picq, Loewenstein Fellow and visiting associate professor in political science, who cast similarities between Morales' story and the story former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa.

“Like Morales, says Picq, Correa established safety nets for lower-income families, invested in education and raised the minimum wage,” NPR reported. “But other interests got in the way of the promise to help marginalized populations. Little by little, Picq says, both Correa and Morales went back on commitments to safeguard the environment, giving priority to economic growth over the well-being of protected lands and the people who live there.”

Morales “encouraged slash-and-burn practices in forested areas as a means to clearing land for more cattle ranching and farming. But a spike in slashing and burning was linked to the fires that blazed throughout the Chiquitania region earlier this year,” NPR reported.

"The cost for the ecosystem is huge," said Picq, "and the cost for Indigenous people is enormous."

But it was attempts to remain in office at all costs and to repress their critics that hurt these leaders the most in the end, Picq and others told NPR.

“In 2015, Picq was jailed during a protest against Ecuador's lifting of term limits for elected officials and had her visa revoked overnight. She likens this to Morales' maneuvering the legal system to run for a fourth term even after 51% of voters rejected a referendum that would have allowed him to do so,” NPR reported.

Alex Bernstein '97 on Staying in the Game

Submitted on Friday, 12/13/2019, at 11:44 AM

“I’ve always been a high-energy person, I don’t sleep a ton, I have a lot of nervous energy, so I always want to keep busy, and playing sports is a great outlet for this energy and emotion,” Alex Bernstein '97 told The Boston Globe recently, about the early morning hockey games he plays for the Hingham (Mass.) Pilgrim Skating Arena’s "Has-Been Hockey League.”

Bernstein, a former NFL offensive lineman turned investor and entrepreneur, is among a group of former collegiate and professional athletes who meet at 6:30 a.m. to play, “and afterward the players mingle over coffee, juice, peanut butter and bananas, and bagels and cream cheese before heading to work.”

“You always miss that locker room thing, busting people’s chops before and after the game,” said Bernstein, who played four seasons for the New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, and Atlanta Falcons.

Getting back those locker room wisecracks helps keep him young, he said.

Marijuana in Massachusetts: Down To Business

Submitted on Friday, 12/13/2019, at 11:41 AM

Among the vanguard of entrepreneurs embracing legalized marijuana sales in Massachusetts is Brendan McKee '07, the CFO for Silver Therapeutics, which was the subject of a recent article by Masslive.

Silver Therapeutics has opened a recreational marijuana store in  Williamstown, and plans to use the profits to open two more stores, one with an educational campus, the trio told Masslive. “They are also planning to build a grow facility so they can sell to the medical marijuana market,” Masslive reported.

Silver Therapeutics is unusual among the state’s marijuana businesses because “they have no agreements with any multi-state conglomerate and no major investors outside of themselves, their friends and family,” Masslive reported.

“We’ve all made a lot of sacrifices.” McKee said. “I work every day all day to make this work. I know these guys do, too.”

“McKee, 35, a Hull native living in Quincy, has a background in business and sports. He played football at Amherst College, then played in a professional European football league, for the Austrian-based Danube Dragons. He helped found a nonprofit, Innercity Weightlifting, that mentors kids at gyms in Dorchester and Cambridge, teaching them to be personal trainers. He helped found Pedestal Footwear, a company that makes gym socks," Masslive wrote.

The Future of Digital Memory

September 29, 2016

Watch a presentation on “Digital Archives, Datum Storytelling and the Future of Memory” by Marisa Parham, professor of English and director of the Five College Digital Humanities Project, at a recent conference organized by the National Digital Initiatives team at the Library of Congress.

Jackie Alvarez: How Hobbies Help You At Work

Submitted on Friday, 12/6/2019, at 1:48 PM

With social media and other forms of screen time eating up our schedules more and more, developing a hobby is a skill that needs to be cultivated, argued Hope Reese in a recent article in Vox. She spoke with Amherst’s Jackie Alvarez, associate dean of students and director of the Counseling Center, about the benefits of having a hobby that is totally disconnected from your career.

“Jackie Alvarez advises students on how to manage a healthy work-life balance,” Reese wrote. “She sees hobbies as a way to not only bring a sense of engagement to the leisure task, but to contribute to a more productive and engaged work life. By practicing deep focus … we are learning how to become better at focusing.”

“When you’re working, can you be engaged?” Alvarez asked. “When you’re away from work, can you not have work on your mind?”

“When you’re working full time with a family, and have a hobby or two, the structure actually helps you,” Alvarez added. Reese continued, “Scheduling your time around a hobby can show you that you may have more time than you think, and help you prioritize.”

The Making of Dictionaries, With Ilan Stavans and Webster's Sokolowski

Submitted on Friday, 12/6/2019, at 1:45 PM

Ilan Stavans, Lewis-Sebring Professor of Humanities and Latin American and Latino Culture, and Peter Sokolowski, editor at large of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, will co-teach a seminar on the making of dictionaries this spring. The Daily Hampshire Gazette recently spoke with them about the course.

“Rather than operating as a standard course, a group capped at six students will work on a collaborative project with their professors, which will likely take the form of a book about the history of dictionaries in various cultures,” Gazette writer Jacquelyn Voghel wrote. “Students will receive a stipend and room and board for time spent outside of the semester working on the project, and they’ll be credited as co-authors of the book.”

“The course will also investigate various roles played by dictionaries today and throughout history, including how dictionaries have come to exert linguistic authority, how they reflect changing aspects of society, and differences in dictionaries across cultures and historical periods,” she wrote.

The course was borne from reaching “a certain point where I have moved from being a collector and user and maker of dictionaries to thinking that it’s time to build a new generation that is going to be interested in lexicography, and dictionaries in particular,” Stavans said.

On the History of Leftovers, and Thanksgiving Without Politics

Submitted on Thursday, 12/5/2019, at 1:05 PM

Amherst experts recently weighed in on two of the biggest topics that surround Thanksgiving: uncomfortable conversation and leftovers.

Lawrence Douglas, James J. Grosfeld Professor of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought, penned a satirical piece for The Guardian, advising Thanksgiving celebrants on how to avoid politics over dinner. He ruled against serving “peach-mint” jelly,  urging “maybe for just this year, to stick with the cranberry sauce. Similarly, under no circumstances should you consider swapping the traditional turkey main course for chicken Kiev.”

Meanwhile, The Conversation published an essay by Samantha Presnal ’11, Center for Humanistic Inquiry fellow and visiting lecturer in French, about how leftovers became the culinary rage in France at the turn of the 20th Century.

“In 19th-century France, leftovers were a way of life for the lower classes … but by the turn of the 20th century, it had become hip to whip something up with the remains from last night’s meal,” she wrote. “In 1882, France’s new republican government passed legislation mandating education for all children ages 6 to 13. Many public schoolchildren came from the lower and lower-middle classes, and educators designed home economics lessons with this in mind … the publishing industry pounced on this potential market.”

“By turning leftovers into an art form, early home cooking magazines inspired a modern generation of home cooks to be creative and think critically about cooking. And they left their legacy to us and our leftovers,” she wrote.

A Pirate's Life for Ben Cherington '96

Submitted on Friday, 11/22/2019, at 3:53 PM

“The amount of ties Amherst has to Major League Baseball is sort of strange, until you consider that it’s the opposite of a school for dummies,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette quipped recently, pondering the factors that resulted in the Pittsburgh Pirates hiring Ben Cherington ’96 as their new general manager. He replaces another alum, Neal Huntington ’91.

“The philosophy of Neal and Ben is very much alike,” said Bill Thurston, who spent 44 years at Amherst, coaching until he was 74. “Both are very detailed guys. Both are really focused.”

“Number 1, you’ve got to be a great student to get in,” Thurston said, about why Amherst has been such a great proving ground for futures in baseball. “You’re working with smart guys. I tried to recruit guys who loved the game. They became students of the game — not just playing but understanding it.”

Amherst is also the alma mater of Dan Duquette ’80, former GM of the Baltimore Orioles, the Montreal Expos and the Boston Red Sox. He hired Cherington as an area scout for the Red Sox in 1999. Jared Banner ' 07 serves as vice president of Player Personnel for the Red Sox.

They've Come Undone: Documenting Quantum Knots

Submitted on Friday, 11/22/2019, at 3:51 PM

A scientific team led by Amherst Physics Professor David S. Hall ’91 and Aalto University (Finland) Professor Mikko Möttönen is again making news in scientific journals and beyond, for its research in quantum mechanics.

“The same team who tied the first ‘quantum knots’ in a superfluid several years ago have now discovered that the knots decay, or ‘untie’ themselves, fairly soon after forming, before turning into a vortex,” Ars Technica recently reported. “The researchers also produced the first ‘movie’ of the decay process in action, and they described their work in a recent paper in Physical Review Letters.”

“We hadn’t been able to study the dynamics of these sorts of three-dimensional structures experimentally before, so this is the first step to this direction,” Tuomas Ollikainen, a Ph.D. student at Aalto University who conducted the experiments at the Amherst lab, told SciTech Daily. “The fact that the knot decays is surprising, since topological structures like quantum knots are typically exceptionally stable. It’s also exciting for the field because our observation that a three-dimensional quantum defect decays into a one-dimensional defect hasn’t been seen before in these quantum gas systems.”

Coming Out To The Team

Submitted on Friday, 11/22/2019, at 3:49 PM

WGBY’s program Connecting Point recently devoted a segment to the experience of Avery Saffold ’20, captain of the Amherst Mammoths football team, who came out in the spring.

“Gay and bisexual players have only recently started coming out within the last five years. This season, there are seven out players on rosters across the US,” the program noted.

Saffold joined the ranks of the out athletes after penning an open letter to Outsports.

“I wasn’t worried at all about how our team would respond,” E.J. Mills, head football coach, told Connecting Point’s Ross Lippman in the segment. The piece featured interviews with Saffold and his mother, Rhonda Brown.

Diversity on the Playing Field

Submitted on Thursday, 11/21/2019, at 4:30 PM

Amherst College was recently the subject of an in-depth piece in the New York Times sports section, detailing groundbreaking efforts at increasing diversity in athletics.

Since getting a mandate from President Biddy Martin about three years ago, Amherst coaches “have since looked beyond the most popular, suburban-based youth sports tournaments and frequently taken the less-traveled path to far-flung locales, small urban gyms and foreign countries,” Bill Pennington wrote for the Times. Youth sports in America “radically skews college athletic opportunities toward high-income families,” resulting in teams that are, in the majority, white. The piece told the story of how Amherst has worked to have teams as diverse as the student body.

“You have to turn over every stone to uncover players in places where other people are not looking,” Justin Serpone, the Amherst men’s soccer coach, told the Times. “There are thousands of kids on nobody’s radar who are good enough to play college soccer … If diversity matters to you, you’ll find kids and take a chance.”

Serpone added, “The most important step is having the college’s leadership tell its coaches point blank that being diverse is an overwhelming priority.”

“And that is something that can be done anywhere.”