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Photo of Levi S. Gibbs

In this week's edition, we speak with Levi S. Gibbs, Assistant Professor of Asian Societies, Cultures, and Languages, a scholar of Chinese performing arts.  In his most recent book Song King: Connecting People, Places, and Past in Contemporary Chinahe explores the lives and performances of contemporary Chinese singers.

What is your book about?

My book explores how contemporary Chinese singers who become symbols of regions, nations, and epochs fuse personal and collective narratives in their performances, providing audiences with compelling models for socializing personal experience in an ever-changing world.

Where did you get your ideas for this book?

I first saw a performance of the singer at the heart of the book—the “Folksong King of Western China” Wang Xiangrong—in Taipei in the summer of 1999, right after my freshman year in college. I was struck by the power of his voice and the way he captivated the audience. That fall, I did my sophomore year abroad at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, where I took a class on regional Chinese folksongs in which we were introduced to songs and singers who were said to represent local cultures across different regions of China. Twenty years later, after conducting multiple fieldwork trips, interviewing singers and scholars in and around northern Shaanxi province, reading biographies of singers from China and around the world, and engaging with scholarly fields ranging from personal narrative studies to performance theory to celebrity studies, I came to notice how elements of Wang’s life story and the ways in which he engages with different audiences seem similar to those of other singers who come from rural roots and become symbols of larger groups. Wang was born in 1952, shortly after the founding of the People’s Republic of China (1949), so his life parallels the history of modern China. For this reason and others that I discuss in the book, his life and songs provide an engaging window into a process that occurs as singers become representative icons.

What does research look like for you? What element of research could you not live without?

The research for this book began with an audio recorder for interviews and a video camera for performances. Over the course of several fieldwork trips, I traveled around northern China with Wang and his proteges, documenting their performances and interviewing them about their lives and the cultural politics involved in their professional work as singers. The latter part of the writing process involved looking for different scholarly discourses that would help contextualize the phenomena I was observing. For example, in talking about the “worlds” that Wang creates in his songs, which are populated by different characters, I looked to lyric theory, narrative theory, and even research on television culture, which involves similar engagements between audiences and the characters portrayed onscreen. I like to begin with the material I am examining—a song lyric, a performance, a story—and build a theoretical framework around it that helps us understand that material in a new or different way.

What do you think the library of the future will look like?

I really hope that they do not get rid of the stacks. I think that libraries will continue to be places where conversations happen—between friends, with books, and with online resources— but there is something special about the stacks. I often go there to find a book myself just to see what other books are around it. This may sound corny but it’s true: it is often the book you were not looking for that makes all of the difference.

What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?

The more I write, the more I think of writing as a conversation, broadly understood. First, it is a conversation on the page between you and the things you are reading about and observing, as well as a conversation with your readers. I am a strong advocate of making writing social—find a group of friends you trust to read your drafts and give you constructive feedback; this helps move projects forward. Second, while it may seem strange to say, there is something that makes writing a conversation between your mind and your body. When my head is full of ideas from writing, I find that yoga, exercise, or a long walk helps me sort through them. And, after I have been working out, I often have a lot of new ideas to write down. Strange but true.

And finally, what do you read for fun?

For encouragement and my own voyeuristic interest, I love reading about the practices and processes of other writers, which often inspire me to try new approaches. I just finished Louise DeSalvo’s The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity, which talks about some of the challenging parts of the writing process with interesting examples from the experiences of famous writers. I also continue to enjoy reading biographies, especially those of singers and musicians. At the moment, I am immersed in Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove. One of my upcoming projects is going to be an edited volume about the cultural politics of singers around the globe.

Photo of Nicola M. Camerlenghi

In this week's edition, we speak with Nick Camerlenghi, Assistant Professor of Art History. Camerlenghi's interests in early Christian and medieval architecture form the basis of his research for the book St. Paul's Outside the Walls: A Roman Basilica, from Antiquity to the Modern Era (Cambridge University Press, 2018).

What is your book about?

My book treats the architectural changes and continuities that took place over 1,500-years at the church in Rome where St. Paul was buried.

Where did you get your ideas for this book?

It is an off-shoot of my dissertation.

What does research look like for you? What element of research could you not live without?

Thanks to architectural design and GIS software, my computer allows me to visualize and analyze "what was where and when" in a building or even in an entire city over the course of lengthy temporal spans. That's my cup of tea.

What do you think the library of the future will look like?

I hope it looks like an Italian piazza—full of people of all ages who read, talk, play and share experiences that really matter.

What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?

1) Tell us only what we need to know; 2) Eliminate distractions while you write.

And finally, what do you read for fun?

For me, fun is not reading. I would much rather play with my kids, take a walk in the woods, cook and eat with family and friends. But every summer I try and read at least one "classic" that I have not read before. Most recently, these have included The Count of Monte Cristo, and The Island of Doctor Moreau.

Photo of Sadhana Warty Hall
Photo of Sadhana Warty Hall

In this week's edition, we speak with Sadhana Warty Hall, Deputy Director of the Rockefeller Center who oversees programs focusing on leadership, public policy and civil engagement. She's even gone as far as to co-author the book Teaching Leadership: Bridging Theory and Practice which strives to several aspects of teaching leadership and why it is important.

What is your book about?

This book illustrates how leadership can be taught and I recommend it for sceptics and believers. It shows how to bridge theory and practice in higher education settings. I am also learning that the content can be adapted, adopted, and adjusted for high school settings, for-profit, not-for-profit, and government institutions as well. Exciting. Leadership CAN be taught.

Where did you get your ideas for this book?

The idea for this book is best summarized from an account from the book. The idea grew from a conversation Alan Sturmer Executive Editor, Edward Elgar Publishing Inc., had with Joanne Ciulla, professor emerita, Jepson School of Leadership Studies, University of Richmond. She who edits EE’s leadership series. Sturmer was looking to do a volume on Teaching Leadership. Ciulla suggested contacting my Gama Perruci, who asked whether I would co-author the book with him.

Ideas in this book are completely based on our experience related to teaching leadership in curricular and the co-curricular settings. It bridges theory with practice, it shares the idea of continuos quality improvement, and broader learning from concepts related to leadership education, training, and development.

What does research look like for you? What element of research could you not live without?

A quiet space, a fast laptop, and a process that helps to capture themes supporting an idea germinating in my mind.

What do you think the library of the future will look like?

Ability to read books online! Ability to gather as a learning community in a dedicated physical and online space.

What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?

Start with writing your key ideas down. Organize them. Look at gaps. See what research says about the ideas. If you are given a deadline and you think it is doable, I think you should double or triple the time you think it will take you to complete your project. Choose a co-author carefully. I was very lucky but I have heard it is hard to work on co-authored projects often.

And finally, what do you read for fun? Or, what would you be reading if you had more time?

I would be reading biographies and autobiographies of presidents and prime-ministers if I had more time. It is interesting to learn about the thought processes behind incidents have taken place.

Photo of Professor Jacobi

In this week's edition, we speak with Peter A. Jacobi, who is not only a Professor of Chemistry, but also the author of the new book Introductory Heterocyclic Chemistry, which explains ring formation present in a majority of natural products in a approachable way.

What is your book about?

A thumbnail description: Introductory Heterocyclic Chemistry is a story of sorts, written in conversational style about one of the most important fields in organic chemistry.

Where did you get your ideas for this book?

First a definition or two for non-chemist readers. Organic chemistry is the chemistry of carbon compounds, which frequently can exist as ring structures. If one of the atoms in such rings is replaced with any other atom than carbon, that compound is a heterocycle. Nature has chosen these ring systems as a foundation for many of her life processes (i.e. DNA, RNA, certain amino acids, etc.), and they also form the backbone of most of the small molecule drugs in use today. This book attempts to answer why. The author has been teaching this subject for nearly 45 years, and the genesis for the book came directly from class notes.

What does research look like for you? What element of research could you not live without?

I am a synthetic organic chemist by training, which means that I (and my students) have a love for the laboratory. A message that I try to get across to beginning students is that synthesizing a complex molecule, in three dimensions, has much in common with the work carried out by an architect. That is, you have certain tools to work with, and your task is to reach your objective in the most efficient, and hopefully most creative fashion possible. Any advanced practitioner in the field has a certain style, which is easily recognized by other members of the club. Of course, there is creativity in all sciences, which is sometimes hard to appreciate if you are not in the field. A particular joy in synthesis is being able to reduce abstract ideas on paper into reality in the laboratory.

What do you think the library of the future will look like?

Hopefully like the Tower Room in Baker.

What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?

Love your subject.

And finally, what do you read for fun?

I have always enjoyed reading biographies of important figures from the past. Most recently these have included excellent works on Grant, Washington and Hamilton (by Ron Chernow). I am also a huge fan of anything written by David McCullough and Stephen Ambrose.

Photo of Professor Gaposchkin

In this week's edition, we speak with M. Cecilia Gaposchkin, Professor of History and Assistant Dean of Faculty for PreMajor Advising. She has published many works on the crusades and the Capetians, her most recent of which being Invisible Weapons: Liturgy and the Making of Crusade Ideology  (Cornell UP, 2017), that explores how liturgy and church ritual underwrote holy war and crusading.

What is your book about?

The book examines how liturgy and ritual were used to underpin and sacralize the crusades. That is about how the Middle Ages made "holy war" holy.

Where did you get your ideas for this book?

It came out of teaching. After 9/11, I began teaching a course on the crusades. Since I had worked with liturgical material in my book, I naturally wondered about the liturgical footprint of the crusades - mostly as I was looking for sources to help me teach. When I didn't find any, I began digging...

What does research look like for you? What element of research could you not live without?

Medieval manuscripts! Either in holding libraries, or in digitized reproductions, or, when necessary, microfilms or microfiche. Obviously, consulting the real thing is the best!

What do you think the library of the future will look like?

I hope it will include access to very high resolution images of the world's single copy documents (manuscripts, archives), so that every one can do research about everything in any place or time.

What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?

Good work, and patience, when paired, win out.

And finally, what do you read for fun?

I recently read two books by Amon Towles that I loved and I would recommend to anyone: Rules of Civility: a Novel, and (even better) A Gentleman in Moscow. Gentleman in Moscow I think is the best book I have read this year. I enjoyed the Alice Network (Kate Quinn) a spy/historical novel set in the First and Second World War. I loved Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half a Yellow Sun. I'll read anything by John LeCarre. I enjoyed the Magpie Murders (Anthony Horowitz). No academic can not enjoy Julie Schumacher's Dear committee Members. I loved Robert Harris' An Officer and a Spy (a very fine historical novel about the Dreyfus affair). Anne Patchett's Commonwealth was extremely engaging. And, of course, I ate up the Elena Ferrante novels (truth be told, I thought they got better as they went along; I did not love the first one, and am not sure why I picked up the second one, but think the last one is a masterpiece.)

Photo of Annabelle Cone, instructor of French
Annabelle Cone

Holding Court is an interview series that features the authors of the new books on display in the King Arthur Flour café in Baker-Berry Library.

In this week's edition, we speak with Annabelle Cone, comics scholar and instructor of French, who not only studies and teaches graphic novels, but created her own.  Empty Nesting, a graphic memoir, explores episodes in Cone's life with wit, insight, and humanity.

What is your book about?

Life after divorce at fifty, with a gay roommate and a grown daughter in a big old farmhouse in rural New Hampshire. Being in charge of it all, all of a sudden.

Where did you get your ideas for this book?

My own life!  But also from reading other people's graphic memoirs. I love self-deprecating humor and not taking one's personal crises too seriously.

What does research look like for you? What element of research could you not live without?

The book is a memoir, very much inspired by autobiographical feminist theory (which I have worked on in the past), and by graphic memoirs written by famous authors like Boulet, Gabrielle Bell, Julia Wertz and Allison Bechdel. The practice of writing a graphic novel came directly from the practice of teaching and researching the genre.

What do you think the library of the future will look like?

I hope very much like the library of the present. We need to keep reading books, but also designing books, book covers, page layouts, and to have a sense of organization of a book, from the preface, to the introduction, to the end notes, to the bibliography and the blurb on the back cover.

 What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?

Stick with it and don't doubt yourself. We need scholars and writers to explain the world and make sense of its many complications.

And finally, what do you read for fun?

If I had more time, I would dig into the many novels coming from Africa and Asia (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Haruki Murakami, to name the most famous). If I had more shelf space, I would acquire more graphic novels.

Tarek El-Aris, Asian & Middle Eastern Studies ProfessorIn this week's edition, we hear from Tarek El-Ariss, associate professor and chair of Middle Eastern Studies.  Author of Leaks, Hacks, and Scandals: Arab Culture in the Digital Age (Princeton University Press, 2019) and editor of The Arab Renaissance: A Bilingual Anthology of the Nahda (The Modern Language Association of America, 2018), El-Ariss's varied research interests include contemporary Arabic culture, literature, and art; new media and cyber culture; digital humanities; Nahda literature, language, press, and literary theory; travel writing - among many other things.

What are your books about?

While "The Arab Renaissance" is about the project of Arab modernity in the 19th century, "Leaks, Hacks, and Scandals" is about the challenges to Arab modernity in the digital age.

Where did you get your ideas for this?

I'm a scholar of modernity and the enlightenment in Europe and the Middle East, and I'm particularly interested in examining how modernity and its fundamental constituents (nation state, subject, ethics, novel, public sphere) are evolving in different contexts and at different times. Transformations in digital communication combined with the political upheavals that gripped the Middle East since 2011 especially led me to examine the relation between politics and writing, public protests and cyber attacks, and the rational subject of the liberal nation state and the leaking and hacking subject online.

What does research look like for you? What element of research could you not live without?

I spend a lot of time in my office surrounded by my books; this makes me feel safe. My books are my companions as they inspire me and serve as references. When I do my research, I take a lot of notes, hundreds of pages, which I then distill into articles and chapters. I'm a compulsive editor; I go up to 10 or 15 drafts for every piece of writing. Good writing is editing.

What do you think the library of the future will look like?

An interactive environment with touch screens that reveal books and point to where they are. The virtual and the material are not mutually exclusive. With new technology there is expediency and speed but also forms of intimacy that will give new meaning to our need to touch and hold.

What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?

Take intellectual risks, cross disciplinary boundaries, and edit edit edit!

And finally, what do you read for fun?

Graphic novels (from Maus to Persepolis), the Presocratics (Parmenides, Thales, Zeno), Alexandre Dumas, Diane de Selliers books, The Arabian Nights.

Laurence Hooper, assistant professor of ItalianIn this week's edition of Holding Court, we remember and honor Laurence Hooper, Assistant Professor of Italian, who passed away on January 25, 2019.  Laurence was a scholar of Dante and Petrarch, and co-editor of the important Realisms and idealisms in Italian culture, 1300–2017 with Brendan Hennessey and Charles L. Leavitt IV.  This volume offers a critical look at the so-called "real" versus the "ideal" Italy, and exemplifies Laurence's wide-ranging interests in exploring the complexity of Italian culture.  Laurence's life was far too short, but he left behind a legacy of joyful commitment to intellectual work that resonates not only here on campus, but among scholars around the world.  A voracious reader and library user, Laurence partnered with me from his first days at Dartmouth to build up the library's holdings, and it's a credit to him that our collections are as strong as they are in the study of Dante.  I miss him, and am grateful that he took the time, during the last few months of his life, to share his reflections in this interview.

What is this volume about?

It’s about Italian culture’s grittier, darker side — realism — and how it defines the national identity. This often escapes casual observers because they associate Italy with high art and beauty — idealism.

Where did you get your ideas for this?

Ever since I started visiting Italy and studying Italian culture, and my co-editors both report similar experiences, I’ve been intrigued by the discrepancy between the “real” Italy, where everyday life goes on but there is human misery and strife, and the ideal “Italy,” which is this blissful land of fine arts, great cuisine, and architectural splendor. What’s really interesting is that both the Italians themselves, and foreign observers truly believe in that idealized Italy of art and beauty. But, within Italy, there’s another pole: a failed, broken, degraded version of the ideal, characterized by political corruption, institutional dysfunction, and violence that’s largely ignored outside of the country. That’s an extreme too, of course, but I think it begins to explain Italians’ long history of fascination with realism, which dates back to Dante and Boccaccio, as an antidote to the notion that their country is effectively a museum of beautiful artifacts. By focusing on Italian realism, which is so often neglected, we hope to steer a middle road between idealized good and idealized bad, in order to build up a new and more accurate picture of Italian culture. My co-editors and I decided to pull together a team of people who could really give a sense of this Italian realism across time and in a variety of settings.

What does research look like for you? What element of research could you not live without?

Research for me is mostly about reading. I read and read until ideas start to coalesce, then I read some more. And, as I’m going, I’m taking copious notes, both about the text I’m reading and, more importantly on what I think of it and how it fits with everything else I’m considering for this project. It’s these notes to self that form the basis for whatever I then come to write.  My iPad Pro 10.5” has become my indispensable reading companion. I’m especially enamored of the (1st generation) Apple Pencil. I take much better notes by hand and now that I can scribble on PDFs and input text from handwriting, I’m much happier than I was with a laptop.

What do you think the library of the future will look like?

I hope it will have a lot of its activities and holdings online and so be accessible worldwide. At the same time, the library building should always be at the heart of a university campus. Ideally, the library will be the logical place onsite for intellectual work, both collaborative and individual. So, as well as rendezvous points and coffee, it should have multiple quiet, comfortable zones where a student or faculty member can settle down and work on a problem or question for a number of hours.

What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?

Read everything but only within strict limits guided by your research.

And finally, what do you read for fun?

I love history: Reformed Protestantism, the history of colonies and empires, and any kind of US history are my favorite topics right now. A couple of titles I’d recommend would be Steven Hahn, A Nation without Borders  and Richard Rothstein, the Color of Law.

Photo of Robert St. Clair, assistant professor of FrenchIn this week's edition, we speak with Robert St. Clair, assistant professor in the Department of French and Italian.  Rob is a scholar of 19th century French literature, who finds the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud an inexhaustible source of inspiration and inquiry.  The author of Poetry, Politics, and the Body in Rimbaud: Lyrical Material (Oxford University Press, 2018), Rob is also co-editor in chief of the Rimbaud-focused journal Parade Sauvage. How does Rob manage to get work done?  With post-it notes.  Lots of them.

What is your book about?

Poetry, Politics, and the Body in Rimbaud is about the social materiality of poetry in Second Empire France (1851-1870)—that is to say, the intersections of the aesthetic and the historical, of art with its social situation. It takes as an emblematic case of this materiality the role played by representations of the body in the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891): the enfant terrible of French letters whose work transformed the literary landscape of French modernity before he ostensibly gave up on poetry altogether at the age of 20.

Where did you get your ideas for this book?

From years of reading Rimbaud's poetry and being productively puzzled.

What does research look like for you? What element of research could you not live without?

If I were to settle on one allegorical image of what research looks like for me, it would be this: post-it notes. An absolute maelstrom of post-it notes littered across piles of books. I have always found that reading is the sneakiest, most productive form of writing there is. So, in a word, the research element I couldn't live without is: books. Library books. None of my research could have been done without library books!

What do you think the library of the future will look like?

My sincere and real hope is that the library of the future persists and thrives in its material form: that is, as a real place, with real librarians, with real books among real stacks that one can wander around in - perhaps for the sheer pleasure of picking up a book out of curiosity, perhaps in only apparent aimlessness. If I did not regularly lose entire mornings leafing through the stacks in Baker-Berry - coming on occasion across invaluable texts and studies that I hadn't been looking for - I shudder to think of the state some of my work would be in.

What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?

Don't stop reading.

And finally, what do you read for fun?

It's not always easy to find time for this, but I find it's crucial. In the past week I've been reading a book by the art historian T.J. Clark called Heaven on Earth. It's a study of the idea and political problem of the utopian in Western art from the late middle ages to the contemporary period. There's a chapter in there on Bruegel's Land of Cockaigne (Shlaraffenland, Le Pays de cocagne, or something like the more recent "Big Rock Candy Mountain") for which every page was breathtaking, poignant, humorous, a little on the despondent side. Similarly in the vein of picking things up for no reason, I got through a very short novel by Georges Perec the other day, Quel petit vélo à guidon chromé au fond de la cour? It's a deeply funny, playfully complex little story about a group of friends trying to come up with a way of getting one of their pals - whose name the narrator can never quite recall or get consistently right - out of the draft during the Algerian War of Independence (like any good "joke," in other words, its implicit cultural and historical backdrop is anything but a laughing matter).

 

 

A portrait of Julie Hruby, a professor of classics.
A portrait of Julie Hruby, a professor of classics.

In this week's edition, we speak with Julie Hruby, Assistant Professor of Classical Studies.  Hruby is an archaeologist, specializing in cooking and cooking implements, and her latest research involves incorporating advanced forensic techniques and computational methods in the study of fingerprints on clay vessels and other artifacts.

What is your book about?

This volume explores what their cooking pots say about prehistoric Greeks, including how their cuisine interacted with others' and how food constructed socioeconomic class.

Where did you get your ideas for this book?

I had been writing about prehistoric cuisine for more than a decade when a colleague suggested that we put together a panel on the topic of Late Bronze Age Aegean cooking pots for an annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America. We both knew that this field had huge gaps in it. One of the session attendees was a reporter for LiveScience who wrote an article about my paper; a student and I had made replicas of Mycenaean cooking pots and tested a few hypotheses about how they had been used. The topic was picked up by a wide range of international media, including NPR's "The Splendid Table." That, in combination with the fact that the papers in the session formed a varied but coherent set of truly novel approaches, suggested that publication would be useful.

What does research look like for you? What element of research could you not live without?

Most of my research takes place in Greece, because I work exclusively on excavated archaeological material. I have worked on excavations, field surveys, in the work rooms in museums, and in labs. Measuring things seems to be a constant, although which tools I use are dictated by the questions I ask; they range from very simple (rulers, calipers, diameter charts) to fairly elaborate (a high-resolution 3D scanner). The other tool I use constantly is a camera.

What do you think the library of the future will look like?

I hope that the library of the future will include both analog and digital resources, with materials in whatever format makes the most sense for the type of publication. For example, excavation publications are rarely read from start to finish; they are more often searched for material relevant to topic-oriented studies, and the searchable nature of digital publications makes digital formats preferable. However, topically oriented studies within archaeology and many other fields are more often read, and there is excellent evidence that things read in hard copy are remembered better than things read digitally. As a result, while article length studies can be digitized and printed when needed, anything that is book-length should probably be maintained in hard copy.

What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?

The only way to think and write well is to know how to identify an interesting question to think and write about. The challenge is that what "interesting" means varies from year to year, from person to person, and from culture to culture. Ideally, you want to do one of two things: find a question that many other people have asked but have not managed to answer, then find a newer approach to answering it, or find a question that other people have not yet asked but that has some bearing on larger questions that they have asked. Also, read, constantly, and leave yourself a little time every day to mull new ideas or new approaches to old ones (in the shower and before falling asleep work well for me).

And finally, what do you read for fun?

Science fiction has been my favorite genre since I was a reading-obsessed child who tripped over her father's extensive collection of books by Isaac Asimov. More recently, I have enjoyed Lois McMaster Bujold's work, especially the Vorkosigan saga, and Ann Leckie's novels.