Faculty Projects Proposed for 2014
Exploration of the Latin prefix trans is the impetus for the body of work that looks at the physical and transgressive nature of the artist in society. What happens when the other is seen in the role of hero, lover, or leader instead of the maid, soldier, or attendant? What changes for the actor to go beyond, to transform, to cross the line into a role that was previously unavailable? How does she shift the paradigm or learn to dance happily within it? What changes for the audience to witness the other on stage in a role that is so radically and visually different? Sourcing texts from Aeschylus, Dekker & Middleton, Marlowe, and Shakespeare, as well as the way trans informs our current perception of gender identity and body image, I plan to engage with this LARC community to complete preliminary visual research for My Case Is Altered or Bodies of Elizabeth, a new performance piece in the early stages of development.
I will read a core group of theatrical texts (The Oresteia, The Roaring Girl, Edward the Second, and Julius Caesar) and through a variety of methodologies generate visual research in response to these texts. This visual research is the beginning of source material to design costumes for My Case Is Altered or Bodies of Elizabeth, collaboration with theatre colleagues Struan Leslie (Head of Movement at the Royal Shakespeare Company) and Lisa-Gaye Dixon (Associate Professor University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) in the fall 2014. I will collect visual research images from library resources (art and photography books) and online from museum collections and relevant databases. This is the first look at this subject material for me and I plan to use this summer to dig deep to uncover a multitude of images to fuel the design work for My Case Is Altered or Bodies of Elizabeth.
“Do you think Shakespeare gives a damn, up there tonight, saying ‘Oh my, what a great revival?’ It’s the here and now, that’s all there is. No one’s keeping score” – Gore Vidal
If Shakespeare, according to Gore Vidal, did not care about the afterlife of his work, when did writers begin to show concern about their legacy? Perhaps more importantly, what is the significance of the role taken by other people (scholars, family members, lovers) to collect and archive their work as a body of singular distinction?
This summer I will undertake research that aims to chart the development of interest in literary legacy over the course of the long eighteenth century. While authors such as Daniel Defoe and Laurence Sterne wrote about being famous in their own contemporary moment, Romantic writers such as William Godwin and Percy Shelley begin to show significant interest in what I call “literary afterlife.” One of the key claims of this project is that legacy is not the same thing as fame, immortality, or transcendence. Instead, legacy is the work of collective labor rather than individual genius. It is a finite, temporal practice that must be endlessly renewed and regenerated for future communities. I am especially interested in histories that are forgotten—or remain untraceable—by the canonical and institutional formation of singular identities.
The first phase of this research will concentrate on the poetic legacy of Percy Shelley. I will read papers related to the history of the construction of Shelley’s archive at the Bodleian Library as well as various theoretical readings about memory, time, and identity.
In the 1980s, the Oregon Jewish Historical Society commissioned historian Steven Lowenstein to write a history of the Jews of Oregon. Lowenstein’s volume, rich in photos and stories of both individuals and institutions, covered the period from settlement to 1950. This past year, a group based at the Oregon Jewish Museum (a new incarnation of the OJHS) determined to build on that project with a second volume, covering the period from 1950 to 2010. I have been selected to write this history and will be working full time on the project from the end of this school year through the summer and my sabbatical year, 2014-2015.
I envision a book that is organized around a series of thematic chapters that aim to place the history of the Oregon community in the context of both the broader scholarship on the American Jewish community and on the region. Using an extensive collection of local primary sources, the project will examine how regional and national trends in the American Jewish community were experienced by Oregon Jews, and how the local context shaped the community. For example, one of the most notable changes in the post-War period is the change in women’s roles. The chapter focusing on this theme will include examination of the evolution of women’s leadership roles within communal organizations and synagogues, as well as shifts in the activities of women’s and girls’ organizations. It will also look at Oregon Jewish women’s involvement in the local and regional feminist movement and the impact of the movement on women’s work and home lives. Another chapter will look at the place of Jews in Oregon’s ethnic landscape—focusing on issues of acceptance and prejudice, and the relationship of the Jewish community to both the white majority and to other ethnic minorities. Other possible chapter themes include history and memory (how has the community told its own story through the Museum, the Lowenstein book, and many smaller projects?), and “Jewish Portlandia”—an examination of the ways in which the community reflects, and has shaped, Portland’s image as a trendy, progressive, innovative, quirky center. Although I have identified some of the chapter themes, others remain open and will emerge in the course of the research.
Resources for the project include the rich archival collections of the Oregon Jewish Museum, the Oregon Historical Society, and many smaller organizational holdings. The OJM archives include several hundred oral histories recorded from the 1970s through the present day, thousands of photographs, as well as community newspapers, individual collections, and institutional records. There will also be the opportunity to conduct our own oral histories with community members and leaders.
For the summer of 2014, I am looking for student collaborators interested in delving into these rich archival holdings and developing projects of their own. These may connect to my already selected themes, or lead to new thematic areas for research. Students may choose to engage a theme across a variety of sources, or to focus on a particular type of source material, such as oral histories, that speak to multiple themes/chatpers. I am excited about having student collaborators explore these materials and possibly open up new ways of seeing them or new insights into community and individual experiences.
“Ideas come in, as it were, through our pores, and we learn as much in drawing rooms or taking walks as when we’re shut up in our study.” So wrote a twenty-five year old French aristocrat, Alexis Tocqueville, shortly after his arrival in New York City in May 1831. Four years later, based largely on his nine month sojourn through the United States, Tocqueville published the first volume of Democracy in America, a book that has been hailed as “the greatest book ever written by anyone about America.”
How is it that a twenty-five year old who spent only nine months in the United States could write a book that warrants inclusion among the greatest books ever written about American politics and culture? We may never be able to satisfactorily answer that question, but we can try to watch the “ideas come in” to Tocqueville’s fertile brain. What did Tocqueville see when he took those walks? Who did he talk with in the drawing rooms, and what did they tell him? How reliable were those informants? What were their biases? What did Tocqueville not see because he was so busy talking with those people in drawing rooms? Where did Tocqueville not walk, and how did that shape the book he wrote? What was going on during those particular nine months, from May 1831 to February 1832, in which Tocqueville journeyed through the United States? How would his great book have looked different had he taken his trip in 1833 or in 1837?
I would welcome any student project that helps to answer any of these questions as I try to think through my own possible book project tentatively titled “Tocqueville’s Informants.” Student projects might include (a) a close study of any of the cities (including Baltimore, Boston, Charleston, Cincinnati, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.) or regions (e.g., the “burned-over district in upstate New York or the “wilderness” in the Michigan Territory, ) that Tocqueville visited, (b) the people Tocqueville met and talked with (a cast of hundreds that includes Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, and Sam Houston) or even those he didn’t (such as Charles Finney, William Lloyd Garrison, and James Madison), or (c) political events and social movements during 1831-1832 (e.g., anti-Masonry, the Second Great Awakening, Nat Turner’s Rebellion, the colonization movement—that is, sending blacks “back” to Africa—the birth of abolitionism, Indian removal, the Eaton Affair, the origins of the second party system—Whigs v. Jacksonian Democrats—and even prison reform, the putative purpose of Tocqueville’s visit to the U.S.). In short, I welcome collaboration with anyone interested in exploring American politics, society, and culture in the time of Tocqueville.
Why do some people take literally the admonitions of our faiths, both religious and secular? We are all advised to “do unto others.” We are taught, from early childhood, that “all men are created equal.” Yet, not all of us abide by these “faiths of our fathers.” The men and women who do live according to these precepts often discomfit and unsettle, calling for close attention to matters many would leave unexamined.
Indeed, those who craft from these lessons a call to conscience often face outright hostility and violence from those among us who would prefer to leave many questions unasked. In the ferment of mid-nineteenth-century America, a small group of men and women strove to put the “faiths of their fathers” to a higher purpose by calling attention to the plight of the powerless and the dispossessed. These men and women unsettled and angered their contemporaries with their pointed reminders of the tenets of Christianity and the American creed.
John Beeson was one such man, a man of deep religiosity, an English Methodist who came to the United States in the 1830s. Beeson advocated powerfully for others at the nexus of Christian reform and a powerful republicanism. Native peoples, he asserted, were endowed by the Creator with the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” He drew on both the Bible and the Declaration of Independence, on Christian imagery and the Constitution, to fashion a powerful indictment of the ways in which his fellow men and women treated the native peoples and others.
Beeson’s use of language and patterns of thought are reminiscent of those of John Brown, who waged an unceasing battle of his own, albeit against slavery. The murder of Elijah P. Lovejoy, an antislavery editor in 1837, occasioned Brown’s public proclamation that he would “consecrate [his] life to the destruction of slavery.” Asked at the end of his life what inspired him to act as he did, Brown replied that the Golden Rule applied to all who would help others gain their liberty.
There are, naturally, profound differences between the two men: Beeson was an English-born Methodist who took up the pen, not the sword. It is difficult to draw comparisons between two men so different in life circumstance, temperament, and arena of action. Yet, it is precisely those differences that make the similarities in the formulation of their arguments so intriguing. Both Beeson and Brown sought to appeal to the consciences of their listeners and readers; both were indefatigable speakers and authors, traveling to rally audiences and to raise money for their respective causes.
I welcome the participation of students interested in any aspect of this project: the development of abolitionist thought, the movement to advocate for Native Americans, or the study of early Nineteenth Century religious and political culture. I am particularly interested in understanding the religious landscape of antebellum America.
As an outgrowth of the larger themes addressed in my research regarding time, place, identity and purpose, my recent artwork has been influenced by concepts such as the fragmentary and the whole, the contemporary present and the ancient past, the process and its end product, ritual engagement and belief, practice as a form of sustenance, individuality and cultural heritage, and a search for what may have been lost, all set against a backdrop of both, the landscapes of the American West and Great Britain. I read recently about a museum exhibition centering on medieval archaeological fragments from Scotland of what were once Pictish objects (that may have been utilitarian, ceremonial, agricultural implements, votive offerings, forms of dress, instruments of war, tools for personal grooming, or simple household goods) that have been reconstructed so as to be viewed in a possible state of completeness and perceived as whole. In order to recreate facsimiles of the original objects, the museum had to enlist the support, skills and expertise of contemporary artists and artisans who were commissioned to explore the possible methods, materials, processes, tools and technologies of the Picts in Scotland as part of their practice to reproduce from these fragmentary pieces various objects that might represent what may be an actual copy of the whole to better understand the distinctive cultural heritage of their people.
As a contemporary artist known for my abstract works and the conceptual practice I employ to create them, this method of reproduction of a whole from fragments has begun to interest me more as I explore interdisciplinarily the realms of art and archaeology, current thought and ancient technologies, and the speculative nature of these historic methods of production that have been forgotten or abandoned along with the tools utilized in the making of these ancient objects not to mention the objects themselves reduced to fragments and offering few clues as to their original shape, form or cultural purpose to the Picts of Scotland. As inhabitants of 21st century global culture, the technologies available to us in an increasingly digital world divorce many of us from the process and practice of making or creating. We can now be scanned and at the touch of a button 3-D printers generate a complete sculptural representation of our bodies, perfectly replicating our image or likeness in the form of a detailed statue for around 40 quid at participating Asda stores in Britain. This reality raises important questions for me about the role and purpose of art and visual culture, our collective engagement in the processes and practice of making, and whether our distinctive cultural identity is transformed or found wanting in the absence of creativity as traditional tools, materials, methods and technologies are abandoned or rendered obsolete in a world of high-speed technological changes that can and do increasingly separate us from an engagement in process, practice, ritual and skill that sustain and define us as a people.
My proposed research agenda involves the investigation of traditional or ancient methods, tools, materials and technologies used by the Picts in Scotland during the medieval period to produce seemingly mundane objects. I want to reproduce or try to replicate a simple utilitarian object using these traditional materials, methods, technologies and processes to determine whether my perception of the final object is transformed by my experience of having devoted my time and energy into making it. Will the status of the utilitarian object be elevated after having worked on it for so long by hand or will it remain mundane or common? Will I appreciate it all the more for having labored on it or will I simply be glad when it is done? I am looking to collaborate with a faculty member and an independently minded student whose own research intersects, runs parallel to, shares or integrates these themes or relates in some way to: the study of a particular ethnic or cultural group from a specific place; objects belonging to a particular people in time; material or technological culture; new media or obsolete technologies; the cultural landscape of the internet; tools, technologies or objects being transformational in nature; engagement in ritual acts, practices or processes that are sustaining, etc. (For example, students researching traditional Native American objects, their creation, or uses in a museum or contemporary setting are welcome as are students studying the history and evolution of the plow from its medieval inception to those used for contemporary industrial agriculture. Be creative, independent and dedicated to your own self-designed research agenda so that when we meet during the course of the summer our exchanges will inform the intended collaborative educational spirit of our liberal arts research collective.)