What Colleen Did on Summer Vacation

The first day of classes looms ahead, and we all are wondering where the summer went. Some of us had time for vacations, others worked most of the summer—many probably wish there were a few more weeks before we get back to classes (on either side of the lectern!).

Colleen Fessler, a history major who will graduate in Fall 2015, worked (she’s one of the student workers in the history department office) and studied, like most Marquette students. But she was also as one of a half dozen young people selected for the Saint Patrick’s Centre of Northern Ireland’s Young Ambassador program (http://youngambassadorprogram.com/), which is designed to connect Americans with Northern Irish culture and to encourage them to conduct original research about some aspect of that culture.

Colleen reflected on the experience on her blog, “A Young Ambassador’s Journey Through Northern Ireland.”  You can read more about her and her journey at http://colleenfessler.weebly.com/. But here’s a brief excerpt:

The beautiful new dome atop the Victoria’s Square shopping centre is yet another testament to the progress Belfast and Northern Ireland has made since the troubles considering it is made entirely out of glass, allowing for a breathtaking 360 view of the city. Any type of construction across Northern Ireland throughout the past few decades never considered the use of glass because the fear of petrol bombs, IRA or Paramilitary/UVF attacks destroying the glass was all too real, so the fact that the city has confidence in building all glass buildings & domes is very significant in a change of times.

colleen

The Ulster Museum also had a wonderfully powerful exhibit called “Silent Testimony” dedicated to the Troubles created by a local artist. The exhibit consisted of large 3-D type portraits (oil on canvas) of people who experienced extreme personal losses, accompanied by a personal statement of their own story. The room was filled from wall to wall with these personal testaments and only offers a glimpse into what the people of Northern Ireland experienced during this time of their history.

Find out more about the project, Colleen, and Northern Ireland, on Colleen’s blog.

Fr. Francis Paul Prucha, SJ: A Reminiscence

Phil Naylor has been a professor of history at MU for many years. But in the 1970s he was a graduate student here. During that time he came to know the late Fr. Paul Prucha very well. In honor of Father Prucha’s death last week, Phil offers this recollection.

When my dissertation director, Dr. David Gardinier, and I planned my semester schedule as a first-year doctoral student, he told me that I should take Father Prucha’s seminar in the American West. As a doctoral punk, I responded that “it’s not in my field” and that I was already taking the mandatory Philosophy of History course also taught by Father Prucha. (Wasn’t one course with rigorous Father Prucha enough?!) My director’s response was terse but included an inscrutable smile: “It would be good for you.” Dr. Gardinier was absolutely correct. Philosophy of History became one of my favorite courses. In particular, I also learned a lot in the American West seminar about editing documents as I studied Ute Indian treaties of the 1860s and the roles played particularly by Chief Ouray and Kit Carson. Indeed, I began to compare French colonial policies in Algeria with US-American Indian relations. These courses led to enduring friendships with my peers and especially my professor.

Fr. Francis Paul Prucha, SJ, 1921-2015.

Fr. Francis Paul Prucha, SJ, 1921-2015.

I also began to learn more about Father Prucha’s interests, especially in art. (Father also had keen interests in architecture and design and was quite impressed by the History Department’s new offices in Sensenbrenner Hall.) He loved abstraction and especially Stuart Davis’s composition of forms and color. We have some of Father Prucha’s Stuart Davis paper cut copies in Sensenbrenner Hall (third floor). (When he prepared to move from the Jesuit Residence to Saint Camillus, he was going to throw them away. I asked if I could have them. He agreed.) When I traveled I would bring him brochures from art museums, a favorite being the Phillips Collection, which he visited often when researching in Washington, D.C.

My wife Kitty and I particularly enjoyed Father Prucha’s two-year tenure as Gasson Professor at Boston College in the 1980s, when I taught at Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts. We listened to his public lectures and enjoyed dinners with Father and his friends. I nominated Father Prucha for an honorary degree from Merrimack College; one of the co-recipients was Michael Dukakis.

Several weeks ago, Athan Theoharis and I visited Father. We found him in good spirits and, yes, his wit was sharp too. I’ve learned from Rose Petranech, an ex-MU administrator and great friend of Father’s, that he continued to exercise his wit with the Saint Camillus staff until he “fell asleep,” to use the expression of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Father Prucha’s exceptional discourse and practice in class impressed and inspired. (His classes were carefully crafted; every word meant something.) Beyond academics, I also picture a nonagenarian meticulously and patiently creating complex

Two of Fr. Prucha's polyhedrons, now displayed in the history department.

Two of Fr. Prucha’s polyhedrons, now displayed in the history department.

polyhedrons to decorate his apartment and his community and to give as gifts. As other students of his can attest, it was such a privilege to have Father Prucha as a professor and friend—an inimitable experience.

The History Department and University Archives organized a celebration on 19 May 2011, held at the Francis Paul Prucha, S.J. Reading Room in the Raynor Library to celebrate several of Father Prucha’s milestones: his 90th birthday; the 70th anniversary of his graduation from River Falls State Teachers College; the 60th anniversary of his entering the Jesuit Order; and the 50th anniversary as a member of the Department of History.

These were my remarks at that time:

Thank you for joining University Archives and the Department of History in our celebration of Father Francis Paul Prucha of the Society of Jesus, Pulitzer Prize nominee, author of twenty-plus books, teaching award winner, holder of numerous honorary degrees, honored as one of Wisconsin’s great literary figures by the Milwaukee Public Library. He is Marquette University’s greatest historian.

To those of us who were privileged to be his students, he set unattainable standards of scholarly and teaching excellence. Nevertheless, what made Father such a great professor is that he inspired us and, of course, still does, often in subtle and not too subtle ways, to reach those standards. He expected us and expects us to try. Quoting Henri-Irenée Marrou, a philosopher of history highly admired by Father Prucha, we learned that “history is a struggle of the mind, an adventure.”

Many graduate students had, however, a pathological fear of Father Prucha. I never did. Indeed, I discovered a man who was willing to critique, yet encourage, my photography and who enjoyed discussing art. Indeed, I would discover him in the galleries of the Milwaukee Art Museum on Sunday mornings. Of course, I also observed his exercise of his wit. We are not talking about a dry wit, but one which is Saharan in its aridity. There was also another side to Father Prucha that I witnessed. We coincidentally visited a mutual friend who was hospitalized. When the patient mentioned how much he liked Father Prucha’s sweater, Father took it off and gave it to him.

I know that many of you have similar stories to tell. But because of Father Prucha, I danced with Ute Indians in Colorado, paid special attention to Stuart Davis’s abstract art, and wrote books that I hoped he would admire. Typically, he photocopied a page of my recent book surveying North African history and marked it up informing me that I had over-quoted. I loved it. It was perfect. It had to be, because it was and is Prucha.

Wrapping Up 2014-2015: Journeys, Real and Virtual

blofThe purpose of “Historians@Work” is to offer a sense of the kinds of journeys we historians undertake as scholars and teachers. In what will probably be the last blog post before classes begin again in August, I’m going to provide a small sampler of the stories that appears in the 2014-2015 department newsletter, which is now online and will be mailed to thousands of MU alums this week.

As always, many of our “journeys” were actually journeys! Since the last newsletter, MU historians have traveled conducted research or attended conferences all over the world, including Cuba, El Salvador, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Northern Ireland, and Panama.

Several members of the department completed journeys from idea to print with the publication of books.

Kristen Foster’s efforts to help her students travel back in time through vivid lectures, meaningful discussions, and high standards earned her Marquette’s highest honor: the Award for Excellence in Teaching. She joined a dozen other members of the department to win the award over the last fifty years—more than any other department on campus.

Two colleagues—John Krugler and Tom Jablonsky—entered a new phase of their life journeys by retiring, while two new colleagues—Brian Rindfleisch and Jenn Finn—started the next phases of their professional journeys and two PhD students—Karalee Surface and Bethany Harding–finished their dissertations.

Finally, the faculty and students in the department traveled to video when we made a movie about the department’s people and programs—“History Matters.” It can be viewed on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SH0jcgBXoc4.

It’s been a great year. Read more about it in the 2015 Newsletter at http://www.mu.edu/history/Newsletter-2015-coverpage.shtml.  Enjoy your summers!  Jim Marten, Chair, History Department

Alumni@Work: Catching Up With Our Former Students, Part V

Ed Woell (PhD, 1997), offers his thoughts on the changing landscape of higher education.

After teaching full-time at the college level for seventeen years and reaching the rank of full professor, I remain deeply grateful and woellindebted to the history department’s faculty—above all Dr. Julius Ruff—for enabling me to pursue a vocation of reading, writing, and thinking: or what I like to call “living a life of the mind.”

My vocation eventually led me to Western Illinois University, where I have taught for twelve years and last year became the director of graduate studies in the history department. I oversee a graduate program with about thirty students pursuing a master of arts’ degree. For the last ten years the number of students in the program has remained stable, for which our department should consider itself fortunate.

Over the same time, however, the number of undergraduates majoring in history at WIU has declined, resulting in the loss of faculty when anyone in my department has retired or moved on. Compounding the losses in majors and faculty is a budget crisis in the state of Illinois, and with it a steep decline in state funding for the public university system. At present our governor is proposing a draconian 31 percent decrease in state funding for higher education for the next fiscal year. Although the state legislature will probably not comply with such a cut, the outlook for disciplines in the humanities at our state universities is bleak. It thus should come as no surprise that morale among many faculty at my university is approaching rock bottom.

Despite such trouble, our work goes on. One of my charges as graduate director is offering the introductory course on historical theory and methods for new graduate students. When I first taught the course last fall, I wanted my students to start the class by confronting what I considered to be graduate school’s most important question: why were they there? To this end I had my students read several essays about career prospects for those with degrees in history. These included not only William Pannapacker’s “Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go” and Larry Cebula’s “Open Letter to My Students: No, You Cannot Be a Professor,” but also Stephen Mexal’s “Don’t Be Afraid of Graduate School in the Humanities” and Susan Adams’s “Majoring in the Humanities Does Pay Off, Just Later.” I found the students’ reaction to these readings interesting. Surprisingly, few understood the way academia now works—namely in how many schools have grown reliant on adjunct faculty, often to the detriment of those seeking tenure-track jobs. After being confronted with how much of a longshot becoming a full-time professor is these days, some students adopted the belief that current trends in higher education were only temporary, and the many opportunities to get on the tenure track which had once existed would someday return.

While I cannot share these students’ optimism, I remember what it was like to be in their shoes as I attended Marquette University. In retrospect I realize that a love for history sometimes blinded me from seeing that while higher education offered a promising vocation, it was not immune from larger forces beyond institutional control. I have since learned that like many entities in our globalized economy, higher education is often shaped by cut-throat consumerism, short-sighted political tempests, and the supposed promise of shiny new technologies.

Given this reality, whenever a student comes to me expressing an interest in an academic career, I feel deeply torn in how to respond. On the one hand, I have an obligation to be candid with the student about the dismal prospects for a historian’s career in today’s ivory tower. On the other, I am averse to dismissing the student’s esteem for history, especially in light of how far my own love for the subject has taken me. Beyond this push and pull, though, I must admit to the student that I count myself among the lucky few to be not only a tenured and full professor, but also one who has grown ever more dedicated to the historical discipline through my many years of teaching, scholarship, and service. And I am likely to argue that now, perhaps more than ever, our society needs what we historians do. In doing so, I unwittingly embody an unspoken truth for that student: living a life of the mind—complete with the sense of gratitude and wonder that such a life can cultivate—is still possible, and ultimately well worth it.

Edward J. Woell is Professor of History at Western Illinois University, where he is Director of Graduate Studies. He is author of Small-Town Martyrs & Murderers: Religious Revolution & Counterrevolution in Western France, 1774-1914.

My Dear Comrade: Adventures with Corporal Tanner (continued)

n honor of Memorial Day (the traditional date of May 30), and under the assumption that no one can get too much of The Corporal, Jim Marten offers yet another blog on James Tanner.

In February 2012 I posted a blog (“Reflections on a Man With No Feet,”) on a project about a disabled Civil War veteran that became America’s Corporal: James Tanner in War and Peace (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2014). A couple of months later, in a phone call I reported in another blog (“It will sound rather strange to you . . . “: A Phone Call, A Letter, and the Corporal), a New Jersey woman offered to send me a rather surprising and moving letter from the Corporal to an old comrade. I knew of only a handful of other surviving letters from Tanner, and this small find inspired a poignant paragraph in the book’s conclusion.

So America’s Corporal appeared in print in May 2014—and three months later, out of the blue, an email appeared offering a trio of letters written by my favorite Civil War veteran. Each came from a different period in Tanner’s life. (Although the author of the original email readily sent me scans of the letters, he never answered my questions about his background or his interest in Tanner.)

The first, dated mid-November 1863, was written a little over a year after the Battle of Second Manassas, where Tanner lost the lower third of both legs as an eighteen-year-old Union soldier. Tanner was writing from West Richmondville, New York, his home town jumarten bookst west of Albany, but this may be the period in his life when he was taking a course in shorthand at a business school in Syracuse. He’s writing to a James Sprague of Brooklyn, New York, pleading for news about James’s brother Jonathon, “the dearest friend I had in the army,” and one of the men, Tanner explains, who had carried him from the battlefield as the Union army collapsed around them. Someone had told Tanner that his friend had lost a leg in battle. “Can this be so?” he asked. The slightly older Jonathon had been a friend and a mentor to Tanner, who closed by writing, “Hoping to hear from you soon and to learn where he lost his leg and where bouts it was taken off and also wishing that He who offers the wind to the shore land will in His mercy restore our brother to health.” Unfortunately, Jonathon died of his wounds; Tanner would mention him from time to time throughout his long life.

Tanner wrote the second letter twenty years later, after he had moved to New York and then to Brooklyn, where he served for a number of years as Collector of Taxes. It’s a friendly letter to Arthur Spitzer, an official in the Richmond Customs House who was apparently involved with creating a badge for an organization for Confederate veterans.   Tanner offers some advice about the design and about pricing. He knew what he was talking about—by this time he had served two terms as Commander of the New York state branch of the Grand Army of the Republic (the main organization for Union veterans) and was one of the best-known Memorial Day speakers in the region. He would eventually serve as national commander and his name would be synonymous with veterans’ issues by the 1890s. Tanner also become famous for accepting the end of the war as the end of hostilities between the sections; his commitment to “reconciliation” would lead him to speak at many Confederate veteran events and at the laying of the cornerstone of the controversial Confederate monument in Arlington National Cemetery in 1912. Tanner’s specific advice is interesting: although Spitzer is working on a badge for a Virginia organization Tanner thinks bigger: he suggests that the badge “should be a badge for all the ex-Confederates.” Rather than using the Virginia coat of arms, “it strikes me that you should have the coat of arms of the Confederacy. I presume that in those days of high hope you indulged in such a trifling luxury.” Tanner managed to be encouraging and a little condescending at the same time; it seems that the Confederate veterans did not take his advice.

The third letter was written six years later, in September 1889. A lot happened in the meantime: Tanner’s rise to prominence in the GAR and in the Republican Party had led to his appointment in spring 1889 by the newly elected President Benjamin Harrison to the prestigious and lucrative position as Commissioner of Pensions. The letter is typewritten in a jazzy, italicized font, on Pension Bureau stationary. Tanner administered thousands of employees and millions of dollars in pension payments (which comprised the largest single item in the federal budget at that time). Tanner’s high-flying responsibilities were short-lived, however: he immediately got into trouble with his superiors, including the president, over certain policies and practices and his ruthless firing of Democratic clerks. This letter was written less than a week after Tanner had submitted his forced-resignation. Yet, as he declared in this fourteen-line note, “the report of the investigating Commission contained no reflections upon my character and integrity.” His only fault—this is one of those “faults” that is really not a fault at all—“is that I was too liberal and too hasty in the adjudication of just claims of needy comrades. On these charges I am willing to be judged by the boys [other veterans].” In fact, the purpose of the letter was to return an application for a job in the pension bureau, since Tanner would no longer be in charge. But he used the occasion to show that he remained unbowed and steadfast in his support for fellow disabled veterans. He would continue to work on behalf of soldiers and, along the way, make a small fortune as a claims agent for veterans applying for pensions.

Although interesting, these letters won’t require a new edition of America’s Corporal. Indeed, they have no real historical significance, other than to further confirm the sometimes conflicting character of the feisty, emotional, patriotic, and often kind Corporal Tanner. They do, however, prove the truism that the sources we have at hand for any given project are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg of sources that were lost, burned, hidden, or otherwise denied to posterity. Yet we soldier on, and when we’re lucky we get to write about guys like The Corporal, these letters let me spend another hour or two with him.

Jim Marten is professor and chair of the history department.  You can find out more about America’s Corporal at ttp://www.ugapress.org/index.php/books/index/americas_corporal.

Alumni@Work: Catching Up With Our Former Students, Part IV

Today we feature two of our PhD alums, Enaya Othman and Paul Beck. Although both teach in the Milwaukee area, they have followed very different paths through academia.

Enaya Othman (PhD, 2009) has found a niche bridging her culture and the larger Marquette and Milwaukee communities.

IEnaya_edited-1 graduated in 2009 with PhD degree in American and Middle East history from Marquette University. My love and passion of history and my belief in its implications for our present and future guided my career path after graduation. Being a Muslim and a first generation immigrant gave me a mission to document my group’s history in the homeland and diaspora. In 1997, when I began writing my master thesis on Arab communities in Milwaukee, I discovered that this group’s history– especially Arab and Muslim women’s history—is underrepresented and mainly unknown. My history degree equipped me to begin the task of documenting the history and contribution of Arab and Muslim communities in the Greater Milwaukee area in different arenas. Soon after graduation, I founded a non-profit organization, the Arab and Muslim Women Research and Resource Institute (AMWRRI) and began to document the community’s history through  oral history. Currently I serve as the President of AMWRRI’s Board of Directors and direct the organization’s Oral History Project. The narratives gathered through the oral history project are disseminated in different ways to overcome stereotypes and misconceptions attached to this minority group. For example, one of the organization’smus1 effective and successful projects was “Beyond the Veil: Dress, Identity and Tradition Through the Eyes of the Muslim and Arab Women of Greater Milwaukee,” an exhibit held at the Milwaukee Public Museum from May to September of 2014. The exhibit caps a four-year AMWRRI project dedicated to showing how the attitudes toward cultural clothing among the Muslim and Arab women of the Greater Milwaukee area go beyond stereotypes. The project also gave women from these communities an opportunity to speak about their experiences. (For more on the AMWRRI and the cultural clothing exhibit, go to http://amwrri.org/.)

I also work a tenure-track assistant professor of Arabic literature, culture, and history in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at Marquette. My teaching has informed my research on immigrant communities and culture, where I have been the principle instructor and curriculum developer for the Arabic language program. I am planning to continue my work of documenting Arab and Muslim women’s history in the United States and abroad and to take an active role in public events and exhibits in order to increase awareness and minimize misconception about this marginalized underrepresented group.

Paul Beck (PhD, 1996), reflects on the myriad changes that have occurred since he entered academia.

Many years have passed since I received my PhD from Marquette. I am now entering my twenty-seventh year as a professor at Wbeckisconsin Lutheran College. I believe that the academic training in history that I received from Marquette has served me well. During my professional career the main thing I have noticed is the changes that have occurred in the liberal arts and in the study of history. More colleges seem to be moving away from the liberal arts and finding less value in programs like history. It seems that every year our department must justify its reason to exist. Our department was once four full-time professors and now we are down to 2.75.

I have noticed a shift in the type of history courses offered. We seem to be losing an obeck bookverall view of history and instead focusing more on race, class and gender. Where once one could expect to find courses on the American Civil War or French Revolution now are offered courses like Jewish Women in 19th Century Syria or 20th Century class relations in New Mexico. We are tending to teach what we find interesting but not necessarily what students need to truly understand the past. I believe there is a place for numerous different types of course but we must also understand that American students know less and less about history and need a solid foundation of informational courses.

Enaya Othman is an assistant professor of Arabic in Marquette. Her most recent publication is “Building a community Among Early Arab Immigrants in Milwaukee, 1890s -1960s,” Wisconsin Magazine of History 96 (Summer 2013).   She is currently revising her book manuscript, called Dogma of Womanhood and Feminism among American Missionaries and Palestinian Between 1880s and 1940s.

Paul Beck earned his PhD in 1996. In addition to teaching at Wisconsin Lutheran, he has published four books: Soldiers, Settlers and Sioux: Fort Ridgely and the Settlement of the Minnesota River Valley; The First Sioux War: The Grattan Fight and Blue Water Creek, 1854-1856; Inkpaduta: Dakota Leader, and Columns of Vengeance: Soldiers, Sioux, and The Punitive Expeditions, 1863-1864.

Platypi, Hermophrodites, and Intellectual Women: The Humanities’ Relationship with Oddities.

Last month graduate students from the English and History departments at Marquette University organized a day-long conference called “Oddities? : Exploring the Dynamics of Human Constructions.” Jennifer Hockenbery Dragseth of Mount Mary University delivered the keynote address, which celebrated the critical ways in which the humanities have led human beings to wonder and to organize the world around them.

While many academics from Plato to Martha Nussbaum have penned arguments for the need and good of the humanities, there is still a resistance in some segments of society to these arguments. Perhaps the problem is that the humanities is considered (and often considers itself) to be a study of human cultures, thoughts, constructs—about language games and hegemonies and matrixes. And thus, some believe that the humanities are not about the real world.  There is a problem that many outside and inside of profile_hockenbery-jenniferthe humanities believe these disciplines cannot help those in the “real” world because the humanities deal only with the “idea.” Yet, in defense of itself, the humanities can argue for its relevance by proclaiming how it treats oddities.

Oddities are things, structures, ideas and people that defy our fundamental categories of thought in ways that distress us.  Oddities are those things that cause us so much trouble that we must cry out in order to name them as “freaks.” We cry out because the oddity is a problem that threatens our very structures of thought and all that we have built on the foundations of those structures. Oddities are terrifying and anxiety provoking because they show us that something is wrong in our thinking.

The platypus so bewildered English scientists that they proclaimed it a hoax for 100 years. Today the platypus continues to force zoologists to re-imagine the taxonomy of Carl Linnaeus. The platypus is an oddity. The body of the hermaphrodite has challenged the way culture categorizes the male and the female. Such a body troubles our deeply gendered worldview. It is an oddity. The existence of the mind of an intellectual woman has historically plunged individual women into despair and caused revolution in societies. It is still, too often, seen as an oddity.

The problem with oddities is that by being odd they crack our structures of thought. They cause despair because we recognize how little we know, how little we may ever know. In some ways, they undermine the possibility of progress and any argument about the merit of the academy.

Yet, here is my thesis. While oddities perplex society and cause despair about the relevance of trying to know anything with clarity, these very same oddities bear witness to the power of study, observing, thinking, analyzing, and discussing. The oddity that troubles our categories gives hope that there can be knowledge beyond cultural categories.

Yes, the humanities have worked hard to bring a humility to the academy and the public about the limits of human knowledge and the power of bias and hegemony. Yet, the humanities can still attest to the need for continued thinking by pointing to research on an oddity and to the cultural openness that results from such research. Research and writing on an oddity breaks the cultural contact lenses. It unstrings the web of belief. The reality of the oddity shines through the broken shards of the fallen hegemony. Importantly, the academy and the public must work together to find a new paradigm and social structure that acknowledges the oddity. Our communal knowledge grows and our society progresses.

Yes, growth in knowledge can change social and political reality as well. A little over one hundred years ago a group of School Sisters of Notre Dame decided to build a college for women in Wisconsin. While the United States did not grant women full citizenship or equal political and economic rights, the SSND believed that intellectual women were real. They asserted that women had the same rights and responsibilities to seek higher education as men. Moreover, they asserted the possibility of intellectual working class women as well. This view challenged dominant strains of thought about the potential of women and continues to challenge the dominant strains of thought about the potential of poor women. But the reality of the intellectual women that have graduated from Mount Mary University continues to tear at those strains of thought. And society slowly reforms.

This is my point. The oddity is unsettling. The first time we see an oddity, we often consider it a hoax. We try to stuff the oddity in a category, or we try to eliminate the oddity. But sometimes we do not succeed in snuffing out the oddness or the oddity. Rather sometimes we come to a new relationship with our old way of thinking, a new humility about our ways of seeing, and a new pride in our ability to see.

Thus, oddities suggest that the post-structuralists may be a little bit wrong. It may imply that any epistemology that considers the mind to be radically independent of matter may be wrong. Perhaps, we need an epistemology that considers the mind to be part of a relationship with matter itself and with Truth itself. But that is another topic for another paper.

For now, I only want to make the claim that we can see the platypus not just as fine pelt to put on the global market but as an oddity that simultaneously humbles zoo-ology and exalts the merit of study. Also, we see the intersex person, not just as sideshow object to exploit, but as a person whose needs require we re-think our medical practices, Olympic policies, and marriage laws. Finally, we recognize intellectual women, not just as workers in a global economy but as fellow members of the academy striving for progress in human knowledge. These changes, this progress, is due, at least in part, to the work of scholars in the humanities who have brought the platypus, the hermaphrodite and the intellectual woman into focus. In short, studying an oddity inspires us to keep looking to see what else we can see. Every oddity that perplexes also whispers: keep studying, keep writing, keep reading, keep thinking. There is so much more to know.

In conclusion, I recently attended a lecture by the Reverend Dr. Willie Jennings, a theologian at Duke Divinity School, on the role of the academic in public life.   Jennings, the author of the acclaimed The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, said the role of the intellectual in public life is to “exhibit an openness to being changed and to invite others to this openness to being changed. To embody a posture, and to model this posture of openness.” (Willie James Jennings. “The Public Vocation of the Religious Scholar.” Upper Midwest Regional Meeting at Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. April 17.) One way to model such openness is to look for and embrace the oddity that defies our previous structures.

Jennifer Hockenbery Dragseth is professor of Philosophy at Mount Mary University. She is editor of The Devil’s Whore: Reason and Philosophy in the Lutheran Tradition (2011) and author of the forthcoming Thinking Woman: A Philosophical Exploration into the Quandary of Gender. For more, go to http://www.mtmary.edu/majors-programs/schools/hsse/jennifer-hockenbery.html.


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