The Second Annual IPRH Work-In

Second Annual IPRH Work-In, December 5th, 5:30-8pm, Levis 3rd Floor

What’s the relationship between the humanities in the university and the “public” in the public square? It’s a question we tackle practically on a daily basis at IPRH. Rightly or wrongly, scholars who deal in humanities-related subjects are often looked to these days to define, and even to model, public engagement work on North American campuses. The assumption seems to be that the things that humanists think about lend themselves more easily to public concerns than, say, STEM. So powerful is this link that the National Endowment for the Humanities has a division of public programs dedicated to supporting projects that “bring the ideas and insights of the humanities to life for general audiences.” The NEH seeks to create sustainable “community conversations” by drawing on “significant humanities resources, such as historic artifacts, artworks, literature, musical compositions, or films’ and centering on perspectives drawn from humanities disciplines. At the national level, then, we are exhorted to link humanities work with participation in vigorous and rigorous public dialogue.

But we know that all arenas of academic inquiry are relevant in the public square. There is a significant “science to society” movement afoot, for example, that is designed to create better portals for communicating technical knowledge to a broad public and to engage everyday people in discussions about the societal impact and meaning of contemporary science-related issues. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the largest multi-disciplinary science society in the world, has a mission to “advance science and serve society” through initiatives that include “public engagement with science.” Humanists too have their own expertise and knowledge that they are not always able to readily translate beyond the journal article or the seminar setting. In truth, teachers and scholars across the length and breadth of higher education are being asked to think more purposefully about how to make their knowledge accessible to a range of public audiences. In fact, all quarters of the academy have work to do to engage seriously with people they want to reach and issues they have expertise in beyond the boundaries of the quad.

The stakes of this kind of engagement have, arguably, never been higher. As both a concept and a very real sphere of political and social life, “the public” is under significant pressure at this particular historical moment. We are ever more invested in it even as it appears to be morphing before our very eyes. Global fiscal crises, national political transformations, the breakdown of a 20th-century liberal western consensus about civitas and the “internet of things” have, together, reshaped our understanding of what the public sphere– and the public square with it – can and should be. Whether you are a scientist or a literary critic, the concept of “public” is up for grabs. The time for taking up space in the public square in order to re-imagine and revitalize it is now.

In that spirit, IPRH will host our second annual Work-In on Tuesday, December 5th from 5:30-8pm. The event is a lively mix of people and organizations dedicated to a combination of inquiry and action when it comes to the variety of social and economic challenges we face in and around Champaign-Urbana. It’s designed to bring faculty, staff and students together with community members and partners, providing an opportunity to see and hear what’s happening at the local level at Illinois and beyond.

The links here between the humanities and the public square are multiple. The term Work-In is a play on “teach-in,” which has historically been a way to move academic work out of the classroom and into the more public spaces of the university campus. The Work-In shares some of that impulse, but it has more of a roll-up-your sleeves feel to it. Upwards of two dozen campus and community individuals and groups have signed up to table their wares, share information about what they do and make connections with people interested in moving the needle forward on a variety of issues – from higher education in prison to food pantry volunteerism to the legal process in Champaign county to feminist technology networks, and much more.

At the Work-In, you will find faculty and staff spotlighting how their academic work impacts broader public issues in a bustling, convivial atmosphere. But you – and they — will also have the chance to mix with and learn from community groups, and to appreciate how the public square is, in practice, a place where people from different sectors can meet and exchange experiences and ideas. In that sense, the Work-In tries to challenge a one-directional model of “public humanities” by fostering opportunities for cross-pollination between what’s happening at Illinois and what’s going on in Champaign-Urbana. In year two of the IPRH Work-In, we hope to see more of those connections being sustained into the new year.

If you are interested in helping to shape that kind of public square culture, join us the 3rd floor of Levis on December 5th.  And if you are simply you are curious about what this experiment in public square programming at IPRH looks like, come and check it out. Tell your students – it’s a good break from the pressures of the end of the semester. And bring a colleague or a neighbor so they can see what’s going on in and around Champaign-Urbana here and now.

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IRPH Medical Humanities Research Cluster

Jonathan Inda is a professor in and chair of the Latina/Latino Studies department.

The IPRH Medical Humanities Researcher Cluster was formed in the spring of 2017 as way to bring together the energies of humanities scholars at Illinois who work on health, illness, and medicine. The Medical Humanities is a vibrant field of study on campus, with scholars coming from a variety of disciplines—history of medicine, cultural studies, science and technology studies, medical anthropology, ethnic studies, philosophy, ethics, and the arts (literature, film, visual art)—and focusing on wide range of topics: for example, race, science, and medicine;  health activism; maternal and child health; epigenetics; biohumanities; physician-patient relationship; patient informed consent; human-animal distinctions; illness memoirs; medical education; stroke and its aftereffects; biomedical informatics; narrative medicine; disease and madness in literature; and stress, health, and sociogenomics.

A main goal of the cluster for 2017-18 is to give greater visibility to the Medical Humanities on campus. To help fulfill this aim, we developed the Medical Humanities @ Illinois Lecture Series. Our first speaker, who presented on October 3, was Susan E. Lederer, the Robert Turell Professor of the History of Medicine and Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. She is the author of the books Subjected to Science: Human Experimentation in America Before the Second World War (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995) and Flesh and Blood: A Cultural History of Transplantation and Transfusion in Twentieth-Century America (Oxford University Press, 2008). Prof. Lederer’s talk, “The Living and the Dead: Anatomy and the State in Twentieth-Century America,” focused on the history of body donation for medical teaching and research purposes. In the 1950s, American medical schools reluctantly embarked on a novel solution to obtain sufficient human anatomical material for research and education. Rather than relying on so-called anatomy acts that rendered the bodies of the indigent and unclaimed dead available for dissection, medical institutions created programs in which the living could “donate their bodies to science” after their deaths. In California, the new body donor program at UCLA was so successful that the Anatomy Department announced a temporary “moratorium” on accepting any more bequests because they were so overwhelmed with potential donors. The talk examined this development in the history of anatomy, and considered why and how anatomical gifting attracted so much support at mid-century.

The next speaker in the series will be Anthony Ryan Hatch, Associate Professor of Science in Society at Wesleyan University. He is the author of Blood Sugar: Racial Pharmacology and Food Justice in Black America (University of Minnesota Press, 2016). Prof. Hatch is giving a talk titled “Racial and Racist Narratives of Metabolic Syndrome” on Wednesday, November 8, 4:00-5:30 (IPRH Lecture Hall, Levis Faculty Center, Fourth Floor). Thousands of biomedical texts convey a series of narratives about metabolic syndrome and race. In these narratives, metabolic syndrome is portrayed as a common-sense idea that helps researchers, clinicians, patients, and drug companies get a handle on the co-morbid health risks from high blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, and obesity. Many of these narratives also position metabolic syndrome as a progressive concept that helps us document and combat racial health injustice. But, does the metabolic syndrome concept really help to foster racial health equity? How might the racial and racist narratives of metabolic syndrome work together to limit its liberatory potential? In this lecture, Professor Hatch discusses these questions in the context of Blood Sugar.

In the spring of 2018, one of our speakers will be Jonathan Metzl, the Frederick B. Rentschler II Professor of Sociology and Psychiatry, and the Director of the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society, at Vanderbilt University. His books include The Protest Psychosis (Beacon Press, 2011), Prozac on the Couch (Duke University Press, 2003), and Against Health: How Health Became the New Morality (New York University Press, 2010). His talk will focus on gun violence, mass shootings, and mental illness. Four assumptions frequently arise in the aftermath of mass shootings in the United States: (1) that mental illness causes gun violence, (2) that psychiatric diagnosis can predict gun crime, (3) that shootings represent the deranged acts of mentally ill loners, and (4) that gun control “won’t prevent” such incidents. Professor Metzl will address how assumptions about gun violence incorrectly link to stereotypes of mental illness and race in the United States. These issues become obscured when mass shootings come to stand in for all gun crime, and when “mentally ill” ceases to be a medical designation and becomes a sign of violent threat. More information about Prof. Metzl can be found at

The Medical Humanities Researcher Cluster greatly appreciates the support of IPRH, the Carle Illinois College of Medicine, and the Lemann Institute for Brazilian Studies. We hope that faculty, staff, and students will be able to join us at our upcoming events.

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Latin and Greek for Children

by Ariana Traill (Associate Professor, Classics) and Antony Augoustakis (Professor and Head, Classics)


Latin and ancient Greek are popular subjects these days – with kids. The Classics Department offers two successful summer camps, now in their third year, for children aged 9-12: “Meet the Greeks” and “Meet the Romans”.

Kids learn the basics of Latin and ancient Greek – body parts, animals, colors, numbers, greetings. They read simple stories and ancient texts, such as graffiti or vase inscriptions, while learning about Greek and Roman culture through games and crafts. In the morning, they might create a bulla, that is, a locket that Roman children wore to protect themselves from evil spirits, while dressing up as their favorite mythological figure. In the afternoon, they might write out their own Greek papyrus with a stylus and ink or paint and label their own Greek vase (which might resemble a clay garden pot…) or play a mythology trivia game in the Spurlock Museum. They are probably going to ace the trivia game, because authors like Rick Riordan have made Greek mythology such a trendy topic in middle schools these days.

The camps are run through the University Language Academy, the pioneering work of Silvina Montrul, whose research in secondary language acquisition among children has demonstrated the importance of early and continuous exposure to a foreign language for higher linguistic proficiency. Professor Montrul has been running eight-week Spanish camps and a year-long Spanish afterschool program has run since 2010. The program expanded into Latin and ancient Greek in 2015 at Montrul’s invitation. Classics faculty Ariana Traill saw the potential to bring Classical languages to a wider audience.

As a Classicist, Traill knew about the advantages of learning the classical languages. Apart from the pleasure of reading Classical literature in the original, the study of Latin and Greek has strong transferable benefits to other subjects. Latin is a great way to boost advanced English vocabulary: over 90% of English words of more than two syllables come from Latin. Greek roots abound in English, especially in technical vocabulary, and they are not hard to identify, once kids know the basics. As a parent, she knew there was plenty of interest in Greek and Roman culture among kids, as well as a need, especially at the middle school level, for interesting summer camps serving older children.

The children have a great time. They love being able to write their name in Greek, playing hangman in Greek and recognizing the letters on sorority/fraternity buildings, or playing with clay knuckle-bones – a common game in antiquity – and making Roman roads out of candy. “My favorite Latin word is abi,” one child noted. “It means go away.” Last summer they even got to practice their Latin on a puppy, who learned sede (sit!), affer (“fetch”) and volve (“roll over”), based on a book by a classics alumna. Parents like that their children are learning and having fun (“but maybe less candy in those roads”, noted one). The camps can spark an interest in Classical antiquity that endures years afterward, as one parent commented recently.

Word spread far this year. For the first time, the Classics Camps offered a special section this past summer to a group of students from Danville P.S. district 118, a low-income school district. Thanks to the initiative and support of Dr. Alicia Geddis, district superintendent, a group of nine students aged 12-15 were able to attend both camps May 30 – June 2, 2017. A particularly enthusiastic group, including a number of gifted and talented students, the Danville children triumphed in their trivia games (Greek jeopardy, alethes or pseudes (“true or false”)) and had fun practicing their new skills, whether reading a story about a farmer from a beginning Greek textbook or trying on costumes for Roman soldiers and brides.

Classics graduate students appreciate that the camps provide new employment opportunities during the summer, as on campus enrollments in summer school classes have been in decline. Ph.D. students gain exposure to K-12 teaching and knowledge about running an outreach program. Students in the Latin teacher training program benefit particularly because the camps provide valuable experience working with children, which can can be required as a condition for hiring by a public school. The Latin teacher training program has a 100% placement rate, in part because graduate have the necessary work experience.

On a practical note, the camps are financially self-supporting. They are advertised by flyers distributed through local school districts, through the university’s public engagement portal and through the chambanamoms web site. Sections are capped at fifteen. Each section is assigned a lead instructor from the Department’s Latin teacher training program, as well as a teacher’s aide from the Classics MA and PhD program. All camps staff are subject to criminal background checks.

The University of Illinois offers many camps for children and it is possible to start new ones. Those looking to launch similar programs should begin by seeking event approval for minors. The Classics Camps are greatly indebted to the University Language Academy, which simplified the start-up process enormously. Special thanks are also due to staff at the Spurlock, who have provided strong support each year, including making the Zahn Learning Center available as the camps’ main base in 2016. ATLAS hosts the camps’ web site and supports registration and credit card payments. SLCL supports the camp through its budget office, which maintains financial records. Thanks are also due to an anonymous donor whose gift helped make the Danville students’ week possible this year.

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1917 Ten days that shook the world/ 2017 Ten days that shake the campus

by Harriet Murav (Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures)


In 2017, Russia has been in the news every day; Russian interference in elections in the US and Europe—remains a pressing issue, not yet fully explained or resolved.

Russia was also in the news one hundred years ago. The Russian Revolution of 1917 profoundly altered the course of history in Russia and around the globe. Scholars have documented the radical economic, social, and political changes and the accompanying upheavals in the organization of knowledge, the structuring of the professions, and individual daily life and self-consciousness. The revolution in society went hand-in-hand with the revolution in art.

As we consider the global landscape today, major questions of labor and capital, economic inequality, and democratic transition have yet to be resolved. Radical visions and radical action are still very much with us. We still have much to learn from 1917 and its global ramifications.

For the past two years, a working group, consisting of faculty from departments and units across LAS and Fine Arts, has been meeting to discuss the meaning of 1917 for today.  Our project, “1917 Ten days that shook the world/ 2017 Ten days that shake the campus” brings together scholars from around the world, the nation, and the campus to analyze the Russian revolution of 1917 in a global context, by examining its immediate impact, elaborating its legacies, and tracing its ripples to the present day –across national boundaries and realms of human endeavor.

We have invited scholars from Russia, as well as scholars who work on India, Italy, and Brazil. Radicalism in the US and its connection to socialist Russia is another important dimension of the anniversary of 1917; we have invited key scholar-activists whose own histories played a central role.

We have created an interdisciplinary undergraduate course, a film festival, a musical performance, a “poetry slam,” a theatrical production, a library exhibit, a Krannert Art Museum exhibit, and a closing faculty and community roundtable.  This series of events constitutes the “the ten days” of our project, which we plan to spread over the Fall 2017 semester, thus facilitating greater intersection between lectures, courses, films, and art and performance.

The first campus event in our series will be a lecture from the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College, Vijay Prashad, a specialist on global development, labor, and India. He is the author of fifteen books, most recently The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution (California, 2016), and the editor of eighteen books, most recently Will The Flower Slip Through the Asphalt: Writers Respond to Capitalist Climate Change (LeftWord, 2017), which has contributions from Naomi Klein, Amitav Ghosh, Rafia Zakaria, Susan Abulhawa and others. Two of his books – Karma of Brown Folk and Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting – were chosen by the Village Voice as books of the year. He writes regularly for Frontline (India), The Hindu (India), BirGün (Turkey) and Alternet (USA). In addition, he is the Chief Editor of LeftWord Books (New Delhi).

The questions that Professor Prashad will address in his September 6 lecture, “The Russian Revolution as the Mirror of Third World Aspirations” refocus attention to parts of the world we typically do not associate with Russia. What did the Russian Revolution look like from India or Egypt or Southern Africa? What aspirations did it carry, what sentiment did it hold for people held in thrall of European colonialism? Why was it that these anti-colonial movements celebrated when Japan defeated the Tsarist forces in 1904 and then when the ordinary Russian people rose up in 1905? Why did Gandhi, sitting in South Africa, praise the rebels of 1905 and see in them something to emulate? What then did ‘1917’ mean to the emergent Third World Project?

The Fall symposium, November 2-3, 2017 will focus on 1917 in its immediate context and also, reflect on the broadest implications of 1917 and a century of protest and revolution. The morning session offers historical perspectives on the revolution in Russia; scholars will address the immediate and global reverberations of the revolution during the first decades after 1917. The afternoon examines the state of radical political action, labor, and protest 100 years later, focusing on questions of work, precarity, and inequality.

Boris Kolonitski, the keynote speaker, is the resident senior research scholar at the St. Petersburg Institute of History at the Russian Academy of Sciences, and Professor at the European University in St. Petersburg. Professor Kolonitski has authored numerous scholarly works on 1917, including Interpreting the Russian Revolution: The Language and Symbols of 1917 (with O. Figes,Yale University Press, 1999).

For more, see

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Placing Illinois in History

by Clare Crowston (Professor and Chair, History) and Bob Morrissey (Associate Professor, History)

There seems to be no better time to mark the sesquicentennial of the University of Illinois than at this paradoxical moment when state support for the university has been radically thrown into question and enrollment hits a record high, in part through the university’s draw to international students. As good humanists, celebration and commemoration take the form of probing questions rather than balloons and high-fives (although we definitely like those, too). As we hail the 150th anniversary of the land grant institution of the state of Illinois, we thus ask: what is a public university? What was it good for in the past and what is it good for now? What vision of higher education did Abraham Lincoln inaugurate when he signed the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act in 1862? Why did the first president of the university, John M. Gregory, believe that an institution devoted to agricultural and industrial education must teach its students history, classics, philosophy, art and literature? How has the very notion of the “public”, one of the central values of the American republic, become so denigrated and devalued and how should universities and colleges respond?

The History Department is devoting the sesquicentennial year to debating these questions in dialogue with faculty, students, staff, alumni and the public of the state of Illinois. Bob Morrissey, associate professor of History and upcoming Mellon Faculty Fellow in the Environmental Humanities, will steward programming in his role as director of the department’s nascent “Center for Historical Interpretation”, (now in the tenth year of its informal existence as the intellectual heartbeat of History). We will kick off the year on September 21 with a happy hour event at the Illini Center in Chicago in honor of a collection of essays edited by Swanlund Professor emeritus Frederick Hoxie. Entitled, Engine of Innovation, the book’s 27 essays celebrate and critically examine the university’s unique legacy of sponsoring innovation across the sciences, arts, and humanities. This event – which reprises an earlier rendition on our own campus in April 2017 – will feature Morrissey and Hoxie alongside some of the book’s authors, who will present their findings on the achievements – and challenges – in transformational research in our campus history. You can read one take on the book at the Big Ten Network website.

The year will continue with a series of guest speakers presenting different aspects of the University, organized by the University Archives in cooperation with History. Visit the University of Illinois Archives website for the schedule of talks and events. We will also host a monthly seminar focused on “Teaching the History of the University of Illinois”, which will rotate meeting venues through the University Archives, the Spurlock Museum, the Prairie Research Institute, and Gregory Hall. The seminar will combine discussions with tours and presentations, all geared to help participants design classes and lessons around aspects of the university’s history. For more information and to sign up, contact Bob Morrissey at:

To showcase the department’s vision of this pedagogy, in fall 2017 we debut a new 200-level course on the History of the University (developed by Dana Rabin with support from the Ethnography of the University Initiative). This will become a permanent element of our curriculum and allow students to use our exceptional archival and library resources to conduct independent historical research on myriad aspects of our campus. To help bring these lessons to elementary and secondary educators, a professional development workshop each semester for K-12 teachers will offer content coverage, teaching resources, and sample assignments to help area teachers incorporate these histories into their classrooms.

The History Department’s digital documentary publishing unit, SourceLab, led by John Randolph, will provide another venue for us to encourage both students and the larger public to explore Illinois’ role in the history of innovation. One problem the University faces is that many of the transformative contributions we have made—to scholarship, civic life, technology and commerce—are poorly understood, in part because no one has access to materials that document them. To have a living sense of history, people not only need to hear scholars talk about it: they need a window on the past they can look through themselves.  As part of “Placing Illinois in History”, students from SourceLab will work with local and visiting experts to create exciting digital editions of select sources documenting Illinois’ place in history. The result will be a new set of sources the public can read alongside the Engine of Innovation commemorative volume.

All things Illinois do not end at the end of the coming academic year. For 2018-2019, the CHI will shift its focus to the bicentennial of the state of Illinois, broadening our inquiry into the “public” of Illinois to address issues of memory, spatiality and history. On the 200th anniversary of Illinois, how do we understand our state’s past? It is an interesting intellectual problem given our status as a – if not the– quintessentially Midwestern state. While other regions have been the subject of important historical interpretations (the U.S. South carries “the burden of Southern History” while the U.S. West lives with its “Legacy of Conquest”) Midwestern history and memory have received less critical attention. Our program will aim to reexamine burdens and legacies in the past of Illinois, exploring the ways in which the popular image of the state’s and region’s past often obscures historical realities that shape our present. In critically examining history and memory in Illinois, we will reprise the activities of the founding generation of professional historians in Illinois, people like Clarence Alvord, UIUC professor, founder of the Journal of American History, and organizer of the Centennial History of Illinois, which brought Illinois history to light on the occasion of the 100-year anniversary.

We greatly appreciate the generous support of the President’s Office, the Vice-Chancellor for Corporate Relations and Economic Development, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Center for Advanced Study, which has made these two years of exciting programming possible. We urge you all to join us in Placing Illinois in History at our events in the coming years.

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Introducing “The Humanities in the Public Square@Illinois” blog series

Humanities scholars have long had multiple audiences in mind. The turn toward public humanities in the last decade has extended the reach of what we do, fueled in part by a sense of urgency about communicating our work to as broad a set of publics as possible. In the process, we have the opportunity to call some public communities into being and bring others into clearer view. At The Humanities in the Public Square@Illinois we feature posts by faculty and students working in various aspects of the humanities and seeking both to showcase upcoming events and draw new audiences to the many lively, vibrant humanities programs and events that animate the campus and beyond.

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Thank you for Reading!

Thank you for Reading! Reading Matters is ending but the IPRH Blog is not. Check back in the fall for our new series: “Humanities in the Public Square@Illinois”

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Food Studies and M.F.K. Fisher

Marika Christofides is Associate Acquisitions Editor for Anthropology and Food Studies at the University of Illinois Press. 

As a publishing professional, I don’t read outside of work nearly as much as I used to. But every time I do discover a new book or writer that I love, it can feel like discovering the power of literature all over again. That happened to me this past summer with M.F.K. Fisher. Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher is one of America’s preeminent food writers: the 27-or-so books she authored between 1937 and her passing in 1992 offer meditations on life, love, and hunger which are sometimes compared to and even said to surpass Ernest Hemingway’s writings during the first part of this time period. Not only that, but she is famous as the first writer to use food as a cultural metaphor in an era when food was seen as unworthy of thought or comment, essentially inventing modern food writing and its many sub-genres. Newly minted as the Press’s acquiring editor in food studies, I thought I should learn more about her. So I picked up The Art of Eating, a collection of her five most popular books – “Serve it Forth,” “Consider the Oyster,” “How to Cook a Wolf,” “The Gastronomical Me,” and “An Alphabet for Gourmets” – and took it on vacation with me.

I thought I wouldn’t like this book. I grew up in a food-obsessed household, where my mom kept an impressive collection of fancy cookbooks and Saveurs that I think may have dated from before I was born. I used to read them for fun, so I was no stranger to what I thought I recognized as a particularly stuffy kind of food writing: nostalgic for a European agricultural past, prescriptive about the purity of ingredients and the authenticity of recipes, insistent that *good* food “must” cost a lot of time and money.

Instead, The Art of Eating – and particularly “Serve it Forth” – reminded me of something that it’s easy to forget: food is more than just food. In Serve it Forth, Fisher interpolates essays that capture pivotal moments in her life through food, with essays that use culinary history to reflect on culture at large. A story about trying to impress a new romantic partner by taking him to a favorite Paris haunt after several years absence, only to find that the place has changed hands and her favorite waiter is an old drunk on the verge of being fired, is followed by a (hilarious) narrative of the fall of Rome through culinary excess. Her writing has a melancholy quality combined with a wry, matter-of-fact sense of humor that I really appreciated.

In one of my favorite chapters, “Borderland,” she describes a personal food ritual from her time in Strasbourg: “In the morning in the soft, sultry chamber, sit in the window peeling tangerines, three or four. Peel them gently; do not bruise them, as you watch soldiers pour past and past the corner and over the canal towards the watched Rhine. Separate each plump little pregnant crescent. If you find the Kiss, the secret section, save it for Al.” At the time that she was writing Serve it Forth, Fisher and her first husband Al had already separated. Fisher uses her share of “must”s, and she gives detailed instructions for how to enjoy a proper dinner party (as it turns out, you can’t invite more than six people). But “Serve if Forth” isn’t so much about The Good Life as it is about food as the stuff that our relationships—to ourselves and to each other—are made of.

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Patty Jones: What I’m Reading

Patty Jones is Associate Director for Research at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.

I am always reading three or four books at the same time, usually a mix of fiction and non-fiction. I got a Kindle Paperwhite for a holiday gift, so now I am also starting to read e-books more often. I just finished reading George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo as an e-book and loved it. I had never read Saunders’ work before, and it was an unexpected treat. The book is an unusual style of fragments from different narrators, but it does tell a story that is elegiac yet sometimes playful. As a parent myself, I also found certain plot elements particularly wrenching. Now I am reading The Book: A Cover to Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of our time by Keith Houston – and this is a book that you must have in a physical hardcopy because that is precisely the point. It is beautifully made with lovely paper and stitching, makes interesting use of color, and is also “meta” – the physical book itself has annotations pointing out its hinge, binding tape, foot, and so on. It is a concise and well-written history of the elements of the book – the invention of paper from papyrus to parchment to wood-based paper; the invention of writing, illustrations, and more. Right now I’m enjoying reading about illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages.

My second book I recently found at the Illini Union bookstore – Seven Words for Wind: Essays and Field Notes from Alaska’s Pribilof Islands by Sumner MacLeish. It is a short and beautifully written account of the author’s move to the Pribilof Islands that includes elements of ethnography, nature, journalism, and history. Each chapter is named after a type of wind in the Aleut language; for example, “Asxi-lix” means roughly “to go against the wind”. The colonialism elements of this history still reverberate with the native Aleuts to this day. The natural world is dynamic, harsh, and beautiful, and its exploitation by fishing and other industries is a fact of life. The people are a wonderful mix of perspectives. It makes you think about your own “village” and why it is the way it is. My third book is one that I purchased a long time ago and finally popped open – the time travel science fiction classic The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. A 1983 everyman English professor gets swept up into a secretive millionaire’s scheme to travel through time – but this is only possible during certain windows of time and space. I am only about 15% of the way through the story so far, and it is very engaging to see nineteenth-century London through the eyes of a somewhat modern American. It is fun, mysterious, and fast-paced, and I can certainly imagine it as a really cool HBO mini-series. Speaking of which, if I was in charge of HBO, here is my slate of books to turn into the next Game of Thrones-style lavish juggernaut series of mystery and adventure:

1. Orphan of Creation by Roger MacBride Allen.

2. The “Southern Reach Trilogy” by Jeff VanderMeer.

3. The “Hyperion” series by Dan Simmons.

4. The “Pliocene Saga” by Julian May.

5. Pastwatch by Orson Scott Card.

(PS: And, I am really looking forward to “American Gods” later this month on Starz!)

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Books That Changed the World: The Third Annual History Soapbox

Marc Hertzman is Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies for History. 

What am I reading right now?  Baby books to my son, class material, and a few primary and secondary sources for research.  Beyond that I’m stuck in a familiar purgatory of seemingly endless, unfinished New Yorker articles, with no good books in sight.  Fortunately, on March 30th the History Department will be holding its Third Annual Soapbox, a raucous event sure to inspire anyone out of the reading doldrums.  During the Soapbox, faculty, students (grad and undergrad), and staff compete to make the best case in six minutes or less for why one single book changed everything. The incomparable Carol Symes won the first competition with a mesmerizing performance punctuated with the literary equivalent of a mic drop—she concluded by slamming her book shut.  What book did she argue changed everything?  The Justinian’s Law Code, a smart choice since most people consider it to be the world’s first, um… book!  Last year, our amazing chair Clare Crowston won with a somewhat more controversial selection, Marquis de Sade’s Philosophy in the Bedroom.  This year’s contestants will bring arguments for a new and truly inspiring list of books, some of which you have surely heard of – The Communist Manifesto, presented on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, George Orwell’s 1984, Virgil’s Aeneid – and others that you may well not have: for example, Gustavo Gutierrez’s Teología de liberación (Liberation Theology) and one of our boldest entries yet: The English Football Association’s 1863 Rules of Association Football.


On March 30th, the Soapbox will begin at 7:00 PM in 210 Illini Union (General Lounge) and conclude only once a winner has been declared.  Please join us to be inspired, to debate, and to propel your favorite book to victory in the Audience Favorite category.  Hope to see you there!

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