Archive for March, 2014

Student Spotlight: Matthew Kibler

Posted on March 31, 2014 in Students

Kibler.Matthew.13.14.002Matthew Kibler is a Sophomore majoring in philosophy and chemical engineering.  The Nanovic Institute awarded Matthew a Break Travel and Research Grant for Sophomores and Juniors to conduct research on the phenomenological perspectives of impressionst and post-impressionist art.  He traveled to Paris over fall break.  Matthew recently wrote about his experience:

I departed for Paris over fall break hoping to gain access to the textual sources and paintings that would enable me to answer my question about the relation between the artists that phenomenologists identified as philosophically relevant and the impressionist tradition out of which these artists worked.  While I left Paris having gathered the information that will serve as the substantive basis of my discussion of this question in my term paper for Continental Philosophy, my time in Paris did not simply allow me to develop answers to the questions that I brought to the city.  Instead, my work in Paris led me to expand upon my original project and make connections that I could not have made studying art and philosophy at Notre Dame, and introduced me to a range of academic resources that will greatly enhance my study abroad experience in Paris next semester.

While direct access to the works of the artists that Merleau-Ponty and other philosophers identified with their phenomenological project proved instrumental as I developed answers to the questions that I had departed with, the location of these works within the broader context of the museum enabled me to connect my project with artists that I would not otherwise have identified as relevant.  For example, I found that the scientific perspective that served as the structural framework of Monet’s early landscapes was also a salient feature in the works of other early impressionists such as Pissarro.  Insofar as Monet’s later works seemed to negate the importance of scientific perspective, his artistic development can be interpreted as a break from the conventions of impressionism.  This observation led me to expand my original question about the phenomenological self-awareness of the impressionists to include a component about how this self-awareness changed over time.  In the paper that will serve as the culmination of my work in France, I hope to relate this developing self-awareness to the developing artistic, technological, and cultural milieu in which it occurred by interpreting my observations in terms of the insights made by philosophers such as Martin Heidegger and Walter Benjamin.

In addition to providing the research experience that will serve as a foundation of the more extensive philosophical research that I plan to pursue next semester while studying abroad in Paris, my stay in France exposed me to a range of resources available outside of my host university.  Through my conversations with philosophy students currently pursuing their graduate work in Paris, I formed connections that will enable me to engage in an academic discourse that extends beyond the lecture environment of the classroom.  These conversations also proved enlightening insofar as they introduced me to a number of academic resources in Paris.  I am most excited by the prospect of attending the public lecture series occurring at prominent Parisian universities that bring together scholars working on a range of topics in Continental philosophy.  After having completed my work over fall break, I cannot wait to return to Paris next semester in order to continue studying the questions that drove my research over fall break in a vibrant intellectual environment where exposure to lectures and the extensive network of libraries and museums that I have just begun to take advantage of will spawn new questions and projects.

Student Spotlight: Annie Rhodes

Posted on March 24, 2014 in Students

Rhodes, Annie 13-14Annie Rhodes is a Senior majoring in French and Francophone Studies and Sociology.  The Nanovic Institute awarded Annie a Senior Travel and Research Grant to travel to Paris over fall break to conduct archival research.  Annie recently wrote about her experience:

I arrived in Paris on October 19th, a Saturday afternoon.  The Bibliotheque Nationale de France (BNF or National Library of France) was closed, so after dropping off my things at the apartment I had rented in the fifth arrondissement, I decided to explore my environs and orient myself in the neighborhood.  The location was perfect.  Only a 10-minute walk from the bustling area of Rue Muffetard, and only about a 20-minute walk from the Latin Quarter and universities such as the Ecole Normale Superieur and the Sorbonne, I was in the heart of the student’s Paris.  There were inexpensive places to eat, great bookstores around every corner, and students congregating in parks and outside independent movie houses—all just a few steps from my apartment!  Before when I’d stayed in Paris, it was always in a hotel or hostel near tourist attractions, and I’d always been surrounded by foreigners.  So I was very excited: appropriately, this time in Paris, when the point of my trip was academic research, I would be experiencing something of the student’s life in Paris rather than that of a tourist. 

The next morning, after stopping to have a coffee and croissant at a typical Parisian corner café, I set out for the BNF.  I had purposefully found an apartment within walking distance from the library, but I had never been there and didn’t know exactly where it was. (It is in the thirteenth arrondissement, east of the Ile St. Louis, in a modern section of Paris and farther east than I had ever had any reason to go in the past.)  So I headed off, map in hand (looking very much like a tourist, I might add), for the place I’d spend much of the next week, not really knowing what awaited me.  It turned out to be only about a 12-minute walk, and a pretty direct shot from my apartment. 

I was not prepared for this library.  I had heard that the building itself was very modern but I had never seen a picture of it and had no idea how imposing it would be.  Neither had I considered the psychological effect architecture can have on someone entering a building.  The building is ENORMOUS, with four tall towers framing a huge, raised outside courtyard, underneath which are the reading rooms of the library.  In order to enter the building you first have to climb steep stairs that run continuously around the whole complex and then descend again (by way of a very long, sloped moving walkway) into the entrance hall.  After going through an interview process, having your photo taken, and paying for your “chercheur” (researcher) photo ID card, you are allowed to descend yet further into to the depths of the building to enter the “salles” (reading rooms), from which you are able to access the multitude of resources of the BNF.  The effect of the imposing nature of the building as well as the required ascent and subsequent descent was a feeling of nervousness and inadequateness that subsided into deep humility and respect in the presence of this multitude of academic sources.

I admit, it took the first couple of days just to get a hang of using the library—finding the correct salle for the kind of sources I wanted to consult, then using the electronic database to find the location of the source I wanted, then finding out at which “station” I had to be in order to consult that type of text (in the salle in which I ended up spending most my time, I had to be at a certain kind of station to view paper documents, another one to view audio-visual sources, and yet another to access Gallica, their electronic reserve that holds thousands of scanned documents, but which can only be accessed within the walls of the library), and then actually ordering the source I wanted to use and waiting for it to be brought from one of the four towers to me at my station.  Even as complicated as the process was at times, I fell in love with it.  In the week, I became addicted to the library and the research process and truly looked forward to each afternoon I spent with my sources.

My goal was to trace the musical and lyrical evolution of the popular French nursery rhyme song “La Mere Michel” and the works inspired by it.  The basic story of the song, that a woman, la mère Michel, loses her cat, is just about the only constant present in all versions of the song and in all literary works inspired by the song.  After that, there is no consensus to exactly what happened: in some versions a certain Père Lustucru hangs the cat, in others he sells it as rabbit in his butchery, and in still others, he gives it back.  In some versions, Père Lustucru is completely absent.  The variations go on and on, some peaceful and others quite violent.  I originally believed that the song was the original source of the story.  During the course of my research, however—which was based entirely on primary sources, as virtually no criticism or analysis has been previously conducted on the topic—I found that the source of the story was actually a poem first performed as a play by the Guignol Children’s Theatre at the end of the 18th century.  The poem was then set to a somber tune in a minor key, a melody no longer associated with the rhyme.  In the 1820s, the song was shortened and popularized with a new melody: a joyous-sounding 17th century victory march written in a major key.  This is the tune the French populace knows today as the melody of “La Mere Michel.”  Since the 1820s, the song has undergone other transformations, primarily lyrical changes that render the song less violent and disturbing than the original rhyme.  The works inspired by the song seem for the most part to follow the same general pattern: with each successive work, the story told is less violent and thus more acceptable according to the norms of what is appropriate for children in the modern world.  My analysis is based on about 15 audio recordings of different versions of the song, various scores and sheet music for musical renditions, two children’s books, a novel, a sort of epic poem, a burlesque play, an operette, several short stories, and a video of a puppet show, all of which were consulted at the BNF.

In the end, I produced a paper which will serve as my final paper for my class “Art of Interpretation: Paris,” taught by Professor Julia Douthwaite.  But this was not the only nor necessarily the most valuable result of my Nanovic grant: my first experience in a world-famous, monumental library taught me practically how to navigate a library to conduct academic research, and also inspired in me great motivation and excitement at the prospect of library research.  This experience very much reinforced my conviction that the pursuit of a PhD is in my near future and that my life will very much revolve around academic research.  I cannot adequately express my gratitude for this opportunity afforded to me by the Nanovic Institute.

Student Spotlight: Matthew Cook

Posted on March 17, 2014 in Students
Matt's trip conincided with cinghiale (wild board season in Tuscany.  Here he is trying his best to blend in !

Matt’s trip conincided with cinghiale (wild boar) season in Tuscany. Here he is trying his best to blend in!

Matthew Cook is a 5th year architecture student and the recipient of two grants from the Nanovic Institute.  The first was a Senior Travel and Research Grant to travel to Vernazza, Italy last year over spring break.  When Matt wanted to continue his work in Vernazza, the institute awarded him another Senior Travel and Research Grant for a fall break trip.  Matt wrote to us about his most recent trip:

I traveled to Italy over fall break to continue research I began this spring that will ultimately become the basis for my thesis design proposal.  My project will be a winery located in Vernazza, one of northwest Italy’s famous Cinque Terre.  Thanks to generous funding from Nanovic and CUSE, I was able to visit the site in March to begin assessing the damage to the town by a severe storm two years ago.  While I expected that most of my first trip would be devoted to documenting the site, I found that Vernazza has some very deeply rooted issues that existed long before the flood, and I spent much of my time on the ground trying to understand these complex problems.  Most of Vernazza’s issues are the direct result of unsustainable tourism in a small town that is not prepared for a vast volume of visitors (every year, two million people travel to Vernazza, a town of only a thousand residents).  I was able to meet with city officials and Save Vernazza, a non-profit responsible for the rebuilding effort in town, in order to more fully understand Vernazza’s problems.

With the main problem areas identified and the scope and goals of my thesis decided, I was able to focus my attention during my fall break trip on understanding wine making practices and the spaces in which wine is produced.  My trip began in Tuscany, where I spent time in several wineries producing at very different scales.  The winemakers at Fattoria Poggerino, a family run winery producing about 40,000 bottles a year, shared stories about their biodynamic practices; the staff at Villa Vignamaggio, producing about 500,000 bottles, opened up their cellar and bottling facility for my visit.  I learned a tremendous amount about wine making and the history of cultivation in Italy.

I also had the opportunity to spend time in Vernazza again, and much has been done to restore the town to its original beauty since my last trip.  The building effort has begun, and concrete trucks were beginning some of the first foundation pours while I was in town.  I met with Ruth Manfredi, the director of Save Vernazza, two days of the four I spent in town, and we were able to discuss my project and the evolution of the rebuilding effort over time.  She was in full support of the winery proposal and thought it would be a great way to bring more sensible and sustainable tourism to Vernazza.  Ruth was able to supply me with many architectural drawings and surveyor’s documents of the town, which will prove extremely useful as I begin designing.

Though the trip was educational in many ways, it was the human element of my experience in Vernazza that made my visit truly stellar.  I returned to Vernazza not as a tourist but as a member of the community; I was greeted by old friends from past trips and really felt connected to the town.  Spending time on the ground in Vernazza reminded me that my project is not strictly academic – it has the potential to serve as an example of what Vernazza could become, affecting the lives of real people with whom I’ve become close over the course of this project.  My visit has inspired me to tackle my thesis with great attention and care, and with my research now complete, I feel prepared to proceed with my project so that I can ultimately do some good for a place that is very close to my heart.

Matt was recently award a prestigious Luce Scholarship.  To read more about Matt and this fantastic honor, please go to the School of Architecture’s website.  Congratulations, Matt!

Student Spotlight: Christine Gorman

Posted on March 13, 2014 in Students

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChristine Gorman is a Senior majoring in Economics and Chinese and minoring in European Studies.  The Nanovic Institute awarded Christine a Senior Travel and Research Grant to travel to Slovenia over fall break to work on her capstone essay for her Minor in European Studies.  Christine recently wrote about her experience:

Thanks to a Senior Travel and Research Grant provided by the Nanovic Institute of European Studies, I was provided with the opportunity to conduct first-hand research in Slovenia for my European Studies capstone essay.  The subject of my project is the role of Slovenia in the European Union. As a small country with former communist roots, Slovenia is an interesting case to study as the EU struggles through an economic crisis.  Slovenia is certainly feeling the ramifications from this crisis and is also muddling through its own corruption scandals in the government.  The status of Slovenia in the EU is therefore a pertinent topic, especially if Slovenia can serve as a model for new countries that are joining the EU, like Croatia.  By traveling to Slovenia over fall break, I was able to access archives, libraries, and documents that I would not have had the opportunity to look at in the United States.

During my time in Slovenia, I was able to visit four different libraries or centers.  The first library that I visited was in the city of Maribor.  The University of Maribor is well-known in Slovenia for its economic faculty, so I took a day to peruse the shelves and pick up books that I could only find in Slovenia.  Most of the books that I found were published by universities in Slovenia, and copies of them could only be found in Slovenia.  These were very useful in judging what Slovene experts themselves thought Slovenia and the EU. 

After finishing up the research in Maribor, I caught a train to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, where I was planning on conducting the bulk of my research.  In Ljubljana I visited the University of Ljubljana’s Economics Library, a European Documentation Center, and the National Library.  The Economics Library at the university and the National Library proved to have much of the same material as the library in Maribor, but the European Documentation Center provided me with interesting information about the hoops that Slovenia had to jump through to join the EU.  The biggest reform that Slovenia had to conduct to get into the EU was of their banking system.  For such a small country, Slovenia had too many banks, and policies put in place to encourage bank mergers backfired.  Slovenia was therefore forced to revise their banking sector.  However, the documents showed that Slovenia was actually in a good place economically to join the EU, with most of their economic indicators performing just as well as some of the smaller countries already in the EU, such as Greece and Portugal.  (Interestingly, all three of these countries today are in trouble economically.)

One of the main questions that I came to Slovenia hoping to answer was whether or not EU membership was a benefit or a burden for Slovenia.  As it is with most research questions, I left Slovenia with answers to argue both sides. Professors and books at the universities both seemed to agree that after Slovenia left Yugoslavia in 1991, Slovenia needed the EU market to jumpstart economic growth.  Exports are very important to Slovenia, since it is a small country of only two million, and after 1991 markets east of the border were lost.  Therefore, the western markets were most important for Slovenia’s economy, and EU membership was the logical step to taking advantage of these markets.  However, Slovenia also joined the monetary union, and with this membership, there was a price.  Slovenia lost control over its fiscal policy.  As evidenced by Greece and Portugal, having control over fiscal matters could have softened the blow of the economic crisis in these countries, and Slovenia would have been no exception.  Therefore, there were unquestionably pros and cons to Slovenia’s accession to the EU.

With my trip wrapping up and the libraries closed for the weekend, I took advantage of my last day in Slovenia to participate in the Ljubljana Marathon.  I’ve always believed that running races are amazing events that bring together individuals from all walks of life, and I certainly felt this while running the 42 kilometer race.  I was cheered on in Slovenian, Croatian, German, Italian, English, and languages that I could not even recognize.  It was the perfect way to end the trip, and I felt so blessed when I crossed the finish line with the view of the Ljubljana Castle right in front of me.

In conclusion, the Nanovic Institute’s grant gave me the opportunity to gather more material for my European Studies capstone essay.  As much information on Slovenia is not readily available in the US, this trip was invaluable to the success of my capstone project and for future projects.  The experiences that I gained from this trip also made my application for a Fulbright fellowship in Slovenia stronger.  Therefore, I am incredibly grateful to the Nanovic Institute and its donors for the opportunity to contribute to my educational and career advancement.   

Student Spotlight: Claire Donovan

Posted on March 5, 2014 in Students

Donovan, Claire 13-14Claire Donovan is a Junior majoring in French and Francophone Studies and minoring in International Development Studies and Peace Studies.  The Nanovic Institute awarded Claire a Break Travel and Research Grant for Sophomores and Juniors to conduct research for her project, “‘The French and the other’ as examplified by Sarah Baartman.”  She traveled to Paris over fall break.  Claire recently wrote about her experience:

She was born on the Cape of Good Hope in present day South Africa and lived much of her life in London and Paris.  She was shown to enthusiastic crowds and served as an object of both curiosity and desire.  She influenced literature, intrigued artists, and fascinated scientists of her time.  She only lived to the age of 28 and died of pneumonia, syphilis, and alcoholism.  Her name was Saartjie Baartman.  What is the significance of this woman’s story, what is her legacy, and what are the modern-day implications of her life in modern French culture?  This was the goal of my research in Paris this fall break: to study the life and impact of Baartman and to connect it to the modern-day French mentality of “the other.” 

To conduct this research, I wanted a well-rounded image of this woman.  I consulted literature, sketches, films, and museums where her remains were on display post-mortem in order to see how this woman was represented and viewed by French in both colonial times and in contemporary times.  My research took me to various locations around Paris including the National Library, the National Museum of Natural History, the Musée d’Orsay, and, surprisingly, to the locations of both her apartment and the building in which she was exhibited during her stay in Paris.  By the end of my week in Paris, I felt almost as if I knew her, after having read so much about her life, followed her path in the streets around her apartment, and even saw the museum in which her remains were exhibited for more than one hundred and fifty years after her death.

Baartman arrived in London with her Dutch master, Hendrick Caezar, in 1810 at the age of 22.  She was displayed at various locations around London, the most illustrious of which was the Piccadilly Circus.  In her act, she played the role of a savage captured from the bush, which Caezar made the crowds to believe was her actual comportment.  Baartman served as an enigma in French society as crowds were simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by the Black Venus.  Her name and image were plastered around London (and eventually Paris) and figurine replications of her body were sold as exhibition souvenirs.  In addition to crowds of captivated spectators, Baartman also captured the attention of many prominent artists and scientists of her day.  Two sketches of Baartman, entitled “Les curieux en extase ou les cordons de souliers” and “La Vénus Hottentote” grossly exaggerate the details of Baartman’s body; her buttocks and nipples, which are the prominent features of both sketches, are drawn completely out of scale and are made to look almost inhuman.[1] [2]  This fascination with her bodily differences was especially visible in the French scientific community’s obsession with Baartman and her place in the development of scientific racism.  Geoffray Saint-Hilaire, a specialist in teratology, the study of congenital abnormalities and abnormal foundations, studied Baartman and concluded that her anatomy was more bestial than human.  Moreover, prominent French naturalist and one of the founders of comparative anatomy, Georges Cuvier, paid to examine Baartman’s body in order to advance his theory that sub-Saharan Africans were the genetic link between apes and civilized Europeans.  He was most interested in Baartman’s genitalia which she refused to show him but which differed in appearance from those of most French women.  As interest in her show waned, Baartman lived out the last of her days in Paris, suffering from poor health and the effects of alcoholism.  When she died in 1816, her last master, the French animal trainer Réaux, sold her body to Cuvier, who studied and dissected her corpse. 

Through the literature I studied at the National Library in Paris, I was able to find the address of Baartman’s apartment and the place where she was exhibited while in Paris.  Only a three-minute walk from the Louvre, one of the most treasured centers of culture and art in the western world, Baartman lived in what can be described as a state of free slavery.  Today, there is no sign or plaque paying homage to the woman who walked these streets and was placed in front of malicious audiences.  Even more disappointing was my experience at the Museum of National History.  I felt sickened as I walked through the gallery in which a mold of her naked body, her skeleton, and her preserved genitalia were once on display for visitors for more than one hundred and fifty years.  I watched grandparents with their grandchildren point at and explain the skeletons of orangutans in the same room and I could only imagine past generations of French grandparents instilling a sense of ethnic and genetic superiority in their grandchildren as they pointed to the remains of a woman surrounded by the skeletons of apes.  I was outraged by the fact that in my own lifetime, Sarah’s body was still being exhibited as a colonial trophy and a genetic predecessor to civilized Europeans.  Even in death Baartman was condemned to exhibitionism. 

However, It is important to refrain from immediately characterizing Baartman as a victim.  She must, instead, be looked upon as a complicated woman who was sometimes  victimized but who also did, to some extent, have a voice and her own agency.  Although evidence of occasions of her own will as a force in her life is limited, these occasions are important to recognize in order to avoid perpetuating the way in which she was debased and infantilized all her life.  Sarah Baartman lived a complicated life that cannot be fairly judged or categorized by someone living almost two hundred years after her death.  Instead, one can analyze what her life says about nineteenth century French mentality and whether or not traces of this same mentality can be seen today.  Xenophobia is still alive and present in France, as it is in many countries.  However, France is a particular case because it is a country with a long history of a strong national identity as well as a general distaste for anything that threatens this French identity.  Today, xenophobia can be seen in the platform of politician Marine Le Pen of the Front Nationale and the law prohibiting Muslim women wearing the hijab in public places.  This is not to say that all French, or even the majority of French people, are racist and xenophobic.  There were numerous French groups demanding the repatriation of Baartman’s body before it was finally returned to South Africa and there were even people actively protesting Baartman’s exhibition at the time it was happening.  Instead, the point of this research project is to highlight a trend in French history and modern culture.  I came away from this research project wondering if France’s history of xenophobia and implied cultural superiority is just as longstanding as the very culture that some French are trying so hard to protect. 

[1] DeVinck. “Les Curieux en extase ou les cordons de souliers.” Collection de Vinck, un siècle d’histoire de France par l’estampe, 1770-1870.  Vol. 70.

[2] Geor, Loftus. “La Vénus Hottentote.” Collection de Vinck, un siècle d’histoire de France par l’estampe, 1770-1870.  Vol. 70.