Julia J. Heydon
Note from the Associate Director
Greetings from the OHC! The Dog Days of summer are upon us, with unseasonably warm temperatures for Oregon, but given the gorgeous summer weather we’ve had until now it would be unseemly for me to complain about a few triple-digit days. I never cease to be amazed by this beautiful and bountiful place we are so fortunate to call home.
As usual, the OHC staff has been taking advantage of this quieter time of year on campus to attend to tasks that have been patiently awaiting us on the “back burner,” to reflect upon the previous year’s activities, and to prepare for the coming months.
2016–17 was another very full year for us. Thanks to generous financial support from the VP for Research and Innovation, the Provost, and several OHC endowments, we were able to sponsor one of the largest cohorts of OHC Fellows ever, including 10 Faculty Research Fellows, seven Teaching Fellows, three Dissertation Fellows, and three Graduate Research Support Fellows. You can read about some of our fellows and their accomplishments in the pages that follow. We also had the privilege of working with a group of six promising young undergraduate scholars during winter and spring terms through our partnership with the Office of Research and Innovation, the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP), and the Division of Undergraduate Studies, as part of the Humanities Undergraduate Research Fellowship (HURF) Program. This program, now entering its third year, provides opportunities for undergraduates to work with a faculty mentor for sixteen weeks on a research project, and then present their work to a public audience at the annual Undergraduate Research Symposium in May, sponsored by the Division of Undergraduate Studies. The support of humanities research and its dissemination to the broader community continue to be at the core of the OHC’s mission.
Humanities public programming is another crucial part of our mission. We’re grateful to all of our audience members, supporters, and campus colleagues who helped make our 2016–17 public lecture series so successful. More than 1,330 people attended our five large public lectures, and an additional 67 participated virtually through our live video streaming. In addition, we co-sponsored more than 80 humanities-related events on campus and in the community, some of which were multi-day events such as the 2nd annual Musicking Conference, which offered 21 separate events over 5 days and engaged more than 1,300 people, including undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, guest scholars and musicians, and community members. We also produced 30 new episodes of our taped television program, “UO Today,” which features interviews with both UO and visiting scholars, writers, and artists. We hope you will take time to view those shows that interest you.
Our year-long exploration of our 2016–17 theme, Humanities, began with a powerful lecture by writer and scholar of religions Reza Azlan. His October 18th lecture on the crisis of identity gripping America today was more prescient and topical than perhaps anyone realized at the time. Without a doubt, the changing cultural and political climate in which we currently find ourselves is a topic that seems to be on many people’s minds—more than 640 people turned out to hear Aslan’s lecture. If you missed Aslan’s talk or would like to hear it again, you can find it, along with most of our other recent public lectures, here.
The second event in our year-long series, a slide lecture by photographer and African American art and cultural historian Deborah Willis on January 12th, was the first of two O’Fallon Lectures we hosted during 2016–17. Titled “Visualizing the Black Body in Photography and Popular Culture,” Willis’s presentation was planned to both complement the year’s Common Reading, Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and to coincide with a JSMA exhibition of contemporary African American artists which featured works by Willis’s son, Hank Willis Thomas, as well as pieces by several other artists. Willis’s lecture drew a large and engaged audience, and provided an interesting perspective on the role of African Americans in photographic history that may not be generally well known.
In February we hosted a brilliant young artist and social activist as our Tzedek Lecturer, Vijay Gupta, violinist with the LA Philharmonic, and founder of Street Symphony, a non-profit organization that brings classical music to disadvantaged populations including the homeless, the incarcerated, and the mentally ill. Gupta spent 2-1/2 days in Oregon, meeting with student groups, giving public talks, meeting with symphony personnel in both Eugene and Portland, and in general inspiring and charming everyone who had the good fortune of spending time with him. In his lecture, “The Citizen-Artist as Healer,” Gupta described the path that led him to found the Street Symphony, and how that endeavor has allowed him to merge his passions and talents for medicine and the healing arts with music. He urged the students he met with to find ways to put their gifts and passions to work for the betterment of the world.
In March we hosted Lucy Jones, a nationally renowned, recently retired USGS seismologist and disaster preparedness expert, as our Clark Lecturer. Jones’s talk, “The Fault Lies Not in Our Stars: Why Natural Disasters Become Human Catastrophes,” focused on why humans think about and respond to the threat of natural disasters the way they do, and how we might overcome our natural tendency towards inaction in the face of large, catastrophic events. Jones’s current work combines the data of science with the work of policy makers and an understanding of human nature to help us learn how to better prepare for and respond to catastrophic natural occurrences such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and floods. Her March 2017 lecture was based on a forthcoming book, due out in late 2017 or early 2018, about the social, cultural, religious, psychological, and historical elements that shape human responses to natural disasters.
We were originally planning to offer two lectures during the spring term, but due to a family emergency, Pulitzer Prize-winning cultural critic Margo Jefferson, who was scheduled to speak in Eugene and Portland in May, had to cancel her trip to Oregon at the last minute. Happily, we have been able to reschedule her visit for the coming academic year. Jefferson will be giving a talk on May 30, 2018 in Eugene, and May 31st in Portland, so keep an eye out in the coming months for more information about her spring 2018 visit.
We were offered an unexpected opportunity in April to host two renowned American historians and experts on Thomas Jefferson, Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter Onuf, who presented an engaging public conversation about their recently published book on Jefferson as our second O’Fallon Lecture of the year. Their recent book, "Most Blessed of the Patriarchs:" Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination, provides an in-depth study of the private life of this highly learned, complicated, and at times seemingly contradictory public figure who was so important during the formative years of our nation. Gordon-Reed’s and Onuf’s “staged conversation” was fascinating, and kept the capacity audience in 175 Knight engaged throughout.
This was the 30th year for the O’Fallon Lectureship, the OHC’s first endowed lectureship, and the first lectureship in the humanities on the UO campus. While we were not originally planning to host two O’Fallon lectures in a single year, in retrospect we are deeply grateful that we had the opportunity to offer both the “Art and American Culture” and “Law and American Culture” versions of the Colin Ruagh Thomas O’Fallon Memorial Lecture during 2016-17. We are sad to report that James M. O’Fallon, UO emeritus professor of law and father of Colin, in whose memory this lectureship was established in 1987, passed away on July 11, 2017 at the age of 72. His wife, Ellen Thomas, and two sons, Dylan and Cheyney, survive him. We will miss you, Jim!
I will end this annual communication with a farewell of another sort. After nearly 40 years at the UO, and 19 wonderful years as Associate Director of the Oregon Humanities Center, this coming academic year will be my last at the Center as I head into retirement. We hope to hire a new Associate Director some time this fall. I will stay on for a few months after that to assist with the transition and with some other OHC projects, so I won’t be leaving immediately, but this will be my last summer missive to you, our loyal (and patient) readers. This job has been a tremendous privilege and honor, and I am deeply grateful to have held it for so many years. I have worked with and met many incredible, intelligent, generous, inspiring, people; learned something new virtually every single day; and never even considered the possibility that my job might ever become routine or boring. Whomever I end up passing the baton to is going to be in for a wonderful experience! Thank you to every single one of you who has helped to make these past 19 years so enriching and rewarding! I will miss you and the OHC deeply, but I also look forward to seeing what new adventures await me!
With warmest wishes,
Julia J. Heydon