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July 2007 Archives

July 2, 2007

Genes unearth deep roots


The U of C’s Rick Kittles was the star draw last Thursday night at the Newberry Library’s panel presentation, “Genetic Genealogy and the Ancestries of African Americans.” The crowd of more than 200 and a crew from CBS's 60 Minutes had come seeking something special. Kittles, an associate professor of medicine and the science director of AfricanAncestry.com, promised the black attendees history.

Taking the podium, Kittles said that genetics holds the key to tracing African American family lines beyond the slave trade. Panelist Christopher Rabb, a genealogist, spoke of his own struggle uncovering roots deeper than American plantations. Rabb spent nine years searching for where in Africa his ancestors had lived. He eventually went to Kittles, who used DNA to show Rabb that his ancestors likely included Moroccans, West Africans, and South Asians.

Both Rabb and Kittles recognized that genetic testing for ancestry complicates the history and social reality of race in the United States. Kittles noted that although “Halle Berry is at least, but probably more than, half European, she is a black woman.” African Ancestry's tests have shown that thirty percent of Americans descend from Europeans. It is a history that the country must come to recognize, Rabb said of the "institutionalized rape" that is part of his ancestry. “I was ashamed that I have five, seven, nine lines of blood coursing through my veins based on violence.” He found relief by understanding “the difference between ancestry—what you are—and heritage—who you are and what you choose to be.”

Genetic genealogy has its detractors. In a heated question-and-answer session, panel moderator and genealogist Tony Burroughs grilled Kittles on African Ancestry’s accuracy. Using a proprietary database of 30,000 genetic samples from Africa, the company’s work has never been published, reproduced, or otherwise independently verified. Furthermore, because the tests use the DNA of current population groups, the “ancestry tests” in effect tell only the location of “cousins” in Africa, not necessarily where African Americans' ancestors were located 400 years ago.

The audience was largely unconcerned by Burroughs’s objections, responding with murmurs, sighs, and rolled eyes. After the program, glowing smiles and firm handshakes bombarded the man whose work promises history and identity for millions.

The talk, cosponsored by the University's Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture and part of the Illinois Humanities Council’s “Future Perfect: Conversations on the Meaning of the Genetics Revolution” series, is available online.

Ethan Frenchman, '08

Photos: Rick Kittles discusses the science behind African Ancestry's genetic genealogy tests; audience members greet Kittles as 60 Minutes cameras roll.

July 6, 2007

Tabula rasa

Long after the “atomic" balloons popped or slowly deflated, red, yellow, blue, and every hue between colored the Renaissance Society gallery from floor to 30-foot ceiling. A team of workers arrived June 21 to remove the paint used in Katharina Grosse’s spring installation Atoms Inside Balloons, which closed June 10, and to erase the many signs of age that had developed since the gallery's last renovation in 1979.

Grosse's graffiti-inspired work "covers an entire space like a fresco,” said Renaissance Society marketing director Mia Ruyter. Her installations are also site–specific, incorporating elements of a gallery’s space into her works: in this case, extra paint dripped about the northwest ceiling to emphasize acute water damage. The spring installation gave the Rennaisance Society, located on Cobb Hall's top floor, time to clean over the summer. Erasing the evidence of 28 years of aging and four days of a spray-gun–wielding artist is no easy task. The wall and ceiling paint must be scraped by hand, requiring scaffolding. The entire gallery will then be repainted. Two layers of wax kept the paint from damaging the floor; workers will remove the wax and any remaining paint before repolishing.

Gallery managers expect the renovation to be completed by August 2, enough time to begin installation for a film by British artist Steve McQueen, which opens September 16.

Ethan Frenchman, ’08

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Photos (left to right): A gallery patron observes Grosse's installation before its April 29 opening; a painter scrapes paint off the gallery's walls; scaffolding lifts a worker to the 30-foot ceilings.

Left photo courtesy the Renaissance Society; center and right photos by E.F.

July 9, 2007

Summer school in ancient Athens


Dean of the College John Boyer, AM'69, PhD'75, began his June 22 Western Civilization I class by surrounding his seat with Thucydides's The History of the Peloponnesian War, several reference works, notes, folders, a cup of coffee, and an eyeglasses case. Despite the fortifications between him and 20 summer students in Cobb 107, he discussed the Greek polis with casual ease, moving effortlessly between the classical and the contemporary. Comparing Chicago's legal system with ancient Athenian law, he explained that, as with Athens, there is a “distinction between law and Chicago law.” He continued, “Things are done a little differently in the city.”

Boyer then asked how modern readers should evaluate Thucydides's history. Students suggested that distinguishing objectivity and myth would be a good way to appraise the text, and Boyer agreed: “[Thucydides] expects us to believe this stuff, and he tells us he’s making it up!” Yet modern readers should apply their own standards, he asserted, while keeping in mind that “there is no New York Times for the ancient world.” Though Thucydides was not always objective and lacked access to 21st-century research tools, the same is sometimes true of historians today, Boyer said. They both earn readers' confidence through the “authenticity and seriousness” in the tone and detail of their histories.

Seth Mayer, '08

Photos: Dean Boyer introduces the text to students; Boyer reads from Thucydides.

July 11, 2007

Pizza and pints

Beer flowed freely and pizza vanished quickly in Ida Noyes's otherwise vacant basement. Last Thursday night students, staff, and faculty members piled into the Pub's dimly lit Wisconsin oak booths for suds and slices at this summer's first ORCSA–sponsored pub night.

The event began shakily for ORCSA campus activities coordinator Dana Bozeman. Looking around at 5:15 p.m., she saw 20 pizzas cooling while a scattershot of mostly grad students nursed free beer. A few students took advantage of the library–like quiet to study their Arabic. But 30 minutes later Bozeman was standing at the door, commanding, "Get your tickets! That is, unless you don't like free drinks." The turnout was surprising. "We didn't expect this many people," she said. "Maybe it's because we advertised on Facebook." Whatever she did, it worked. Soon she was telling the event's 100 attendees to be patient; more pizza was on the way.

The pizza's second–round arrival signaled the hungry to jostle for position. By 7 p.m. Bozeman looked around: a drink-ticket roll was a slender shadow of its former girth, and pizza boxes littered a dark corner. With appetites sated and drinks enjoyed, cue balls and foosballs went on the move.

The final summer pub night will be held August 2.

Ethan Frenchman, '08

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Photos (left to right): Center for Middle Eastern Studies graduate students hit the books; patrons sit at the bar; community members line up for pizza.

July 13, 2007

Emerging art

During the Hyde Park Art Center's spring session, students in the Silkscreen: Posters, Propaganda and Protest class pasted politically tinged work on a plywood board outside the building. For the Impart Process exhibition, curated by Philip Nadasdy, the warped, thin board hangs on the center's second floor, alongside other works that give visitors a look into students' creative and learning processes.

Impart Process reveals how the students developed their silkscreen prints, including studies, proofs, and finished products. Viewers learn what ideas were scrapped but also the subtle variations in different prints. One print, reading, "Teach Our Children To Consume," comes in several versions; all feature two chubby, staring children, but only the more complete copies show the print's message and full array of colors.

The exhibit also features a separate class's white stoneware.Two ceramics students, Astrid Fingerhut and Penelope van Grinsven, AB'07, crafted pieces that incorporate water pumps and found objects such as stools. To conclude their class, Fingerhut and van Grinsven also worked together on a ceramic fish mobile, which hangs at the end of the gallery.

The exhibition runs through August 26.

Seth Mayer, '08

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Photos (left to right): Astrid Fingerhut's Katrina Survivor; Penelope Van Grinsen's Dwayne; the students' plywood board is now part of the Impart Process exhibition.

July 16, 2007

Desert discoveries

“We’d been in the desert,” explained Sam Boyd, ’08, when suddenly his group saw “beautiful virgin forests and there were deer everywhere.” While driving between Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon, the landscape metamorphosed, no longer the arid, rocky environment where they had spent the past week.

Boyd traveled the Southwest for Eric Larsen’s biology field school, Natural History of North American Deserts. For the two weeks after spring quarter's conclusion, Larsen, along with Boyd and 12 other students, drove from desert to desert, working on research projects and exploring their surroundings. During the field school, an optional extension of Larsen’s spring-quarter Deserts class, the students usually stayed near camp to avoid the daytime heat, according to Boyd, while at night they hiked and collected data. Because of the long driving time between locations, students spent around six nights in deserts doing research. As a result, they had small data sets compared to professional studies, but, Boyd explained, the goal was simply to learn research methodology.

The group explored many of the Southwest’s most well-known locales, such as Death Valley, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and the Grand Canyon. Larsen made sure to include a trip to Mexico featuring a “tasty and inexpensive” lunch, said Boyd, for students who had never left the United States. He noticed that Larsen was much quieter outside the classroom, most likely because of how many destinations he had crammed into two weeks. “The driving," Boyd laughed, "took a lot out of the professor.”

Seth Mayer, '08

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Photos (left to right): The sun sets in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument; students walk down a trail in Death Valley; a student takes in the view in Bryce Canyon National Park.

Photos courtesy of Yaya Tang, '08.

July 18, 2007

Hard lines


"It's my game!" says Catherine Braendel, U-High'81, greeting the rain-soaked attendees as they arrive. At a July 10 Newberry Library event, visitors try out Braendel's It Was a Dark and Stormy Night—a board game she developed with her husband Addison Braendel, JD'92. Addison did the research for the game, which has players guess a book's author or title from its first line. A corporate lawyer by day, Addison spent his nights compiling books' opening lines into huge spreadsheets. After leaving her full-time nonprofit job, Catherine turned Addison's lists into a game and cofounded Good Read Games, Inc., with him to publish Dark and Stormy Night, now on sale at some local independent bookstores, including Hyde Park's 57th Street Books. Taking its name from the oft-quoted opening line of Edward Bulwer-Lytton's mediocre 1830 novel Paul Clifford, the game's clues include the first sentences of classics as well as pulpier tomes.

Before the Newberry visitors start playing, Catherine encourages them, "People know way more than they think they do," evoking laughs from her audience. One woman ironically suggests Braendel offer Dark and Stormy Night through Starbucks. When Braendel asks the woman if she has a contact, she pauses for a moment before offering her local barrista. The games finally start, and one team's first clue is the opening line of The Tale of Genji, a lengthy Japanese classic, which stumps everyone. The next card begins, "No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched..." "War of the Worlds!" shouts the other team. Addison stops by the table to talk. "I'd be interested to see if it's too easy or not," he says. "No way," both teams rapidly respond.

Seth Mayer, '08

Photos: A player reads the first line of 1984; a team puzzles over a clue.

July 20, 2007

Doc's diamond


At Monday’s opening of the Regenstein Library’s summer exhibition, Doc Films at 75, approximately 30 students, alumni, and staff surveyed curiosities of America’s oldest student film society.

Doc Films was formally established in 1940 as the International House Documentary Film Group; its antecedents date back to 1932. Doc's leftist founders created the society as a venue for films that, according to the exhibition notes, “extolled cooperative living and critiqued American capitalism” through “socialist realist” documentaries. Groups accused the film society of communist sympathies through the 1950s—letters from the society’s records, such as a 1952 request for Soviet films from the Chicago Council of American-Soviet Friendship, support the charge.

Other objects displayed include Doc member passes from 1941, a poster advertising a 1950 showing of Jean Cocteau’s Les Parents Terribles (1948) for $0.65, and photos of Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, and John Ford speaking to Doc Films crowds. Director Fritz Lang’s martini recipe is written on the back of a picture of a stuffed monkey, whom Lang alternatively refers to as “Peter the gin-panzee” or, more affectionately, as “son.”

The exhibition runs through August 31.

Ethan Frenchman, '08

Photos: Vistors survey Doc Films history; Fritz Lang and "Peter the gin-panzee's" martini recipe is preserved for the historical record.

July 23, 2007

"Ready to art"


“I’m gonna look at you,” a short-haired girl announces to her friend, who shifts seats to provide a better view. They begin to draw one another, using pencil to form disembodied faces on their papers. Unhappy with the initial results of her work, the short-haired girl cocks her head to the side and asks her friend to take her hair down.

This perfectionist painter, who looks to be late in her elementary-school years, participates in the Smart Museum’s July 18 Art Afternoon. Including her, 133 visitors have shown up to paint and learn about the week’s theme: portraits. In the galleries, parents and children search out paintings listed in a handout, answering questions and doing their own drawings in pencil. Moving to the lobby, kids make portraits with the help of adults and docents.

One girl, so small that her T-shirt reaches almost past the bottom of her shorts, dashes into the museum and shouts, “I’m ready to art!” Too excited to notice the leaf in her hair, she rushes over to the docents' table, grabs a pencil, and begins to draw on a handout. Adults try to guide her to the painting tables, but only reluctantly does she relinquish her pencil.

Seth Mayer, '08, Smart Museum docent

Photos: A boy starts to paint; wearing a paper bag to protect her clothes, his sister concentrates on her portrait.

July 25, 2007

Community garden blossoms

To protect Woodlawn's Brickyard Garden from development, 20th Ward Alderman Willie Cochran and activists announced July 7 that the City of Chicago will transfer the lot's ownership to the nonprofit NeighborSpace for $1 as part of the organization's mission to protect open space.

The transition will help to ensure the garden, at 6115 S. Woodlawn, will continue to provide food to local residents and education for kids, as it did this past Friday, when more than 30 children descended on the lot as part of the nearby ChristWay Baptist Church's inner-city youth programming. The children, soaking in the sun on a cloudless, breezy day, drew pictures of red tomatoes, wildflowers, and green beans growing. Volunteers read stories and brought two guinea pigs. Meanwhile, gardeners came and went to inspect and water their plants.

Although the garden now encompasses 25 plots cultivated by more than 60 people, said garden organizer Dorothy Pytel, the space grew from humble roots. In 1975 three neighborhood residents took over the vacant lot, which had been used for "illegal activities," Pytel said. The garden received its name early, she added, "because the biggest harvest has always been bricks." Years of work and three truckloads of soil in the past decade have transformed the area into a community space that yields a bounty of vegetables and goodwill. About half of the growers are connected with the University, Pytel said, and the remainder are neighbors. Because "people invariably grow too much," they share their produce among themselves and give plenty away. Last year Brickyard Garden distributed more than 20 bags of groceries to local residents.

Ethan Frenchman, '08

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Photos (left to right): Boys show off their garden drawings; children stand fascinated by guinea pigs; gardener Jill Adams and her dog, Mr. Bojangles, care for their plot.

July 27, 2007

Hyde Park's Marriott?


At a meeting this past Monday more than 200 community members heard the University’s plan for a combined Marriott Hotel and Fairfield Inn and Suites to replace the vacant Doctor's Hospital. Fifth Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston and University Vice President of Community and Government Affairs Hank Webber hosted the meeting, which featured speakers from the University Medical Center, proposed hotel operator White Lodging Services, and architecture firm HOK.

Harvey Golomb, chief medical officer of the U of C Medical Center, explained that the need for a local hotel stemmed largely from the center's prominence. Noting that the medical center has once again been ranked one of the nation's best, Golomb said that families “who come from 50 foreign countries and all 50 states . . . need a place to sleep while their loved ones are getting treatment at the hospital.”

Architect Todd Halamka reviewed plans for the building at 58th Street and Stony Island Avenue, which will have 380 rooms—250 units in the Marriott and 130 units in the Fairfield Inn and Suites. Amenities include a ballroom, conference rooms, gym, pool, coffee shop, and two restaurants. The current design proposes 15 stories, but the figure may change.

Acrimony was largely absent from the question-and-answer session, though many attendees were wary of the University’s plan. Jonathan Fine, president of Preservation Chicago, a nonprofit organization committed to protecting historic buildings, said that although he was not against development and improvement, he was against what he saw as this plan’s “disrespect.” Criticizing panel members for “presenting a precast concrete replacement” for the Doctor’s Hospital, built by the Chicago firm Schmidt, Garden, and Martin, Fine urged the decision makers to consider the firm's historical importance and “the waste of taking a perfectly good building and dumping it into a landfill.” Other attendees questioned White Lodging Services representative Scott Travis on the hotel operator's employment practices. One Chicago hotel worker urged the audience to fight for union labor at the new hotel.

Ethan Frenchman, '08

Photos: HOK architect Todd Halamka discusses the proposed construction; the panel fields questions from local residents.

July 30, 2007

And we're walking, we're walking...


On an ominously cloudy Friday, Ashley Rodriguez, ’09, takes a group of 19 students, parents, and sullen-looking siblings on what she calls her “jaywalking tour of the University.” They survive the tour without getting hit by cars or sudden downpours, moving easily through a mostly empty campus. The only obstacles are parallel summer College tours, led by undergrads skilled in the art of walking backwards while introducing prospective students and their families to life at Chicago.

After taking in the Reynolds Club, Bartlett Dining Hall, and Cobb Hall and discussing the core, the entourage files into a basement classroom in Rosenwald Hall to question a student panel and Assistant Director of Admissions Jeffrey Hreben, AB’05. Rodriguez, who sits on the panel, tells one parent that she “did not cook once during winter and spring quarter” because her first-year friends had so many extra meal points to share. When Hreben takes over, he details the admissions process. Explaining that applicants don’t need to say they love Ulysses or Shakespeare to get in, he describes an essay that was a “brilliant 400 words or so" about the prospective student’s love of O, the Oprah magazine. High-school seniors, he emphasizes, needn't be flawless. “Parents, you all think your kids are perfect,” he jokes. “If they’re so perfect, why are you spending $200,000 to send them to Chicago?”

Seth Mayer, '08

Photo: Jeffrey Hreben answers student and parent queries.

About July 2007

This page contains all entries posted to UChiBLOGo in July 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

June 2007 is the previous archive.

August 2007 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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