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December 2007 Archives

December 3, 2007

All roads lead to Rome


In the 1890s Berlin bookseller S. Calvary and Co. sold William Rainey Harper 994 engravings of Rome and Roman antiquities, all published using a title page produced by 16th-century printer Antonio Lafreri: Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae ("Mirror of Roman Magnificence"). Each collection of prints was different—Renaissance-era tourists and other collectors gathered and bound groups of individual images depicting such monuments as the Pantheon, the Colosseum, or the Capitoline Wolf, a bronze statue of a female wolf nursing Romulus and Remus, Rome's mythical founders. The University's collection, now part of the Special Collections Research Center, was first shown on campus in 1966 as part of an exhibit focusing on ancient Roman architectural monuments.

The current show, titled The Virtual Tourist in Renaissance Rome: Printing and Collecting the Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae, is curated by art-history professor Rebecca Zorach, AM'94, PhD'99, and grad students Ingrid Greenfield; Kristine Hess; Iva Olah; Ann Patnaude, AM'06; and Rainbow Porthé, AM'05. It leads viewers through a timeline of 16th-century printmaking methods, such as woodblock printing and copper engraving, and explores how Renaissance Roman tastes for ancient architecture and art shaped image production.

As part of a larger project to digitize the collection, Special Collections has organized high-resolution Speculum images into different online itineraries, "mini-exhibitions designed by scholars" like Zorach and Yale University Art Gallery curator, Suzanne Boorsch, "that allow you to travel through the collection along a particular path based on a theme, location, collection, or artist." The physical exhibit refers to particular itineraries, giving the viewer the opportunity to revisit at home, for example, the Renaissance maps of ancient Rome displayed in the Library.

The Virtual Tourist closes February 11, 2008.


Photos: Top: Map of Rome. Etching, 1597. Theodor de Bry (1528-1598), etcher, after Ambrogio Brambilla. Theodor de Bry, publisher. Chicago Speculum Number: B287; bottom: View of the Colosseum. Etching, 1551. Hieronymus Cock (ca.1510-1570), etcher. Hieronymus Cock, publisher. Chicago Speculum Number: B212.

Photos courtesy Special Collections Research Center.

December 5, 2007

The art of war


A loop of one-minute weather reports from an all-news station blares as visitors approach the Renaissance Society show Meanwhile, in Baghdad. The bulletins, which actually make up Kenneth Goldsmith’s poem "The Weather (Spring)," report the weather in New York and Baghdad for the Iraq War’s first 15 days of combat.

Just beyond the gallery’s entrance what appears to be a dead man wearing Middle Eastern dress lies on the floor with a chest wound covered with a white towel. The piece, appropriately named Deadman, is a representation of a civilian killed during the Iraq War, according to an exhibit brochure. Other pieces in the exhibit include Matt Davis’s psychedelically altered, photo-based image of a paratrooper who seems to be exploding, and Helsinki-based artist Adel Abidin’s video of a young girl sitting on a sidewalk in front of a rubble lot created by a recent bombing. The girl sings as she scrapes together bits of rubble to fill a white plastic teaspoon.

The exhibit suggests the arguments about whether the invasion was right or wrong are moot, the brochure says, as its premise is “a simple rhetorical question, namely, ‘Where are we in the Iraq War?’”

The exhibit runs through December 21.


Photos: Top: Deadman, 2006. Jonathan Monk, wax, rubber, human hair, oil paint, fabrics. Bottom: Construction Site, 2006. Adel Abidin, video.

December 7, 2007

Star-filled evening


Covering everything from galaxy "mergers and acquisitions" to gamma rays shooting from black holes, ten Chicago astronomers and astrophysicists led a so-called "cosmic tour" of the universe Wednesday night at the Art Institute. Seated beneath spotlights on a dark and cavernous stage, University cosmologists Rocky Kolb and Michael Turner emceed the evening, peppering their colleagues, who appeared in panels of two or three, with questions about their research. Nobel laureate and physics professor emeritus James Cronin, SM'53, PhD'55, explained a recent "fundamental discovery" from the Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina: the high-energy cosmic rays constantly showering Earth come from the violent cores of nearby galaxies.

Chicago professor and Fermilab researcher Joshua Frieman described the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Begun in 1998, it aims to map a quarter of the heavens in detail and illuminate how cosmic structures are formed. "We're doing archaeology on a grand scale," Frieman said. "We're using galaxies like pottery shards." Associate professor Andrey Kravtsov explained that dark matter, a still-mysterious entity that makes up most of the universe's mass, holds galaxies together. In about three billion years, he added, the Milky Way Galaxy will collide with its nearest large neighbor, the Andromeda Galaxy. "But don't worry, nothing will happen to the sun or anything," he said, detecting a nervous rustle among the audience. "If you want to stick around," he added, "the sky will be spectacular."

Punctuated by questions from the crowd, which filled the main floor and spilled into the auditorium's balcony, the program stretched past two hours. The scientists—each of whom brought a short video to illustrate their work—described their research, such as using a ten-meter telescope to scan the Antarctic sky for dark energy, a hypothetical force believed to accelerate the universe's expansion; or searching for dark matter, which emits too little light to be seen but nevertheless exerts gravitational power, in South Dakota mines and Cook County municipal tunnels, where surface-level cosmic rays won't disrupt the sensitive detectors. "How will we know if you find dark matter?" Kolb asked assistant professor Juan Collar. Joked Collar, "I will call you right away."

Capping the evening with one final question, an audience member asked, "What good will all this information do?" Kolb offered a philosophical response: "For the last 6,000 years," he said, "people have looked to the sky and wondered what's out there. It's our human curiosity, and once these cosmic questions are answered, there will be other, deeper cosmic questions."


Photo: Chicago astrophysicist Andrey Kravtsov (second from left) displays a video simulation of dark matter's cosmic rotation while colleagues (left to right) Michael Turner, Michael Gladders, Joshua Frieman, and Rocky Kolb look on.

December 10, 2007

Eyes and ears


Culture dictates the way that we see art and listen to music, argues the Smart Museum exhibit Looking and Listening in Nineteenth-Century France. Throughout the 19th century, the way people viewed the world changed as audiences became increasingly sophisticated due to their increased exposure to the arts; mechanically reproduced images became more common; recorded sound emerged; and museums, galleries, and concert halls proliferated.

Artists in turn sought to reflect the evolving conceptions of viewing and listening. Such works as Émile-René Ménard’s Homer, which features three shepherds listening attentively to a craggy-looking Homer playing a lyre and reciting verses, focus on the listener's experience. The exhibit also examines the interaction between the visual and aural arts by accompanying a painting like Édouard Vuillard’s The Lerolle Salon with François Chaplin’s piano performance of “Lent (mélancolique et doux),” the first movement to Claude Debussy’s Images (oubliées). Debussy wrote the piece for Yvonne Lerolle, the teenage daughter of Henry Lerolle, whose home is believed to be the setting for Vuillard’s painting.

The exhibition is the culmination of an interdisciplinary course taught at the University by Martha Ward, associate professor and chair of the art-history department, and Anne Leonard, Mellon projects curator at the Smart Museum, in spring 2007. It runs through March 23.


Photo: Homer, 1885. Émile-René Ménard, oil on canvas.

Photo courtesy Smart Museum.

December 12, 2007

Teeth the size of bananas?!


In 1997 Chicago paleontologist Paul Sereno led a fossil-hunting expedition to Niger. Almost a decade later, one of Sereno's former students, Steve Brusatte, SB'06, now a graduate student at Bristol University, discovered that among the fossils found by Sereno's team was a new species: Carcharodontosaurus iguidensis. As carnivorous dinosaurs go, it is one of the largest to be found. According to a Bristol University press release, the predator "had a skull about 1.75 metres long, and its teeth were the size of bananas." The species was one of three known "mega carnivores" inhabiting Africa 95 million years ago, along with Spinosaurus and Abelisaurid.

For the December 2007 Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, published today, Sereno and Brusatte cowrote a paper about the discovery: "A new species of Carcharodontosaurus (dinosauria: theropoda) from the Cenomanian of Niger and a revision of the genus."


Photo: Steve Brusatte digs for fossils in Wyoming, at a site where scientists have found the bones of Allosaurus—a close relative of Carcharodontosaurus, Brusatte's newly identified species.

Photo courtesy University of Bristol

December 14, 2007

Muffins and Montaigne


An open house for the Graham School's Basic Program drew half a dozen prospective students to a Gleacher Center classroom Wednesday morning. They munched on muffins and bagels while instructor Amy Thomas Elder described the "beautiful canonical authority" of the curriculum's reading list. "It's kind of magical," she said. Handed down from Robert Maynard Hutchins and Mortimer Adler's great-books collaboration, the list changes a little every year, but remains timeless: heavy on Plato, Aristotle, and Shakespeare, with plenty of classical poetry and drama, Enlightenment philosophy, and seminal Western literature. Homer is on the list, as are Dante, Chaucer, Rousseau, and, of course, Thucydides. Recent additions, Elder said, include Conrad, Kierkergaard, and Woolf.

Offering a four-year curriculum, the Basic Program includes weekly discussion-style classes. There are no credits—and therefore no papers or labs—but students receive liberal-arts certificates after their second and fourth years.

The open-house group, which included two lawyers and a stay-at-home mom, said they were more interested in great books than bachelor's degrees. "I feel like this is my second chance," said Mary, whose three daughters are in college and high school. "When you're young, you get so distracted by papers and exams. It all looks different from where I sit now." A banker named Stu said he hoped to fill the holes in his education. "An engineering degree at Purdue, a tour of Vietnam, a Chicago MBA, and 20 years of banking—no great books," he said. "I think it's time."

Meanwhile, Mort, a retired math professor, said he'd always been interested in the great books. Elder smiled and said, "Well, we do read Euclid."

Then, after a coffee break and another round of muffins, the group settled back into their seats for a sample class: a close reading of the first three pages of Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment.


Photo: A room full of prospective students turned out for a 2006 Basic Program open house, for which the sample class was a close reading from Shakespeare's Hamlet.

File photo by Dan Dry.

December 17, 2007

The doctor is in


Friday evening marked the Chicago premiere of Doctor Atomic at the Lyric Opera. A far cry from The Barber of Seville and La bohème, two other shows slated for the Lyric's 2007–08 season, Doctor Atomic is sung in English, with lyrics like "Matter can neither be created nor destroyed but only altered in form."

Set in summer 1945—almost three years after Enrico Fermi and his team of scientists set off the first controlled nuclear chain reaction beneath Stagg Field's west stands—the opera follows J. Robert Oppenheimer (Gerald Finley) and a team of Manhattan Project physicists and military officers as they work on the final construction stages of the top-secret A-bomb, leading up to the bomb's first test on July 16, 1945. As central as science is to the show's premise are the moral questions raised by the bomb; in the first act, scientist Robert Wilson (Thomas Glenn), Fermilab director from 1967 to 1978, organizes a meeting in the lab to discuss the implications of "the gadget" (the bomb's code word). He urges his peers to sign a petition to the Truman Administration: "Atomic attacks on Japan cannot be justified until we make clear the terms of peace and give them a chance to surrender."

The three-hour, 17-minute production, which runs at the Lyric through January 19, 2008, was composed by John Adams and directed by Peter Sellars, a duo known for productions based on historical events—their first, Nixon in China, showed the meeting between Mao Tse-tung and Richard Nixon, and their 1991 opera, The Death of Klinghoffer, was inspired by the Middle East conflict.


Photos: Top: J. Robert Oppenheimer in the Manhattan Project team's Los Alamos, NM, lab; bottom: Robert Wilson (in red) proposes a petition to Oppenheimer.

Photos by Dan Rest, courtesy Lyric Opera

December 19, 2007

A celestial Christmas carol


The Bethlehem star remains the same, as do the shepherds and stable and angels on high, but each Christmas since 1998 sees a crop of new carols, thanks to the Welcome Christmas! Carol Contest. Sponsored by two Minnesota organizations, the VocalEssence choral ensemble and the American Composers Forum, the competition draws composers from across the country. It awards a pair of winners $1,000 prizes and a premiere with VocalEssence.

This year contenders from 32 states submitted 118 scores. Among the winners was Stephen Main, AM'89, PhD'98. Main's composition, "The Darkest Midnight in December," set new music to a 1728 text by Irish priest William Devereux. The poem is "remarkable for its sensuality," Main, whose Div School PhD is in religious philosophy, wrote in the composer's note that accompanied the piece. "Father Devereux makes his point with striking images: cold wind on a starry night, offerings of incense, the dazzling glory of the Christ child, and the softness of Mary's arms."

The contest seeks to bolster an 800-year-old tradition of carol-writing—"Imagine what it was like when 'Deck the Halls' was first heard," enthused VocalEssence artistic director Philip Brunelle in a program news release—and each year's entrants must adhere to a few compositional constraints. Scores must include a chorus and this year were required to also include a celesta, a small 19th-century keyboard instrument that plays chime-like notes. Its "sparkling pure tones," Main wrote, evoke "mystery, innocence, and vulnerability, all at the same time." VocalEssence performed Main's carol December 1 at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Stillwater, Minnesota.


Photo: Each December VocalEssence artistic director Philip Brunelle leads the ensemble in two new Christmas carols' world premieres.

Photo by Katryn Conlin

December 21, 2007

Happy holidays...and some gift ideas


While UChiBLOGo takes a break until January 2, we want to leave readers with some last-minute gift ideas that show Hyde Park's holiday spirit.

Since 1942 Hyde Park's Museum of Science and Industry has celebrated the holiday season with an exhibit of Christmas trees decorated by volunteers from Chicago's diverse ethnic communities. The show displays more than 50 firs reflecting holiday traditions ranging from Kenya to Croatia; museum-goers can take home their favorite international ornaments and tree decorations from the MSI's Holiday Shoppe.

For presents to put under the tree, Hyde Park has many sites for late gift-buying: the Oriental Institute's Suq offers such children's treats as a plush pyramid and the Egyptian board game Senet; the Robie House Museum Shop sells Wright-inspired home accents and accessories; and the Smart Museum's gift shop indulges creative types with its selection of art books, paper products, and imported textiles. For bookworms, the Seminary Co-op, 57th Street Books, Powell's Bookstore, and the U of C Bookstore hit all the literary bases.


Photos: Top: the Museum of Science and Industry hosts more than 50 bedazzled firs in its annual Christmas Around the World exhibit; bottom: museum-goers visit the United States's tree, which was decorated by the Daughters of the Revolution.

About December 2007

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

November 2007 is the previous archive.

January 2008 is the next archive.

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

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