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September 2010 Archives

September 2, 2010

Glass and steel, revisited

Seattle's glittering Central Library prompts comparisons to UChicago's own crystal book-palace-in-the-making.

On vacation in the Pacific Northwest last month, it was exhilarating to get out of Chicago and take a couple weeks of much-needed R&R. After all, a reporter can get pretty worn out covering the fast-paced world of rare books, precious manuscripts, andautomated storage-and-retrieval systems.

Call it a buswoman’s holiday, but just after landing in Seattle I couldn’t resist dragging my family to see the sparkling downtown Central Library. It was worth the visit. The minute we entered, we felt the thrum and hum of activity. We oohed and aahed at the views of the city and Elliott Bay through the building’s soaring glass-and-steel façade. My teenage nephew brought his longboard into the slick chartreuse elevator, which was packed with patrons who had come to use the public computers, collections arranged in a winding, six-floor “book spiral,” and vast, visually quirky reading rooms.

Designed by Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Ramus, the Central Library has attracted both kudos and criticism. This month, a panel of architects placed it near the top of Vanity Fair’s list of modern marvels and when the library opened in 2004, critic Herbert Muschamp extolled it as “the most exciting new building it has been my honor to review.” But six years into its young—and busy—life, the library has drawn fire for its functional shortcomings. Bottom line: the glittering glass box is a fabulous, flashy jewel in Seattle’s architectural crown, but maybe not such a great place to find and read a book.

Returning to my job at UChicago, I felt a bit of déjà-vu when I learned that the glass panels were being installed at our own Joe and Rika Mansueto Library. What’s more, the German company Seele—which created the Seattle Central Library’s dazzling grid and many other steel-and-glass constructions around the world—is also doing the work on our own crystal book palace.

It was tempting to compare the Mansueto Library’s sweeping elliptical dome, designed by starchitect Helmut Jahn, with the Seattle library’s radiant glass skin. From there, I easily jumped to worrying that in our own new building, form could trump function. But maybe not: the Mansueto is modest in comparison to the 11-story urban wonder in Seattle, and the dome is just a spectacular cap to what is mainly a gargantuan underground book-storage facility.

What’s more, UChicago has a long tradition of collections-based scholarship, and planning for the new library has benefited from the intensive involvement of researchers, librarians, archivists, and conservators. There’s every reason to hope that it won’t only be a cool building, but also a beating heart for research, a wonderful place to read, and a glimmering bridge between the past and future. In spring 2011 we can test that hypothesis.

Elizabeth Station

Service detour

Nathan Richardson, JD'09, was on track to work at a major law firm, but the recession changed his plans: now he works for a nonprofit environmental group in Washington.

In the world of law, it sometimes feels as if there aren't quite enough Atticus Finches around, fighting the good fight against injustice. Taking posts at multimillion- (and, in some cases, multibillion) dollar law firms is clearly the more lucrative route. But, perhaps in the footsteps of our Community-Organizer-in-Chief, more law students are taking the public-interest path.

A New York Times article last Thursday chronicled the trend of law firms that, because of the recession, deferred prospective hires, such as Chicago grad Nathan Richardson, JD'09, for as long as a year. With the extra time, and a stipend of $60,000-$75,000, many young lawyers decided to work in the public interest—in Richardson's case with Resources for the Future, a nonprofit policy group in Washington. Doing legal research on climate change and the Gulf oil spill, Richardson experienced a compelling alternative to his prospective work with Latham & Watkins. Many of his peers felt more at home with public defenders and nonprofits than with high-stakes megafirms. So when the time came for the lawyers in the Class of '09 to take their offers, recent graduates like Richardson decided to stay with public service in spite of the significantly lower pay.

“I’m working with a lot of really smart people and getting published," Richardson told the Times. "I’m not sure if there’s anywhere else I could do this, at least at this point in my career.”

Burke Frank, '11

September 7, 2010

Phoenix Pix: September 6–10, 2010

Alumni Weekend 2010

With the glass panes being installed last week, the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library is taking on a finished look, if only on the outside. Construction is due to finish in Spring 2011.

Photography by Dan Dry.

Submit your best University of Chicago-themed photos to Phoenix Pix.

September 8, 2010


Vaunted volleyball, scoring soccer, tireless track, unflagging football! The marvelous Maroons this season are…could it be?…undefeated!

UChicago PhoenixAutumn unofficially begins this week, and it brings with it quite the surprise: fall athletes have not yet experienced the winter-bleak misery of defeat, the attitude most often (and a little unfairly) associated with the Maroons. It may be early in the season—and I mean only two games in so far—but it's still a remarkable moment, as the school is collectively 11-0-2 (the victories-defeats-ties math explained below). As they say down in summery, all-conquering New Orleans: Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say they gonna beat dem Saints Maroons?

Let's begin our sports round-up with volleyball, a sport that always reminds me of summer. Third-place in the UAA division last season, volleyball has won each of its six matches so far this year, and it's sitting atop the division, though tied with 6-0 NCAA champs Wash U. There are upwards of 30 matches in a season, but it's a sunny way to start, especially since it's propelled the program into the top 25 Div III teams in the nation for the first time.

Moving on to the world's game—association football: the Maroons have taken to kicking butt like a summer blockbuster. After a tie in its season opener, the third-ranked Maroons women's soccer team put its season on-target with a 6-0 dusting of DePauw University, including a new team record for goals scored in one match: 4, by senior Sarah Loh. Fifth-ranked men's soccer fared even better, winning its first two games in overtime thrillers, 2-1, then 3-2. They are a combined 3-0-1.

Cross-country is doing just as well, running faster than the guy screaming "Shark! Shaaaark!" down at the beach. The men cruised to a second place finish at last week's 17-team, season-opening meet at Elmhurst, while the women dominated, coming first of 14. Let's conservatively call their combined record 1-0-1, since winners come in first and losers last. Tough cookies, second place. That's going to have to count as a draw.

Finally, football is also undefeated, winning its first game 28-25 at Beloit Saturday night, in what sounds like a thriller. The Maroons left it late, scoring the winning touchdown in the last minute, a six-yard pass from quarterback Marshall Oium, '11, to wide receiver Clay Wolff, '11, culminating a 64-yard, two-minute drive. But the Beloit Buccaneers almost brought it back, hustling the ball to the Maroon 30-yard line in the last 40 seconds, before having a hail-Mary pass intercepted in the end zone, preserving Chicago's victory and the Maroon's unbeaten, late summer run.

Keep your ears to the ground for today's matches: men's soccer against Dominican (4:00) and two volleyball matches against Edgewood (5:30) and Ripon (7:30). Unless this post has jinxed it all, the boys and girls of autumn might keep summer here to stay.

Asher Klein, '11

September 9, 2010

Scooping Charlie Rose

UChiBLOGo interview subject Stephanie D’Alessandro, AM’90, PhD’97, also talks to Charlie Rose about the Matisse show she curated.


Noted and oft-meandering interviewer Charlie Rose sat down Monday with the Art Institute's D’Alessandro and the Museum of Modern Art's John Elderfield to talk about "Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917," the show they curated now showing at MoMA.

Way to jump on the UChiBLOGo bandwagon, Charlie! Feels good, don't it?

Asher Klein, '11

September 10, 2010

Goolsbee, king of economists

U of C professor now heads President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, making him one of the world's most influential economists.

Former U of C lecturer (and current U.S. President) Barack Obama named on-leave professor Austan Goolsbee the chair of his White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) today, a bit of a promotion for the young economist, who has served on the CEA since January 2009. Since Goolsbee will now be the chief economic adviser to the man with the most sway over the economy in the world, does that make Austan Goolsbee the King of the Economists? More importantly, it means he'll be extending his leave-of-absence, doesn't it? Lame.

More details are here, via Politico's Mike Allen. The most important things to know about Goolsbee, from that article, are: "As a University of Chicago economics professor, he advised Obama’s 2004 Senate campaign and 2008 presidential campaign. Last year, he won a 'D.C.'s Funniest Celebrity' contest." Long live the king!

Asher Klein, '11

September 14, 2010

Origin story

Playwright Emily Dendinger, AM'08, retells how Mary Shelley conceived of her Frankenstein.

Last Friday I went to see Hideous Progeny, a world-premiere play by Emily Dendinger, AM'08, put on by LiveWire Chicago Theatre company. I ran into Dendinger outside the Storefront Theater on Randolph Street—she was waiting for some friends from Indiana who'd come into town to see the show, and she was worried they wouldn't find the theater. Wearing large, black frames instead of her usual contact lenses, Dendinger discussed the show's reviews: TimeOut Chicago loved it—a comparison to Tom Stoppard!—but Leah A. Zeldes, at ChicagoTheaterBlog.com, found it "riddled with historical anachronisms."

Started as her master's thesis at the U of C (Dendinger was in the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities), Hideous Progeny, which runs through September 26, recounts the genesis of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein story. At a vacation home in Switzerland, Lord George Byron challenged his guests—Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley (then Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin), Byron's private physician John William Polidori, and Mary's stepsister Jane "Claire" Clairmont—to a competition of who could write the best ghost story (spoiler alert: Mary wins). In the play, the actors wear contemporary clothing—the actress playing Mary has a nose ring, for example—and none of them speaks with British accents. But the story, which Dendinger infuses with quotes from real diaries, letters, and poetry from the historical figures, is enjoyable enough to make the historical inconsistencies (almost) irrelevant. Call it "creative license."

Ruth E. Kott, AM'07

Mary Shelley (Hilary Williams) tries to work on her horror story while her stepsister Claire (Danielle O’Farrell) bangs on the piano.

Photo by John W. Sisson Jr.

September 15, 2010

Open for business

Surrounded by friends old and new, the University throws open the doors of its Center in Beijing.

“I’m constitutionally drawn to problems that can never be solved,” said Dipesh Chakrabarty, the Lawrence A. Kimpton distinguished service professor of history and South Asian languages and civilizations. He's in good company. At the five faculty panel discussions that heralded Wednesday’s opening of the University of Chicago Center in Beijing, complexity was invoked early, often, and with obvious relish. Whether the topic was China’s rapid economic development, the state of the research university, or cultural expression in a globalized world, “it’s not simple” quickly emerged as a leitmotif.

Even a simple celebration was complex—it was hard to get into the room. During the remarks that prefaced the 4:08 p.m. ribbon-cutting at the center, located in Beijing’s university district, eager guests filled every seat, lined the walls, and spilled out into the hallway. They applauded when nine representatives from the University and from China, wielding nine pairs of golden scissors, cut the ribbon and made the opening official.

By then the diverse crowd—alumni and friends of the University as well as scholars and dignitaries from Chinese institutions—was interacting like old friends. During the previous 24 hours they’d traversed Beijing in motor coaches together, taken in the ideas of more than 20 faculty panelists, and toasted the center at Tuesday’s gala dinner in the Great Hall of the People. Only a few days earlier, they’d been as far-flung as Chicago, Boston, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

Many of the alumni in attendance had personal or professional ties to Asia, but others came simply because they wanted to share an important moment in the life of their university. Such was the case for Danette (Dani) Kauffman, AM’69, who flew to Beijing from Washington, DC. “It’s the University,” she said. “Whatever the University does, I want to be there.” Following the opening events, she was heading off to see other parts of China on an alumni study trip.

For Paul Weidang Wang, LLM’94, JSD’99, a native of Beijing, attending Chicago was “unforgettable,” and so was Wednesday's opening. Wang, president of the Alumni Club of Beijing, had looked forward to the occasion for a long time. Speaking for his fellow Beijing-based alumni, he said, “Before we felt Chicago was so far away. Now that it’s here, we feel more at home.”

Laura Demanski, AM'94

President Zimmer at the ribbon cutting; Chief economist of the World Bank Justin Yifu Lin, PhD'86, speaks at the forum “China: Economic Development and the Rule of Law” at the Shangri-la Beijing Hotel; Paul Sereno talks about his work with Chinese scientists and the Raptorex model displayed at the Center in Beijing.

Photos courtesy of the News Office. View our Flickr group pool for more pictures from the opening of the Center in Beijing.

September 17, 2010

Pictures from an excavation

In central Turkey, OI faculty and staff help get to the bottom of a puzzling ruin.

“The great expanse of ruins, once teeming with life and resounding with the voices of a powerful people who dominated most of Asia Minor, now lies mute and barren.” So wrote archaeologist H. H. van der Osten in 1926 about Kerkenes Dag, the low mountain in Turkey where a vast city once stood. Those who had seen the ruin couldn’t agree on its age, so James Henry Breasted asked his colleague Erich Schmidt, who was stationed nearby codirecting the Oriental Institute’s Hittite Survey, to look more closely.

Schmidt’s succinct wire back, “kerkenes posthittite preclassical + schmidt,” confirmed that the city belonged to the late Iron Age—not a period of immediate interest to the OI expedition. That was the end of any serious digging at Kerkenes for seven decades.

Fast-forward to 1993, when Geoffrey and Françoise Summers of Middle East Technical University launched a new excavation that soon drew researchers affiliated with the OI. Scott Branting, AM’96, then a Chicago master’s student in Hittitology and Anatolian Archaeology, wound up writing his dissertation on the city plan at Kerkenes. Today Branting is a codirector of the excavation as well as director of the OI’s Center for Ancient Middle Eastern Landscapes (CAMEL) and assistant research professor.

Last summer Branting and assistant conservator Alison Whyte spent time working at Kerkenes. When they returned, they fielded questions about the significance of the site and the role of conservators at an excavation.

QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat do we know about the city on Kerkenes Dag?

QandA_ADrop.jpgScott Branting: The city has been tentatively identified as the mysterious city of Pteria, mentioned by the Greek historian Herodotus. If it was Pteria, it was built around 600 or 610 BC and was likely destroyed in 547 BC by King Croesus of Lydia. If not, it might date somewhat earlier, but a lot of our material points to the same range.

QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat else have you learned from the objects you’ve found there?

QandA_ADrop.jpgScott Branting: The objects we know something about tend to be Phrygian—the people King Midas belonged to. The pottery and the inscriptions, for instance, have many Phrygian features. But there are also strange, crazy objects that don’t have parallels anywhere else. There seems to be some experimentation that was going on.

QandA_QDrop.jpgHow do you explain that?

QandA_ADrop.jpgScott Branting: In a city of this size, there might have been many different types of people coming together. This is a time when a lot of the older empires of the Near East were collapsing, so craftsmen may have been moving around, looking for somewhere to go. You may end up with a multicultural city where people are experimenting and trying out strange, serendipitous things. Some of the large stone objects we’ve found are just without parallels anywhere.

QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat’s the larger historical significance of all this?

QandA_ADrop.jpgScott Branting: For a long time it was thought that the Phrygians went into decline during this period and became part of the larger Lydian Empire. When Kerkenes was found, we suddenly had this massive city further off to the east that apparently is largely Phyrgian. It’s a little bit of a puzzle, frankly.

QandA_QDrop.jpgFrom a codirector’s perspective, how does having conservators onsite help you?

QandA_ADrop.jpgScott Branting: They’re responsible for daily excavation of very fragile materials. When something is very fragile, it’s removed together with all the dirt surrounding it and taken to the lab, where a conservator like Alison can finish excavating it under more controlled conditions. In 1996, one ivory plaque looked interesting and important enough in the field that we lifted out the whole block, and discovered in the lab that it had gold leaf and a carved frieze on the other side—it was really quite amazing.

QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat do you enjoy most about working on-site at a dig like Kerkenes?

QandA_ADrop.jpgAlison Whyte: It’s interesting and exciting to see an object freshly excavated. At the museum, I work on many objects that have been glued together or received some other treatment in the past. I’m working on a ceramic now that was probably glued together in the 1930s or ’40s and, because the adhesive has deteriorated over time, it has to be redone. It’s nice to have something you can start off fresh with. I also love the opportunity to travel and the experience of working in an area of Turkey that’s pretty much off the tourist’s path.

QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat are the challenges?

QandA_ADrop.jpgAlison Whyte: You suddenly find yourself having to think about certain logistics that you take for granted at home. Things like: where am I going to get water? Will there be electricity, and, if so, what’s the current? How reliable will it be? What supplies will be available? Excavations are often in very remote areas, and it’s rarely possible to get everything you need locally. So I bring a lot of what I think I’ll need (adhesives, other chemicals, microscopes etc) with me. We’re lucky at Kerkenes that we have a building more or less dedicated to conservation that has water and electricity, but it’s not always the case. I have to think in advance of everything I may need and how I’m going to get it to the lab. This is a particular challenge because with an archaeological excavation, you never really know what’s going to come out of the ground.

Laura Demanski, AM'94

The ivory plaque discovered and conserved by the Kerkenes Dağ team in 1996; Alison and Noël Siver in 2010 conserving and restoring a large stone idol uncovered at Kerkenes Dağ; photograph of the city's ruins taken from a hot air balloon.

Photos courtesy Scott Branting.

Boldfaced name

Frances Oldham Kelsey, PhD’38, MD’50, whose courage and devotion to scientific rigor protected the public from harmful drugs, receives another round of applause.

Frances Oldham Kelsey, PhD’38, MD’50, came to the University of Chicago in 1936 because pharmacologist Eugene Geiling mistook her name for a man’s. Despite Kelsey showing up unexpectedly female, Geiling must have quickly realized that he hired the right person.

Their research helped prove that an industrial solvent in a medicine called elixir sulfanilamide was responsible for more than 100 deaths attributed to the drug. In the aftermath, Congress tightened testing regulations, although not to Kelsey’s satisfaction. Standing between drug companies and the dangers they could inflict on the public came to define her career.

While at Chicago she tested a malaria drug on herself. The study required her to provide regular urine samples—even while she happened to be at a play with her future husband. “So I had my little jar with a tight-sealing top and a paper sack, and during intermission, I went to the toilet,” Kelsey told the New York Times this week. “And then I got panic-stricken. Could I get to my seat without dropping this thing?” Her date, fellow pharmacology professor Fremont Ellis Kelsey, “relieved me of the bag. I thought it was the most thoughtful thing he could do.”

If handling a urine sample worried her, battling powerful drug companies did not. In 1960 Kelsey went to work for the Food and Drug Administration, staring down the William S. Merrell Company in its quest to approve the morning-sickness drug thalidomide. Testing remained informal and anecdotal, offering insufficient evidence for Kelsey, who denied the application.

Merrell pushed back, threatening to sue, but Kelsey insisted the drug’s safety had to be established beyond a doubt despite its approval in 20 countries. European reports of nerve damage related to thalidomide—which the company did not disclose—further entrenched Kelsey’s doubt. Proof of birth defects attributable to thalidomide soon became irrefutable, validating her skepticism that largely spared the United States “one of the biggest medical tragedies of modern times.”

Kelsey had a fleeting moment in the national spotlight at the time. A 1962 Washington Post report detailed her role in protecting children from the ravages of thalidomide and John F. Kennedy presented her with the President's Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service. A career spent shaping more stringent clinical trials made Kelsey a “rock star” within the FDA, but outside the agency her life-saving contributions have faded into obscurity.

This week the 96-year-old Kelsey received another round of applause. The FDA presented her with the inaugural Dr. Frances O. Kelsey Award for Excellence and Courage in Protecting Public Health, and the national media noticed, giving “the public’s quiet savior” a deserving moment as a boldfaced name.

Jason Kelly

President John F. Kennedy presents Frances Oldham Kelsey with the President's Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service.

Photo courtesy of the National Institutes of Health.

September 20, 2010

Dust more valuable than gold

Cosmochemist Nicolas Dauphas discovered his gold-mounted meteorite grains contained evidence of a supernova 4.5 billion years old.

In 1848 a lumber mill worker in California spotted a tiny trace of a very valuable mineral, a discovery that sped the development of a continent. Last year, a U of C scientist in California spotted a really tiny trace of an almost non-existant mineral, a discovery that has shed light on the development of the solar system itself.

TEMmicrograph.jpgThere may be no rush on chromium 54, but cosmochemist and geophysics professor Nicholas Dauphas's recently published discovery of the mineral in nano-sized meteorite particles is even more valuable than gold: it is the first physical proof that a supernova occurred in our neck of the universe, an event that could have kick-started the birth of the sun and the solar system, around 4.5 billion years ago.

Chromium 54 is an isotope of the element that is formed in nature only when stars explode. While scientists have speculated that such a supernova led to the creation of our sun (supernovae can be nurseries for new stars; they also lead to black holes), there was no direct proof that one had occurred. The presence on earth of chromium 54 changes all that. "It's the first time that we have solid grains in our laboratories," Dauphas said.

Moreover, since the isotope isn't spread out evenly through the solar system, which it would do if the solar system were formed when the event took place, it seems that it predates its birth, when the formation of the sun gathered the interstellar dust into the star and the eight planets (sorry, Pluto).

Dauphas called the process that led to the discovery "a fishing expedition." He and the team he'd assembled spent three weeks at Caltech painstakingly analyzing 1,500 particles with electron microscopes, each particle about 100 nanometers wide — so small, they're actually mounted on gold, for easy examination. To compare, the smallest thing visible to the naked eye is 50,000 nanometers.

(I got to see the box the gold ingots are kept in when I interviewed Dauphas. You know the awe you feel when walking among the dusty ruins of 5,000-year-old civilizations? This was waaay better than that.)

"People have been looking at these grains for a while using various means," said Dauphas, referring to other scientists and other, similar grains. He credited his team's success, published in the September 10 Astrophysical Journal, to recent refinements in using ion microprobes, only looking at similarly sized specimens, and a sense that the team had a historic problem to take on. "We had a strategy to tackle the question," he said, and "people who are on top of their game."

It was something Dauphas had wanted to do since 2002—the year he became a Enrico Fermi Institute research associate—but he hadn't had a chance until a five-month sabbatical in 2009. He took his samples to Caltech, where he'd managed to secure three weeks for the search, but it wasn't easy. Towards the end of the last session only one grain had tested positive for chromium, and without the confirmation of a second discovery, the team was getting disillusioned, worried they were on a wild goose chase. He told one colleague on his way back to his hotel, "If you find the grain, please call me, no matter what."

Not only did they find a second grain that tested positive for chromium 54, the specimen shone far brighter than the first.

(By the way, the 150-year-old meteorite the grains came from is called "Orgueil" and was already a pretty significant bit of science with a fascinating history.)

Asher Klein, '11

September 24, 2010

O-Week at the Reg

No introduction to campus is complete without a how-to session on all-nighters at the library.

As incoming students roamed the quads this week with bewildered parents or with dormmates whose names they’d only just learned, new arrivals also flooded into Regenstein. On Wednesday afternoon, a pack of 25 or 30 first-year graduate students gathered over by the circulation desk for a librarian-led orientation session and tour. Before getting started, their guide asked if anyone had questions. They did: “How late does the library stay open?” For the most part, he explained, the Reg is open 24 hours a day. Then came the disappointing news: during the weekend, the library closes at 10 p.m. “So on Friday nights,” he said, “you will have to find something else to do.”

Meanwhile, across the room a handful of College first-years were studying the floor plan laying out the library’s collections by subject and call number. Turning to his friend, one tall, skinny kid said, “Let’s go check out the A-Level. I’ve heard that’s a great place to study.” And they shuffled off down the steps.

Lydialyle Gibson

September 27, 2010

Graphic reading at the Reg

A new library exhibit traces the evolution of comics as social criticism.


On three floors of the Reg, “&#$! Graphic Novels as Social Commentary” displays gems from the library’s growing collection of graphic novels and comics. Sarah Wenzel, bibliographer for literatures of Europe and the Americas, helped organize the exhibit and maintains the collection. In a recent interview with UChiBLOGo, she spoke about her passion for books with pictures.

QandA_QDrop.jpgYou’re in charge of all the comic books in the library. How did that happen?

QandA_ADrop.jpgI’ve been particularly interested in building a collection of graphic novels, not only in English but other languages. Our current collection represents the cumulative efforts of many people over a long period of time. The great thing about being responsible for a collection is trying to read the tea leaves and figure out what people are going to be interested in over the next five to ten years, and this was one of the things that I thought was going to be really important. Because they can be a little bit ephemeral, I wanted to start collecting, and because there are relatively few places in the U.S. that collect non-English language graphic novels, I particularly wanted to collect those.

QandA_QDrop.jpgYou seem to be having fun.

QandA_ADrop.jpgComing from a very text-based field, it’s really exciting to work with something where images are so important. It’s just a very interesting, eye-opening format.

QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat’s distinctive about the Regenstein’s collection of graphic novels?

QandA_ADrop.jpgNot a lot of libraries in the U.S. are retro-buying graphic novels; that is, going back and buying the older editions and material. My coup was getting all the issues of Kramer’s Ergot—it’s a graphic-novel magazine, and the first two issues in a small format are almost impossible to find. That took a lot of hunting. Right now for Hillary Chute, a new assistant professor in English, I’m looking for the first issue of Raw, which was the Art Spiegelman–Françoise Mouly collaboration from the 1980s. It’s out of print and hard to get, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

QandA_QDrop.jpgWho uses the collection?

QandA_ADrop.jpgBesides the faculty, a lot of students have been using the collection both for pleasure and for research. I could take you up to the stacks and show you what it looks like, but the problem is, the books keep getting checked out. Actually, it’s not a problem at all—it’s a wonderful thing.

QandA_QDrop.jpgIs there a problem with thievery?

QandA_ADrop.jpgNot as much as I was afraid of. We get lists of lost and missing books periodically, and I actually have more trouble with late 18th- and early 19th-century items that people decided they’d rather hold on to than return.

QandA_QDrop.jpgSo U of C library patrons return the comic books but keep the Samuel Johnson?


QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat are some of the highlights of the exhibit on graphic novels?

QandA_ADrop.jpgThe display cases begins with antecedents of the graphic novel, including The Yellow Kid, a comic that appeared in the New York World that had a lot of really poignant social commentary. Then we show one of the very first examples of a graphic novel or a comic book, Rodolphe Töpffer’s The Adventures of Mr. Obidiah Oldbuck. He’s Swiss; in Special Collections, we have one of the earliest English-language editions of his work.

QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat else?

QandA_ADrop.jpgWe show comics from the 1930s and ’40s, like The Life and Times of the Shmoo by Al Capp. Then we jump to underground comics from the 1960s to 1980s—and Art Spiegelman, of course—and examples of social commentary around particular themes. We end with the present day and an online comic called Zahra’s Paradise. It’s done anonymously for the safety of the author and the artist, who are Jewish and Iranian, and it’s about the political tension in Iran right now. It’s published online only, although they have a book contract, and in ten languages.

Elizabeth Station

“&#$! Graphic Novels as Social Commentary” begins near the first-floor circulation desk of the Regenstein Library. Wenzel curated the exhibit with Nancy Spiegel, the Reg’s bibliographer for art and cinema, and Emmanuelle Bonnafoux, a PhD candidate in Romance languages and literatures. It runs through the end of winter quarter.

Images courtesy Sarah Wenzel.

September 29, 2010

Cloudy with a dash of habanero

Brushing off inclement weather, the 61st Street Farmers Market delivers the goodies and continues its pioneering program.

61st Street Farmers Market

On the second Saturday of September, after deciding that my McDonald’s bacon-egg-and-cheese habit was doing me no favors, I headed to Experimental Station’s 61st Street Farmers Market. Now in its third season, it runs through October 30 between Dorchester and Blackstone Avenues. After that the market moves indoors through December 18 at Experimental Station. Braving on-and-off storms to find produce free of alphabet-soup chemicals, I turned onto Dorchester and almost ran into the booth for Mick Klug Farms of St. Joseph, Michigan. “I can’t believe you guys made it out today,” someone said to the Mick Klug representative behind the booth. “Oh, we’re here rain or shine,” she replied.

Several other stalwart vendors had joined Mick Klug, and I stopped by each booth, perusing row after row of plums, pears, and Honeycrisp, Gala, and Cortland apples. I peered at the Flower Garden’s yellow-pink zinnias, and taste-tested Tomato Mountain Farms’s salsas. My purchases included two bottles of salsa—Habanero and Chipotle—as well as a delectable cheese roll covered in pistachios.

My last stop was at the information booth, manned by market manager Dennis Ryan. He told me about the market’s pioneering venture to double the value of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program coupons—or Link dollars as they’re often known in Illinois—up to $25 per cardholder, per market day. Committed to making healthy food widely accessible, the market has accepted Link dollars since it opened in 2008. Last year, Ryan jumped at the chance for 61st Street to become the first Illinois farmers market to institute a double-value program, which is funded by Connecticut-based Wholesome Wave.

In 2009, 61st Street led the state in Link farmers market purchases, with $5,000 worth and $700 in double value. This year, they project to do $10,000 in base Link purchases and $7,000 in double value. And they’ve inspired three independent Chicago farmers markets (Bronzeville, North Lawndale, and Englewood) as well as five that are city-run (Daley Plaza, Lincoln Square, South Shore, Division Street, and Beverly) to follow their lead. Starting this year, the independent markets have instituted Wholesome Wave’s double-value program while the city markets are accepting Link dollars for the first time and also participating in the double-value program. Experimental Station provided the independent markets with initial training and support for double value, and, through a Chicago Department of Community Development grant, hired a staff member who handles Link administration for the five city markets.

“Right now, compared to the data we have from other cities and their pilot Link farmers-market programs," says Ryan, “Chicago is on track to have the highest number of transactions that we are aware of.”

Katherine Muhlenkamp

About September 2010

This page contains all entries posted to UChiBLOGo in September 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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