Archive for December, 2014

by Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

Twinkle lights make everything look more beautiful. And everyone familiar with the story of Rudolph understands the significance of bright and colorful lights during the holidays.HolidayLights

Christmas lights were invented by Thomas Edison in 1880, largely as a means of marketing his new invention to a reluctant public. 124 years later, this December my neighborhood looks particularly festive. My neighbors have adorned their houses with decorations that are by turns classic, crazy, quaint, or contemporary, making my walk home after the 3:30pm sunset(!) much brighter indeed. Once inside, I plug in my lights to add more shimmer and shine to the cheery display along Spaulding Avenue.

lightsBefore their recent electric history, holiday lights were candles and bonfires, a celebratory response to the winter solstice, the darkest time of the year, stemming from the understanding of the human needs for light. As extension of earlier pagan traditions, holiday lights continue to help humans endure this inescapable time of darkness. With the resolve to brave these dark days, we find our way to more light.candleswindow

Light encompasses a variety of symbolic meanings associated with the inventive, optimistic, and life-affirming. A sudden thought transforms into a light bulb above our head. Proud parents beam when they hear that their child is “so bright.” Scientists recall the flash of an idea. The shine, the light, the idea, all glimmer with possibility, warmth, hope.

Light replicates the spark of life in us all. We leave a light in the window to welcome travelers. We fall in love amidst the soft glow of candles.

And beyond the houses, above the city lights, the stars, too, offer to light our way.

Advertisements

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Way back in September, perhaps on the 17th or the 21st of that month, I proclaimed that my family had entered “The Autumn of Bread”.  Sounds regal, right?  Well, it is.  For the last 2 and 1/2 months I have been trying to bake a new type of bread each week.  Some weeks I do more than one loaf, and some weeks I just repeat a previous hit.  ‘The Autumn of Bread’ has been wonderful. If

Pretzels!

Pretzels!

you don’t believe me, ask my wife.

Let me give you a little background on why I am doing this.

First off, I need to explain the name.

A couple years ago, my brother and sister-in-law went to Ireland. When they returned, they declared it was going to be the ‘year of the sausage’.  They had eaten so much processed, salted meat on

Focaccia with pear, bleu cheese and caramelized onions.

Focaccia with pear, bleu cheese and caramelized onions.

the Emerald Isle, that they decided to bring the practice home with them.  That sodium-filled year was inspiring. Ever since, whenever my wife and I become a bit obsessed with a foodstuff we jokingly name the season after said foodstuff: ‘The year of the Latte’; ‘The Winter of the Brussel Sprout’; ‘The Season of the Waffle’; Etc.

But, ‘The Autumn of Bread’ has beaten all previous comers. For all you bread-bakers, you understand why.

If you have never baked bread, what are you waiting for?

Here are a couple reasons everyone should bake bread, at least at some point in their lives:

  1. Fresh baked bread straight out of the oven may be the best, most satisfying food a human being can eat. No joke.
  2. Baking bread calls for creativity. The methods, the flours, the flavors, the herbs, the designs, the tastes.  Once you have the basic skills down, you can really play around and try new things.
  3. Baking homemade, leavened bread is an amazing science experiment.  If you have kids, you can show them how them the physico-chemical right in your own kitchen.    Actually, why don’t science teachers use bread-making as a teaching tool?  It is microbiology and chemistry lesson in one. Two great tastes that taste great together.
  4. Scientific? Sure, but also mystical. Bread grows seemingly on its own, gaining airiness because of the ancient tiny lifeforms that are working their microscopic butts off. We help them, they help us. So symbiotic.
  5. For me as a historian, I feel tied to the past when I make bread.  It is so central to so many cultures and rituals that bread has some magical humanistic quality that is hard to pin down.
  6. Last, it is a gamble, Thus, when you win, the payoff is so rewarding. Unlike whipping up many foods, bread has the capibility to be a huge disaster and waste of time. This may sound like a negative, but it means that once you have the skill down, you really feel accomplished once you complete it.

As the solstice quickly approaches, and with it, the dregs of winter, I wonder if the Autumn of Bread should become the Winter of Yeast?  Let me ask my wife and kids. I think I know the answer.

 

 

By Gina Marie Disalvo, RMU Student.

This one time, at band camp, my friend hijacked an elevator and had a disco. Seriously. In order to use the elevator, you had to boogie with the best of ‘em. These shenanigans continued for a few hours and even moved into the dorm lobby. Non-stop disco; bands from all over the country joined in and it turned into a regular old Saturday Night Fever. This…this is why marching band; because at the end of the day everyone wants to belong. Everyone spends high school searching for their place; whether it is sports, drama, academics, or music. Some of us find it, some of us don’t. What I can tell you is that marching band changed my life, and I can’t even play an instrument.
guard girl

I spent years in other activities. Cheerleading, girl scouts, pageants; I tried my hand at horses, archery, fishing, and even jousting. Okay, I am just kidding about the jousting. But seriously, singing and dancing were the only things I really enjoyed. Both required no team or group effort. You see, kids are cruel and being a tomboy on a cheerleading team can lead to some nasty name calling and seclusion issues. It doesn’t matter that I had been to nationals more times than most of them could count. They hated me on principle. I’m not the only kid who had this problem; sometimes mean girls and boys decide it’s a great idea to pick on the people who are different. So after eleven years of hard work, and seven national titles, I quit cheerleading. I walked away from the team of fifty people who made being a human being feel like terrible curse.

 

I walked onto a team of eight. Eight girls, all from very different backgrounds, who decided, let’s try something new. I joined my high school’s color guard.

 

Color guard are the people with the flags and the rifles that make the marching band look pretty. We dance, and twirl and do all sorts of cool stuff. I learned a lot 2010in color guard. We competed, and won State. That though, isn’t what I wanted to tell you. What I wanted to say, reader, is that these girls were the most accepting people I had ever met. We all had each other’s backs, even if we weren’t friends, because at the end of the day we were a team. In the group of fifty girls I couldn’t find a single one who cared as much as these eight girls. The best part though was that they didn’t just come with themselves; they came with an entire marching band attached. It was the band family. The director was the parent, the winds/brass were teenagers, the percussion were the children. Seriously though, these people made up a group that made you feel at home. For some of us growing up, it was the closest to home we ever felt. The most accepted and loved, and the bonds made in this one, or four seasons, changed lives, and made life worth living.

 

So, ‘this one time at band camp’, is a big joke right? But seriously, this one time, at band camp, I found the best family I’ve ever known.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

As we start another quarter at RMU, I as a history teacher try once again to inculcate students to the importance of historical understanding.  In each of my courses I usually provide the students on the first day of class with a description of what history is, and why it matters. Simply put, I try to justify taking history courses to non-history majors.

This is old-hat for me. I have been justifying studying history long before teaching at RMU.  Ever since my days as an undergrad  I have been hounded by friends, peers and random acquaintances’ parents regarding the ‘value’ of a history degree.  With a smirk on their collective faces, I would hear the banal, unthinking question, ‘what are you gonna do with a BA in history?’  It was obvious to me long before entering the working world that in American society, the utility of a degree, meaning the amount of money to be made from having it, is the most important thing for a lot of people.

Of course, not everyone is so materialistically utilitarian. Some people simply don’t like history. Since I was a freshman, I i love historyoften gained unsolicited opinions such as, ‘history is my least favorite subject’; or ‘I can’t understand what you would find enjoyable about studying such a boring topic.’

This is a much more difficult challenge to face.  For paycheck-concerned-parents, I can always point to all sorts of studies that show that employers are looking for the skills taught by the liberal arts.  But, how do you answer those people who think your subject is a snoozefest? How do you change their minds?

You do the only thing you can do: Prove to those naysayers, whether they be friends, students, or whoever, that history is amazingly interesting and human. You point to Arlette Farge, the great historian of 18th century French, who beautifully stated that ‘It is a rare and precious feeling to suddenly come upon so many forgotten lives, haphazard and full, juxtaposing and entangling the close with the distant, the departed.’ For me, this statement encapsulates the study of history.

But, there is more. Those lives Farge ‘comes upon’ are often weird. They are often funny. Their lifestyles are often salacious.  Their worlds are often disgusting.  In other words, Farge’s lives illustrate that the past is achingly, tragically, amazingly human. You can discover all sorts of strange surprises in these lives.

teeth02For instance, a couple weeks ago I picked up Professor Colin Jones’ new book on 18th century French culture called The Smile Revolution in Eighteenth Century Paris.  Jones investigated a seemingly ahistorical subject: human smiles. But, as he fascinatingly points out, emotions, and their physiological manifestations (smiles), have faced different cultural receptions throughout history. According to Jones, in France, open mouth smiling was frowned upon (sorry about the pun) starting in the reign of Louis XIV.  Open mouthed guffawing was considered to be low class. Why was this so?  Well, as Jones points out, this probably had much to do with the fact that people living in the 18th century had horrendous teeth. Here is Jones describing the sad, but common dental experience of the philosophe Abbe Galiani:

“In a gloomy countdown, he recorded that he still had fourteen (teeth) remaining in June 1770, but only eight in August 1771. By then, any untoward movement of his tongue while he was talking led to his teeth springing out of his mouth. His conversation, he complained, had become a mixture of unintelligible mumbling and inadvertent whistling which baffled his friends. He began to have dreams in which his teeth grew back. …By mid 1772 all his teeth were gone; he was in his early forties.”

Can you imagine this? I can. History makes me imagine.

Simply put, learning about such topics in history makes me feel like Bill Murray’s character in the Royal Tenenbaums, when he says: