Category: Human Nature

The Humanities: towards greater empathy


News and current events today challenge us to be able to see the world from the persepctive of others. The more insulated we become - socially, economically, politically - the more difficult it can be to understand the broader issues and events swirling around us. Of course, an education steeped in the humanities can go a long way towards making us better people, better citizens who can relate to our fellow citizens constructively, who want to understand, who can access solutions outside of our own personal interest, experience or perspective. This connection is the focus of recent NYT opinion column:

Sir Isaiah [Berlin] argued for acknowledging doubts and uncertainty — and then forging ahead. “Principles are not less sacred because their duration cannot be guaranteed,” he wrote. “Indeed, the very desire for guarantees that our values are eternal and secure in some objective heaven is perhaps only a craving for the certainties of childhood.”

Second, John Rawls offers a useful way of thinking about today’s issues such as inequality or poverty, of institutionalizing what our society gravely lacks: empathy. He explores basic questions of fairness, leading to a compelling explanation for why we should create safety nets to support the poor and good schools to help their kids achieve a better life.

Rawls suggests imagining that we all gather to agree on a social contract, but from an “original position” so that we don’t know if we will be rich or poor, smart or dumb, diligent or lazy, American or Bangladeshi. If we don’t know whether we’ll be born in a wealthy suburban family or to a single mom in an inner city, we’ll be more inclined to favor measures that protect those at the bottom.

Though there is room and impetus to do so, it's not really necesary to try to re-position the humanities within the context of the 'Digital Age.' They are important in their own right and always will be as long as there remain any adherents to the first part of the word. Anyway, good essay, and we're always happy to see the humanities get some ink and pixels. They are important because we so declaim, because we decide we care about humanity. Classes are in session this morning in a variety of departments and programs, from anthropology and classics to linguistics, philosophy and religion, educating our students in the traditions on which stability, progress and justice in our modern world depend.

Summer Kudos


teamusesnano.jpgWith grants, new research, awards and honors, Franklin College faculty, staff and alumni continue to excel and establish new heights of professional accomplishment. A sampling a recent notable achievements:

UGA geneticist named one of Cell’s 40 under 40 – Robert Schmitz, an assistant professor of genetics, was recently selected by the trade journal as one of the 40 most accomplished young scientists under the age of 40, reports

“Books to watch out for”The New Yorker reviews “West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776,” by Claudio Saunt, Richard B. Russell Professor of American History at the University of Georgia.

UGA researchers awarded NIH grant – A team of university scientists will use the $1.8 million award to study the deadly diarrheal parasite cryptosporidiosis.  “There is no fully effective drug or vaccine for crypto,” said Boris Striepen in UGA’s Center for Tropical and Emerging Diseases. Athens Banner-Herald, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer

UGA was recently awarded a $638,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to further student interest in engineering or physics, reports

UGA geography professor Marshall Shepherd, immediate past president of the American Meteorological Society, is among those appointed by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to a new Emergency Preparedness and Management Group in the wake of last winter’s snow storms.

UGA alumna Evangeline George (AB ‘08) is named deputy communications director for U.S. Congressional Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.  The Marietta native currently serves as Pelosi’s press secretary.

Best in class: UGA’s Hodgson SingersAJC

UGA partners with State Farm Insurance – The collaboration is to develop the Modeling and Analytics Graduate Network, or MAGNet program for graduate students, reports the Red & Black.

UGA chemistry grad receives awardRobert Gilliard Jr., a 2014 doctoral graduate, has been awarded a UNCF/Merck Foundation Postdoctoral Science Research Fellowship, reports the ABH.  The award provides $92,000.  Gilliard will pursue research projects focused on synthetic chemistry.  

Researchers use nanoparticles to enhance chemotherapy – Three UGA scientists (Shanta Dhar, Rakesh Pathak and Sean Marrache of the department of chemistry) have developed a new formulation of cisplatin, a commonly used chemo drug, that significantly increases the drug’s ability to target and destroy cancerous cells, reports

The New Yorker magazine features trumpeter Philip Smith, who recently retired from the New York Philharmonic, and will join the UGA music faculty this fall.  Smith spent more than 30 years with the ensemble.

The associate dean of the Franklin College of Arts & Sciences, Eileen T. Kraemer, is named director of the School of Computing at Clemson University, reports the Anderson (SC) Independent Mail.

UGA math department receives $2 million grant to attract math researchers – R&B

Eighteenth century fashion and literature


CWS_cover.jpgThere are a multitude of scholarly books and monographs written by Franklin College faculty each year and one of the things we’d like to do on the blog is talk with some of these scholar/authors and learn a little more about their new works, which are such a big part of their research.

Chloe Wigston Smith is an assistant professor in the department of English who specializes in the literature and culture of the eighteenth century. She is the author of Women, Work, and Clothes in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge University Press, August 2013). The book was recently shortlisted for the Milia Davenport Publication Award (Costume Society of America), a prestigious national award. Wigston Smith and I recently had for a short conversation about the book.


Franklin Chronicles: Your book explores novels that engage the representation of women’s work with clothing and material culture. What do you mean by material culture?

Chloe Wigston Smith: I’m interested in novels that represent women’s labor. Much of women’s work in the 18th century was associated with clothing, whether or not women were seamstresses, milliners, laundresses. So if you were an actress on the stage, your profession was connected to dress – the stage costuming that you wore, for example. Let’s say you were involved in more illicit activities, such as shoplifting or pocket picking, most of the objects that you were stealing were clothing items or accessories. Clothes were extremely expensive in the period – the materials that were used to make clothes were very valuable and they were seen as moveable goods. Wills in the 18th century commonly included clothing, jewelry, watches and accessories. So it’s quite different from the way most of us think of clothes today. In general, 18th century people owned fewer items and dress was viewed as less expendable and mass-market.

My book looks at women’s labor in novels, as well as the perceptions of their labor, fashions, and bodies. The novels represent a more progressive vision of the possibilities of women’s work in the eighteenth century, that I see as being distinctive from perceptions of clothing and women’s sexuality that circulated in the culture at large, as reflected in non-fiction writing, in trade debates, in court trials and testimony, in visual culture, and other genres in the period.

FC: So this material culture and the novels you discuss are all British?

CWS: Yes. I’m interested in the works of widely known authors like Jonathan Swift, Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, and Henry Fielding, as well as writers like Eliza Haywood, Charlotte Lennox, John Cleland, Frances Burney and Mary Robinson. It groups together respectable novels about moral heroines with racier tales of seduction and crime.

Fall semester


FRC_Rutherfd.jpgIn just a few more days the empty campus will begin to give way to thousands of new and returning students as they take up residence in our dorm communities and around town. Classes begin August 18. Other important upcoming dates:

Dropp/Add begins August 18

Student Emplyment Fair on Wedneday August 20

Study Abroad Open House on Saturday, August 23

Oh, yes, and vs. Clemson on August 30.

Image: Beautiful Rutherford Hall, home of the Franklin Residential College, by Cassandra Wright.

Pavlic on Palestine


Creative writing professor and poet Ed Pavlić just returned from the West Bank, where he toured the region with other writers as well as government and NGO officials. He offers some poignant observations about the current conflict in this piece for Africa Is A Country:

I know. It’s the oldest of old hats to note the distended shapes American journalism creates to preserve the Israel-first, false impression of some symmetry or parity between interests and powers in the contested territory split, shared, and struggled over by people known as Palestinians and Israelis. Even the names are disputed. Many Palestinians would refute the idea of “Israelis” and simply say Jews. Many Israelis have contended that, in fact, there are no “Palestinian” people. It’s territory—rhetorical, ethical, religious, ethnic, and geographic—so complexly, at times, hideously, contested that many people in the West, certainly in the U.S., simply look away. As a person who, since childhood, has lived a life athwart American racial codes and territories, I’ve always kept an eye on Israel / Palestine for the focused, if challenging, clarity it can offer one’s perspective on American experience. That might sound strange. But, it’s true. In a recent tour of the West Bank with the Palestinian Festival of Literature, in fact, I found much clarified.


There’s active and latent anger and violence everywhere in the region. But, according to these sources, even in so-called “Palestinian” territory (occupied by and often under the control of Israeli military personnel), there’s absolutely no parity in the legal, military, and social contests between Israeli power and Palestinian struggle. One is a contemporary bureaucratic state whose legal system vigorously operates to sustain and increase its hold on geographic territory and is possessed of a cornucopia of surveillance and weapon systems to back it up. The other is a disparate array of factionalized, anti-colonial resistance that uses smuggled and home-built weapons when not employing such high-tech systems as slingshots and cutlasses or simply throwing stones. Simply put there’s no contest here.

Friends of Israel do it no favors with our silence. The crisis continues, with news harder to come by as journalism suffers beneath its own conventions. Thanks to Pavlić for trying to elucidate some of the underlying conditions. Be sure and read the whole thing.

Microscopic photos spotlight the art of science


thale cressWhile they are often identified as poles, a spectrum or even a line of demarcation from one kind of investigation into another, science and art can and occasionally do cohabitate, as in the case of UGA research scientist Stefan Eberhard, who utilizes scientific instrumentation for creative purposes:

$2 million NSF grant to Mathematics


Pure-mathformulæ-blackboard.jpgA major new grant to the department of mathematics to help in attracting students to this essential foundational discipline:

Behind every facet of digital communication is a well-trained mathematician, and the University of Georgia mathematics department is on the front lines of training for this ever-increasing field of employment.


"Our objective is to provide an intellectually compelling, pedagogically well-planned and professionally nurturing environment in which undergraduates, graduate students and postdocs will thrive," said the department's Dino Lorenzini, a Distinguished Research Professor of Mathematics.

Modern digital communication offers an array of job opportunities for students with mathematics training. This initiative is meant to help students with an interest in math explore their options, learn more about the field and cultivate the skills needed for employment in the future.

Fantastic news with real impact for our campus. Attracting the best students with comprehensive education opportunities - and not just training - remains the university's strongest calling card. This grant to mathematics will help the department utilize this strength as it provides the very best in preparation for fulfilling careers.

Image: mathemtical formula, via wikimedia commons.

Being Woven


rumi-6.jpgOn this last day of June, we'll turn the blog over to the 13th-century Sufi mystic Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, via the 21st-century mystic, dear friend of the blog and Franklin professor of English emeritus Coleman Barks:

Being Woven – Communal Practice
On Being Woven

There’s a game that’s remembered in Iran called moshaereh, which means ‘being in company with poetry.’ One person says a line from Rumi, then the next person must begin a Rumi line with the word the first person’s ended with. And so on for hours, I’m told, before television deadened the psyche, a family or a group of friends might continue. Rumi was not the only poet used. It might be Hafiz, or Attar, or others. Poetry wove together the fabric of community and kept it lively. We have nothing comparable, except perhaps the nights of trading poems back and forth that sometimes happen in gatherings.

In December of 1273 when Rumi died, representatives of every major religion came to his funeral. In the midst of the crusades and violent sectarian conflict he said.

‘I go into the Muslim mosque and the Jewish synagogue and the Christian  church and I see one altar.’

And he made it clear in other places that someone who considers religion or nation an important human category is in danger of severing the heart from its ability to act compassionately. This is a radical idea now, but Rumi held the conviction in the thirteenth century with such deep gentleness that its truth was recognized.

Of Being Woven, by Rumi, translated into the tradition of American free verse by Coleman Barks:

“The way is full of genuine sacrifice.
The thickets blocking your path are anything 
that keeps you from that, any fear that you may be broken
into bits like a glass bottle.

This road demands courage and stamina, yet it’s full of 
Who are these companions?
They are rungs in your ladder. Use them!
With company you quicken your ascent.
You may be happy enough going along, but with others 
you’ll get farther, and faster.

Someone who goes cheerfully by himself to the customs
house to pay his traveler’s tax will go even more 
lightheartedly when friends are with him.

Every prophet sought out companions.
A wall standing alone is useless, but put three or four walls
together, and they’ll support a roof and keep grain dry
and safe.

When ink joins with a pen, then the blank paper can say 
Rushes and reeds must be woven to be useful as a mat. If
they weren’t interlaced; the wind would blow them away.

Like that, God paired up creatures, and gave them 

This is how the fowler and the bird were arguing
about hermitic living and Islam.

It’s a prolonged debate.

Husam shorten their controversy.

Make the Mathnawi more nimble and less lumbering.

Agile sounds are more appealing to the heart’s ear.


The Impact of Giving


Scholarship and research support from private giving to the Franklin College avails our students and faculty of broad opportunities across every aspect of society. This short video, featuring a student and one of our donors, elaborates on the impact of giving:




REFOCUS program benefits students, scientists


Projectfocuslogo2_000.jpgMore great news today for the future of STEM-related careers. Veteran scientists and engineers will share their love of science and math with the next generation through a program known as REFOCUS.  The program will train professionals to work with teachers in Clarke and six surrounding counties to provide regular science and math enrichment activities to students. 

The program is meant to help students in K-12 understand math and science concepts and expose them to new STEM career choices for the future. The program is based on a program that’s been in place at UGA for the past 12 years.  David Knauft, a professor of horticulture in the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, began a program called FOCUS in which UGA students studying STEM subjects were paired with elementary and middle school teachers in Clarke County.

REFOCUS will expand on the Project FOCUS framework, allowing science, technology, engineering and math mentors to be in even more Clarke County classrooms and in classrooms in surrounding counties.

"For quite some time, we have wanted to expand Project FOCUS to include graduate students, postdocs, faculty and retired scientists," said David Knauft, professor of horticulture in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and STEM education advocate. "Thanks to this AAAS funding, we will be able to do so.

"Also, because these individuals have more flexible schedules, we hope to bring REFOCUS to nearby counties, something we haven't been able to do with Project FOCUS."

Another great example of collaboration, between disciplines at UGA and between UGA and area school systems.  Knauft worked with the Clarke County School District; Julie Luft, the Athletic Association Professor of Mathematics and Science Education in the UGA College of Education; and Chuck Kutal, associate dean of the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, to secure a $14,800 grant from American Association for the Advancement of Science to help develop the REFOCUS program.  

The REFOCUS project will start recruiting its first class of STEM mentors this summer and debut the program in Clarke County classrooms this fall.

To get involved in Project REFOCUS, contact Knauft  For more information on Project FOCUS, see