Ever since the third grade, when an assistant principal generously offered to teach him and two classmates French, John Miles Foley has been curious about how languages work. Starting with the early epiphany that language is always embedded in culture, Foley followed this line of thinking until it led to oral tradition, which the MU Professor of Classical Studies and English has now been researching for over three decades. It will surely be a lifelong journey, for the field far outstrips written literature in size, diversity, and social function. In fact, all the written literature we have, Foley is fond of saying, “is dwarfed by oral traditions.”
The idea for SyndicateMizzou, if I recall the story correctly, arose during a lunch conversation involving two Center for eResearch personnel, founding director John Miles Foley and Information Technology Manager Jamie Stephens, shortly after the center was born in April 2005. “Wouldn’t it be great,” remarked the latter, “if there were a website that could syndicate diverse content, be fully searchable, and bring MU’s innovation, accomplishment, and expertise to the rest of the world?” It was initially over soup and sandwiches that this conversation grew into a conception of SyndicateMizzou—a website created to document and promote research and creative activity at the University of Missouri-Columbia. In fact, the trajectory from idea to reality provides a worthy case study for imagining and executing an online project.
Alex Barker wears several different hats in MU’s Department of Anthropology and the Museum of Art and Archaeology. One of these hats involves his research and fieldwork on the European Bronze Age and the ancient American southeast. The other involves the directorship of MU’s Museum of Art and Archaeology. Standing at the crossroads of several disciplinary fields, most of Barker’s field research has in recent years dealt with a single broad question: how social complexity grows out of egalitarian societies. His fieldwork in North America and the Old World follows this transition over different periods and regions.
Picture a college professor standing at the front of a crowded auditorium and speaking to a group of three hundred students. The speaker, sharp-eyed and astute, has a glass of water and stands tall and mighty behind a podium. He projects a series of sounds toward the dreary-eyed students – a mouthful of verbs, adjectives and nouns, all carrying different meanings. The speaker’s information may be fascinating and well organized, but one MU researcher doesn’t ask why someone is speaking. He’s more interested in studying how the speaker is communicating.
Can nest conditions predict what kinds of predators can masticate a bird? What effects do controlled drugs have on the formation of persistent follicles in beef cows? How resourceful is the neglected art of video poetry? These were just some of the questions that approximately 120 undergraduate students were attempting to answer during the summer of 2007.
The Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievements Forum, held at the end of July at the Bond Life Sciences Center, allowed students to present their scholarly research projects to the public. MU students specializing in an array of concentrations were stationed at posters describing their findings.
Craig Kluever’s dream was born as he found himself awestruck in front of a grainy black-and-white television screen watching Apollo 11 land on the moon. He was in kindergarten. As he puts it, “that just made a big impact on me. Of course, the first thing I wanted to be was an astronaut.” Those early dreams of becoming an astronaut turned instead into a pursuit of the science behind the rockets. Today, the MU Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering works behind the scenes to solve the kind of problems involved in designing space travel—such as how to take off, how to reach a target, and, more importantly, how to return safely to Earth.
MU biologist Rex Cocroft studies communication, something crucial to life at many levels, as it occurs within a cell, between cells, and between organisms within social groups. "Once we reach the level of communication between individuals," waxes Cocroft, "not only is there the fascinating intellectual challenge of studying communication, but there is also this tremendous aesthetic appeal…. The signals themselves are often beautiful—the songs of whales, the colors of butterfly wings, the scents of flowers." His first calling was that of a musician, so it's perhaps no surprise that Cocroft was drawn to this aspect of biology, and no accident that he enjoys being at MU. "I love it here [in Missouri] in the late summer," he says, "when the katydids and the cicadas are out and there's this din of calling insects."
The Pathways Project explores the comparison between OT (oral tradition) and IT (Internet technology), showing the similarities between these two network-based modes of navigation. When it’s finished, there will be a paper book, Pathways of the Mind, as well as a website. The two methods of navigating through networks—oral tradition and the web—mimic the very way we think.
John Miles Foley explains how the two centers—the Center for the Studies in Oral Tradition (est. 1986) and the newer Center for eResearch—are cooperative ventures: “All of our activities at both centers have in common the philosophy of sharing intellectual content (knowledge, art, ideas) across barriers…to make it as easy as possible for everyone in the world to participate.”
Founder and director John Miles Foley explains the thinking behind the creation of SyndicateMizzou, with its mission to make research and creative activity occurring at MU accessible to the public on a 24/7/365 basis.
The Center for the Studies in Oral Tradition, founded in 1986 by John Miles Foley, became the model for the Center for eResearch. The mission of the CeR is to bring together people from diverse fields doing innovative research on Internet or digital projects so that they might profit from the exchange of ideas.
Barker has also being doing fieldwork in the New World, especially in ancient Missouri and the Ancient Southeast and in more recent historical periods, from 1000 to 1500 CE across the American midcontinent. Art styles of all of those regions used the same basic symbols, apparently referring to the same basic concepts.
During the school year, Radhakrishnan teaches a professional voice course offered to all MU students. Many of the students who sign up for this course are aspiring performers and professional voice users like broadcasters and education majors.
After several years of studying voice, Radhakrishnan even assesses professional broadcasters. He says many TV and radio anchors get carried away in front of a microphone, and as a result they lose their breath support.
Even though the student researchers are usually not going to get their studies published in an academic journal, these researchers have an opportunity to make a difference with their findings. For example, every summer approximately twenty researchers go to Jefferson City to present their finding to lawmakers. “We work with the students to take their posters, turn those posters into something that very accessible to the public and elected officials,” Blockus explains. “This is our way of reminding the state officials of some of the things we do, and the special ways we are adding value to student experiences here at MU.”
In the most basic definition of his field, Kluever explains that engineers apply math and science knowledge to real problems, taking existing knowledge from mathematics and the physical sciences to construct some real device or to make some system better. “What do engineers do at work?” he laughs irreverently, “they go to a lot of meetings, they work on projects, and they try to stay on budget!”