When S. David Mitchell leaves for work in the morning, he isn’t sure which hat to wear. Sometimes he is a law professor, and sometimes he is a sociologist. On most days he wears both hats at once—an interdisciplinary approach to research that seems to bode well. As an associate professor in MU’s School of Law, Mitchell’s teaching and research feed off each other, focusing on the intersection of society and the law. While his teaching covers topics ranging from torts and criminal justice administration—from “bail to jail”—the courses he gets most excited about involve his main area of research, including “Law and Society” and “Collateral Consequences of Sentencing.”
The fact that Nancy M. West finds herself focusing so heavily on the visual in her research and teaching may at first seem to be “a sort of a curious thing,” but for the associate professor of English this fascination for the visual extends all the way back to a childhood devoid of photographs. “I love thinking about what photography means to people. Having grown up with very few photographs in my household, I’ve always been drawn to them,” she admits. It was no surprise, therefore, that West stumbled upon her first book project while scrounging through the bargain bin of an antique store: “I came across all of these old Kodak ads from the turn of the century, and I thought they were amazing. The images were just breathtakingly beautiful. The captions were unlike those we see now in ads. They were much more elaborate, much more descriptive. They addressed the consumer in very interesting, clever ways, and I just fell in love with them.” And at that serendipitous moment, the idea for Kodak and the Lens of Nostalgia (2000) was conceived.
Great celestial bodies populate the solar system. For an untrained eye staring at the heavens, the starlight spectacles and endless seas of blackness are nothing short of a miracle. Researchers, however, have developed mathematical equations that may help us understand such mysteries of the universe. From Isaac Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation to Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, the scientific community has paved the way for a greater understanding of the great beyond.
What a society counts as moral or immoral is subject to the particular zeitgeist—the spirit of the times. “At the time of the slave trade, for example, most people who were slave owners thought it was moral. Even a few blacks, once they were freed, had slaves,” explains Sharon Welch, Professor of Religious Studies. As a social ethicist, Welch researches not just the way individuals make moral choices, but how a whole society begins to decide “what counts as moral.” To that effect, all of her projects coalesce around such issues of social morality.
As Professor in the Classics Department at MU, Daniel Hooley’s research includes Roman poetry, the classical tradition, and translation studies, about which he has written three books, including his most recent, Roman Satire (2006). Hooley first became interested in studying the classics through an “accidental journey,” studying the western classics as an English and Humanities graduate student at the University of Minnesota, where he focused his studies on modernism and wrote his dissertation on how Latin poetry was translated by American modernists such as Ezra Pound or T.S. Eliot. The dissertation became his first book, The Classics in Paraphrase: Ezra Pound and Modern Translators of Latin Poetry (1988).
MU philosophy professor Robert N. Johnson found himself drawn to philosophy as a child who was always “lost in his thoughts.” Then, in high school, Johnson happened upon the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and just “got hooked.” The “Zen” part of the book was not what grabbed his attention; it was the discussion of Plato’s dialogues that framed the story. That encounter led him to check out the Collected Works of Plato from his local library. “I was obsessed… I still am obsessed,” he admits.
Dr. vanMarle explains some of the philosophical questions related to studying math abilities in babies. She also describes the connection between her work and the field of cognitive science, and the implications of our new understandings.
Mitchell recalls that when he began graduate school in sociology he was told scholars should engage in objective research, that they should not inject bias into their research. While agreeing with that principle, Mitchell finds that “the notion that any of our work is truly objective is ridiculous.” By the time one chooses a research topic, he suggests, there is already the bias of selecting an area about which one is passionate. Moreover, he disagrees with the idea that scholars should not be advocates of their own research.
Reflecting on “the ways in which personal interests affect the professional and how personal motivation often guides professional motivation,” West recalls a story about how she chose her career. “When I was in college at Rutgers University, I thought I would go to law school…. I was very committed to that…. Then one day it was career day, and a lawyer came and talked about her work. She looked so beleaguered and so unimpassioned. And she was followed by an English professor, who totally enchanted me. And that was it! I already had the law school applications and thought, ‘I can’t do this,’ and I told my professors. This was at one of the moments when the job market was just awful, and they told me, ‘Don’t do it…. You’re not going to be able to get a job in English. You’re just going to waste your time. You’re just going to end up really sad and disappointed. Don’t do it.’ I just thought this is a part of who I am. I just had an instinct that it was going to be okay. So I did it and I never regretted it.” Because of this life-changing moment, West tells students curious about pursuing English in graduate school, “You have a really hard road in front of you in terms of the job market, and there is a good chance that you won’t find a job right away. But if this is who you are, if it is part of your being, if you can’t imagine yourself not doing it, then you really don’t have a choice, do you?”
Chicone describes how he became interested in studying mathematics. Beginning with positive experiences he had as a student, his love for the subject continued
Chicone discusses the fundamental importance of mathematics for the natural world, observing that mathematics serves an array of practical purposes. He gives the example of one of his students, who freezes tissue for a project in cryobiology. The researchers working on this project are using mathematical models to make predictions about the behavior of living cells.
Chicone believes math is an artistic expression like music, painting, and theatre. Not everyone can identify with this art, he admits, but those who can are able to develop a strong appreciation for problem-solving.
Chicone contributes to other fields of science outside of mathematics, cooperating, for example, with MU’s Medical School and School of Engineering to produce the kind of mathematical models that now play an integral role in designing predictions for scientific experiments.
“I do these things not because it’s only part of my job responsibility, but because I believe in the things that I’m doing….I don’t think that industrial agriculture is that sustainable. …I think we need to give a long-term perspective to the things we do, and sustainable agriculture has that long-term approach. It’s about future generations. It’s actually leaving our kids and our kids’ children the same opportunities, the same natural resources and the same access to services that we enjoy now.”
In addition to teaching farmers and extension educators, Garcia teaches a class at MU in sustainable agriculture, part of the undergraduate major in sustainable agriculture that began last fall.
Continued from above.
Huelsbergen talks about graphic design versus the manual arts.
Huelsbergen discusses her service philosophy as a graphic designer.
Humanities-related research involves studying the work of other scholars (e.g., philosophy and comparative religious ethics) and then synthesizing those ideas. For example, Welch has taken up the challenge to dominant ethics by Native American and Engaged Buddhist philosophers. Using certain techniques like interactive theatre in the classroom, she is applying qualitative measures to determine the effect of these pedagogical techniques. So far she has learned that these interactive theatre experiences can really change the way many students see the world around them.
“What I’m really interested in is called social ethics,” Welch explains. What a society counts as moral or immoral is subject to the particular _zeitgeist_—the spirit of the times. For example, at the time of the slave trade, “most people who were slave owners thought it was moral. Even a few blacks, once they were freed, had slaves.” As a social ethicist, Welch has been trying to understand not just the way individuals make moral choices but how a whole society begins to decide “what counts as moral.”
Dan Hooley first became interested in studying the classics through an “accidental journey,” studying the western classics as an English and Humanities graduate student at the University of Minnesota where he focused his studies on modernism and wrote his dissertation on how Latin poetry was translated by American modernists such as Ezra Pound or T.S. Eliot.
Through Hooley’s work in classical studies he has developed a philosophy about why one should study the classics: “Classics is just good material. The historical distance makes it more refreshing because you see the difference and how we’re the same animals. These texts don’t dictate our ethics and laws, but help our imaginations, which I think is a good reason to study them.”
Considering the universal drive to make music, Perna appreciates the magic of bringing music to life.
The philosophical underpinnings in the media of China and Japan.