December 20, 2000: President's Page

The Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts: Introducing the First Class of Fellows

Last spring I described an exciting new initiative, the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts, that was made possible by the very generous lead gift of Trustee Lloyd E. Cotsen ’50, currently a Trustee and chair of the Board’s Committee on Academic Affairs. The society brings to Princeton distinguished young scholar-teachers who have recently finished their doctoral degrees in the humanities, social sciences or natural sciences. During their three-year appointment they have excellent opportunities to develop their teaching skills, to pursue their research interests, and to interact with Princeton faculty and students.

The fellows, who eventually will number between 18 and 24, are chosen through a competitive, international selection process (nearly 1,000 applications for the six initial positions were received last year). The first “class” of fellows is now on campus, located in the newly renovated Joseph Henry House, which the Society uses at its home base. I would like to introduce each of them to you. Their already impressive accomplishments will give you a sense of the society’s inter- disciplinary focus and of the multiple talents the fellows bring to the University.

Giovanna Ceserani, a classicist from Cambridge University, England, wrote her dissertation on “The Study of Magna Graecia: Classical Archaeology and Nationalism since 1750.” At Princeton she will study the eighteenth-century origins of the modern historiography of ancient Greece. She is currently exploring the way in which various 18th-century figures used their conceptions of the relation between ancient Greek colonies and their mother cities either to attack or to defend the American Revolution.

David Chamberlain is a specialist in the Greek historian, Herodotus. He did his doctoral work at the University of California at Berkeley. Since he came to Princeton last year as a fellow in the humanities, he has developed a new course on reading and writing “hypertext,” designed to teach students how to use new electronic media to gain fresh insights into the nature of prose.

Danielle Fosler-Lussier, a musicologist from the University of California at Berkeley, examines the effect of Cold War politics on European musical life. She has held research fellowships at Berkeley and in Budapest. Fosler-Lussier will explore how and why certain musical styles became associated with the idea of political freedom after the Second World War.

Robert Goulding’s work on the late 16th, early 17th century mathematician Sir Henry Saville involves the latter’s efforts to square the circle. He is also interested in the fact that “false knowledge” is transmitted through stable traditions, just like knowledge that proves to be scientifically correct. His doctoral degree is in combined historical studies from the Warburg Institute of the University of London.

Elisabeth Hilbink, a political scientist from the University of California at San Diego, wrote her dissertation on judicial performance in Chile. Her intellectual interests bridge the fields of law, politics and political theory. While at Princeton, she will pursue research on the effects of institutional changes to the judiciary in civil law countries of Southern Europe.

Branden Joseph is a historian of art and architecture from Harvard University who specializes in experimental art and the neo-avant-garde. Author of articles on post-war American art, he is also the founding editor of a new academic journal on the history and theory of architecture, art and media. Named Grey Room, the journal was launched earlier this fall.

The society also includes distinguished Princeton faculty who serve as senior fellows. It is directed by Alexander Nehamas, Edmund N. Carpenter II Professor in the Humanities, and chair of Princeton’s Humanities Council. The chief functions of the director and faculty fellows are to select post-doctoral fellows and build a sense of intellectual community among the fellows and between the society and other faculty and students. Their efforts seem highly successful.

The society offers the post-doctoral fellows, as one fellow described it, “amazing” access to faculty who are experts in their fields, and reactions of the senior faculty fellows are equally enthusiastic. For example, Dodge Professor of History Anthony Grafton reports that the society’s informal weekly meetings generate lively exchanges whether they result from formal presentations of work in progress or are sparked by deceptively ordinary questions such as “what books are they reading where you come from?”

The society is a success in part because the postdoctoral fellows do “come from” other institutions and sometimes other countries. A critical objective of the society has been to bring to Princeton an infusion of fresh ideas. The society’s senior faculty fellows note that their younger colleagues are indeed offering new perspectives, and there is evidence that this is also apparent to students in the classroom. For example, an undergraduate student in response to David Chamberlin’s course on hypertext last spring wrote in his course evaluation: “Think you’re cutting edge? Check out some of this stuff…. Professor Chamberlin is great! He knows how to ask the right questions and challenge you to think hard about something new.” That is indeed a welcome challenge for all of us!