December 20, 2000:
Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts: Introducing the First Class
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 Boards
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 societys 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.
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.
work on the late 16th, early 17th century mathematician Sir Henry
Saville involves the latters 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
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
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 Princetons 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 societys
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 societys 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 Chamberlins
course on hypertext last spring wrote in his course evaluation:
Think youre 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!