December 5, 2001: Notebook

FACULTY FILE: Caveman clarity

Peter Lewis ’55 gift to support Gehry-designed library

New book features work by writing teachers at Princeton

Tilghman back in high school

ItÍs not academic
New Yorker writer on campus this fall

In Brief


FACULTY FILE
Caveman clarity

For anthropologist Alan Mann, solving all the questions in human evolution is probably not possible.

Mann, who has been a visiting professor from the University of Pennsylvania each spring for the past 15 years, this fall joined Princeton’s faculty full time. The first physical anthropologist in a department of social/cultural anthropologists, Mann’s primary area of focus is with Neandertal man, who lived between 150,000 and 30,000 years ago.

“Neandertals are very strange. They have huge brains, large projecting faces, no chins, big brow ridges, low foreheads, all of the things that in our folklore represent the crude and the beastly, so that when these guys were found, they were quite naturally made into crude and brutish creatures. But they buried their dead, they made very complex stone tools, and they were able to survive in parts of Europe during glacially cold conditions. The argument now is what happened to them.”

Mann is not convinced that the current dominant theory — that modern humans’ ancestors swept up from Africa and were able to destroy the Neandertals because of a variety of skills, including language — is necessarily correct. “We don’t know what happened,” he says.

“I think the discovery that would make the most impression on anthropologists would be a skull that combined the features of both Neandertals and ourselves. The time when such a creature lived would also be of importance; say around 30—35,000 years, and that it lived in France or Spain. This would be an earth-shattering find, but would it solve all the questions in human evolution? Almost certainly not, and it would probably result in more questions being raised than being answered.”

By L.O.

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Peter Lewis ’55 gift to support Gehry-designed library

Photo: Lewis, left, worked with Gehry, who designed the Lewis Building at Case Western’s management school (model). (case western reserve university)

Trustee Peter B. Lewis ’55 will give $60 million to support the construction and the programs of a new science library to be designed by architect Frank Gehry. The library will be located on the grassy area near the corner of Ivy Lane and Washington Road and will connect to the existing math-physics library in Fine Hall.

“This is a very significant project for Princeton in two respects,” said President Shirley M. Tilghman in a statement. “It allows us to create library space for the sciences that is designed to meet the needs of the 21st century, and it allows us to bring to our campus the work of one of the most original and distinctive architects of our time.“

Last year, Lewis gave the university $55 million, part of which established the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, whose building is under construction across Washington Road and just south of the proposed science library site. Lewis is chairman of the board of the Progressive Corp., one of the nation’s largest auto insurers. As chair of the board of trustees of the Guggenheim Foundation in New York he worked with Gehry, who designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, which opened in 1997. Gehry also designed the Peter B. Lewis Building at Case Western Reserve.

The new science library will serve researchers working on projects that cross scientific fields, provide services and facilities that take into account changes in scholarly publishing over recent years, and aim to meet the needs of students who now have to seek out information from a number of small, discipline-specific libraries around campus.
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New book features work by writing teachers at Princeton

Photo: Front row, from left, John Darnton, Charles Kaiser, and Roger Mudd, and back row from left, Harold McGraw, John McPhee ’53, Carol Rigolot, Walter Lippincott ’60, and Thomas LeBein gather at the Princeton Club of New York for a publication party.

The Princeton Anthology of Writing (Princeton University Press, 2001), a collection of the work of the men and women who have taught nonfiction writing at Princeton, started as an idea of Carol Rigolot’s. “They’re like a Who’s Who of American journalism,” says Rigolot, executive director of the Council of the Humanities, under whose auspices visiting writers teach each year as Ferris Professors of Journalism and McGraw Professors in Writing.

Rigolot wrote to each of the 58 former professors, asking for contributions. Every single one responded. “They all said it was wonderful being at Princeton and they were glad to contribute,” Rigolot said. (Two had died, but their families submitted pieces.)

The Princeton Anthology of Writing includes contributions from Roger Mudd, Gloria Emerson, Richard Eder, Deborah Tannen, Larry King, Landon Y. Jones ’66, Harrison Salisbury, and Blair Clark, to name a few. John McPhee ’53, the Pulitzer prize-winning writer who holds the Ferris professorship every spring semester, wrote the introduction and helped Rigolot edit the anthology, and Walter Lippincott ’60, director of the Princeton University Press, published it.

This year Rigolot will use the book as the text for her writing seminar, and on the first day of class her students went with her to the Princeton Club of New York for a publication party, where they met many of the contributors.

The Ferris Professorship began in 1963. One man, Irving Dilliard, served for six years, then the practice started of bringing in working journalists for a semester or a year.

From those two-a-year appointments, the nonfiction writing program grew to include the McGraw Professorships. Today the program offers six writing classes a year.

In 2001—02, the visiting professors will be John Willse, editor of the Newark Star-Ledger; Michael Dobbs, Washington Post; Barton Gellman ’82, Washington Post; McPhee; Roberta Oster Sachs, producer at NBC News of Dateline; and Alexander Wolff ’79, Sports Illustrated.

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Tilghman back in high school

When President Tilghman made a West Coast trip last month — her first major trip since becoming president of the university — she included in her visit the King-Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles. There, she spoke to about 400 area high school students interested in math and science.

“The 21st century is going to be a century for biology. It is going through a true scientific revolution,” she said. A molecular biologist, Tilghman talked about the connection between genetic research and the ability to diagnose and understand disease.

Tilghman, who acknowledged that the visit was not something she thought of but considered a terrific thing to do, wanted to have an opportunity to talk about what excites her about being a scientist. “I wanted to talk about the human genome project to a group of students who might not otherwise be thinking about Princeton as a place to attend college,” she said.

Pleased by her reception at the school, where most kids don’t think about going to school on the East Coast, Tilghman reported that the “students were very engaged, listened well, and, most important, asked terrific questions on topics related to both science and bioethics. I also enjoyed meeting with the principals and teachers, and learned from them that students have misperceptions about Princeton — that it is too expensive, for example. It gave me an opportunity to tell them about our new financial aid program, which should make it possible for the students in those three magnet schools to attend.”

As a result of the visit, Tilghman said that she and other administrators are exploring whether to send out to Los Angeles a group of students, faculty, staff, and alumni next spring to talk with juniors about Princeton. “The long-term goal is to make Princeton more broadly known among low-income students who can now take advantage of our financial aid package,” she said.

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ItÍs not academic
New Yorker writer on campus this fall

John Seabrook ’81, a writer for The New Yorker, lives 13 blocks from the World Trade Center. On Tuesday, September 11, after airliners piloted by terrorists plowed into its twin towers, he went up to the roof of his apartment building and with binoculars watched the horrific scene unfold. As he later wrote, on the north tower “orange flames were burning along entire floors” and “each window looked like the window into a kiln.” Soon people were jumping “like paratroopers hustling out of an aircraft.”

The following Tuesday, Seabrook was in a seminar room on the campus of Princeton. It was the first meeting of The Literature of Fact (Humanities 440), which he is teaching this fall as the Dobbins Professor of Writing.

Seabrook and his students talked about the attack and what he’d seen, and the tension between his instincts as a journalist and a human being. He was still on the roof when the south tower collapsed. When the north tower came down 29 minutes later he was in the street. Watching people fleeing the cloud of rubble rolling toward him, he was torn between staying to observe the scene and rushing inside to save his family. “I didn’t have to think about that very long,” Seabrook recalls. “I grabbed my wife and son, who’s two and a half, and we began walking north.” Once they realized their apartment building wasn’t in danger, they returned home.

Sitting at the table with his bright-eyed students, did the teacher feel any disconnect with the events he had witnessed the week before? “If anything, it was a relief,” he says. “It was my first excursion off Manhattan since the towers fell, and all those bright eyes were proof that the world goes on. I was impressed by their eagerness to learn. A lot asked very good questions about reporting techniques — about quotes and what liberties to take with them, whether or not to use a note pad or a tape recorder, that sort of thing.” One of his aims is to teach the difference between academic writing and journalism. “Academic writing puts theory before fact, but journalists put the reporting first and work in the theory where they can.”

An English major, Seabrook wrote a novella for his senior thesis and was literary editor at the Nassau Weekly. After two years of graduate study at Oxford, he went to work at the business journal Manhattan, Inc. “It was the era of the red-suspendered investment banker, and we did a lot of those kinds of profiles,” he recalls. “The editor wanted the writer’s voice to prevail. I was worried about my lack of journalism experience. She told me, ‘Take notes and you’ll work it out.’ I learned that the skill has less to do with gathering the information than with putting it all together.”

The course’s suggested reading list includes Seabrook’s Nobrow: The Culture of Marketing, the Marketing of Culture (Vintage, 2000), an exploration of the new “meritocracy of taste,” which embraces commercialism and pop culture and erases old distinctions between highbrow and lowbrow. Woven into the narrative are profiles of Hollywood icons George Lucas and David Geffen, MTV executive Judy McGrath, and — as a counterpoint — the author’s father, John Seabrook ’39, whose patrician tastes are embodied in a lifetime’s worth of hand-tailored British suits. They hang in a two-story closet on a revolving device set in motion by pushing a button.

Originally published in The New Yorker, the profile of his dad grew out of a chance remark when Seabrook, dressed down in his usual jeans and T-shirt, was visiting his parents at their home near Salem, New Jersey. His dad recalls his wife telling their son, “John, I know you like to think of yourself as a Bohemian, but at my dinner table you have to wear a coat and tie. Go look in your father’s closet for something to wear.”

By J. I. Merritt ’66

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In Brief

Former chemical engineering professor Bryce Maxwell ’43 *48 died October 24. A research associate at Princeton in 1948, he became an assistant professor in 1953, associate professor in 1957, and full professor in 1966. He was assistant dean in the School of Engineering from 1962—66. He was professor of chemical engineering for polymer studies and chairman of the polymer materials program from 1968—85.

This year the campus is littered with acorns, says James Consolloy, grounds manager at the university. “The bumper crop had a lot to do with the lush spring that we had and then a very dry summer and fall, where we had very little disease which would limit the production. The old-timers would say we are going to have a very wet and snowy winter.” We’ll keep you posted.

Sidney Lapidus ’59 has given to Princeton 35 books important for the history of the Jews in America during the 18th and 19th centuries, including three books by Mordecai Noah, two by Isaac Mayer Wise, and three by women writers.

Edmund Hull ’71 was sworn in on September 17 as ambassador to Yemen. Previously he was the State Department’s coordinator for antiterrorism. After he was sworn in, Hull said that the September 11 attacks “reinforced something that I’ve been aware of for some time. That is, the clear and present danger of terrorism to American interests. It adds urgency to the counterterrorism efforts, and I think Yemen is important because it is an Arab-Islamic country that has said it wants to work with us to counter this terrorism and it has important influence and capabilities.”

The Department of Energy extended its contract with the university for management of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. The contract is worth about $350 million and extends through September 2006. The lab studies fusion plasma with the aim of producing a clean, inexhaustible energy source.

Yale president Richard Levin spoke at the installation of President Tilghman on September 28, and a week later President Tilghman spoke at Yale’s tercentennial convocation. In her address, dotted at times with affectionately wry humor, Tilghman quoted another Princeton president. “One hundred years ago, my predecessor, Francis Patton, saluted Yale’s bicentennial, and as a reminder of the longevity and vitality of this great institution let me read the translation of his Latin salutation: For Yale University — esteemed mother, distinguished in honor, and bound by affection — Princeton University, the eldest of her daughters, with all filial piety expresses the hope of things favorable, felicitous, and fortunate.”

Two deans are planning to step down at the end of the academic year. They are Michael Rothschild of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and James Wei of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Rothschild has been dean since 1995, and will return to full-time research and teaching. During his tenure, the Woodrow Wilson School’s curriculum and research agenda has become more interdisciplinary, collaborative, and international.

In his 10 years as dean at the engineering school, Wei said the most notable change has been a shift from an inward-looking approach to research and teaching to a more consultative style that emphasizes collaborations with other disciplines and with industry.

For readers interested in colonial architecture, the Athenaeum of Philadelphia has published Robert Smith: Architect, Builder, Patriot, 1722—1777, which chronicles Smith’s life and work, which includes Nassau Hall.

An anonymous alumnus of the university has established the Shelton Pitney Professorship in Environmental Studies in the Princeton Environmental Institute. Theodora Pitney was admitted to Princeton for the fall of 1974, but died of Hodgkin’s disease that April. The Pitney chair is held by Professor Ignacio Rodriguez-Iturbe.

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