Students in Rome Experience History in the Making

By Melissa Greco Lopes
Univ. Communications

Over Spring break, five undergrads studying religion and classics under Professor Nick Gresens headed to Rome for a week full of visits to the ancient sites of Cicero and Caesar, where the group would read inscriptions and study the geography and history of locations where Rome’s leaders once convened and shaped the classical world. And, in the surprise of a lifetime, the group also experienced history in the making, as cardinals from around the world gathered in Vatican City to elect the next leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

At around 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 16, Gresens, along with Peter Carlile ’13, Dan Gorman ’14, and Ryan Vogt ’13, made their way to St. Peter’s Square to see the results of the fifth rounding of voting. None of them expected to see white smoke billow from the Basilica.

“At first we weren’t sure if it was white or black smoke. The first puff was grey and then turned to white,” said Carlile, who was among more than 10,000 visitors awaiting the results. “The visceral, emotional response on the square was palpable.”

As the smoke signaled the selection of a new pope, Carlile and Gorman rushed to get as close to the steps of the Basilica as they could. “It was awe-inspiring,” says Gorman, a history and religion major, who took the opportunity to take as many photos as possible.

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: Sasha Tharani ’14 Says Trip a ‘Defining Experience’

Amanda Budreau ’14, a studio arts major studying in Rome for the spring semester, also was able to witness Pope Benedict’s last papal audience. While the excitement was high, with members of the crowd chanting “Viva, Viva, Papa” to the tune of Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” Budreau said comparing it to the selection of the new pope was akin to “comparing an elementary school’s talent show to a Beyonce concert.”

Like Carlile and Gorman, Budreau pushed through the crowd to get a closer glimpse of the new pope. All three were able to view members of the Swiss Guard and hear a formal announcement that Argentinean cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio had been selected the 266th pontiff.

Budreau also noted the reverence amid the celebration of the occasion. “When the Pope asked us to bow our heads, the entire square (which was completely full) was silent, you could hear the sound of the water splashing in the fountains,” she explained. “At the end of his speech, he said goodnight and told us that we could all relax now.”

On Thursday, Meredith Doubleday ’13, along with the other students in Gresens’ course, headed to the Vatican Museums, where they picked up copies of the souvenir newspaper. “It was nice to be in this quiet space,” she said, “reading the paper on the first day after the announcement.”

About the Photos: Pictures 1, 3, 4, 6, and 8 are courtesy of Amanda Budreau, who in addition to witnessing the election of new pope, saw CNN corespondent Anderson Cooper cover the story. Pictures 2, 5, and 7 are courtesy of Dan Gorman. Picture 9, a photo of Nick Gresens and students Meredith Doubleday ’13, Kate Hughes ’13, Ryan Vogt ’13, Peter Carlile ’13, and Dan Gorman ’14, is courtesy of Meredith Doubleday.

1-ab---square

 

2-DG-Crowd

 

4-AB-Crowd

 

5-AB-Basilica

 

6-DG---Pope

 

7-AB---Pope-2

 

8-DG-DG

 

9-AB---Anderson-Cooper

 

10-MD-Pompei

Spotlight on Humanities and Social Science Alumni: Sarah Otto

Name: Sarah Otto
Age: 31
Occupation: Exhibition Coordinator, The Cleveland Museum of Art
Education (UR and additional): B.A. in Religion and Psychology, University of Rochester, 2002; Take Five Scholars, Music as a Universal Language, 2003; Master of Theological Studies, Harvard Divinity School, 2006
Current city/state of residence: Cleveland, OH


Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester?

During my junior year of high school, I was assigned to write a paper for English class in which I researched three different colleges and selected the one that seemed to be the best fit for me. The college I chose was the University of Rochester, which at that time appealed to me for its strengths as a research institution, because I intended to study biology and ultimately pursue a career in genetic research (you’ll notice from my profile information that I wound up on a rather different path!). As a high school senior, I visited the U of R for the first time, and the moment I set foot on campus, I knew it was the place for me. That knowledge wasn’t based on any amount of earlier research or facts of any sort; it was simply an intuition based on the way I felt walking the grounds and touring the buildings. The only way I can describe it is to say I immediately felt at home. I still feel that way about the U of R to this day.

When and how did you choose your major?

In the end, I graduated with a double major in religion and psychology, but I changed my mind more times than I can count. Before I started at the U of R, I planned on majoring in biology. But I’ll never forget when the course catalogue arrived in the mail, the summer before my freshman year. I remember poring over the catalogue and realizing what a wide world had just opened to me. So many interesting subjects – anthropology, psychology, music, religion, philosophy, brain and cognitive sciences – I suddenly felt I had to try them all. I nearly did! By the time I graduated, I had dabbled in every subject listed above, and I had even declared majors that I later “undeclared.” (For those of you who are currently struggling with the decision of a major, rest assured that there is nothing wrong with changing your mind. I’m living proof!) Psychology was one of the subjects I gravitated towards early on, and I wound up sticking with it mainly as an interest (but not a professional pursuit). My introduction to the religion and classics department came through a course taught by Douglas Brooks, The Asian Search for Self. I like to jokingly say that was the course that “converted” me to being a religion major. It inspired me not only to pursue studies of South Asian religions and the Sanskrit language, but also to teach those subjects one day myself (again, you’ll note I wound up doing something a little different).

Who were your mentors while you were on campus? Have you continued those relationships?

The professors at the U of R, in my mind, are all exemplary teachers and mentors. Their passion for teaching and their investment in us as students is something that impresses me to this day. It’s what made me want to be a teacher myself, and although I wound up in a different career, I will always treasure the important relationships I formed with U of R faculty. In particular, Jonathan Geen, who at the time taught Sanskrit in the religion and classics department, became a very close mentor and dear friend over the course of my studies. We remain in contact over email, even though he now teaches at King’s University College in Ontario, Canada. Additionally, I am also still in touch with Daniel Harrison, who taught music theory, which I studied as part of my Take Five Scholars program. Dr. Harrison has also since left the U of R and currently teaches at Yale University.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

Currently I am Exhibition Coordinator for the Cleveland Museum of Art. I have held this position since September 2011; prior to that, I was Exhibits Coordinator for the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University for nearly five years. I discovered the Peabody Museum while studying at Harvard Divinity School; I met with a curator there while researching for a paper, and that conversation got me thinking about a museum career for the first time. That same curator later gave me a work study job in her department, followed by a temporary job after I graduated. My foot now in the door, I floated from one temporary appointment to the next, until the Exhibits Coordinator position was posted, and my boss at the time encouraged me to apply. I knew nothing about exhibition planning and very little about museum procedures in general, but I learned very quickly on the job and had a blast in the process. The position at the CMA was the ideal next step for me, because it represented the opportunity to advance in the museum world as well as cross over into the arts. Additionally, I am originally from the Cleveland area, so I have always admired this museum, and I am also glad to be near family again.

What advice do you have for current students?

Savor every moment! Honestly, you won’t believe how quickly time goes by. My decision to attend the University of Rochester is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and at the risk of sounding cliché, it truly changed my life. There is so much to appreciate about the U of R – the incredible faculty, the beautiful campus, your friendships with fellow students, all of the available programs and resources – and my best advice is really just to take advantage of as much as you can. You won’t regret it.

New Class Explores Religion & Hip Hop

By Caitlin Mack
Univ. Communications

With the addition of the new class “Religion and Hip Hop Culture” this fall semester, the University of Rochester has begun to put academic investment into an important piece of Americana – hip hop – a phenomenon that is slowly but surely catching on at institutions of higher learning across the country.  However, the pairing of these two cultural topics, religion and hip hop, is an unconventional one.  Students posed an important question on the first day of class: how can a whole semester be spent studying the relationship between the two?

“It is the intersection of religion and hip hop that drew many of the students,” explains Associate Professor of Religion, Margarita Guillory, who instructs the class and is a recent addition to the Department of Religion and Classics at the University. “My hope with the class is to show that hip hop culture can serve as an interpretive framework to illustrate the religious views of the artist, including the different ways in which they view religion.”

Guillory’s active teaching style permits open and honest discussion and what she calls “reciprocity between the student and the professor.”  She wants the class to be a “safe space” for people to express their thoughts about religion.

“There is such a broad approach to religion in this course that all types of students can see how religion is illustrated. When you listen to the students, you can actually hear the personal connection with different functions of religion,” Guillory explains.

Students need not be religious or fluent in hip hop culture to take the class, which is designed for students of different backgrounds. Those who grew up without exposure to the music are “blank slates with no preconceived notions” who will “be a bit more open than the student with prior knowledge,” explains Guillory.

Guillory recently completed a doctoral degree in religious studies at Rice University in spring 2011.  Her specialties include American religious history, African American religion, and the intersection of African American religion and American culture, the latter of which is the foundation for “Religion and Hip Hop.”

Notably, there has been a recent increase in the study of hip hop culture in higher education, and Guillory hopes that the University of Rochester will follow suit.  Hip Hop archives were established at Harvard and Cornell universities in 2002 and 2007 respectively, and Cornell has amassed the largest hip hop archive pertaining to the early years of hip hop, called “Born in the Bronx,” in addition to enlisting “grandfather of hip hop” Afrika Bambaataa as a visiting professor for three years.

While completing her degree, Guillory helped teach a class at Rice called “Religion and Hip Hop Culture in America.”  The course, co-taught by visiting professor and rapper Bun B, grew from a roster of about 50 students in 2004 to over 200 students in 2011, becoming the largest humanities class offered at Rice.  This immense popularity is likely attributed to a roster of famed guest speakers, including Mike Epps and Russell Simmons, and a celebrity panel that included artists like Talib Kweli and Lupe Fiasco.

Guillory knew that the “context was right” in her decision to create a similar class at Rochester after her arrival last year.  The religion department was very supportive of her pursuit and aware that she had taught a similar class at Rice.  Furthermore, given the strong music education opportunities associated with the Eastman School of Music and the College’s strong music department, she knew there was a sizeable student population that would be interested in the topic.

Rochester’s academic environment, specifically the open curriculum and the students’ ability to create their own major, also inspired Guillory.  She explains that the academic freedom and the interdisciplinary nature associated with student-crafted majors “creates a space for a class like ‘Religion and Hip Hop Culture’ to exist on this campus.”

Guillory is focused on making the class at Rochester “more robust” by broadening the conception of what religion really is in the context of the “diverse terrain of hip hop culture.”  She hopes the class will show how hip-hop culture can offer an “interpretive lens” for students to analyze artists interpretations of religion and their own environment, including the “humanistically-centered ways” in which people view religion.

Guillory emphasizes that she would like the class to impact the Rochester community, and intends to “bridge the community and the U of R campus” by bringing in a local artist.

According to Guillory, “the class will not analyze ‘every dimension’ of hip hop because there are some parts of the culture that lack religious sensibility.” She acknowledges that there is “definitely a hierarchy of what is publicly displayed” in hip hop; often, popular songs capitalize on the commercialization of “braggadocious” (those who brag about the fame and wealth) artists like Jay-Z or Rick Ross.  Guillory explains, “I’m not arguing that hip hop is religious, but rather that there are certain dimensions of hip hop culture that we can tap into in a very broad way,” such as existential or socially-conscious hip hop.

Guillory was interested in religion at a young age and says she is a “product of the hip hop movement.”  In addition to teaching, she is part a collaborative writing group, “CERCL,” that is currently writing a book called “Breaking Bread, Breaking Beats,” which combines conversation with hip hop artists and the Church about common topics like sexuality and globalization.  She currently serves as co-editor of the Religious Studies Review, and has published several articles and book chapters on various aspects of religion, women studies, and hip-hop. Before pursuing her doctoral degree in 2011 and a master’s degree in theological studies in 2005, Guillory was a high school science teacher for 10 years.

Article and photo provided by Caitlin Mack, an intern in University Communications.

Online Archive Provides a Window on Progressive 19th Century Movements

The University of Rochester recently launched an online archive of manuscripts from the Post family, Rochesterians who were near the center of many of the national movements of the 1800s that helped define their city as one of American’s most progressive.

“Rochester was an epicenter of progressive causes,” says Michael Jarvis, an associate professor of history. As activists during this heady period of reform, the Posts knew well and corresponded with a surprising number of national leaders, from Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony to Sojourner Truth, Harriet Brent Jacobs, and William Cooper Nell.

“They were the Kevin Bacon of the 19th century,” says Jarvis, referring to the famously well-connected Hollywood actor so useful in playing the “six degrees of separation” game of association.

In the early 1840’s the Posts became deeply involved in the anti-slavery movement, using their house at 36 Sophia St., now N. Plymouth Ave., as a very active station on the Underground Railroad, says Lori Birrell, manuscript librarian in Rare Books and Special Collection who has served as co-project manager along with Melissa Mead, director of the Digital Projects Research Center.

“They supported Douglass’s newspaper, the North Star, Amy Post attended the first woman’s rights convention in Seneca Falls in 1848 and introduced fellow Rochesterian Susan B. Anthony to the woman’s rights movement,” says Birrell. “The Posts also participated in the controversial Spiritualist movement in the late 1840s. Begun by the Fox sisters here in Rochester, followers believed that through mediums (Isaac Post eventually believed himself to be a medium) they could communicate with the dead.”

To celebrate the launch of the online archive, scholars and students who have worked with the collection will discussed its significance to local and national history during an event on Thursday, Sept. 13.

The papers cover a full century, from 1817 to 1918, with the majority of the material falling during the nearly 50-year span from 1823 to 1872. They include extensive resources related to the Post’s activities in the abolitionist, Spiritualist, and women’s rights movements. Other topics for which there is significant material are: agriculture, the anti-tobacco movement, childbirth, Chinese immigrants, the Civil War, domestic servants, education, the Friends of Human Progress, freed slaves, Indians, medicine, Quakers, the Reconstruction Era, slavery, and the temperance movement.

The Post papers contain 2,089 letters, manuscripts, newspapers, and other material, and the initial online launch will feature a selection of more than 200 letters. Each letter has been scanned, transcribed, and annotated, a project made possible through the generosity of Randall B. Whitestone ’83 and Lisa T. Whitestone. Eventually the library plans to digitize the entire collection.

To date, students have performed all of the painstaking preparation of the transcriptions. “I had each student select a letter, transcribe it, and do research to explain who is being discussed–and what events,” says Jarvis, who uses the archive as a tool for training graduate students about primary sources. “The students have provided a reader’s guide to make the content of the letter more understandable and useful.”

Margarita Simon Guillory, an assistant professor of religion, also incorporates the collection into her class on Spiritualism. Reading and transcribing these private letters, she says, “humanized” historical figures for the undergraduates in her class. “It was amazing for them,” she says. For example, letters from the Fox sisters, reveal how the famed and widely traveled Spiritualist mediums, were also teenaged girls and sometime lonely. “[A]h how I do wish that you were here,” wrote Catherine Fox to Amy Post in this letter from 1850. “[Y]ou know we always loved you.”

But the collection’s importance extends far beyond the classroom. Guillory uses the archive in her own research on Spiritualism and scholars around the world will find these papers a rich source of social history, she says.

For example, Amy Post was one of the early influences on Susan B. Anthony, encouraging and supporting her in entering the struggle for women’s rights. An organizer of both the Seneca Falls and Rochester conventions in 1848, Post was also an editor of the convention Proceedings published in 1870. In this letter from 1861, Anthony urges Post to gather the names of prominent businessmen, lawyers, and judges for a petition, tells of her visit to their mutual friend and women’s rights activists Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and updates Post on gatherings in Auburn, Boston, and Albany.

Many of the letters are from leaders of the abolitionist movement. For example, Sojourner Truth, an abolitionist and former slave, dictated in this letter sent to Amy Post her experience of being assaulted in Washington, D.C. for trying to ride on a public train. Harriet Jacobs, a former slave and author the first slave narrative to detail the sexual abuse of female slaves, discussed the difficulty of writing about such a sensitive topic in this letter to Post. “[T]here are somethings [sic] that I might have made plainer I know- woman can whisper- her cruel wrongs into the ear of a very dear friend- much easier than she can record them for the world to read.”