Author: Ed Berthiaume

For this seafaring Lawrence alum, life has been one shipwreck after another

John Odin Jensen '87 poses for a publicity photo at the wheel of a ship.
John Odin Jensen ’87 is the author of “Stories from the Wreckage: A Great Lakes Maritime History Inspired by Shipwrecks.” He will return to Appleton Nov. 11 for a book event at the History Museum at the Castle and to speak to Lawrence students.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

John Odin Jensen ’87 knows his way around a shipwreck.

He survived one.

Jensen grew up in Alaska in the 1970s and early ’80s, immersed in his family’s fisheries business, an isolated and often danger-filled upbringing. Then he headed to Lawrence University in 1983, a history major determined to get an education that would allow him to explore a new way of life and leave the seafaring world behind.

Mission accomplished. Sort of.

He did find a new life, earning a bachelor’s degree at Lawrence, a master’s at East Carolina University, and a Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University. He’s now on the history faculty at the University of West Florida.

But he never did escape the sea, or more specifically, his insatiable interest in the sea. The history of North American mariners, ships, and shipwrecks would dominate his career, from working as an engineer aboard a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Great Lakes research vessel to surveying shipwrecks as an underwater archaeologist with the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Now he’s written a book, Stories from the Wreckage: A Great Lakes Maritime History Inspired by Shipwrecks (Wisconsin Historical Society Press). A book tour will bring him to Appleton Nov. 11, where he’ll talk about shipwrecks and Great Lakes history from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the History Museum at the Castle, co-sponsored by Lawrence’s Cheney Fund for Excellence in History. He’ll also meet with Lawrence students in Monica Rico’s Intro to Public History class.

For info on studying history at Lawrence, see here.

We caught up with the Lawrence alumnus in advance of his visit to Appleton, which comes one day after the 44-year anniversary of the 1975 sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior, arguably the most famous Great Lakes shipwreck thanks to singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot and his “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” Jensen talked with us about his own harrowing early adventures at sea and how his academic experiences at Lawrence set the course for what was to come.

Q: You’ve been immersed in maritime history for your entire career. What inspired the book?

A: In terms of the book itself, the inspiration was obligation and gratitude. Early in my career I had the extraordinary opportunity of getting in on the pioneering years of public underwater archaeology in Wisconsin. My work with the Wisconsin Historical Society led me to pursue a Ph.D. in history, and I know it was repeatedly instrumental to my success getting academic positions in a difficult job market. I have preached the gospel of Wisconsin public maritime heritage in classes, academic conferences, heritage policy forums and through public programs across North America from Alaska and Hawaii to New England, as well as internationally.

Everywhere I went, people were surprised and amazed by the Wisconsin/Great Lakes shipwreck heritage story. I wanted the readers of this book, particularly those from Wisconsin, to be equally surprised and enthused about their history and proud of their state’s public investment in preserving it.

Q: Speaking of inspiration. Your family was involved in commercial fisheries. How did growing up in that environment affect the decision to study maritime history?

A: Well, the conceptual underpinnings of the book and nearly all of the deeper ideas and themes I have explored as a scholar are inspired by my experiences growing up on Alaska’s coastal frontier as part of a Norwegian-American seafaring family. I began working with my dad in commercial fishing at a very young age, and this became really the center of my life and identity.

We often worked ridiculous hours; vile weather was pretty routine, and economic uncertainty was the norm. Ships sank and people I knew died — not regularly — but it was not that unusual. Our community was isolated — literally the western end of the American highway systems. The quality of available health care was marginal at best and services limited. The norms of behavior among those in the fishing community were, at minimum, colorful. As a child and young man, I had no grasp of how extreme our lives really were.

I was luckier than many people, but I witnessed and I experienced many things connected with life and work in a coastal community that marked and haunted me. The study of history — not just maritime history — has provided me with endless opportunities to make sense of, and derive positive benefits from, these experiences. 

Q: You are a shipwreck survivor yourself. What did that experience teach you?

A: This is a tough one. The book is a history inspired by shipwrecks. Typical shipwreck books look only at the actual wreck event and their surrounding circumstances.  Although dramatic — it is pretty unsatisfying because the wreck is often only a footnote or afterward in a much richer set of human stories of imagination, innovation, and success.

Like many people from my old walk of life, I have lived the human stories and the shipwreck — but very few people that I know have had the opportunity to spend decades dissecting and learning from these experiences. I have gotten to build a truly great life and a satisfying career on the foundations of one very, very bad day at the office.

Q: Did you come to Lawrence with a maritime history career in mind?

A: Absolutely not. I came to Lawrence during the winter term of 1983 to escape my maritime history. However, I was probably accepted in the first place because of my application essay, where I described how the lessons of my shipwreck experience made me a good fit for Lawrence. I guess it was my first written shipwreck history story.

Q: How did your Lawrence experience later inform your work and your career path?  

A: It was through Lawrence — particularly some amazing faculty — that I eventually learned to see broader value of my early life experiences, and I internalized a liberal arts/interdisciplinary approach to thinking and problem-solving. As a professor at the University of West Florida, I struggle consciously on a daily basis to live up to and pass on the high standards that Lawrence faculty set for academic excellence, professional integrity, and extraordinary mentoring.  

Q: What advice would you give to today’s students interested in history?

A: Now more than ever, the country and the world need people who can think historically and who are historically literate. The person who understands history has real advantages in coping with and finding opportunities in a world of perpetual change. I am biased, but an imaginative and hardworking student who completes a history major at Lawrence University will never lack for meaningful opportunities in the workforce and to make a difference in the world.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Studio Orchestra concert featuring 100-plus musicians to highlight Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend

Tarrel Nedderman takes part in a Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble rhythm section rehearsal in advance of Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend. The LUJE will be part of the Studio Orchestra concert on Nov. 8. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

When the annual two-day Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend kicks off at Lawrence University on Friday, it will be, per usual, a celebration of all things jazz.

But this year’s 39th annual event will be a celebration beyond that, a nod to the jazz program’s rich history in the Conservatory, the wide and deep range of student talent across the Conservatory, and the cherished nature of student-faculty collaborations.

The weekend is focused on jazz education, with students from more than 30 middle and high schools on campus to learn, listen, and practice. But the highlights each year are two public performances in Memorial Chapel. This year features the Lawrence University Studio Orchestra Concert at 7:30 p.m. Friday and the Miguel Zenon Quartet at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The concerts are sponsored by Wisconsin Public Radio.

Members of the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra rehearse in Shattuck Hall.
Members of the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra rehearse in advance of Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend. The LSO will join forces with the Jazz Ensemble for a Studio Orchestra concert Nov. 8 in Lawrence Memorial Chapel. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Friday’s massive music celebration

The Studio Orchestra is a combination of Lawrence’s Jazz Ensemble and Symphony Orchestra, bringing more than 100 musicians to the stage. It also includes contributions from a number of Conservatory faculty members.

It’s a music project that has been talked about for a long time. It’s been a decade or more since something like this has been tried.

“The whole idea kind of evolved,” said Patty Darling, director of the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble (LUJE). “We’ve wanted to combine LUJE and the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra (LSO) for a couple of years now, and when we got together last spring we started out by exploring studio orchestra repertoire.”

Darling, Director of Jazz Studies Jose Encarnacion, Director of Orchestral Studies Mark Dupere, and Director of Bands Andrew Mast all bought in. So did the student musicians and other faculty. Difficult logistics aside, enthusiasm across the Conservatory has continued to grow as the weekend has drawn closer.

“I think both of our groups can learn a great deal from each other even as we work in such different styles,” Dupere said. “I’ve always been drawn to the immediacy of musical expression that jazz performance tends to emit. And in the end, it is just so much fun.”

It was also seen as an opportunity to honor Fred Sturm, the late composer and jazz studies director who founded Lawrence’s Jazz Celebration Weekend in 1981 and set the stage for an event that would bring in such notable performers as Bobby McFerrin, Dizzy Gillespie, Diana Krall, and Branford Marsalis, among others.

“One piece that we absolutely had to include was Terlingua by Fred Sturm,” Darling said of the repertoire for Friday’s concert. “It is so beautiful. We wanted to honor Fred, as he was the founder of Jazz Celebration Weekend and also head of the jazz department for many years, a world-renowned jazz composer and educator, and a dear friend, mentor, and inspiration to us and so many people. From there, we kept expanding the collaboration to involve more faculty and students.”

For more on the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, see here.

José Encarnación, assistant professor of music and director of jazz studies, works with students during a Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble rehearsal. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

The Friday concert will feature works from Sturm, Chuck Owen, Duke Ellington and others. Besides the LUJE and LSO, there will be contributions from the Faculty Jazz Group. It should be a treat for an audience that will include hundreds of middle and high school musicians.

“Not only will they hear a 108-plus-piece studio orchestra with beautiful colors not often used in big band rep, they will also get to experience incredible jazz improvisation by the Faculty Jazz Group — the communication, the connections, free improvisation, in the moment, things that make jazz so exciting,” Darling said.

Getting them all on stage at once might prove to be the biggest challenge.

“Not only are there so many people to fit, but it is also difficult to seat the musicians in a way that they all can hear well,” Dupere said. “In the end, we’ve placed the rhythm section — bass, drums, guitar, and piano — in the middle of the ensemble so that they form a nucleus that the rest of the studio orchestra can gather around and play off of.”

Preparing for the concert has been a logistical juggling act, with smaller group rehearsals interspersed with larger sessions. There have been a lot of moving pieces over the past few weeks.

“The soloists with the rhythm section, the LSO woodwinds with LUJE, our LUJE pianist with Janet Planet and strings — all these components were prepared independently, and now we are in final prep with the combined rehearsals,” Darling said.

It all comes together on Friday night.

For details on jazz offerings at Lawrence, see here.

Portrait of Miguel Zenon sitting with his saxophone.
Miguel Zenon will lead the Miguel Zenon Quartet in a Nov. 9 concert at Lawrence Memorial Chapel, the second night of the Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend.

Saturday’s concert features a saxophone innovator

Come Saturday, the audience will get to hear and experience what is making Miguel Zenon such a rising star. The saxophonist from San Juan, Puerto Rico, has multiple Grammy nominations and Guggenheim and MacArthur fellowships on his resume already.

He’ll lead the Miguel Zenon Quartet in a concert mixing Latin American folkloric music and jazz.

“His music, artist, and genius,” Encarnacion said of what makes the Zenon Quartet special. “They are one unit in complete alignment with the universe.”

In advance of the concert, Zenon will be doing an open sound check and Q&A from 5 to 6 p.m. at Memorial Chapel, a chance for Lawrence musicians and visiting students to interact with him.

“It’s very important that our students get the opportunity to interact with an artist of this caliber,” Encarnacion said. “It is so valuable in so many ways — as a performer, composer, music business person, improviser, entrepreneur, and educator. Miguel can speak to our students and faculty about his experiences and perspectives on all these aspects of being a professional musician.”

Encarnacion said he first encountered Zenon in the early 1990s on a visit to Hato Rey, Puerto Rico, to see an old high school saxophone teacher. The teacher wanted to show off one of his talented young musicians.

“He said, ‘Come here, I want to introduce you to one of my students. This guy is going to be amazing; his name is Miguel Zenon.’ He was right.”

Zenon has released 11 albums through the years and has toured or recorded with the likes of Charlie Haden, Fred Hersch, and The Mingus Big Band, among others.

“I love the way Miguel conceptualizes traditional or folkloric music from Puerto Rico with jazz music,” Encarnacion said. “I love all his recordings. They are always fresh, rooted in the tradition but always moving forward with new sounds, rhythmic complexities, and adventurous musical stories.”

Admission to the Friday and Saturday concerts at the Chapel will be $25-$30 ($20-$25 for seniors, free for students).

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Nobel inspiration: Lawrence scientists, economists embrace new momentum

Megan Pickett, associate professor of physics, stands beside a whiteboard showing some of her astrophysics research in Lawrence University’s Youngchild Hall of Science. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

If you sensed a surge of excitement in recent days coming from the halls of Lawrence University’s Youngchild, Steitz, and Briggs halls, you were not mistaken.

When the Nobel Prizes for chemistry and physics were announced earlier this month, the news hit close to home for a couple of science faculty members and their students, creating momentum for the research they’ve been working on here at Lawrence.

The same can be said for a pair of economics faculty members who have focused their research on topics tied to the groundbreaking Poor Economics, a book that’s been a mandatory read in Lawrence’s Freshman Studies since 2016. More on that later.

The win in chemistry went to three chemists — Stanley Whittingham, John Goodenough, and Akira Yoshino — who were instrumental 30 years ago in the development of the lithium-ion battery, which now powers many of our wireless electronics, most notably cell phones. That’s a subject near and dear to Allison Fleshman, an associate professor of chemistry who has dedicated much of her research over the past two decades to ion mobility, work that could potentially improve the next generation of those lithium batteries.

The win in physics, meanwhile, went to two astronomers — Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz (they split the prize with a cosmologist on a separate project) — who in the mid-1990s discovered a fiery, uninhabitable planet orbiting a distant sun-like star, a breakthrough that set the course for the discovery of thousands of exoplanets in the Milky Way galaxy. Megan Pickett, an associate professor of physics, was fresh off her Ph.D. and working for NASA when word of the discovery came through. She has since spent much of her career studying the formation of those stars and planets, simulating how solar systems are formed.

Both Fleshman and Pickett drew inspiration early in their careers from the groundbreaking work these scientists were doing. To see them now honored with Nobels, well, there were celebrations in recent days to rival those of football fans on a Sunday afternoon.

“As soon as the Nobels were announced, my Facebook was a flutter with all of my old colleagues from graduate school and my post-doctoral work,” Fleshman said. “We were all very, very excited. There’s a subgroup of scientists, and we were just going absolutely bonkers when we heard. And I may have run through the hallway shouting, ‘lithium for the win.’”

Pickett had a similar response when the physics award was announced, not just because she was happy for Mayor and Queloz but also because of the momentum and validation it provides for the science she and her students are doing in Youngchild.

“I was wondering when this group would get the Nobel Prize,” she said.

How solar systems form

It was in 1995 when Mayor and Queloz first announced the discovery of the Jupiter-like planet, having tracked a periodic wobble in the colors of light from the star that indicated a planet was circling. They determined it to be a four-day orbit. Scientists at the time already believed there were planets other than Earth that were orbiting sun-like stars. But they had no proof. And then they did.

“The scientific community was skeptical, as it ought to be with new discoveries like this,” Pickett said. “There had been a lot of false discoveries and false alarms in the past. But this stood the test of time. And as people started using this method, more and more solar systems were found. We now know of 4,000 planets that orbit stars.”

Learn more about Physics at Lawrence here.

Pickett had just finished her Ph.D. at Indiana University earlier that year and was working at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. She remembers hearing the news of the discovery like it was yesterday.

“I was in the space science research laboratory,” she said. “The entire floor that I was on, mostly theoretical astrophysicists, were running down the halls excited about this. Everyone at first was trying to show that it was wrong, but they were really excited. They were either excited one way or the other. If it was right, we would finally have proof that there were planets outside our solar system. And it turned out to be right.

“And it turned out to be the kind of stuff I was interested in studying. So, I was very lucky in terms of my career, being in the right place at the right time studying the right thing.”

Scientists now believe that the number of planets in our galaxy could number in the billions.

“Twenty years ago, or 25 years ago, you would have been laughed off the stage if you had said something like that,” Pickett said. “Now people are taking it very seriously based on the statistics we’ve seen.

Allison Fleshman, associate professor of chemistry, stands for a portrait in her lab in Lawrence University’s Steitz Hall of Science. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

The study of ions

Meanwhile, over in the Steitz chemistry labs, Fleshman and her students are busy talking about the charge that the Nobel announcement has given their work. They aren’t necessarily doing lithium battery research per se, but they’re studying a piece of the process that could affect the ongoing development of the battery technology. Fleshman has been doing research in and around that topic since her doctoral studies at the University of Oklahoma.

“Part of my Ph.D. was in developing a new way of describing ion transport, which is what this field of research is called,” Fleshman said. “Ion transport is how well the ions can move, or their mobility between two electrodes. If you have an electric field, how well can the ion adjust to responses in that electric field?”

Learn more about Chemistry at Lawrence here.

Keeping that and related research alive could one day lead to changing the electrolyte — the chemical medium that carries the positively charged lithium ions — from a liquid to a solid, eliminating potential issues related to leakage or expansion in the battery.

“That would be kind of like the Holy Grail,” Fleshman said. “That’s the next big thing. Until then, the idea is to improve the material that carries the charge. My students and I apply a new model to describing that transport.”

The Nobel for the lithium-ion battery is a momentum changer in part because it’s something people can relate to. They may not understand the science behind it, but they appreciate the rapid advances in the cell phone and other electronic tools that they can hold in their hands. The message from Fleshman is simple — we’re not done yet.

“Once it gets to the consumer’s hands I think people assume there is no more innovation to be made,” she said. Not true. While the Nobel award acknowledges that the work of Whittingham, Goodenough, and Yoshino was cutting edge, there are a lot of questions yet to be answered.

“If you’re in the field, you know these questions,” Fleshman said. “You know there are limitations with the electrolyte. There’s a misunderstanding about why lithium moves. There are misunderstandings of how lithium interacts with the electrolyte as a whole.”

The possibilities for the next generation of lithium batteries are just now being explored, and it’s more than just making our electronic toys run faster. The prospect of communities redirecting some of their energy usage in more sustainable ways is in play.

“The Nobel puts those questions on the international stage,” Fleshman said of the continued study of lithium technology. “I think it gets more people interested, people who thought the technology was basically at its end. We’ve made a lithium battery. It works great. My cell phone stays charged for forever. But there is so much more innovation to be had.

“There are really good scientists out there trying to answer the question of how can we redirect our energy demands to energies that are sustainable, and rewarding those scientists with a Nobel is yet another way of saying we need a global conversation about renewable energy sources,” Fleshman said.

The book on development economics

When the winner of the Nobel in economics was announced, you might have heard a smattering of applause across campus. The work of development economists Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo of M.I.T. and Michael Kremer of Harvard is plenty familiar to students and faculty here. The 2011 book from Banarjee and Duflo, Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty, has been part of Freshman Studies since 2016, meaning most every current Lawrence student has dissected the book at some point over the past four years, or will next term.

Dylan Fitz
Hillary Caruthers

The book — and now the Nobel – has shined a light on the growing field of development economics. In this case, it’s the work of economists who zero in at the micro level in the study of poverty and other economic issues in developing countries, gathering and using specific on-the-ground data to analyze outcomes. Instead of taking a big picture view, they run real-world trials of local groups or communities to test how certain factors — be it in the areas of education, health care, food, family planning or others — are affecting the economics of a region.

Nowhere on the Lawrence campus was the applause for the Nobel louder than in the offices of Hillary Caruthers and Dylan Fitz, both assistant professors of economics who specialize in the micro approach to development economics. Both have counted the Poor Economics authors and Kremer as role models since their graduate school days a decade ago, even before the book was published.

“I do find it extremely validating,” Caruthers said of the Nobel announcement. “It’s exciting that when you look at all of the Nobel laureates going back through time, this is by far the closest to our research. So, it’s exciting to see people be honored who we have admired and who have inspired us in our field of study and have really shaped the field so much. It’s like seeing our idols rewarded for their work.”

Learn more about Economics at Lawrence here.

Caruthers and Fitz said they both were driven to pursue development economics on the micro level because it is so tightly tied to the people affected. It is analysis of open-ended micro data from individuals and households with an expectation that it’ll add to the larger economics conversation, and, in the end, help improve living conditions.

It’s not that the more macro approach to development economics isn’t valuable, Fitz said. It’s just the micro approach and what it can bring to the table is another important piece, and it’s what drew him to the field.

“The type of work in Poor Economics is why I’m an economist,” he said.

Some of the research done by Caruthers, for example, has focused on how poor nutrition in utero can affect someone through life. That touches on the same themes explored in Poor Economics, studying how early health care, or lack thereof, can have ramifications that affect one’s ability to ever escape poverty.

“Economics is a social science, of course, but often it’s easy to forget that we are ultimately interested in people and the well-being of humans,” Caruthers said. “So, de-emphasizing systems and instead emphasizing that micro impact is very appealing to me as a scholar.”

Poor Economics has been a great fit for Freshman Studies, introducing non-economics students to a part of the economics curriculum many don’t know exists.

“A lot of freshmen come in and they don’t know what economics is,” Fitz said. “Some of them think it is just business or just defending free markets, which is not at all the case. Economics is something that can help us make the world a better place — to try to understand the world first of all, and then to improve it for people.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

5 favorite ways Lawrentians get into the Halloween spirit on campus

Two pumpkins with Lawrence logos painted on them rest among the leaves on Main Hall Green.
Happy Halloween from Lawrence University. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

Even in the midst of fall midterms, Lawrentians are never too busy to get into the Halloween spirit.

As the holiday draws near, students can be seen spreading Halloween cheer all around campus with a variety of fetes and frights. So warm up that mug of apple cider, put the finishing touches on that costume, and check out some of the favorite ways Lawrence students celebrate Halloween. You might just be inspired to join us.

1. CORE group trick-or-treating

On the Monday before Halloween, CORE leaders and their groups of first-years don costumes and head out for CORE trick-or-treating, a beloved Lawrence Halloween tradition. Starting at 9 p.m., the students go door-to-door for treats at the homes of Lawrence faculty near campus. President Mark Burstein’s home is a popular stop along the way.

The route ends with an afterparty in Memorial Hall, where students can hang out and eat their candy after all the fun.

2. Halloween parties

In the weeks preceding Halloween, students across campus organize their own Halloween-themed parties. These gatherings range from scary movie watch parties to full-blown costume bashes. It’s all about taking a break from midterm stress and spending time with friends.

3. Haunted house trip

Are you feeling brave? Each year, students in search of scares are invited on a road trip to a haunted house in Green Bay. This popular event has limited spots that fill up fast, so it’s important to sign up and pay the $5 fee as early as you can. Bringing along some friends makes for an extra memorable experience. This year’s trip already happened, but there are plenty of haunted houses in the area if you and your friends want to venture out on your own. They continue through Halloween weekend.

4. October Festival

The Diversity and Intercultural Center hosted an evening of festive fun in celebration of October. Students enjoyed caramel apples and root beer floats while designing skeletons and paper lanterns. What better way to wind down halfway through the term?

5. Pumpkin carving

Maybe parties and haunted houses aren’t your thing. Some Lawrentians spend a relaxing afternoon carving or painting pumpkins with friends. A variety of Jack-o-lanterns can now be seen near the entryways of residence halls and on the doorsteps of campus houses.

Isabella Mariani ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

Columbia professor returns to Lawrence to talk on rise of “identity politics”

John Huber ’84

John Huber ’84, a professor of political science at Columbia University, will deliver a talk Tuesday on the rise of populist appeals that focus on “identity politics.”

Huber will present his talk as part of Lawrence’s Povolny Lecture Series in International Studies. The talk, Trump, Le Pen and Brexit: Inequality and Right-wing Populism, will be at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Wriston Art Center at Lawrence. It is free and open to the public.

In democracies around the world, there has been a rise in populist appeals that focus on “identity politics,” with a strong voting component based on race, religion, ethnicity and/or national identity, Huber says. This phenomenon influenced the election of President Donald Trump, the Brexit vote, the support for Marine Le Pen in France and the rise of right-wing parties across Europe. Why is this occurring, and what are the consequences?  

Huber will argue that the rise of identity-based populism can be linked to the parallel rise of economic inequality around the world. His talk will focus on this dynamic and its implications for ways we might address both the rise of populism and the rise of inequality in Europe and the world today.

Huber’s teaching and research focuses on the comparative study of democratic processes. His recent studies have focused on a range of topics, including bureaucratic politics, civil war, inequality, ethnic politics, the politics of redistribution, and the role of religion in elections. He is the author of three books from Cambridge University Press as well as numerous articles. Huber served as chair of Columbia’s political science department for six years, and he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2013.

Lighting the Way With … Terry Moran: Amid chaos, storytelling is alive and well

Terry Moran looks at a display of bees with biology professor Israel Del Toro on the set of the 2019 Giving Day webcast.
Terry Moran ’82 (left) shares a moment with biology professor Israel Del Toro during the 2019 Giving Day at Lawrence.

About this series: Lighting the Way With … is a periodic series in which we shine a light on Lawrence alumni. Today we talk with ABC News correspondent Terry Moran ’82, who returned to campus recently to host our live Giving Day webcast.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Terry Moran ’82 is enjoying his return to the United States.

The ABC News correspondent spent more than five years living and working in London before he and his family moved back to Washington, D.C., in August 2018. With his daughter, Madeleine Moran ’18, now counted among Lawrence alumni and his three youngest children — ages 7, 5, and 3 — now in or nearing elementary school, the home neighborhood beckoned. Not to mention the unfolding political drama that consumes Washington these days, a draw for any journalist with a love of history and politics.

“Living in London was an adventure, a great adventure,” Moran said. “But it was time to come home.”

Moran, an English major while at Lawrence, moved to D.C. after graduation and wrote for The New Republic and other news magazines for a decade, then transitioned to TV, first covering high-profile criminal trials for five years for Court TV — O.J. Simpson and the Menendez brothers, among others — and then going to work for ABC News for the past two decades. He co-anchored Nightline and spent nearly six years as the network’s chief White House correspondent before taking the overseas assignment in London.

“I’m kind of covering the whole city now,” Moran said of his return to D.C. “It’s really nice that I’m not assigned to one particular building. I’m at the White House a couple times a week. I’m over at Capitol Hill, I’m out on the campaign trail. I get to do the whole smorgasbord of political news, which I enjoy a lot.”

While back at Lawrence for Giving Day, the Chicago native chatted about his career, how his time at Lawrence ignited his love of journalism, and why he thinks all the turmoil in the media world might be a good thing in the long run.

On finding his career path

“Lawrence changed me in a lot of ways,” said Moran, who arrived as a freshman in 1978. “I had a career path in mind. I wanted to be a lawyer or something like that. … But then I started working at the Lawrentian, and had fun with that. A lot of fun. … The Lawrentian was where I got the bug. The Lawrentian taught me a lot. It was the thrill of it, the thrill of making a difference in your community with storytelling through news. It was exciting to see people pick it up.”

That experience, he said, led to post-graduation efforts to land a job with a news magazine. When initial rejections rolled in, he moved to D.C., took a bartending job, and started pitching story ideas to the editors at The New Republic.

“I wrote my way into a job at the magazine,” he said.

That and other magazine work led to Court TV, which led to ABC News.

Terry Moran poses with four Lawrence students in Andrew Commons.
Terry Moran ’82 met with students at Andrew Commons while on campus for Giving Day.

On how his liberal arts education continues to inform his work

“It was that sense that the world was available and fascinating and you could open your mind to it and go for it,” Moran said. “That is one of the things that drove me to journalism. It was Lawrence. Being able to write and think analytically is one of the things I learned to do here, and that was invaluable. It still is to this day.

“As a liberal arts grad, you learn how to learn. And how to express yourself and how to think about what you’re experiencing. I call on that every day. The qualities of empathy and looking past just the moment or the headline and seeing into the story. I think that comes from here.”

On covering politics during the Trump presidency

“It’s like drinking from a fire hose,” Moran said. “It’s hard to keep your perspective. One of the things that I think was helpful for me is that I had been overseas for five years. So, not every day felt like the end of the world. I did feel like journalism in general, much of it, had decided their job was either to fight Donald Trump or to cheer for Donald Trump rather than to cover Donald Trump. … I felt like everybody on all sides needed to calm down a little bit. (Trump) thrives on the chaos and our attention to the chaos and the conflict, and I like to say the real hack of the 2016 election was not what the Russians did to the DNC but what Donald Trump did to the media. He became the major producer of media in a way that no other politician had.”

As wild as the ride is, there is history happening, for better or worse, Moran said.

“As a student of American history, this is a thrilling time to be a political journalist,” he said. “Something big is happening in our country. Whatever you think of it, this is a huge, transitional moment in our country.”

Terry Moran ’82 has been with ABC News for 22 years.

On the rapidly shifting dynamics of the media landscape

“It felt like over the last 20 years the mainstream media was dying, and I know some people say it still is and they’re rooting for it to die, but, actually, it kind of feels like we came through the eye of a needle,” Moran said. “There were budget cuts and staff cuts and more budget cuts and more staff cuts and it became harder to tell the stories you wanted to tell. But now with all of these digital platforms and social media platforms and docs and ABC News as a news provider on Hulu, all these different places, it’s like all of a sudden, the horizon is opening again.”

Being a legacy brand, be it network news or a daily newspaper or a news magazine, carries some burdens as you compete with newer and sometimes more nimble outlets, but it also can be a huge advantage amid all the media upheaval, Moran said. People will often look to something familiar, something they can trust.

“All that being said, I think we’re on a learning curve,” he said. “The audience and us. It’s really hard; it’s a steep learning curve with the pace of technological and media change. It might get worse before it gets better, but at the core I don’t think one election changed the American people. And I don’t think one election changed human nature. People still look for information they can count on. So, the good stuff will find a way to its audience, and people will learn how to read through the noise and the chaos. I’m confident of that.”

On his message to college students interested in journalism

“I think there is tremendous opportunity for the next generation of journalists because the cost of entering journalism is practically zero,” Moran said. “It’s your cell phone and a wireless package. As long as you can do that, you can make journalism. Now, can you make it pay? That’s the question.”

The paths to get there are many, he tells students. The tools at their disposal are changing and morphing and expanding by the day. But the tools are just tools. Do you have a story worth telling and the know-how, perspective, and confidence to tell it?

“I always tell young people, there are only two things you really need,” Moran said. “You need to know your stuff and care about it. And that is what people will respond to. Whatever the media, whatever the platform, if people can sense you know what you’re talking about and that it matters to you, they will lean in.

“Start doing it. Right now. If you want to make documentaries, go make documentaries with your phone. You love your community? You love issues that are hot in our country right now? Go tell a story about it. Put it on your phone. For the first two of them, throw them out. And then the next one will be better. And you’ll get better at it. … You can now have that in such a ready and instant way. Of course, there’s a downside to that. There’s a lot of dumb stuff out there. Just don’t be dumb.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Fire-damaged home on Union Street to be demolished in coming days

Photo of exterior of home at 229 N. Union St., Appleton.
The home at 229 N. Union St. was severely damaged in a fire in October 2018.

The Lawrence-owned house on Union Street that was to be restored and used as a home for the provost and dean of faculty will instead be torn down due to damage from a fire a year ago.

The house, owned by Lawrence since 1928, has great historic significance. But efforts to restore it following the fire have proven not to be viable. Construction Project Manager Joseph King said the announcement comes with much “sadness.”

The following letter from King is being sent to City Park Historic District neighbors and local community leaders regarding plans to demolish the property at 229 N. Union Street:

We write today with the announcement that we’ve made a very difficult decision regarding the Lawrence-owned property at 229 N. Union St. The home, which suffered extensive damage in an October 2018 fire, will be torn down in the coming days, and the property will be returned to green space.

The decision to demolish the home follows a year of study by architects, engineers, and City of Appleton inspectors. We explored an assortment of options for renovating or restoring the home. In the end, the fire damage was too extensive to make the house viable. It is with great sadness that we have made the necessary arrangements to have the home demolished.

We are notifying the Lawrence community and neighbors because we understand and appreciate the historical significance of this home. It was built in 1901 and has been owned by Lawrence since 1928, serving a variety of purposes through the years. Perhaps most noteworthy, Attic Theatre was founded in this home. We celebrated that history a little more than two years ago when we had the 2,700-square-foot home moved a block down Union Street.

Unfortunately, the damage from the fire last fall was too much to overcome. The fire occurred while a contractor was working on renovations. The contractor’s insurance is covering the loss and the demolition. At the time of the fire, Lawrence was preparing the home to become the residence for the provost and dean of faculty. Alternative housing arrangements have been made.

A small slice of Appleton and Lawrence history will be lost with the demolition. For that, we are heartbroken and know that those who appreciate that history are feeling the same.

Microsoft president at LU: Tech industry needs “best of humanity” to help guide it

Microsoft President Brad Smith sits in a chair on stage as he talks with the audience in Stansbury Theatre.
Brad Smith, president of Microsoft Corp., discusses his new book, “Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age,” Friday morning in Stansbury Theatre at Lawrence University. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Brad Smith is a tech guru. His title, president of Microsoft Corp., would tell you that.

But he’s also a student of history and a writer, a thread that was front and center as he spoke Friday morning to a packed Stansbury Theatre on the Lawrence University campus, drawing on parallels between lessons learned in the 20th century and the anxieties that come with new frontiers in artificial intelligence, facial recognition technology, and the explosion of data science.

As he does in his new book, Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age, Smith compared the needed expansion of broadband access into still-underserved rural communities to the electrifying of rural America in the 1930s and ’40s. And he said the transformation of our daily lives by artificial intelligence over the next 30 years will have similarities to the arrival of the combustion engine in the first half of the 20th century. But with AI comes the potential for abuse that could rock the world in ways we don’t yet fully understand.

“The book is really about the collision between technology and society,” Smith said.

A 1977 graduate of Appleton West High School, the 60-year-old Smith returned to his hometown as part of a book tour with co-author Carol Ann Browne. He was introduced by Brian Pertl, the dean of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music who previously spent 16 years at Microsoft, serving as manager of the tech giant’s Media Acquisitions Group.

Smith was then joined on stage by host Scott Corry, a Lawrence professor of mathematics, who said Tools and Weapons carries a message about the evolution of the tech industry and the people it will employ in the future, something that should get the attention of today’s students no matter their field of study.

“The challenges laid out touch not only everyone in this room but everyone on the planet,” Corry said. “What I was impressed with in the book was the focus on how all sorts of other skills need to be put in place if we’re going to solve these problems. Among those are the ability to communicate across groups and understand other cultures, global relations, and policy. These are all things that we put front and center here at Lawrence as a liberal arts school.”

Smith echoed that sentiment, saying the liberal arts approach is already alive and growing in the tech sector, with new hires coming in with backgrounds in philosophy, history and music, among others. Data scientists and software engineers are important, but it’s not their game alone.

“The future of technology and future of these issues is going to be much more multi-disciplinary,” Smith said.

Brad Smith laughs with students from Appleton West High School on the Stansbury Theatre stage.
Microsoft President Brad Smith shares a laugh with students from Appleton West High School on the stage of Stansbury Theatre following his book discussion. He graduated from West in 1977. The school, he said, set him on his career course.

Find more photos from Brad Smith’s visit to Lawrence here.

The coming boom in artificial intelligence means this is the first generation creating machines with the power to make significant decisions previously handled solely by humans. That’s a huge responsibility, with all sorts of technical and ethical trouble spots to navigate, Smith said.

“Once you put it in those terms, you realize that you hope these machines will make decisions that will reflect the best of humanity,” he said. “And how do we bring the best of humanity into technology, into these products? Well, it has to be with more than just computer and data science. It has to be with a sense of social sciences and a sense of history and the humanities.”

Smith pointed to advancements that have been made in facial recognition technology. It’s already being used for good in some sectors. He noted its seemingly simple use in unlocking a phone or laptop, but also more expansive uses in hospital emergency rooms, where it can potentially help reconnect families when someone has gone missing.

But the prospect for abuse of the technology, including a breach of privacy, is very real and must be addressed, Smith said.

“Our argument is that people should have the opportunity to know when there are facial recognition systems at work,” he said.

And then there is the concern of authoritarian governments using facial recognition systems to control the populace.

“Even though it’s completely unprecedented, it is not unimaginable because it was completely imagined — 70 years ago when George Orwell wrote his novel, 1984,” Smith said. “You might remember the description of Big Brother in that book. There’s a scene where the only way people could organize themselves civically and politically was literally to find their way separately to a blackened-out room and then communicate by tapping on each other’s wrists in code.”

Don’t discount that as mere fiction, Smith said.

“We are heading rapidly into a world where there are cameras everywhere, there are microphones everywhere, and it raises fundamental constitutional questions and human rights questions about how facial recognition will be used by governments around the world,” he said. “And these are fundamental issues for tech companies. We have to decide, what are the lines we are prepared to draw? We’ve stood as a company as saying there must be lines that we draw if we are going to ensure that this technology protects people and that it’s not a weapon to subvert them.

“It’s going to take more than companies standing up. You can never get every company to stand together. It’s going to take the democratic countries of this world to stand up. This is potentially the greatest tool that an authoritarian regime has ever had at its disposal and could fundamentally change the character of human rights protections around the world if we don’t act quickly to address it.”

Hence the title of the book, Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age. The issues surrounding new technology are, well, complicated.

“I think it’s actually fitting that we’re having this conversation in a conservatory,” Smith said. “All of these things [at a liberal arts college] reflect the various parts of humanity that need to come together.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

“Ten Thousand Birds” to take flight again, this time on Sunday in Green Bay

A Lawrence student performs in "Ten Thousand Birds" in the Warch Campus Center.
“Ten Thousand Birds” was performed last Sunday in Lawrence University’s Warch Campus Center. It will be presented again at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20 at the Green Bay Botanical Garden.

If you missed the performance of “Ten Thousand Birds” on Sunday — or would love a second look in a new setting — you are in luck.

The piece from Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams was performed Sunday by Lawrence Conservatory of Music students in Warch Campus Center (originally planned for Main Hall Green, it was moved indoors due to inclement weather). It will get a second performance at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Green Bay Botanical Garden, located 30 miles north of Appleton. 

Here’s a photo gallery of scenes from Sunday’s performance in Warch.

“Ten Thousand Birds” is a soundscape experience of bird songs and other natural sounds, played by 40 musicians on percussion and wind instruments, strings and piano, a celebration of music and nature. It’s designed to feature natural sounds from the region where it’s being performed. In this case, it’ll be the sounds of animals native to the Midwest or which migrate through the region.

Audience members are free to move about, walking amongst the musicians and choosing their own pathways through the concert in order to create an individual experience of the music.

Directors of the Lawrence University New Music Ensemble, Michael Clayville and Erin Lesser, brought “Ten Thousand Birds” to campus after premiering it with their award-winning group, Alarm Will Sound. The group commissioned Adams to write a piece for them in 2014, intrigued by the “sound worlds” he so masterfully creates in his compositions. What they received was a “folio” of bird songs, an open-ended score that was intended to be performed outdoors, and arranged in any way the ensemble wished.

Take a listen to a snippet from rehearsal of “Ten Thousand Birds.”

Path to Trump? Podair co-authors book that finds answers in legacy of Spiro Agnew

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Nearly three years ago, in the early morning hours of Nov. 9, as the results of one of the most stunning election nights in U.S. history began to come into focus, Jerald Podair sent an urgent email to two fellow history scholars.

They were his co-authors on a book project, in its early stages, about Spiro Agnew, the oft-dismissed former vice president who they believe served as a harbinger for the modern Republican party.

“Our book just became very, very relevant,” Podair wrote in that email as the clock ticked past 3 a.m. and it became clear that Donald Trump would become the nation’s 45th president.

Three tumultuous years later, that book, Republican Populist: Spiro Agnew and the Origins of Donald Trump’s America, has arrived, set to be published Oct. 18 by University of Virginia Press.

Portrait of Jerald Podair in Main Hall.
Lawrence University history professor Jerald Podair partnered with two other history scholars on a new book on Spiro Agnew, detailing how Richard Nixon’s one-time vice president set a path to the era of Donald Trump. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

In the book, Podair, the Robert S. French Professor of American Studies and professor of history at Lawrence University, and co-authors Zach Messitte, president of Ripon College, and Charles J. Holden, professor of history at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, detail how the ascent of Trump and his populist base can be traced back to Agnew, whose political star burned bright briefly in the late 1960s and early 1970s before crashing hard.

Agnew was much maligned in his day and is often referenced among the worst vice presidents in history. But Podair, Messitte, and Holden argue that historians and political observers need to take a closer look. Agnew’s populist “everyman” appeal, his very public disdain for political correctness and the academic class, his depictions of the media as the enemy, and his ability to rally supporters by railing against uncomfortable cultural change woke up a political base that would eventually lead the Republican party into the era of Trump.

Agnew was considered a joke by many political pundits of the day when Richard Nixon surprisingly tabbed him as his running mate in 1968. Time magazine called him “a narrow and dangerous man with a genuine capacity for bigotry.”

“That’s how he was viewed,” Podair said. “Just like Donald Trump is viewed in many ways today. But, like Trump, Agnew had much more substance to him and really had a powerful populist message that resonated very deeply with middle Americans at the time — the Trump voters we’d call them today — and may very well have swung the 1968 election to Nixon.”

Interest in the book is already ramping up. An op-ed about Agnew written by the three co-authors appeared in the Baltimore Sun in late September and has since been picked up by numerous other media outlets across the country. A book event featuring Podair, Messitte, and Holden is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Oct. 28 in the Warch Campus Center Cinema at Lawrence.

The timing of the book’s release, just weeks after Democrats in the House launched an impeachment inquiry against Trump, should give it prime exposure. It wasn’t necessarily planned that way.

Podair, Messitte, and Holden began conversing about the Agnew book before Trump even declared his bid for the presidency. Its focus was more about Agnew’s role in the transition of the Republican party from one focused on economics and the business elite to one focused on cultural unease and an angry populist reaction.

Messitte and Holden have long studied the political waters of Maryland, from whence Agnew emerged. And Podair is well-versed in the politics and cultural dynamics of the 1960s and the various arcs and swings of politics through the 20th century.

Thus, they agreed to team up on a book project that they believed was important, whether Trump was in play or not.

“We divided the book into sections,” Podair said. “My portion was to explain how the Republican party changed from the 1930s, when it was viewed as the party of the economic elite, to the 1960s, the late ’60s, when it began to be viewed as the party of the average man, the working man. Not necessarily economically populist, but certainly culturally populist.”

The Democratic party, meanwhile, had seen its own role reversal, becoming the party of “cultural elitism” in the 1960s as the country navigated race riots, student rebellions and an anti-war movement that divided much of the country, Podair said.

“Spiro Agnew was uniquely positioned to take advantage of that,” he said.

Agnew would become Nixon’s “point of the spear,” Podair said, ridiculing protesters in often crude and seemingly mean-spirited ways, all the while working up what was a growing base of resentment against the cultural transformations that were taking place in the U.S.

“That flies in the face of the traditional view of Agnew as some bumbling, inarticulate clown,” Podair said. “He did say some things that were gaffes. But there was much more to him than these gaffes, which is what the media focused on. He was able to bring a culturally populist message to the American people and get people who had normally voted for Democrats their whole lives — the New Deal Democrats — and get them to vote for Republicans. And that’s the way I think he shifted the political ground.”

If that sounds very much like 2016, Podair said you are not wrong, and that’s why historians and others who are studying the unfolding drama that is the Trump presidency would do well to zero in on Agnew, from the time he first garnered attention as a national political figure in the late 1960s to his resignation from the vice presidency in late 1973 amid revelations that he committed income tax fraud while governor of Maryland.

“When Trump took the escalator ride and started speaking the way he did, he was really tapping into a welter of cultural resentments,” Podair said. “Whatever you want to call his typical voter — blue collar white voter or alienated working class voter — well, he was tapping into a welter of cultural resentment that Agnew had definitely tapped into. And I would argue that if you took the name off of Agnew’s speeches and updated it a little — obviously there was no Twitter in those days and the media that Agnew was railing against was the three networks, that’s it — these are words that Donald Trump could have spoken.”

All the more reason for historians to take a deeper dive into the makings of Agnew, Podair said. With an impeachment inquiry under way, a 2020 election campaign heating up, and emotions running high, Trump is a daily fixation, for better or worse. Republican Populist may provide a little context as to how we got here.

“Our general thesis is, if you want to understand where Donald Trump came from, he didn’t come out of nowhere,” Podair said. “He has, in fact, deep roots in the changes in the Republican party that go back more than 50 years. If you want to understand Donald Trump, you’ve got to understand Spiro Agnew. He is actually a pivotal figure, and, I think, a very understudied and underrated political figure.”

Book event: A book discussion featuring Podair, Messitte, and Holden will be held at Lawrence University on Oct. 28. The Main Hall Forum begins at 4:30 p.m. in the Warch Campus Center Cinema. It is free and open to the public.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu