Deconstructing America's founders

Historians in Europe may explain national legacies in terms of sweeping social or political movements, but in the United States, collective explanations do not resonate. "We think of individual actions by individual actors," said Alan R. Gibson, a professor at California State University, Chico, who spoke at Robertson Hall Sept. 18 as part of Princeton's commemoration of Constitution Day. For America's founding fathers, reverential best-selling books are only part of the story. Detractors tend to view the founders, particularly those who owned slaves, as hypocrites or worse. Some academics have taken sides in the debate, Gibson said, selectively framing the stories of figures like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington to support specific viewpoints. To get past divisive debates, Gibson urged taking a comprehensive view of the founders and understanding the context of their words and actions. Some details, such as Jefferson's writings on race, may be unsettling, but they cannot be ignored, Gibson said, invoking the words of Immanuel Kant: "Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made."

The James Madison Program and the Program in American Studies co-sponsored Gibson's talk as well as a Sept. 17 lecture by Professor Stanley Katz of the Woodrow Wilson School titled "Who's Afraid of Senator Byrd? Constitutionalism, History and Academic Freedom."

Headless no more

When Herb Hobler '44 snapped a picture of wife Randy, center, in Magdalena Abakanowicz's sculpture Big Figures outside the University Art Museum last spring, his camera picked up one detail that the artist hadn't intended. Hobler does not know the identity of the young man planting his face on the shoulders of the figure on the right and has no idea how he got there. "We didn't even see him at the time," Hobler writes.

Faculty in the news

New York Times "Economics Scene" columnist David Leonhardt spotlighted economics professor Orley Ashenfelter in a Sept. 16 book review about how statistical analysis tends to draw skepticism in fields that typically eschew numbers. Ian Ayres' new book, Super Crunchers, features several examples, including that of Ashenfelter, who developed a method for predicting the quality of Bordeaux wines by using weather data. ... In the wake of the Minnesota bridge collapse, architecture professor Guy Nordenson dissected the structure of bridges in an August broadcast of NPR's "Studio 360." Bridges have "bones" (towers) and "muscles" (cables), he said. "Without the muscles, the skeleton is a heap," Nordenson explained. "It has to do with the fact that there is compression and tension. The compression goes into the bone and the tension goes into the muscle." ... Uwe Reinhardt, the James Madison Professor of Political Economy, wrote an Aug. 28 opinion piece for Forbes about solving the problems of America's healthcare system. ... Chemical engineering professor T. Kyle Vanderlick will become the first female dean of engineering at Yale University, the New Haven Register reported Sept. 7. Vanderlick, who has taught at Princeton since 1998, will begin her new job Jan. 1.

Tiger time

Football fan Lauren Nigro '09 shows her stripes during Princeton's Sept. 15 opener against Lehigh. The Tigers, who shared the Ivy League championship with Yale last year, got off to an inauspicious start when tailback R.C. Lagomarsino '09 fumbled the ball on the first play from scrimmage. Princeton would commit three more turnovers in the first half - two interceptions and another fumble - and fall behind 23-0. The Tigers recovered with three touchdown drives in the second half, but it was too little too late. Lehigh won, 32-21. Defensive back Dan Kopolovich '10 called the Lehigh game a "real eye-opener" in a Sept. 19 press conference. "Everyone is eager to get out on the field now to show that what happened Saturday isn't consistent with how Princeton plays football," he said. Princeton faces Lafayette Sept. 22 at 6 p.m. in Easton, Pa.
Photo by Frank Wojciechowski

More at PAW online

Revisit Reunions 2007 through PAW's exclusive video clips and slide shows. Student filmmaker Noah Arjomand '09 and photographers Ricardo Barros, Beverly Schaefer, and Frank Wojciechowski captured the color and tradition of Reunions and Commencement, from alumni sporting events and the P-rade to the procession of graduates.