What are Faculty Shop Talks all about?


A Call for Papers


Fall 1999 Schedule

Spring 2000 Schedule


Past Shop Talks



Fall 1999 Schedule

Presenter: Elizabeth Baer

Title: Ravensbrück Memoir: Testimony of a Survivor Imprisoned for Catholic Resistance Work

Time and Place: October 15, 1999 at 4:30 pm in the Interpretive Center


My presentation will focus on the volatile issues involved in preparing for publication (by Wayne State University Press in 2000) an edition of a memoir by a non-Jewish survivor: is it a "Holocaust" memoir? Is gender a valid category of analysis? Here is a summary of the memoir in question: On February 4, 1941, Nanda Herbermann, a 38 year-old Catholic German who worked as a free-lance writer and editor, was arrested by the Gestapo in Münster, Germany. Accused of collaboration with the Catholic resistance, Herbermann was deported to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp for Women in July 1941. On March 19, 1943, Nanda Herbermann was released from Ravensbrück upon direct orders by the Reichsführer of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, who had been petitioned by Nanda’s brother Heinz Herbermann, a German soldier.

Privileged to return home in the midst of the war, but under strict orders from the Gestapo not to reveal information about the camp, Herbermann soon began to record her memories of her experiences there on paper. One of the first concentration camp memoirs to appear in print, The Blessed Abyss: Inmate #6582 in Ravensbrück Concentration Camp for Women was originally published as Der Gesegnete Abgrund: Schutzhäftling #6582 im Frauenkonzentrationslager Ravensbrück under the imprint of the Allied occupying forces in 1946.

Herbermann constructed her memoir as a morality tale for middle-class Germans in the immediate postwar period. Presenting herself as both a member of the collective German nation and as a victim of Nazi crimes, Herbermann sought to show her readers that the Nazis were evil by proving to them that even "good Germans" (such as herself) were persecuted during the Third Reich.

Herbermann also sought to provide a detailed portrait of life in Ravensbrück. She presents a great deal of invaluable historical information about the daily operations in the largest camp for women. At the same time, she was cognizant of contributing to the project of shaping German memory about the Third Reich and the Holocaust through the presentation of her own narrative, which reveals her efforts to reconstruct her personal identity in the aftermath of her experiences in the camp. Defined by the Nazis as a political prisoner because of her work with anti-Nazi Catholics, Herbermann was forced to question her religious, gender and national identities. It is this ambivalence at the heart of her narrative--about her competing identities and her victim status--that make her memoir compelling and informative.

Presenter: Brian O'Brien

Title: A Pyrophoric Affair - Phosphorus Chemistry for the New Millennium

Time and Place: October 29, 1999 at 4:30 pm in the Interpretive Center


Phosphorus, a highly reactive element, was first isolated in pure form in 1669 by Hennig Brand, through thermal reduction of several dozen pails of fermented human urine. Brand found that his new discovery had many peculiar properties, including pyrophoricity (spontaneous flammability) and phosphorescence (a term to which the element lends its name). Since Brand's initial investigations, a vast amount of phosphorus chemistry has been discovered and developed. Fascinating, surprising, and highly useful new discoveries in the field are still being made at a rapid pace.

In this Shop Talk, I will present a context for modern phosphorus chemistry, illustrate how our local research fits into that context, and discuss the psychological forces that lead one to pursue research in such an area. I will also discuss specifics of the research that my student collaborators and I are currently pursuing, and provide an overview of future directions that the research might take. Our aims are twofold: (1) preparation and characterization of new phosphorus compounds, and (2) investigations of the reactivity of these new compounds and of other known, but little-studied, phosphorus compounds. At present, our research is centered on compounds of phosphorus that are low-coordinate (have an unusually low number of other atoms attached to the phosphorus atom) and/or severely perturbed electronically by attachment of strongly electron-withdrawing groups.

Presenter: Andrew Vaughn

Title: Creation as Salvation in Genesis: A Unified Reading of the Book of Genesis

Time and Place: November 12, 1999 at 4:30 pm in the Interpretive Center


The presentation summarizes my most recent research that developed out of my class "Creation in Genesis and the Ancient Near East." The goal of my research is to explore how the study of creation in the ancient Near East can facilitate a unified reading of the final form of Genesis.

Some background on the current state of research will be helpful for understanding how this thesis makes a contribution to the field. It is accepted among biblical scholars that the Pentateuch is made up of multiple sources. This situation has led some scholars to explore the theology of particular sources rather the whole book. This type of investigation (called "form criticism") has the positive result of gaining a better understanding of the original intent of sub-layers in a passage. On the other hand, this type of investigation often fails to move beyond the "historical sources" and treat the final form of the text. Some scholars have reacted to these problems by focusing on the final form of the text while ignoring the original sources, but this method creates yet another set of problems.

Another problem with interpreting Genesis is that many scholars read the story of the creation of the world (the Primeval History in Genesis 1-11) as completely separate from the story of the establishment of Abraham, Sarah, and their descendents in Genesis 12-50. This method results in "two histories"-- one history of the origin of the world and one history for the origin of the Israelite people. This type of interpretation also further complicates the endeavor to read the book of Genesis as a unified whole.

My goal is to integrate a study of the theology of each major source in Genesis with a broad study of the historical background of creation in order to overcome these roadblocks to a unified reading of Genesis. My research shows that creation stories in the ancient Near East do not stop with the establishment of the world; rather creation stories explain how order in the present is brought about out of chaos. Moreover, creation stories often culminate with the establishment a civilization as the fulcrum of the order that is being established by a deity. In this way, creation (or the bringing about of order) is an on-going process that continues in the present.

Such a view of creation helps a reader of Genesis integrate the history of the origin of the world (Genesis 1-11) with the history of the origin of the people (Genesis 12-50). Moreover, once this move is made, it is also possible to begin integrating the different theologies of the different sources in Genesis.





Spring 2000 Schedule

Presenter: Clark Ohnesorge Jr.

Title: Studying Right Hemisphere Language Processing with Normal Subjects

Time and Place: March 3, 2000 at 4:30 pm in the Interpretive Center


Observation of the language abilities of persons who have aphasia (language disorders that typically follow neurological damage to the left hemisphere of the brain) reveals that both comprehension and production are better preserved for proper nouns (Lucille Ball) than for common nouns (Basket Ball). This finding suggests that the right hemisphere, intact in these patients, has the ability to process proper nouns, although it is poorer at most language function than the left hemisphere. We tested this hypothesis in normal persons (college students) using lateralized presentation of proper and common nouns and simply asking subjects to recognize the class, proper or common, of the presented word. As expected we found an advantage overall for lexical processing in the left hemisphere. Consistent with the clinical observations we also found that subject’s accuracy at recognizing proper nouns did not differ by hemisphere, although accuracy for common nouns was considerably better in the left hemisphere than in the right. We have conducted several additional studies in which we manipulated properties of the experimental stimuli and the recognition task required of subjects in order to probe the boundary conditions of right hemisphere language comprehension. I’ll save further summaries and conclusions for my talk, which will also include the presentation of a fair amount of data followed by a certain amount of arm-waving.

Presenter:  Moira McDermott

Title:  Fractals and Frobenius

Time and Place: March 17, 2000 at 4:30 pm in the Interpretive Center


Fractals are objects that are self-similar at different scales.   Broccoli, parallel mirrors, video feedback, a box of Quaker Oats, and the coastline of England all capture the flavor of self-similarity.  Although fractals are fairly common in geometry or dynamical systems, it is surprising to find them in other areas of mathematics such as abstract algebra.  I will describe the fractals that arise when studying Pascal's triangle and how this is related to current research in commutative algebra.

Presenter: Cindy Johnson-Groh

Title: Moonwort Madness

Time and Place: April 14, 2000 at 4:30 pm in the Interpretive Center


Have you noticed the recent epidemic of "Moonwort Madness"? Perhaps you've found yourself infected by this madness or have wondered about the infectious agent known as a moonwort. Or perhaps you've simply wondered...
"Just what the heck is a moonwort anyway?" Moonworts are a group of small ferns (genus Botrychium) which are typically rare and are found in a variety of habitats including Midwestern prairies, mountain meadows and Alaskan beaches. I will present their unusual biology and ecology.

Demographic data from several years of monitoring moonworts reveals that they are abundant in some years whereas in other years they are rare. Moonworts, like many orchids, have the ability to skip emerging above ground on an annual basis. They remain underground for periods of one to several years before they reappear again. We have been investigating the
population demographics and underground ecology of moonworts to understand their fluctuating population dynamics. This unusual behavior of disappearance and reappearance compounds issues of rareness and has caused much consternation among conservation biologists.

Presenter: Paschal Kyoore

Title: Satire, Wit, and Humor in The West African Folk Tale

Time and Place: May 5, 2000 at 4:30 pm in the Interpretive Center


Before the presentation itself, I will do some performance on an African xylophone. I will play a variety of songs.

This presentation will focus on one aspect of my sabbatical leave research project. The project was on how knowledge is acquired in an oral tradition in Africa. As an introduction to the presentation, I will explain briefly what the whole project was about. It involved interviews with male and female praise singers, xylophonists etc.

The main part of the presentation will then focus on satire, wit, and humor as strategies that are used in folk tales. Folk tales represent the worldview of a people—in this case the Dagara of Ghana and Burkina Faso. The main characters in Dagara folk tales are the spider, the rabbit, the elephant, the tortoise, the hyena, the hunter, just to mention a few. Each of these fictional characters represents behavior types in society, such as greed, intelligence, laziness, generosity. Folk tales have a didactic and moralizing function in a society in which the interest of the collectivity is paramount.





What are Faculty Shop Talks all about?

Faculty Shop Talks provide a serious (though not solemn) forum for the presentation of original research and artistic creation by Gustavus faculty. The meetings are generally Friday afternoons at 4:30 and last no more than an hour, though some may come earlier or stay a bit later. The audience is limited to Gustavus faculty and their guests. The actual presentation should be no more than 30 minutes.  The model should be a "conference" paper adapted to a non-specialist academic audience. Shop Talks aim to speak both to departmental colleagues and those in completely different disciplines. Wine, soft drinks, and snacks are served.





A Call For Papers

The self-appointed Shop Talk organizing committee (Paul Saulnier and Eric Eliason) would like to solicit abstracts for the Shop Talk series. These 20-30 minute presentations will allow Gustavus scholars to share their research/art and enthusiasm. A title, brief abstract (electronic format), and A/V requirements should be sent to Paul (psaul@gac.edu) or Eric (eliason@gac.edu). If the current Shop Talk schedule does not have any vacancies do not hesitate to contact Paul or Eric to reserve a future date. We look forward to hearing from you.