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Field Notes

Stewart book among new faculty works

A new work by Hamilton College President Joan Hinde Stewart — The Enlightenment of age: Women, letters and growing old in eighteenth-­century France — has been published by the ­Voltaire Foundation of the University of Oxford. The book focuses on issues affecting aging women in 18th-century France, as expressed in the prolific writings of four older women ­intellectuals of the period: Françoise de Graffigny, Marie Du Deffand, Marie Riccoboni and Isabelle de Charrière.

Stewart, a scholar of 18th-century French ­literature, has a long familiarity with the women, about all of whom she has previously written and lectured. Stewart’s book looks at the four French women’s experience of perceived decline and its implication for their physical, emotional and professional well-being during a time when all the available dignity of old age seemed to belong to men. “If you think that our 21st-century culture emphasizes youth and physical attractiveness,” Stewart said, “you would be shocked by how much more rigid that cultural ideal was in the 18th century.”

Jonathan Mallinson, general editor at the Voltaire Foundation, called the book “a work of the very highest scholarship. For the eighteenth century scholar, it is a book rich in new insights. … Other critics have reflected on questions of old age, and particularly death, in the eighteenth-century, but nobody before Joan Stewart has looked at the ­question specifically from the perspective of women.”

Stewart’s book evolved from a scholarly project she was pursuing when named Hamilton’s 19th president in May 2003. She returned to the project in earnest and completed the manuscript during a sabbatical in the spring of 2009.

(For more publications and presentations by Hamilton College faculty, visit http://www.hamilton.edu/facultypubs.

Hirshfield study: This is your brain on the computer

Researchers have analyzed how we interact with computers for many years, but most studies have been limited to examining subjective responses. That inevitably means results are not only skewed by bias but also lack insight into the changes that occur in users’ mental states while working with a computer over time.

Now, Stuart Hirshfield, the Stephen Harper Kirner Chair of Computer Science, and Research Associate Leanne Hirshfield ’02 are making a real-time, quantitative assessment of computer users’ mental states, thanks to a grant for $458,900 from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. A state-of-the-art laboratory will allow them to make concurrent cognitive, ­physiological and behavioral user measurements. Among their tools are functional near-infrared spectroscopy, with which they can ­measure users’ brain activity in realistic working conditions. With this and other noninvasive equipment, they have begun ­evaluating and developing interfaces that react to user workload, moods and emotions. The eventual aim: to create more adaptive computer systems.

More information about the lab and the Hirshfields’ research can be found at the website for the usability lab: http://usabilitylab.hamilton.edu.

Other important new funding for projects on the Hill:

  • Digital Humanities ­Initiative: The Andrew W. ­Mellon Foundation has awarded Hamilton College $800,000 in support of the Digital Humanities Initiative (www.dhinitiative.org), a collaboration in which new media and computing technologies are used to promote humanities-based research, scholarship and teaching across the liberal arts. It is one of the largest humanities grants ever received by Hamilton College. According to co-director and Associate Professor of Africana Studies Angel David Nieves, DHi is “a multi-institutional project, a sustainable model to bring multiple faculties together to share in their research and to link departments that traditionally do not work together.” (See the Fall-Winter 2009 Alumni Review.)
  • Chemistry course development: Assistant Professor of Chemistry Camille Jones has been awarded a two-year, $198,000 National Science Foundation grant for the development and evaluation of a course in solid state ­chemistry for seniors majoring in chemistry and chemical physics. The grant will allow Jones and Tabbetha Dobbins, assistant professor of physics at Louisiana Tech University, to design a course in which students use solid state chemistry and computational methods to develop intuition based on quantitative thinking rather than the qualitative approach to understanding ­materials that has been the ­standard in the undergraduate curriculum. The course will be the first of its kind among ­Hamilton’s peer institutions.
  • Liberal Arts Consortium: The New York Six Liberal Arts Consortium has received a $600,000, three-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support collaborative ­programs in the areas of library collections, infor­mation technology, faculty and student development and diversity. The grant, admin­istered through Hamilton ­College, will help fund the consortium’s MediaShare Project. The consortium is a cooperative venture of ­Hamilton and Colgate ­University, Hobart and ­William Smith Colleges, St. Lawrence University, ­Skidmore College and Union College.
— Contributing: Mike Debraggio, Vige Barrie, Holly Foster, Eileen Foote