A classicist chases down the origins of early anatomical description in Homer’s Iliad.
By Barbara Drake
On a Friday afternoon in February, Kenneth Silverman, a PhD student in UF’s Department of Classics, stands in front of an audience of medical doctors and historians at the Southern Association for the History of Medicine and Science in Augusta, Ga., speculating on a gruesome battlefield injury reported to have taken place in Asia Minor more than 3,000 years ago. The victim of the injury was a Trojan soldier named Amphiklos who had charged at an enemy commander, Meges Phyleides, only to be skewered in the thigh by a spear.
As described in lines 313-16 of the Iliad, things didn’t end so well for Amphiklos:
And Phyleides, when he’d spotted Amphiklos running towards him,
was the first to strike, reaching out his spear towards the upper-part of Amphiklos’ leg,
where the thickest human muscle lies: and his tendons (artery?) [νεῦρα] were completely
severed by the point of the spear, and darkness covered his eyes.
Silverman, reads the lines aloud in the thrilling meter of Greek epic poetry, dactylic hexameter, and pauses. He focuses on the bard’s detailed descriptions of anatomy and on a single, telling word: νεῦρα, or neura. Elsewhere in the Iliad, this plural noun is used to mean “tendons,” but in this passage, neura most likely refers to the femoral artery, whose severing brings death within minutes (“darkness covered his eyes”). What did Homer’s apparent confusion of “tendons” and “artery” signify?
The answer, Silverman explains, was in the Iliad’s historical context. It was written hundreds of years before Hippocrates and the Hellenistic philosophers who laid the groundwork for the scientific method. In fact, he says, “a lack of discrimination in Homer among terms referring to arteries, veins, sinews, and the spinal cord reflects an early stage of Greek anatomical knowledge.” Although Homer lacked separate terms for tendon and artery, his meticulous descriptions of battle wounds, stabbings, and even beheadings reveal a keen eye for how the human body works — and shed light on the mysteries of pre-Hippocratic thinking.“On balance, Homer is probably simply describing torn tendons,” says Silverman. “Amphiklos’ neura were snapped, and he died.” And that error in identifying the cause of the warrior’s death represents a key stage in early Western thought: “In ancient medicine and popular belief, leading up to early modern times, tendons and nerves were associated with each other,” says Silverman, “both described with the same Greek and Latin word [neuron/nervus], and both thought to contain a person’s ‘life force’ — the vigorous tautness that holds a person together.”Homer’s concept of the neura “was used for centuries before Hellenistic physicians discovered the nervous system and borrowed the term to describe its constituents,” says Silverman. In turn, “many modern medical terms still owe their roots to words that first appear in the Iliad and Odyssey, earning Homer a place in the early history of science and medicine.”
A sculpture of a fallen warrior at the Temple of Aphaia on the Greek island of Aigina.
Silverman is interested in the bard’s shaping of the ancient Greek language, which was in a molten state in the 8th century BCE, much like English was at the time of Shakespeare. Homer’s keen sense of delight in the physical world was transmitted directly to listeners through vivid descriptions and onomatopoeia (words that sound like the things they describe).
One of Silverman’s favorite Homeric words refers to movement and translates to “trembling with leaves.” Another is a complex color word — the “deep blue of depth” — to describe water. And, of course, there is the famous Homeric reference to the “wine-dark sea,” a hard-to-visualize color that Silverman translates as “wine-faced.”
Silverman’s father is a microbiologist at the Cleveland Research Institute, a connection that led to Silverman working as a research student in the mid-2000s at the Cleveland Clinic, where he witnessed a laminectomy surgery for lumbar spinal stenosis (removing plaque from around the dura of the spine). Although he wasn’t thinking of the Iliad then, that experience came in handy for translating some of the epic poem’s “excruciating lessons in anatomy.”
As a final example, Silverman recites a passage in which Achilles rampages through the Trojan army and beheads the warrior Deucalion. The lines swell and fall over themselves as Deucalion’s head and helmet fly off together, (de)capped by this arresting detail: “marrow splashed [or, “spurted”] out from the vertebrae / and he lay splayed out on the ground.” Splashed?
Silverman smiles: “Well, I know from having witnessed a spinal surgery that spinal fluid does not splash out. The medical doctors at the Augusta conference confirmed this. However, doctors have told me that blood from a beheading would gush out — perhaps even twelve feet in the air. Splashed conveys the effect.”
Neuron, nerve, phlebitis: these are some of the established medical terms that have their origins in Homeric verse. As Silverman observes, Homer may not have thought of human anatomy and injuries in a scientific way, “but in his ability to find just the right words to describe these phenomena, he took a first step towards explaining them.”
All of the poems in this article were translated by Kenneth Silverman.
How Comics of the Congo Came to the Libraries of UF
By Rachel Wayne
In a locked room at Smathers Library on the UF campus, rows of manila folders and stacks of cardboard boxes are filled with polyester sleeves and simple copy paper, among which hide one of Smathers’ — and the world’s — most unique collections. The work of Papa Mfumu’eto, a comic artist and illustrator from Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, encompasses thousands of comic books, zines, and advertisements that tackle democratization, gender roles and sociopolitical change, and Congolese mythology and spirituality.
Nancy Rose Hunt, professor of African history, usually focuses on medical and gender issues in Africa, but a request from a Yale colleague to study the sociocultural impact of Tintin au Congo in then-Zaire piqued her interest in comics produced in this central African country, formerly the Belgian Congo. After collaborating on an enormous archive of comics from the 1920s through the ’80s, Hunt discovered Papa Mfumu’eto, one of the most prolific and admired comic artists of the “zine era” running from the late 1970s into the mid-1990s. In 2001, while in Kinshasa for other research, Hunt decided to meet the larger-than-life artist, whose self-portraits permeate the collection. “When I arrived at his door, it was a very affluent period for him. He’d just come off some nice contracts,” she says, remembering his fancy stuffed chairs and couch. (The artist frequently does commission work for advertisements, many of which blend in motifs and recurring characters from his comics, beloved by Kinshasans.) “His work was coming off the ceiling and under the chairs, just everywhere. I have a background as an archivist before I became a historian, so my instincts were to preserve it and conserve it,” she recalls. “He’d never heard the word ‘archive’ before, but he was happy to hear it.” Hunt persuaded him to entrust the collection to her. It was crucial to find a secure home for what she calls a “gold mine” for any Africanist.
Getting the archive to America was not a seamless endeavor. However, more than 15 years later, Hunt is pleased with the outcome, as is Smathers’ African Studies curator, Daniel Reboussin. “I wasn’t sure it would all happen as easily and beautifully as it did,” Hunt says. She returned to Kinshasa in 2007 to read some of the comics with Papa Mfumu’eto, while working on her Lingala, the language in which the bulk of the text is written. Hunt knew she wanted a repository for the collection in the United States or Europe, although some warned her that no American institution would be interested, because this kind of comic art was better known in Europe. Pitching and moving the collection would be risky. Hunt focused her scouting in France and Belgium during 2014 and 2015 when she had a research year in Paris. To her delight, Paris’ Fondation Cartier included examples from the archive in a 2015 exhibit on Congolese art; this inclusion thrilled both Hunt and Papa Mfumu’eto, who produced an essay and several interviews, respectively, that signal-boosted the collection. Intrigued, Paris’ Quai Branly Museum made a bid for the collection to be stored and exhibited there.
Zombies, mermaids, and more appear throughout the collection, as do creatures of superstition such as chameleons.
Yet in the end, Gainesville seemed to be the pre-destined home of the Papa Mfumu’eto archive. The University of Florida was recruiting Hunt, who also struck up a friendship with Reboussin, to whom archiving the work was especially important. Many of the comics were created during the period of transition from the Mobutu regime to democracy. “It was a time where people weren’t free to speak about politics, about opposition,” he says. “Some of [the comics’] themes might not be overt political speech, but are referring to political conditions.” He and his team have spent close to 100 hours processing the archive and expect many more to go, with an anticipated completion date in 2019 or 2020. This dedication is aimed to protect and preserve for posterity. “We should make sure that things are available to scholars a hundred or more years later. I’m sure that 100 years from now, people will be interested in that transition point in Congolese history.”
The collection stayed in Paris in a safety-deposit box for about 18 months while Hunt discussed possible homes for it with Parisian curators. Yet Smathers Library, along with the Harn Museum of Art’s history of curating Congolese art with Belgian institutions, the Center for African Studies, and the local comics school, the Sequential Artists Workshop, collectively whispered to the appropriateness of a Gainesville home, and Hunt, listening with intrigue, accepted the job offer from UF. Finally, the time had come to bring the collection to Gainesville. Hunt and Amy Vigilante of University Galleries personally traveled to Paris to retrieve the collection, puzzling on the flight how to best wrap them. The return journey was successful, and Hunt and Reboussin opened the packages on March 9, 2017, at a small round table in the locked room at Library East. Now, Reboussin and the Smathers archival team are carefully processing the pages, some of which are original paintings and sketches, some of which are printed on paper that time has reduced to mere wisps. There was very little organization to the collection when it first arrived; due to the many fragments and condition of the materials and without a familiarity with the sequential art form, archivists met new challenges in processing the collection.
Thankfully, Hunt had pinpointed the Sequential Artists Workshop while eyeing Gainesville, and its founder, Tom Hart, was happy to come on board the project. When he’s not using the comics for public outreach on campus and in local schools — “Tom is a beautiful ambassador for African studies,” says Hunt — he’s using his expertise in comic layout, illustration, and production to help the archivists know how to process the collection.
“We don’t have but maybe a dozen complete comic books,” says Reboussin. Hart is able to match pages that were likely in the same spread and extrapolate from the layout off cells how large the complete comic book would have been. “He knows immediately if it was a 16-, 12-, or 8-page comic book. He sees how the text and the image fit together physically within the cells. It’s a different level of insight than someone who’s looking at the imagery itself or other themes in Congolese society. It was wonderful to have these conversations.”
The conversations continued at the 2018 Gwendolen M. Carter Conference hosted by the Center for African Studies. Hunt co-organized the conference with Alioune Sow, professor of French and African studies at UF; the Sequential Artists Workshop remained deeply involved, and the creative dialogue between image and text expanded into special appearances by Congolese novelist Fiston Mwanza Mujila, Australian writer David Carlin, and Didier Viodé, a performing artist from Benin. Through connections made at the conference, Hunt and Reboussin anticipate further exhibition of the archive, notably a Belgian museum in Ostend in 2020.
Papa Mfumu’eto is unique in that he produced comics for so long using a non-colonial language, says Hunt, and she hopes to introduce Lingala studies to UF. Reboussin too sees a world of possibility in the collection. “It’s just great working with a diverse group of people,” he says. “Everyone sees something different, especially in a collection that’s really rich. The more you look, it just gets deeper and deeper.”
“There is a very strong religious imagination inside this archive, full of things about the relationship between the visible world and the invisible world — the visible world being the concrete material world that we live in, the invisible world being a world of spirits and witches and ghosts, and also the relationship between the living and the world of the dead. Many American students are kinda shocked at first sight, because there are a lot of strange beings that are floating through it, images of cemeteries and graves. There’s something a little spooky about this collection.” — Nancy Rose Hunt
Political leaders such as the infamous dictator Mobutu Sese Seko; the independent Democratic Republic of the Congo’s first Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba; the unpopular president Laurent-Désiré Kabila; and King Leopold II of DRC’s Belgian-colonial past appear frequently in Papa Mfumu’eto’s work.
“There is a lot of stuff about domestic struggles between female rivals, i.e. co-wives or co-lovers in the same household. Some of these intimate themes burst out into things that are more metaphorically political, e.g. a man who turns into a snake, devours a sexy woman, and then turns that sexy woman into dollar bills. As soon as that image appeared on the Kinshasa streets, people understand he was talking about Mobutu.” — Nancy Rose Hunt
UF experts explain how research can address school and interpersonal violence.
By Rachel Wayne
UF faculty members Maddy Coy, Dorothy Espelage, Abigail Fagan, and Bonnie Moradi all tackle social issues from their respective academic discipline, and each has a remarkably interdisciplinary background. Fagan combines sociology and criminology to study how communities can prevent violence. Coy is a women’s studies scholar with community-based research and public policy expertise. Espelage is a psychologist with extensive knowledge of child development. Moradi uses her background in psychology and women’s studies to direct UF’s Center for Gender, Sexualities, and Women’s Studies Research. All four are core or affiliate faculty in the Center. Their areas of study — bullying, discrimination and inequalities, violence against women, and youth violence — have been trending topics for years, and the researchers aim to find the best ways to merge theory with data, knowledge with practice, and policy with results.
Not only are you all based in an educational institution, but much of your work revolves around using research to make campuses safer. What does and doesn’t work?
Fagan: Historically, and even today still, the first response is what we call “deterrence” — a very reactive response that is meant to punish criminals, make more arrests, and put them away for longer years. The problem is that that doesn’t get at the root causes. What does work are skills-building programs that teach kids how to make better decisions.
Espelage: Not all kids who bully are rejected. It’s not just “bad kids” who do bad things. And so, zero-tolerance approaches have been shown not to work, because these behaviors aren’t occurring in a vacuum. The approach I publish quite a bit on is a social-emotional learning program that teaches kids effective communication and conflict resolution skills.
Fagan: Similarly, what we have learned is that when you just try to scare kids into not using drugs or breaking the law, it’s another one of those deterrence tactics that doesn’t work. Effective programs focus on building skills, teaching kids how to make better decisions, how to think about what they want to achieve in the future, and resist peer pressures to use drugs or commit crimes.
Many of you have done applied work, that is, using your research to effect real change or in collaboration with community groups. What are some of your successes?
Fagan: I have done a lot of hands-on work in this area. Before I came to UF, I spent five years at the University of Washington. I was involved in a randomized controlled trial that was a scientific evaluation of a community-based crime and drug intervention strategy. I was a trainer who went out to communities and talked to them about their concerns regarding youth delinquency, violence, and drug use. What we were testing was a structured process of mobilizing community members — educating them about the causes of crime, gauging which causes of the crime were prevalent in their community, and then putting into place effective prevention strategies that targeted those causes. Getting the whole community involved was important to show youth that the community cared about them.
Coy: I am a feminist scholar who is interested in how we connect up the knowledge from practice — working with victims/survivors of violence — with theories and concepts about inequalities. I previously was Deputy Director of the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit of London Metropolitan University, and before that, I worked in organizations such as women’s shelters with women in the sex industry. Now, what I hope is that my students go out and have these conversations with their peers. I think one of the greatest things in the classroom is to hear them say, “You know, I was having this conversation with my roommate just last night!” You can hear that they’ve taken what we’ve discussed in class and begun to challenge things they think are problematic.
Espelage: All my work happens in schools and with community groups that have direct impact on bully prevention and promoting positive school climate. Also, my scholarship has been directly used by nonprofit organizations to advocate for state and federal legislation aimed at protecting sexual and gender minority youth, advocating for students with disabilities, and greater resources for school prevention efforts.
These topics are trending in the news and on social media, as well as in popular culture. What do you think of the portrayal of and dialogue surrounding these topics?
Fagan: The biggest myth is always that crime is out of control, worse than it’s ever been, but in fact we know that crime rates have decreased significantly since the ’80s. But we focus so much attention on heinous crimes that it promotes the idea there’s so much of it going on. Or it’s the idea that we don’t know why it happens, and we can’t prevent it. There’s always this sentiment about teenagers — “kids will be kids,” they’re going to drink alcohol, get into fights, and no one really gets hurt — but the reality is that some of those kids go on to become pretty serious offenders or have problems with drug use and drug addiction. We know that if we can build better schools, create healthier families, and support a stronger community, we can actually reduce delinquency.
Espelage: I’ve done work with the Ad Council developing media guidelines for reporters because they don’t always cover bullying events and laws accurately. Sometimes this can have the effect of justifying punitive responses to bullying or even glamorizing the suicides of bullying victims. Eighty percent of the news coverage on bullying is on bullying-related suicide. Ten percent is about legislation. Only ten percent is about prevention.
Coy: Anything that starts a conversation about sexual violence and sexual harassment is a good thing, in particular, the way social media enables different voices to be heard. I think that the gains of #MeToo are in enabling women to name their experiences. What I was really happy to see is the shift toward #TimesUp and the follow-up of making connections with the actions of perpetrators — asking why they did that rather than what the victims did. I think that was a very important shift.
Moradi: In the media, there are subtle framings that are just so ubiquitous that we don’t see them anymore, and when you do bring them to light, there’s a lot of resistance to viewing them as problematic because they have been so ubiquitous — part of how we do things. The challenge in moving from not seeing to seeing is that when you question the thing that has not been questioned, you are accused of being biased. Yet the thing — a song, for example — represents an unspoken particular set of values, but it’s viewed as neutral.
How does an interdisciplinary approach help your work?
Coy: We have academic subjects that provide the theoretical tools that enable students to engage with the decades of thinking that’s been going on. Activism comes out of those ideas, then feeds back into those ideas. We need to recognize the value of the scholarship that does that.
Fagan: There’s still more work to be done to uncover more evidence about what leads to these behaviors, so that we can then design interventions that are actually going to change those factors, and so that we can better identify the kids who are at risk and get them the services that they need early on. Violence has many causes, including psychological, social, and structural factors. So, it’s important for social scientists to collaborate with others and play a role in both types of research about youth problems, both the traditional science about what causes delinquency, violence, and drug use, and also designing interventions and testing them out to see if they’re actually effective in preventing these behaviors.
Espelage: Youth violence is a complex public health issue that needs all disciplines on board and working together rather than in isolation. My intervention studies and evaluations involve working with other researchers in public health, education, sociology, social work, school psychology, and criminology. Translation of my research is achieved as I work with teachers, school administrators, etc.
Moradi: We can’t conceptualize, say, sexism in isolation — it’s interconnected with racism and heterosexism and class inequality and all of these systems of inequality.
Coy: — and for discussion of that, we create those spaces in our classroom.
UF professor uses mathematical models to explain viral dynamics and drug resistance.
By Rachel Wayne
There are six major genotypes of Hepatitis C infections. In the U.S., 70 percent of cases are caused by genotype 1. In an infected person, about 1012 virus particles are produced each day. There is no vaccine, but chronic infection can be cured 95 percent of the time with new anti-viral medications. Having so many numbers to wrangle, UF applied mathematician Libin Rong is eager to tackle the problems facing healthcare providers, pharmaceutical developers, and epidemiologists. How quickly do viruses reproduce, and how does that rate change after drug treatment? How much drug treatment is needed to be effective?
Rong was born in a small village in China, where he became interested in math at a young age. He went to college in Shanghai to study pure mathematics, but he soon delved into the applied realm by modeling neural networks for artificial intelligence. In a postdoc position in mathematical biology at Los Alamos National Laboratory, he shifted further toward a fusion of the natural and mathematical sciences. Intrigued by the many collaborative opportunities at UF, he left his previous position at Oakland University to join UF’s Department of Mathematics and work with researchers at UF’s College of Medicine and the Emerging Pathogens Institute. He also is thrilled to have a large pool of graduate students from which to choose as his mentees. “I enjoy supervising students,” he says.
Rong develops mathematical models to predict the numbers of diseases at each point: spread among a population, infection and onset of symptoms, response to drugs, and emergence of drug resistance. “We use differential equation systems to describe a biological process, then we compare the modeling projection with the real data” — which he obtains from colleagues in health sciences — “so that we can determine or test different mechanisms underlying those biological data. We can also quantify the drug effectiveness,” he says.
Recently, Rong has been focusing on Hepatitis C. “A lot of drugs have become available, but the virus can mutate, and if a drug is used as a mono-therapy — if we just use one drug — drug resistance can emerge very quickly,” says Rong. “I developed a mathematical model to explain why drug resistance is expected so rapidly after the mono-therapy, and then to estimate how many drugs would be needed to overcome the resistance.” Currently, he is collaborating with researchers at UF’s medical school to determine which combination of drugs is an optimal therapy for Hepatitis C. He also is looking at how Hepatitis C treatments might apply to Chikungunya, a mosquito-borne disease with no approved drug therapies.
Rong’s other primary focus is HIV. Particular characteristics of HIV make its eradication challenging. In particular, latent reservoirs of the virus can reemerge after years of treatment, even after the initial dormancy period. “We don’t know why this pool is so stable even after continuous therapy for many years,” he says. Patients experience “blips,” or temporary surges in the viral load (the amount of virus in the blood). Whether the blip is just a blip, or a sign of failing treatment or drug resistance, can be addressed through mathematical modeling. “We proposed a few mechanisms to try to explain this blip and the stability of the latent reservoir, and we have one mechanism confirmed by data,” Rong says. With continued collaborations among UF’s colleges, Rong hopes that a solution can be found.
Samuel Proctor became the first UF Historian and Archivist when he was still a PhD student. He never left the role. Proctor was heavily involved with UF, so much so that rumor told he had four or five, maybe six, offices on the campus. Now, his name prefixes one of the nation’s largest oral history programs — in a field of inquiry that he helped pioneer.
By Rachel Wayne and Gigi Marino
Oral history involves the collection of stories about historical events or history in the making. Samuel Proctor ’41, MA’42, PhD’58 was deeply interested in the emerging field but observed that oral historians were interviewing politicians and other leaders. One problem with traditional historical inquiry is its tendency to rely on letters, newspapers, and other primary sources that favor the experiences and views of those in power. The methodology of oral history is crucial to getting the full story, but Proctor also thought that the “ordinary” people needed to be included.
The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP) at UF does just that. Proctor began by interviewing the first Jewish students at UF and, to this day, the program’s researchers talk to those who live at the cruces of sociopolitical change, especially those whose voices have been underrepresented in history. Their purview is marginalized and underrepresented groups, including veterans, the LGBTQ community, and civil rights activists. SPOHP researchers record and transcribe the interviews, which may last between five minutes and an hour, to produce comprehensive, immersive historical documents.
The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program not only teaches students how to interview and archive oral histories but also how to do scholarly research.
“There have been so many stories that have been missed throughout history. This is a great way to not miss them,” says project coordinator Brenda Stroud ’20.
“It takes a village to do good fieldwork,” says UF history professor Paul Ortiz, who has been the director for the last 10 years. Ortiz met Proctor once, decades ago, when visiting UF from Duke University. “I was this anonymous grad student trying to write my dissertation on African American history in Florida,” he says. “Sam didn’t know me from Adam, but when I walked into the Oral History Program, he just started talking to me. He gave me a whole afternoon. He was an incredibly generous man — a role model of what a professor should be.”
Proctor was actively involved with civil rights efforts at UF and in Gainesville. “In the mid-1960s, Sam was one of a small group of faculty members who signed a published statement in support of integration in Gainesville,” says Ortiz. “When you see Sam’s name, you realize what an example he set for the rest of them.”
“We interviewed a lot of the survivors of the 9/11 terror attacks. If I wanted the objective take on that, there’s a lot out there, but if I really want to know what it meant to those people, I have to talk to them.”
The Oral History Program continues Proctor’s legacy by using oral history methodology to expand an African American history of Florida — and beyond. In fall 2016, a group of researchers departed Gainesville for Mississippi with a packed itinerary that took them from Natchez to Sumner, each stop dedicated to a milestone in civil rights history. “I felt like I was there in the history,” says Stroud. The Mississippi Freedom Project has continued for the past two years and benefits from ongoing partnerships with community groups, says Ortiz. “We are the bridge builders. We don’t study, we learn,” he says.
“Every moment is part of the experience of learning,” says student assistant and history major Anupa Kotipoyina ’17, who transcribes interviews for the program. “A lot of people think transcription is boring, but there have been a lot of powerful interviews I’ve gotten to transcribe,” she says. One of her favorites was an interview with an activist reminiscing about Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit to her house in St. Augustine. “Imagine being the host to such a seminal figure in the civil rights movement in one of the few Floridian cities he visited.”
Listening to the researchers tell their stories about their story-collecting is ample evidence that history isn’t a stack of books and letters, but a living entity embedded in society, coded in bodies, and grown through language.
In 1921, Congress reluctantly unveiled a statue of suffragists Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott, then condemned it to the basement of the Capitol. Seventy-five years later, Joan Wages, who became the CEO of the National Women’s History Museum, was heavily involved in the campaign to return the statue to the Capitol’s Rotunda. The opposition remained, with even congresswomen calling the statue ugly and claiming it had no historical merit. Wages, who once had been denied a job when an interviewer told her she’d “just get pregnant,” was passionate about getting the suffragists represented in the Rotunda. The Woman Suffrage Statue Campaign was successful, and on Sept. 26, 1996, Congress passed a resolution to move the statue. More than 20 years later, Wages related this story to UF student Margaret Clarke ’18, who was visiting D.C. for the Women’s March on Washington as part of the Oral History Program’s new research project. “It was an amazing interview,” says Clarke.
Project coordinator Holland Hall contemplating women’s rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer at her gravesite.
The impetus to capture “history in the making” has driven several of the Oral History Program’s recent projects. The experiences of those present at milestone events and the reflections of observers upon those events are equally powerful data in oral history research. “Because we swim in that ocean of subjectivity, we can ask all kinds of questions,” says Ortiz. “We interviewed a lot of the survivors of the 9/11 terror attacks. If I wanted the objective take on that, there’s a lot out there, but if I really want to know what it meant to those people, I have to talk to them.”
Oral history enjoys a cross-pollination between the humanities and journalism. Says journalism student and SPOHP contributor Drea Cornejo ’17, “The oral history methodology introduced me to a different type of storytelling, pushing me to create projects with a more in-depth account of personal experiences and truly giving the stories the fullness they deserve.” Each project is a collaboration with the relevant department, center, or program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: the Women’s March and LGBTQ History projects with the Center for Gender, Sexualities, and Women’s Studies Research, the Mississippi Freedom Project with African American Studies, and, with the Bob Graham Center for Public Service, the 9/11 Project, which captured stories of people from around the world talking about that devastating day.
“The whole field is interdisciplinary,” says Ortiz. Because state funds cannot go toward student fieldwork, SPOHP’s research requires collaborations with other UF units to secure other funding. “And we’re into performance now!” says Ortiz. With the Center for Arts in Medicine, SPOHP researchers recently co-wrote and produced a play, Voices from the March, based on their experiences documenting the Women’s March and Inauguration Day in 2017. The play was performed at the Social Justice Summit presented by the College of Education in January 2018. “People contacted us after seeing it at the summit and commented on how important it was for their families and daughters to see it,” says Ortiz.
Many of the program’s efforts aim to popularize and decolonize history. By cultivating a living history, “we can bring history to kitchen table conversations across the globe,” says Stroud. To wit, the Oral History Program also conducts outreach through its podcast. Kotipoyina, who works on the podcast to share their research, considers it a valuable tool to help those unheard voices become heard. She intends to become a history teacher and bring oral history into the high school classroom.
The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program demonstrates how the transformative and productive potential of storytelling is crucial to a decolonized approach to history. SPOHP researchers document history as it’s being made and store the memories of those who witnessed significant events. By participating in this witnessing of memory, they create history themselves. In collecting the researchers’ accounts of their research in a method not dissimilar from theirs, their passion and personal revelations become clear, with adjectives such as “life-changing” and “amazing” peppering the conversation. Oral history has got them hooked. “I really like listening to people’s stories,” says Stroud. “Everyone has a story to tell.”
Undergraduate students learn both plant genetics and data analysis in an immersive botany class.
By Rachel Wayne
In the fall 2017 semester, 55 students in BOT 2010, an introductory botany course, worked on their green thumbs by growing fire moss (Ceratodon purpureus). The class included a mix of majors, and even those who weren’t budding botanists found something to love in the project. “It was truly a class about science, but it isn’t just for people who are science-related majors,” says Emily Gordon ’21, a biology major who now plans to add a second major in plant science to her path. “It was a really personal, small class and had majors from biology, to landscape design, to journalism, to linguistics.”
Sarah Carey PhD, a graduate student working with botany professor Stuart McDaniel in his lab, developed the idea for the experiment. Typically, the BOT 2010 term projects had involved flowering plants, but this presented a space issue for the lab. Carey, who says she specializes in mosses, realized that “mosses would be the perfect thing because they’re very small, and you could have lots and lots of replication in a very small space — replication is very important for biological experiments,” she says.
Ceratodon purpureus typically does not exceed 1.3 cm in height.
“From this perspective stems these studies and research that reveal just how complex and marvelous plants actually are.”
“The McDaniel lab has been translating some of the lab’s core research initiatives into research-based experiences for the BOT 2010 students,” says postdoc Lily Lewis, the course instructor working with McDaniel. “The research involves growing tiny moss plants and determining if the sex or population origin of each moss affects how fast the mosses grow.” The students grew their own mosses and compared their rates of growth to the plants’ genetic profile. All groups studied the effect of their plants’ sex on their growth rate, but each group had mosses from a different geographic area. At the end of the semester, they presented their findings in a poster symposium. In the breezeway of Newins–Zigler Hall, excitement filled the cool November air as the students eagerly approached passersby to tell them about their “lil’ mosses.”
The small, fuzzy green plants have a unique aesthetic that was not lost on the students, who showed a great appreciation for them. “What intrigues me about botany is that it focuses more on plants rather than on how plants can be useful for humans,” says Palmer Crippen ’20, who is double majoring in plant studies and visual studies. “From this perspective stems these studies and research that reveal just how complex and marvelous plants actually are.” Gordon agrees: “I’ve always enjoyed plants, doing gardening on my own time, and just appreciating their aesthetic. I was interested in learning about the science of something I already loved, and possibly doing so in a fun and casual environment.”
Horticulture aside, students also learned data analysis and the programming language R. “We asked, ‘How can students gain skills from us that will be useful in their career paths?’” says Carey. It was a new but crucial achievement for many students. “It was difficult at first to understand what the measurements I received actually meant,” says Daniela Menendez ’21. “Once I grasped the concept, I was able to make more rational assumptions, which led me to consider what a future project with the mosses may look like. Overall, it was an incredible experiment, and I would love to do it all over again.”
UF astrophysicist studies the magnetic fields and cosmic streams pouring out of a black hole.
By Rachel Wayne
“There’s this childhood awe, with your jaw hanging open, this feeling of ‘Wow, look at that thing,’” says Stephen Eikenberry about his area of black holes and neutron stars — what he describes as the most extreme environments in the universe. “And the physics are poorly understood, so it’s a mystery as well.” Eikenberry, who holds a joint appointment in UF’s Departments of Astronomy and Physics, has dedicated his career to this mystery. Most recently, he and his research group measured the magnetic field in V404 Cygni, a binary system featuring a black hole with a diameter of 64 kilometers.
The weirdness of black holes has been a point of fascination since the late 18th century, says Eikenberry, but it wasn’t until Einstein developed his general theory of relativity that astrophysicists began to predict — and gradually affirm — some of his strange predictions, such as that near and inside black holes, gravity was enormously strong, particles would spin to extraordinary velocities, and time itself would slow. “One thing we do know is that black holes seem to grab up some of the cosmic material that is close by [in this case, from the normal star in the binary system] and eject it in streams of light,” says Eikenberry. “Pushing steady, concentrated streams of that material out of the deepest gravitational well in the universe at nearly the speed of light … that’s a trick that we don’t understand.”
His group, which comprises six PhD students and four undergraduates, aims to enhance their understanding. In their recent Science paper, for which Eikenberry’s graduate student Yigit Dalilar was lead author, they share some of their findings from their Canarias InfraRed Camera Experiment (CIRCE). Eikenberry says with pride that CIRCE is located at the Canary Islands’ Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC) — the world’s largest telescope. CIRCE led an international bevy of instruments, including NASA’s NuStar space telescope, to measure the 2015 streams produced by V404 Cygni, which has such outbursts every two to three decades. Although prevailing theories suggested otherwise, the magnetic field around the black hole was actually fairly weak, making its ejection of the super streams, which clock in at nearly the speed of light, yet another cosmic mystery.
Andrew Beardmore (Univ. of Leicester) and NASA/Swift
The weirdness of black holes has been a point of fascination since the late 18th century, says Eikenberry.
To explore these mysteries, Eikenberry and his group focus on infrared and optical astronomy, between which the lines are sometimes blurred. As an example, CIRCE is a near-infrared instrument and measures radiation with wavelengths slightly longer than visible light. Eikenberry also designed and, with his graduate students, postdocs, and engineers, built FLAMINGOS-2, an infrared spectrograph located at Chile’s Gemini South, one of the twin telescopes of the Gemini Observatory. They joined the LIGO and Virgo Scientific Collaborations in detecting the collision and merger of two neutron stars in 2017. Infrared and near-infrared detection allow astronomers to study distant astronomical phenomena, especially major emitters and “things that go bang,” says Eikenberry.
Eikenberry studied at Harvard, where his dissertation focused on the emission mechanisms of pulsars (highly magnetized and dense neutron stars), under Giovanni Fazio, a renowned physicist in infrared astronomy. “We built the world’s first photon-counting infrared detector for astronomy and used that to make very high-speed observations of the Crab Pulsar, which is in the Crab Nebula. It flashes off and on 30 times a second — roughly,” he adds.
The prime example of a pulsar – the Crab Nebula Pulsar, M1. These actual observations show the expansion of shock waves emanating from the Pulsar interacting with the surrounding nebula. The Crab Pulsar actually pulsates 30 times per second, not seen here, a result of its rotation rate and the relative offset of the magnetic pole. Charndra X-Rays (left), Hubble Visible light (right). NASA, JPL-Caltech
Eikenberry then began a professorship at Cornell University. However, the opportunity to work on Gran Telescopio Canarias located on the island of La Palma, Spain, inspired Eikenberry to leave the Ivy League. UF is the only stand-alone educational institution in the world that partners with GTC, the largest telescope on Earth. “For me, the big draw leaving a tenured Ivy League professorship and Ithaca, New York, to come to UF was and is to work with GTC,” says Eikenberry. After designing and building CIRCE for GTC, he’s now working on another instrument for GTC, MIRADAS, an externally funded $10 million detector on which UF is the lead institution and he is the principal investigator.
“We’re really excited about the future of the MIRADAS instrument and more findings from CIRCE as well,” Eikenberry says. “This latest result with CIRCE is, for me, a great personal fulfillment of a long-held dream.”
Archie Carr, a larger-than-life man who could summon a snapping turtle named Jasper at will, paved the way for the conservation of sea turtles around the world. Karen Bjorndal, his former graduate student, and Alan Bolten today direct the Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research at UF, carrying on his life’s work and legacy. In many ways, the University of Florida saved the sea turtles.
By Rachel Wayne
When UF Distinguished Professor of Biology Karen Bjorndal PHD’79 was an undergraduate student in the 1970s, she set her research sights on iguanas. Set on going to the Galápagos, she embarked on a six-month research trip to study the social behavior of land iguanas, but soon found herself enthralled by a different reptile. “I would sit on the coastline and stare out for hours at the sea as green turtles would pass by, coming to the surface to breathe,” she recalls. “I was really intrigued by these two different worlds converging.” She left the land iguanas behind and went to UF determined to study with the man who knew more about green turtles than anyone in the world: Archie Carr PHD’37. In fact, Carr knew more about all realm-crossing sea turtles at the time.
Carr, who was the first person to earn a PhD in zoology from UF, had also fallen under the sea turtle spell, publishing his first paper on them in 1942. “He had worked primarily with freshwater species,” says Bjorndal. “Then, he published Handbook of Turtles: The Turtles of the United States, Canada, and Baja California , and he started reading about sea turtles to complete those sections. He became entranced, particularly with their ability to navigate. He heard stories from Nicaraguan fishermen who had caught, marked and sent green turtles to Florida markets, and then six months later, caught those same turtles back in Nicaragua after they had been released from holding pens by storms.”
Yet the scientific literature had significant gaps that Carr took it upon himself to fill. “When you go back to early literature, it’s hard to remember that almost nothing was known and no one was studying them,” says Bjorndal. Carr’s legacy is multifold, and a large component of it is the research center established in his name at UF located in Carr Hall. Bjorndal now directs the Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research (ACCSTR), which trains biology graduate students to become marine biologists with a conservation focus, as Carr had. “He was a fantastic scientist who wrote beautifully for the general public, and that is what rallied the troops, when he first learned in the late ’40s and ’50s that turtles were undergoing incredible decline,” says Bjorndal.
Archie Carr was born in Mobile, Ala., a delta-based city with a Gulf-pounded coast, a land of reptile-filled swamps, including the near-mythical alligator snapping turtle. He lived and studied in Alachua County most of his adult life, as a biology undergraduate student turned herpetology graduate student turned UF graduate research professor. Appropriately, his Micanopy home overlooked a pond that was home to a gator, who once chased him up a tree in defense of her nest, as well as an alligator snapping turtle who responded to the name Carr gave it, Jasper.
“Archie had so many great stories like that,” says Bjorndal. “With Archie, anything became an adventure.” That Carr was larger-than-life in so many ways is captured in archival photographs showing Carr affectionately holding turtles, admiring hatchlings’ march to the sea, and working with students on various conservation tasks, including attaching weather balloons to the turtles to track their journeys. Contemporary researchers’ comments on Carr use descriptors such as “inspiring,” “passionate,” and “generous” that appear again and again. “Archie did so much that no one could have replaced him,” says Bjorndal. After his passing in 1987, she picked up the Center’s research and graduate student mentoring, while another of Carr’s students, Peter Pritchard ’69, took on the mantle of Carr’s famed writing for a popular audience.
Alongside Bjorndal is her husband, Alan Bolten PhD’86, whom she met while both were graduate students at UF and brought into the sea turtle spirit. He had been studying the social behavior of insects, especially the Africanized killer bee for his dissertation. “I introduced him to more peaceful creatures, and ever since then we’ve worked together,” she says.
“The green turtle has always been Archie’s main focus, and mine as well.” — Karen Bjorndal
Conservationists, marine biologists, and herpetologists around the world esteem Carr for his inception and continued invigoration of sea turtle research and conservation, including significant insights into nesting behavior of the mysterious Kemp’s Ridley. Sea turtles’ long lifespans, wide ranges, and scarce appearances on land make them challenging study subjects; meanwhile, they are so intricately connected with disparate ecosystems that they are themselves barometers of the oceans’ health — and susceptible to its many ailments, from overfishing to coastal development to climate change.
On all of these counts, the Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research has made great strides. Its researchers revealed a solution for the well-documented problem of hatchlings confusing artificial lights with the moon’s reflection upon the sea: low-pressure sodium lights that the hatchlings cannot perceive are now used in buildings and streets along the Florida coastline. They discovered that warming oceans mean slower growth rates and quintupled the estimate for when green turtles reach sexual maturity; life cycles must be taken into account for nest-protection programs. They pushed for a ban in the Bahamas on harvesting sea turtles for food, a practice that decimated the local turtle population. The ban finally took effect in 2009, a milestone that Bolten and Bjorndal found very rewarding. “We see so many green turtles now!” says Bjorndal.
Such accomplishments attest to the strength of scholarship and breadth of research conducted by ACCSTR. Their scope extends from molecular population genetics to grand overviews of turtle migration patterns. “One really nice part about being at UF is the diversity of disciplines that are here,” says Bolten. “We really take advantage of that in terms of collaborating with colleagues in the medical school or the vet school, coastal engineering, wildlife, the law school. Our research is quite diverse, and we go through periods of different focuses, depending on interests of graduate students and what’s important with respect to answering certain conservation questions.”
ACCSTR assistant and UF alumna Ashley Meade ’17 measures seagrass blade parameters at Buck Island Reef National Monument in the Virgin Islands. Alexandra Gulick
Recently, those questions have revolved around seagrass habitats and sea turtles’ interaction with them. The green turtle is unusual in that it is primarily herbivorous and will happily eat seagrasses and algae. “The green turtle has always been Archie’s main focus, and mine as well,” says Bjorndal, whose dissertation described the fermentation process, akin to a horse’s digestive system, that the green turtle uses to digest seagrass and algae. Not unlike horses, green turtles graze on pastures — of seagrass that sweep the ocean floor. Currently, several graduate students’ projects tackle the ecology and behavioral patterns of the green turtles who “mow” the grass.
Following the Bahamian ban and years of successful conservation efforts, the green turtle population consequentially boomed — and many seagrass habitats that had appeared pristine were soon trimmed short. The question arose, What had been the natural state of the ecosystem before over-hunting of turtles? “Seagrass pastures and green turtles co-evolved, so when humans reduced their numbers to 3–5 percent of what they had been, the meadows expanded, but there is now some alarm from those who think they’re destroying the pastures,” says Bjorndal. “Our graduate students are examining whether it’s an illusion that the ecosystems are being destroyed.”
Graduate student Alexandra Gulick is evaluating the productivity of turtle-grazed seagrass “meadows” and how seagrass ecology may influence green turtle grazing behavior. “I feel incredibly fortunate to be learning from such a collaborative and inspiring group of scientists,” she says. “The ACCSTR plays an invaluable role in providing the research and outreach necessary to bridge the gap between the public, policy, and the goals of sea turtle conservation.”
Carr’s other favorite turtle was the loggerhead, and he was particularly intrigued by what he called “the lost year.” Loggerhead hatchlings depart beaches along the Atlantic coast and head out for the sea, but research had been unable to determine where they went and what they did afterward. While Bjorndal picked up Carr’s green turtle track, Bolten focused on this mystery. His research has shown that the lost year is actually more of a lost decade; during their first 10 years of life, loggerheads are entirely oceanic. During this life stage, they are vulnerable to longline fishing, which standardly used a J-shaped hook that fatally ensnared turtles. Bolten sought a solution for this problem and found potential in a circle-shaped hook. “I would go to meetings and use a nylon stocking to demonstrate that circle hooks can be removed,” he says. “But then we got a high shark bycatch rate with this type of hook. We can’t prevent harm to turtles at the expense of other animals.”
Carr was most interested in the green turtle and the loggerhead, shown here. It is classified as a vulnerable species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
By tracking life cycle activities of turtles, ACCSTR can produce a better solution: scheduling commercial fishing activity and restricting equipment according to when and where vulnerable species are in a particular geographic zone. “Of course, being international waters, this approach requires a certain political will,” says Bolten.
If Carr’s legacy is any indication, efforts for ocean health and sea turtle conservation are increasing. “His writings were what spurred interests around the world,” says Bjorndal. Gulick adds, “As an aspiring scientist, I’m excited to contribute to a legacy of work that has been successful in garnering support from so many, all of whom want to see sea turtles fulfill their ecological roles once again.”
Bjorndal recalls something French marine biologist Jacques Fretey once said to her about sea turtle scientists, “We are all Archie’s children.” Both his seminal work and his big personality enthralled and inspired new generations of marine biologists and herpetologists. “That’s a feeling that persists so many years after his passing amongst sea turtle biologists around the world,” says Bjorndal. “We still honor and love him. That’s why his birthday [June 16] is International Sea Turtle Day.”
“Academics don’t usually publish books that get national attention — you hope, but don’t dare expect it,” says Jack Emerson Davis, UF professor of environmental history and sustainability studies. “I hoped for book reviews in The New York Times.”
The Gulf — The Making of an American Sea, Davis’ latest book, exceeded his expectations. Not only did it get reviewed in The New York Times, but it also made the cover of The New York Times Book Review, saying, “In Davis’s hands, the story reads like a watery version of the history of the American West. Both places saw Spanish incursions from the south, mutual incomprehension in the meeting of Europeans and aboriginals, waves of disease that devastated the natives and a relentless quest by the newcomers for the raw materials of empire. There were scoundrels and hucksters, booms and busts, senseless killing in sublime landscapes and a tragic belief in the inexhaustible bounty of nature.”
In addition, The Gulf won the Kirkus Prize, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, was a New York Times Notable Book, and made a number of other “best of” lists in national publications. (See our book review.)
The Gulf is Davis’ eighth book. Two of his books focus on race relations and civil rights. When Davis was working on his PhD at Brandeis University in the early 1990s, he vacillated between specializing in environmental history or race relations. Both fields interested him, but environmental history was in its nascent stage. “I decided strategically to put myself on the market as a race relations historian who could do environmental history,” he says.
As it turned out, Davis’ first job was at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg. “I was the first environmental historian they hired,” says Davis. “And I ended up in Pinellas County, where I grew up.” Davis then taught at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he directed the Environmental Studies Program before coming to UF in 2003 — where he also was the first environmental historian the university hired.
Davis is a committed academic who chose to publish with a trade press because he believed The Gulf was an important book that should have a readership outside of the academy. “This book is about America and its relationship with its sea,” he says. “I was very conscious about bringing in historical figures from the Northeast, Midwest, even the British Isles, to show how Americans, and not just Gulf siders, are a part of the Gulf of Mexico history, how the Gulf of Mexico was, as nature was, a historical agent that shaped the lives of people who not just dwelled beside its waters but people from other parts of the country.”
When Davis first conceived of The Gulf, the Deepwater Horizon accident that dumped 130 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico had not yet happened. That Davis was writing a history of the Gulf around the same time that the largest oil spill in history was having a profoundly deleterious effect on his subject was coincidental, and it gave him a focus not to be about the spill, which he says, “seemed to rob the Gulf of Mexico of its true identity, and I wanted to restore it, to show people that the Gulf is more than an oil spill, more than a sun beach. It’s got a rich, natural history connected to Americans, and it’s not integrated into the larger American historical narrative. That’s a wrong I wanted to correct.”
Davis’ next book is Bird of Paradox — How the Bald Eagle Saved the Soul of America, a natural and cultural history of the bald eagle. Says Davis, “I want to flesh out the connection between nature and national identity.”
Olivia Allen ’19 always knew she would major in psychology, an area of study that fascinated her. During her sophomore year at UF, she was looking for classes to complement psychology when she discovered Skeleton Keys: Introduction to Forensic Anthropology, a class she loved and loved even more when Professor Steven Brandt visited and talked about a study-abroad opportunity at UF’s archeological dig site in Ethiopia. “His photos were beautiful,” says Allen. “The living conditions weren’t going to be that great, but the trip was going to be a life-changing experience. It spoke to me in a weird way.”
“The choices I make are my own. I’ve come to appreciate the value of my education even more, and I can see my end goal.”
Allen wasn’t sure that she could afford the trip — she is putting herself through college — but when she found out that it was “decently priced,” she signed up. “The only problem was that I’d never been out of the country before,” she says. “In fact, I haven’t even traveled to that many states.”
Nonetheless, at the beginning of Spring semester 2017, Allen got a passport, packed work clothes and sensible shoes, and joined nine other students for what indeed was a life-changing experience. “I was completely shocked by Ethiopia,” says Allen, “the sounds, the smells, the food. I couldn’t understand a word of Amharic. The language barrier was terrifying, but in an interesting way.” The students worked at the dig, laboriously sifting through dirt, cleaning any ancient stone tools or bits of bone they found, and carefully logging their daily activity and findings.
“We worked from 9 to 4 every day during the week and sometimes on Saturdays,” Allen says. “Each day, we would wake up and hike to the site. I never hiked before. I never climbed a mountain. I never worked so hard in my entire life.” The first time she hiked to the site, Allen says she complained about it. “The kids here hike three miles to school every day,” she says. “I realized the things we complain about are ridiculous. The poverty in Ethiopia is difficult to experience.”
When the UF team was ready to return to the States, they left the dig in Wolaita Sodo and spent a week in the capital, Addis Ababa. “We had running water and clean sheets,” she says. “We realized that we took everything for granted. The people there live with less than basic necessities.”
Allen says that after Ethiopia, she feels she can do anything. A perfectionist who used to cry when she didn’t get a good grade in middle school, she says, “I was always so afraid of failure. Ethiopia changed that for me. I also used to think everything was set in stone, but then I traveled and realized I could be happy in other ways. There are many doors I never considered before opened to me.”
Allen is now a dual major in psychology and anthropology, with a career goal set on counseling psychology. She also now volunteers as a study-abroad peer adviser and as a member of She’s the First, an organization that promotes women’s education in developing countries, as well as being a member of Chi Omega. In addition, she has an academic dispensation to work 30 hours a week. “My parents didn’t go to college,” she says. “They love me, but I support myself. I don’t resent it. The choices I make are my own. I’ve come to appreciate the value of my education even more, and I can see my end goal.”