Thursday, July 30, 2009

Poet Mark Nowak To Head Washington College's Rose O'Neill Literary House

Mark Nowak, a genre-blending poet whose work combines language, drama and photography in innovative ways, has been appointed Director of Washington College’s Rose O’Neill Literary House.

Nowak comes to Washington College from St. Catherine University in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he was Associate Professor of Humanities and taught for 17 years.

Nowak is the author of three books of poetry, including Shut Up Shut Down (with an afterword by Amiri Baraka). Shut Up Shut Down was a New York Times “Editor’s Choice” and a finalist for Academy of American Poets’ James Laughlin Award.

Poet Adrienne Rich has hailed Nowak as “a poet of remarkable gifts,” who “is generating a new poetics of class.”

Described as a “documentary poet” due to his work’s journalistic approaches toward real-world issues, Nowak is most recently the author of Coal Mountain Elementary, a work that relates the mining disaster of Sago, West Virginia, to a variety of mining accidents in China. Howard Zinn characterized this book as a work that “manages, in photos and in words, to portray an entire culture, the culture of the miner and his family, and it is a stunning educational tool.”

Nowak’s work has been widely anthologized. He is one of a dozen poets to be included in American Poets in the 21st Century: The New Poetics, and his work appears in An Anthology of New (American) Poets, Poets of the Great Plains, and America Loomed Before Us: Contemporary Poetry from the Other USA.

He is the founder and editor of XCP: Cross-Cultural Poetics, a journal that was launched in 1997. Nowak will be relocatinng the journal with him to Washington College, where student interns will have the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of academic periodical publishing by working with XCP.

Nowak’s teaching experience at St. Catherine University has been supplemented by his work teaching poetry and writing in alternative environments including the Twin Cities Ford Assembly Plant, the United Steelworkers of America, Stillwater Prison, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, and in public school outreach programs in Bowling Green, Minneapolis and Chicago.

“As incoming director of the Literary House, I’m eager to meet everyone in the Washington College community,” Nowak said. “And whatever your relationship to the word--be it as an aspiring graphic novelist, a spoken-word artist, a history student or historian trying to revise your next essay, or someone who just wants to spend a half hour ‘talking books’ – I hope you’ll make the Rose O’Neill Literary House your destination.”

Since 1968, Washington College has awarded the Sophie Kerr Prize, the largest literary prize in the world exclusively for undergraduates. In its 39 years the Prize has ranged in value from $9,000 to as high as $65,000. The Kerr endowment has also brought a parade of distinguished writers to the Chestertown, Maryland, campus, including Toni Morrison, Edward Albee, James Dickey, John Barth and Joyce Carol Oates. The Rose O’Neill Literary House is the co-curricular center of literary activity at Washington College, as well as the home of the Writers Union, a large and thriving club of student writers.

“We’re quite excited that Mark is taking the helm of the Rose O’Neill Literary House program,” said Christopher Ames, provost and dean of the college. “He will build on the traditions that have made the Literary House a haven for the creative arts, and he will contribute fresh ideas and new energy to Washington College’s already vibrant literary community.”

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Center for Environment & Society Supports Chestertown Greening

Read the article in the Chestertown Spy about how Washington College's Center for Environment and Society is using GIS technology to help increase Chestertown's tree canopy from 25% to 40% over the next decade:

Monday, July 20, 2009

In Memoriam: Walter Cronkite

The Washington College community mourns the passing of Walter Cronkite, who delivered the Commencement address in 1983. In his familiar staccato tones, the veteran newsman recited a litany of the nation’s problems at the time, including the disarrayed economy, an overburdened welfare system, an overpriced medical system, a lack of social justice, and communications media, “particularly television, that far too often are far too superficial.”

But worse, he said, are pollution, depletion of natural resources, overpopulation and atomic proliferation. “These mega-problems are our modern four horsemen of the apocalypse,” he said. Students and others of their generation will have to get to work right away on solving those problems or face the destruction of our society.

It was a message that, 26 years later, still rings true.

In his first year in office, College President Douglass

Cater welcomed fellow journalist Walter Cronkite to

campus. Photo by Constance Stuart Larrabee

From the Washington College Reporter

Summer 1983

May 15 — It was a picture-perfect day. The sky was nearly cloudless and the morning sun was brilliant above the trimmed campus lawn. At the foot of the Hill, family, friends and the College’s 201st graduating class assembled to face the faculty, Board members, officials and dignitaries as the traditionally magnificent al fresco commencement began. Walter Cronkite, quintessential newsman and one of the most recognized individuals on American television, was on campus as commencement speaker. “Please be seated,” he told those who stood to applaud as he approached the podium to begin his address; “This may be a bit long.”

Photo by J. Tyler Campbell '76

It was a memorable address: Some remarked that it was challenging and, all in all, positive; others noted that it was somber and perhaps a bit gloomy. At one point, breaking away from the flow of his written text, Cronkite raised his eyes and said, “I think you are exceedingly fortunate—this class of 1983—to be graduating from a college the size of Washington. It is most important that this sort of institution prosper and grow in this country of ours. We’ve gotten too much involved in the immediate technical education which can be learned, in most cases, in a trade school, and we’re forgetting the broad liberal arts education that you’ve gotten here at Washington College.”

In his address, Walter Cronkite told the graduates that they are living simultaneously in five eras: “The atomic age, the computer age, the space age, the petro-chemical age and the telecommunications age,” and that “together they comprise a technological revolution perhaps almost certainly greater in its impact than the industrial revolution of the last century.” He predicted, “there is going to be a social and political and economic evolution, coming with such explosive suddenness as to have the character of revolution,” and he admonished them saying, “It is up to us—to you—to get into the leadership of that revolution.”

He charged them to find ways to enable government “to cope with the vast technological changes taking place,” ways to make the legislative branch of government more efficient, ways to make the selective process ensure that the “best man for the job” of the Presidency is elected.

He said that as a nation we must “re-establish our credentials for leadership among the developing nations… by taking the lead… to reorganize the global economy.” He said that aiding the “poor majority of the world is very much in our interest” if we are to advance the cause of freedom in the world. “We are going to need converts to the cause of freedom,” he explained, “if it is to endure. Freedom must be a growth industry. And converts will not come from nations bulging with hungry people … [nor from] countries with illiteracy rates of 70 and 80 and 90 percent.”

“In sum,” he concluded, “your task will be to make America work again, to overhaul the system, discarding defective or outmoded parts and restoring those that still serve. You will be rebuilding, even redesigning America to preserve what it always has been and most remain—a nation of free men, an example to all men; in Lincoln’s phrase, ‘the last best hope of earth.’ … It is in your power to make your revolution a model to live, as did that other revolution, for 200 years.”

WCs Adam Goodheart in the New York Times

Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, has had an article published in
the New York Times Magazine. The piece offers a historical perspective on how the idea of harnessing wind power is a time-honored American dream:

Congratulations, Adam!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Full Moon Paddle at Eastern Neck Island

Chestertown – The Center for Environment & Society (CES) at Washington College and the Friends of Eastern Neck, Inc., are sponsoring a paddle at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge on Thursday, August 6, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The group will meet at Bogles Wharf, a public landing on Eastern Neck Island, to celebrate the harvest moon and learn more about the ecology of the Chesapeake Bay. The event is free and open to the public. Bring your own kayak, life vest, and paddle. Or pre-register by July 30 to reserve Washington College equipment. To register, or for more information, contact CES project manager Mike Hardesty at or 410-810-7488.

The Center for Environment & Society works to instill a conservation ethic by connecting people to the land and water. It supports interdisciplinary research and education, exemplary stewardship of natural and cultural resources, and the integration of ecological and social values. For more information, visit or call 410-810-7161. The Friends of Eastern Neck, Inc. is a non-profit organization that supports the missions of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge through financial, advocacy, and volunteer support. To learn more about volunteer opportunities through the Friends of Eastern Neck, Inc. visit or call (410) 639-7056.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Seven Washington College Students Awarded Comegys Bight Summer Research Fellowships

CHESTERTOWN – This summer, Washington College students are fanning out from Chestertown into Congressional offices, art galleries, local police departments, and the medieval libraries of the University of Oxford. Under the auspices of the Comegys Bight Fellows Program, seven undergraduates are spending their summer vacation pursuing research projects and internships built around their own interests. Some stay close to home, reading voraciously, conducting interviews, and burying themselves in dusty archives, while others pursue their research questions across the ocean.

The Comegys Bight program, conceived and generously sustained by Drs. Thomas and Virginia Collier of Chestertown and administered by the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, offers stipends for students to pursue these independent projects, with the guidance of faculty mentors.

Now in its sixth year, the program has served 32 students since its advent in 2003. Recipients of the Comegys Bight Fellowship are provided opportunities to take their passions beyond classroom study, resulting in experiences that have, in some cases, changed the course of their intellectual lives.

“One of the most exciting things about this program has been seeing how the students’ experiences as Comegys Bight Fellows continue to resonate in their lives throughout college and far beyond,” said Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the Starr Center. “Past fellows have gone on to study at major graduate schools, and to careers in journalism, book publishing, and teaching. The Comegys Bight program gave them opportunities to integrate scholarly work with real-world experience in ways that they would not have found in the classroom.”

Drawn from a wide range different academic majors, the 2009 Fellows are a diverse and accomplished group:

Philosophy and Humanities major James Schelberg ’11 will investigate the contradictions in the 18th-century American evangelist Jonathan Edwards’s writings, using the collections of some of the world’s finest research libraries, including Oxford’s Bodleian Library and Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Andrea Roth ’10 will remain in Chestertown to help plan the inaugural exhibition at Washington College’s new Benjamin K. and Judith C. Kohl Art Gallery. This junior curatorship will provide her an opportunity to work with 18th-century landscape paintings by such artists as Church, Heade and Bierstadt, learn the ropes of curating an art exhibition, and conduct research for her senior Sociology thesis on changing Western perceptions of rural life.

Dominick Iaquinto ’11, a History major, will spend the summer researching narratives written by colonists who were taken as prisoners by Native American tribes in the 17th and 18th-centuries. He will use these “captivity narratives” to explore questions of assimilation and cultural identity in early America.

John MacLellan ’10, a fellow History major, will concentrate on the experiences of homeless Americans during the Great Depression. Using records at the Library of Congress and the National Archives to explain why and how people lost their homes, he hopes to find a new perspective on today’s sub-prime mortgage crisis.

Humanities major Joyell Johnson ’10 is pursuing research for her senior thesis on changing images of African-American women in American popular culture, concentrating on the development of the stereotypical image of the black “Mammy.”

Michael Mason ’11, a Political Science and History major, will explore the evolving role of money in the American electoral process. He will spend the summer in Washington, D.C., conducting interviews with current and former members of Congress, lobbyists and policy advisors.

German major Lauren Seeley ’11 will complete the first half of a comparative study of German and American policing practices, grounded in interviews and ride-alongs with patrol officers.

When the Fellows return to Washington College in the fall, each will bring back a unique point of view shaped by an unusual summer. As the years pass, these experiences may open intellectual and professional doors as yet unimagined.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Historian Wins Fellowship For Groundbreaking Book On Betsy Ross

Update: 2009-10 Patrick Henry Writing Fellow Marla Miller appears at Washington College to discuss the fascinating real life of Betsy Ross.

CHESTERTOWN, MD – Marla Miller, a rising star in the field of American history, has been awarded the 2009-10 Patrick Henry Writing Fellowship.

The Patrick Henry Writing Fellowship, provided by Washington College's C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, offers a yearlong residency to authors doing innovative work on America's founding era and its legacy.

Miller, who directs the Public History Program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, will spend the coming academic year at Washington College, where she will complete a groundbreaking biography of the famed flag-maker Betsy Ross.

“We’re thrilled at the prospect of having Marla Miller in Chestertown for the year,” said Adam Goodheart, the Starr Center’s Hodson Trust-Griswold Director. “Her passion for American history and artifacts shines through in her writing, and has also made her a very popular teacher at UMass. She will be a dynamic addition to the Washington College community.”

Despite Betsy Ross’s iconic status, there has never been any in-depth study of her life – nearly all the books on her have been fictional accounts or children’s books, partly because authors have thought there was not enough surviving information. Some have even assumed she was a wholly mythological figure. But Miller has unearthed new sources that shed light on the very real Ross and her world.

Miller’s book, which is under contract to be published by Henry Holt, looks not just at Ross’s long and eventful life (she outlived three husbands), but also the behind-the-scenes roles that women artisans played in the American Revolution, and how ordinary working-class people experienced the war.

Whether or not Ross sewed the first American flag, she was an ambitious and successful entrepreneur who provided banners, ensigns, standards and other military supplies to the American forces from the Revolutionary era through the War of 1812.

In addition to the book, Miller is helping to organize an exhibition at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware, based on her research and set to open in the fall of 2010.

She also hopes to write two children’s books on Ross, one a biography and the other a fictional account based on the life of an African American child in her household.

Miller, an associate professor at UMass, is a committed advocate of history that reaches non-academic audiences – as well as history that can be touched as well as read. Her writing has been acclaimed for breathing life into the “things” of the past – from 18th-century petticoats to Revolutionary flags.

It was her scholarly work on other colonial seamstresses that inspired Miller to write a book on Ross, one that would appeal to the general public as well as historians. Her first book, The Needle’s Eye: Women and Work in the Age of Revolution (University of Massachusetts Press, 2006), received rave reviews. The historian Gloria Main called it “remarkably close to perfect,” and the Journal of American History lauded it for “reshaping our understanding of women’s place in the developing Atlantic world.”

Winner of the Millia Davenport Prize from the Costume Society of America, the book is a revision of Miller’s 1997 doctoral thesis, which was awarded the Organization of American Historians’ Lerner-Scott Prize for the Best Dissertation in Women’s History. She is a previous recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Antiquarian Society, and the Winterthur Museum.

The Patrick Henry Writing Fellowship’s funding is permanently endowed as part of a $2.5 million challenge grant package that the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded through its nationwide “We the People” initiative, which is dedicated to strengthening the teaching, study and understanding of American history and culture.

As part of the fellowship, Miller will live in a restored 1735 house in the heart of Chestertown's colonial historic district, and will teach a course at Washington College in the spring.
“I've long been aware of the innovative programming the Starr Center creates,” Miller said, “and it is one of the very few places where my interests in academic and public history are both supported in truly equal measure. I'm grateful for the time to write and think, but doubly excited to be around the forward-thinking energy the Center cultivates.”

Miller will deliver a public talk on her work on Wednesday, September 16, at 7:30 p.m. in Washington College’s Litrenta Lecture Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

Launched by the Starr Center in 2008, the Patrick Henry Fellowship aims to encourage reflection on the links between American history and contemporary culture, and to foster the literary art of historical writing. It is co-sponsored by the Rose O’Neill Literary House, Washington College's center for literature and the creative arts. The Henry Fellowship complements the George Washington Book Prize, which is also administered by the Starr Center and awarded annually to an author whose work advances public understanding of the Revolution and its legacy.

Washington College acquired the Patrick Henry Fellows’ Residence in January 2007 through a generous gift from the Barksdale-Dabney-Patrick Henry Family Foundation, established by the Nuttle family of Talbot County, direct descendants of the patriot Patrick Henry.

About the C.V. Starr Center

The C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience explores our nation’s history – and particularly the legacy of its Founding era – in innovative ways. Through educational programs, scholarship, and public outreach, and especially by supporting and fostering the art of written history, the Starr Center seeks to bridge the divide between past and present, and between the academic world and the public at large. From its base in the circa-1746 Custom House along Chestertown’s colonial waterfront, the Center also serves as a portal onto a world of opportunities for Washington College students. Its guiding principle is that now more than ever, a wider understanding of our shared past is fundamental to the continuing success of America’s democratic experiment. For more information on the Center and on the Patrick Henry Fellowships, visit