Boundary Busters

Five new faculty directors join Radcliffe's Academic Ventures program
Photos by Webb ChappellPhotos by Webb Chappell

The Radcliffe Institute is known as a convening place at Harvard, where faculty members come to pursue research across disciplines and departmental boundaries. As Daniel Carpenter RI ’08, one of Radcliffe’s new faculty directors, puts it, “There’s no more interdisciplinary venue at Harvard than Radcliffe.”

The faculty directors in Radcliffe’s Academic Ventures program spend a couple of years working part-time at the Institute planning conferences, symposia, and seminars on crucial topics. These are the people behind the Institute’s annual conference on themes relating to gender, the annual science symposium, and Exploratory Seminars that are held throughout the year.

Huth, a particle physicist, also studies navigational methods across time and cultures.Huth, a particle physicist, also studies navigational methods across time and cultures.

John Huth AM ’93
Codirector of the science program, Academic Ventures, Radcliffe Institute; Donner Professor of Science in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Yukio Lippit ’92
Director of the arts program, Academic Ventures, Radcliffe Institute; professor of history of art and architecture in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Julie A. Buckler PhD ’96, RI ’07
Director of the humanities program, Academic Ventures, Radcliffe Institute; Harvard College Professor and professor of Slavic languages and literatures in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Daniel Carpenter AM ’02, RI ’08
Director of the social sciences program, Academic Ventures, Radcliffe Institute; Allie S. Freed Professor of Government in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Janet Rich-Edwards ’84, SD ’95
Codirector of the science program, Academic Ventures, Radcliffe Institute; associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and associate professor in the department of epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health

What drew you to the Radcliffe Institute?

Daniel Carpenter: I was a Radcliffe fellow in 2007–2008, so I was well aware of the interdisciplinary environment the Institute offered. I was also drawn here because of Radcliffe’s long association with the study of women and gender. I’ve been studying petitions in North American history, and I’m increasingly fascinated by the preeminent role that women played in petitioning in the past—especially in the 19th century—and still do today.

Julie A. Buckler: I’m in a rather small discipline, Slavic languages and literatures, which I love, but the world Radcliffe is creating is much more expansive. I’ve spent the past three semesters working on Harvard’s Humanities Project, trying to create a sense of culture and goals within the Arts and Humanities Division. The idea of doing something similar at Radcliffe across divisions and schools was thrilling.

Lippit specializes in Japanese and East Asian art, particularly Zen Buddhist painting.Lippit specializes in Japanese and East Asian art, particularly Zen Buddhist painting.

John Huth: Most of my career has been pretty focused on particle physics, but when I started working on navigation, I branched into a lot of other disciplines—anthropology, climatology, neuroscience, and meteorology. You can read a lot about other disciplines, but it’s a much richer experience when you interact with people. It’s the difference between email and a conversation.

Janet Rich-Edwards: I’ve been involved with Radcliffe since my undergrad days. After I graduated, I was a Radcliffe mentor to an undergrad, and later on I led a couple of Exploratory Seminars. The appeal is all this intellectual variety in one place.

Yukio Lippit: Radcliffe is exploring ways to connect artistic practices with other activities at the University. This is very exciting, so I wanted to participate.

What do you plan to do at the Institute?

JRE: I have an immediate task that I’m very excited about—this spring’s conference on gender, medicine, and the public’s health. We may also organize satellite events, with a workshop on sex differences in Alzheimer’s disease and another on sex differences and obesity.

JH: I’m interested in coordinating an event or series of events between Radcliffe and the Harvard museums about navigational instruments. In the Semitic Museum, there’s a map that has the oldest known orientation, with East at the top, and the Peabody Museum has pictorial representations. Plus there are all these navigational tools in disparate places. In one place, there’s a stick chart from the Marshall Islands that was used in wave piloting.

JAB: I’m the coprincipal investigator, with Eve Blau, of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, on a new grant called Recontextualizing Urban Studies that’s structured around four cities—Boston, Berlin, Mumbai, and Istanbul. I have a long-standing interest in urban studies—I wrote a book about St. Petersburg—and Radcliffe wanted to have a strong role in this project.

 Buckler's field is Slavic languages and literatures, but she has a long-standing interest in urban studies. Buckler's field is Slavic languages and literatures, but she has a long-standing interest in urban studies.

The other half of my work is to build a community of faculty members who want to explore cultural memory and artifacts, markers of the past, and memory practices such as commemorations and monuments. This past summer, I traveled to Russia to visit several imperial memory sites, including two very controversial cases of “reconstruction,” whereby ruined imperial palace-park complexes in Moscow and St. Petersburg were treated rather roughly as “usable past” and adapted to contemporary state and public purposes. I had the opportunity to meet some preservation activists during this trip. Going forward, I hope to collaborate with these Russian colleagues.

DC: I’m interested in the ways other than voting that people become active in politics. At the mass level, I’m thinking of petitioning, protest, and contacting members of Congress or legislatures. But at the elite level, I’m thinking of lobbying and persuasion. Who shows up when financial regulations are being debated in Washington or when some new rule is being floated by the EPA? We need to dig into the gender, class, and racial disparities in these activities, some of which entail who talks with whom. I want to start a collaborative discussion that includes people within and outside the University to examine these questions.

YL: We’ll be featuring an artist named Helen Mirra in the spring in the gallery in Byerly Hall. Helen’s artistic practice is based on walking. She walks and takes prints of nature every hour in a very disciplined way. She uses undyed linen and imprints it with the natural landscape around her. And we’ll be doing a two-part show with the List Visual Arts Center at MIT.

Tell us about your recent research.

JH: My work in navigation began with a tragedy. I was kayaking on Cape Cod and went paddling off the beach in front of my house. I should have known better and taken a compass, but I didn’t. Sure enough, an extremely dense fog rolled in. I noted the wind direction and the direction of the waves and used the wind to steer myself. The next day, I found out that two girls had vanished in the fog. They had gone out at the same time I did and got caught in the same fog bank. They found the body of one girl a couple of days later and never found the other one.

Carpenter is interested in all the different ways in which people become politically active.Carpenter is interested in all the different ways in which people become politically active.

I had survivor’s guilt. I went into hyperdrive and started memorizing the position of major stars and learning how to use the sun and the wind as navigational aids.

After I rotated out of being chair of the physics department, I had a year’s sabbatical. I wanted to try something new in my teaching, so I came up with a freshman seminar called Primitive Navigation. The term “primitive” was deliberately ironic, because the old methods of navigation were actually quite sophisticated. I taught the freshman seminar for two years and then turned it into a general education course that I’ve taught for three years. There’s no text for the course, so I wrote up a set of lecture notes. Somebody suggested that the notes might make an interesting trade book, and that’s how The Lost Art of Finding Our Way (Harvard University Press, 2013) came about.

JRE: I’m investigating common pregnancy complications—such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and preterm birth—that are experienced by about a quarter of women who ever have a child. This set of complications predicts a doubling of the risk of heart disease, the number-one killer of American women, among those mothers. We’re trying to see if there’s a way we can use information from the pregnancy to better screen, prevent, and treat heart disease and stroke in women.

I’m also looking at women’s experience of violence—sexual, physical, and emotional—throughout their lives. There’s a strong association between childhood and adolescent abuse and chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. We’re trying to understand how this functions so that we can design better treatment and prevention options.

Rich-Edwards is investigating a link between pregnancy complications and heart disease.Rich-Edwards is investigating a link between pregnancy complications and heart disease.

The third, almost completely unrelated, area is work I’ve been doing in Mongolia. There’s an extremely high rate of rickets in Mongolia, a disease caused by a lack of vitamin D. We tested school-age children and were completely floored by how low their vitamin D levels were. We had never seen deficiencies like that. Since then we’ve been working with the Mongolian governmental ministries to find the best ways to raise vitamin D levels for the whole population.

DC: For about 10 years now, I’ve been fascinated by petitions in North America and the way they burst forth in large numbers and deep passions over two centuries—in Colonial America and the United States, in French-speaking Canada, in Mexico, among Native American peoples. We’re identifying tens of thousands of petitions in archives and putting images of these vital documents online for use by other researchers, teachers, students, and people doing genealogical research.

JAB: My work on the Humanities Project is ongoing—this year I’m a member of the project’s steering committee. We have studied pretty closely what’s going on at Harvard and concluded that we lose humanities concentrators during their first three semesters. So our first item of business was to create three new portal courses, called framework courses, which are debuting this year. They’re very innovative.

YL: I’m an art historian and a specialist in Japanese and East Asian art of the premodern eras, with an emphasis on Zen Buddhist painting. I’m also very supportive of contemporary art practices.

I worked as a guest curator for the National Gallery, in Washington, DC, for the show called Colorful Realm: Japanese Bird-and-Flower Paintings by Ito Jakucha (1716–1800). It was kind of like the Japanese Mona Lisa. Over four weeks, 240,000 people saw the show.


Photographs by Webb Chappell

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