Radcliffe Institute Fellows Explore the Schlesinger Library

Karla Strobel, Communications Officer

Researchers, students, scholars, and authors travel from around the world to use the collections at the Schlesinger Library. Radcliffe Institute fellows are no exception. Several 2011–2012 fellows are seeking out the Schlesinger’s collections to find information and inspiration for their ambitious projects.

John Aylward RI ’12

New England Poets:
A Work for Soprano and Chamber Ensemble

Where rhythmic vitality meets lyricism and wit, one finds the works of composer and musician John Aylward. The 2011–2012 Rieman and Baketel Fellow for Music, Aylward will turn to the Schlesinger for inspiration in composing his modern classical music works.

Having just released his debut album, Stillness and Change, this past summer, Aylward will embark on his next musical adventure at the Institute—creating a song cycle inspired by the texts of influential New England women poets. His muses? Mary Oliver, Elizabeth Bishop, Anne Sexton, and Louise Glück. The works of these poets are part of the library's collections, including personal audio recordings, correspondence, and notes of Anne Sexton. "I find the corollaries among music, other arts, and the humanities to be a source of inspiration," says Aylward. "The focus on these New England poets will allow me to explore connections between the poetic verse and the musical phrase."

Laurel Bossen RI '12
Melissa Brown RI '12

Female Labor and Footbinding in Rural China, 1900-1950

For decades, anthropologists Laurel Bossen and Melissa Brown have collected interviews, field research, and documentary sources on rural families in China. Today, they're collaborating at the Radcliffe Institute to continue their multidisciplinary investigations—across women's studies, economics, China studies, anthropology, and history—to write a book on female labor and footbinding in early-20th-century China.

Brown, the Frieda L. Miller Fellow, and Bossen, the Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation Fellow, will join with visiting colleague Hill Gates to examine the labor contributions of rural Chinese women when modern industry, transportation, and trade undermined commercial production by women in rural households. Having conducted thousands of interviews with elderly women in more than 10 Chinese provinces and collected quantitative data, published materials, and photographic records, the two fellows intend to pursue further historical research. Next stop? The archives at the Schlesinger Library.

"The Schlesinger will allow us to compare our quantitative findings with early missionary writings about women in China," Bossen says. "The library's resources can provide supplementary background information on changes in trade, textiles, and footbinding practices corresponding to areas of provinces for which we have interviews."

Kara Oehler RI '12

Known, Unknown

Kara Oehler, an independent journalist and 2011–2012 Radcliffe–Harvard Film Study Center Fellow, is a rising star in public media who is pushing the boundaries of documentary forms.

At the Radcliffe Institute, Oehler will build the foundation for Known Unknown, an interactive audio documentary that immerses audiences in the particularities of place, combining aesthetic experimentation with ethnographic approaches in order to delve deeper into major news topics. "I create experimental radio and interactive documentaries that engage and refamilarize people with everyday stories and pressing issues," she says. "I believe sound is a uniquely absorptive, reflective, and intimate medium—one that requires the listener to draw on his or her memories to provide a subjective backdrop for a stranger's story."

Oehler plans to utilize the holdings of the Schlesinger Library to inform future episodes of Known Unknown. Three collections, quite different from one another, especially interest her. They are the video recordings, photographs, and correspondence of the sexologist and gerontologist J. Ari Kane-DeMaios; the archives of Florence Rapoport's television program Focus on Women, featuring women of achievement; and the records of the Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association, a nonprofit organization promoting the New England fishing industry.

Victor Valle RI '12

The Aesthetics of Fire: On the Art of Chile Eating

One of the main reasons that ethnic studies professor Victor Valle applied to the fellowship program is that he wanted to examine the Schlesinger’s culinary collection to write his next book, “The Aesthetics of Fire: On the Art of Chile Eating.” His book will blend cultural history, memoir, and aesthetic philosophy to interpret the ways in which North America’s Capsicum (pepper) aficionados understand and express the fruit’s beauty.

Valle will probe the Schlesinger’s culinary holdings for texts, images, and cookbooks that express how North Americans, Mexicans, and 18th- and 19th-century European colonists have interpreted the chile-eating experience. Valle also looks forward to researching the manuscript cookbook collection of the late Sophie D. Coe ’55, an important food historian and anthropologist whose research in Mesoamerican and New World cooking led her to write America’s First Cuisines.

After visiting the Schlesinger collections to record the lyrics of a Mexican folk song—“Yo soy como el chile verde, picante pero sabroso … (I am like the green chile, hot but tasty)”—Valle comments, “My research will explore written and lived cultural texts to understand when North American cuisines incorporate the chile and how different cultures look at the beauty of the chile, some stressing piquancy while others seek sweetness.”

Photos by Tony Rinaldo

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