When we were talking about Chernobyl last week, I thought that it was interesting how the disaster still effects many aspects of life in Europe, even more than 25 years later and hundreds of miles away. I was reading an article about an international conference on wild pig management (because they are a global ecological nightmare), and out of the blue there was a line about the thousands of radioactive wild boars that are invading Germany because of residual radiation from the explosion. I was surprised that Chernobyl would come up in such a specific topic, but I probably should not have, as the fact that it does further emphasizes the massive scale of the impact caused by the Chernobyl disaster.
Wild boars in Germany are a problem roughly equal in scale to the gross overpopulation of white-tailed deer in Pennsylvania, and now regularly show up in urban, populated areas. Due to global warming, the food they eat is now growing parts of Europe that had once been too far north, facilitating their spread. They are also a popular game animal, with hundreds of thousands of boars harvested by hunters every year (for both sport and population management purposes). However, a significant percentage of boars are radioactive to the point that they are unsafe to eat, and the German government has had to start a program to buy this meat from hunters, at costs of over half a million dollars. Boars susceptibility to high radioactiveness is also as a result of their diet – wild boars love truffles and mushrooms, which store radioactivity for exceptionally long periods of time. This is an example of Chernobyl making an already disastrous ecological problem even worse.
On an only semi-related note, if the spiders in the exclusion zone are also radioactive, and the wild boars get in the way, we might get a whole new problem (or in Russian, a целая новая проблема).
On an even less related note, Moldova is also having problems due to wild boar hunting, but for entirely different reasons.
This week in class we focused on Chernobyl and how this related to the ideas of progress and modernity in the Soviet Union. Russia has always been ostracized as a country that is distinct from all others. One reason for this idea is because Russia has always been seen as being behind other nations in technology. Thus, a constant theme throughout the Soviet era was a striving towards modernity and in turn progress. This theme was reflected in the Soviet Union’s policies and actions involving the environment.
To the Russian government, modernity translated into a transformation and exploitation of nature in the name of progress. In essence, the environment was reframed for industrial development. While this was a global movement, the Soviet Union took this idea to a new extreme level. This extremism was able to happen because in the Soviet Union, the civil society had no opportunity to comment or influence government actions like in other countries throughout the world. The extreme manner in which the Soviet Union persued the idea of modernity resulted in the exploration and use of nuclear energy.To the Soviets, nuclear energy represented the ultimate idea of modernity. It was taking the building block of human existence and harnassing it in order to benefit mankind. However, unfortunately when one thinks of nuclear energy and Russia, the idea of progress doesn’t manifest.
However, in studying Chernobyl what I didn’t realize was the true power of nature, and its ability to care for itself. In class, we watched various clips that showed Chernobyl in the recent past and what I saw surprised me. Rather than the barren wasteland that I expected, Chernobyl was surprisingly alive. Vegetation had crept back into the area, taking over and slowly breaking down the buildings. In the past, whenever I have thought about Chernobyl, I have pictured it to be a wasteland, silent, with shriveled up plants, no life, a mere shell of its former self. This class really altered my perspective, and I would welcome the opportunity to study this event in greater detail someday.
One thing in particular that I have been interested in lately is the corruption problems that Russia has been facing since the fall of the Soviet Union. One of the most common jokes you hear about Russian people is that they are all either criminals or corrupt in some way and I have always wondered if there is any validity in these jokes. This led me to become interested in the Alexei Navalny case that is currently being attended to in Russia.
I had never really believed that Russian corruption was as bad as people had led me to believe it was until I saw this case. Now I don’t know the truth behind the accusations against Mr. Navalny but to me it seems incredibly suspicious that a strong anti-Putin advocate was suddenly arrested on charges of embezzlement and fraud. I feel like in the United States, and arrest like this may have drawn more attention to the fact that it seems a little odd that he was charged out of nowhere. Yet in Russia it appears there is nothing that can be done about it short of Mr. Navalny fighting the case on his own.
While I am more informed know about the severity of the corruption in Russia, I am still unsure as to what has caused it. Was it just the fact that Russia is still getting used to their new system of capitalism/democracy? Or is it just that there are corrupt people in power? Either way, I believe that this would be an excellent and interesting topic to study in the future.
Just today I came across an article on the website of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty featuring a few dozen photographs of the people and places in the Soviet Union in 1963. Nothing is known about the person who took the photographs or those who are captured in them, but they are immediately captivating sue to the fact that they are in brilliant color. For some reason I always find it surprising to see photos from this period that are not black and white. I think this is partly because the color puts into perspective just how recently the events in the pictures took place. Another set of photos from 100 years ago are even more disorienting. Using a special camera that takes successive photos with different colored filters, the photographs have almost digital quality, but the subjects are undoubtedly from another century.
I also see color playing this sort of disorienting role in the film Stilyagi (or Hipsters in English). The film takes place in the mid-fifties, and against the drab khaki colored background of Soviet mass production, the brightly dressed hipsters look like they are from a different planet. Not only are the colors bright, but they do not match at all, representing how the Stilyagi clash with the what is expected of them. At the end of the movie, the two leads are making their way through a crowd of contemporary young people, and they fit in more than they did at any other point in the movie. One of my Russian professors used to talk about the limited spectrum of Soviet colors, everything was the same shades of yellow, or blue, or red, and there there was not any variation. Her favorite color was none of these, but tsvet morskoi volny, or sea waves, which is how teal is called in Russian. This poetic name does not seem like it belongs in the Soviet Union, which I guess is also partly why I am so surprised when I see color photographs.
My presentation on the changes and developments with the Health Center and the Wellness Center on campus is an interesting topic because there are many sides to the story of its progression. I have found a number of primary sources, in the Presidential minutes, from letters to the various Dickinson College Presidents, to inter-office memorandums about changes to be made. I thought it was especially interesting that the counseling services was so separated from the medical services. Not only was the medicine aspect separated, but they were also physically far apart from one another. Today, if a student needs counseling and medical services, they go to the same building just separate floors, and the doctors and nurses share patient information. Earlier, the student would have to walk across quads to get both services.
I realize that I have gaps in time in the story of the Health Center because I have come across information that I do not understand. For example, as I noted in my presentation the AEGC was some type of organization, that seemingly has no records of existence. It is strange that neither Jim nor Malinda knew what this acronym stood for. One problem I continue to run into as my research progresses is a lack of secondary sources. My very informal interviews with Alecia Sundsmo and Mary Polson are both primary sources, among all my archival materials. The suggestion made in class to look at the differences and trends among other colleges and universities and the changes in their health centers may good a place to start this. As of now, this is my reflection on the presentation and my information with the Health Center.
On Saturday I went to see the Dickinson Orchestra’s performance of Augural Years in Music. The pieces from Stravinsky’s The Firebird particularly stood out from the rest of the performance because of the tone and feeling that I associated them with. At first, it honestly reminded me of the waltz from the Godfather, low, dark and haunting, the kind of thing my father said he would play to scare all the non-Italians at my wedding, but I digress. The “Berceuse” gave me the feeling of a lone figure walking on a deserted street at night. Gradually as the violins rose and sounded like they were at a different pace than the wind instruments, I was filled with a sense of anxiety, like I was watching someone follow the figure with questionable motives. The “Finale” when it was played was a relief, a triumphant rise out of the darkness and an end to the falling sensation created by the violins.
Both pieces worked very well to encapsulate the Russian folk experience, often filled with suffering but rising to a glorified end, especially during the Soviet period even though this piece was written before it. Unlike some of the other selections in the concert, both of the pieces felt very personal and very specific to the Russian experience as I imagined it was. This was aided by the fact that each part of the orchestra, like the Russian people, seemed to be working separately for most of the piece, moving at different paces and through different pitches, but at the end all came together to create this unified “Russia” that was one of the people.
Originally, I planned to do this project on the history of Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th PIR, 101st ABN Division because of my friendship with one of the veterans of that unit. As I started to research, I realized that with the time constraints of school and the physical limitations on getting to various archives around the country, this project would either come out lacking or it would skip resources crucial to understanding that unit. So I decided to take a step back and analyze the equipment these soldiers in a specific campaign. Since Normandy is the most famous of the Second World War, I chose to do that in particular with the limitation of the 506th PIR.
As I started this research project, I thought that for the most part, the paratroopers would be infantry upgraded to an elite fighting unit with some specialized jump gear and additional firepower. With AHEC right next door, this question has plenty of secondary sources and more than a lifetime’s supply of primary sources. While I have run into the problem of too much information, I believe I have limited my issues by maintaining my focus to a few questions in the veteran’s surveys and targeting the right research areas. However, as I have found out, the paratrooper is not an upgraded infantryman, rather he is a specialized commando, if you will. This revelation has required me to look up these custom modifications and gear, in order to understand why they modified their gear and wore it in the ways they did. As a whole, this change in thought has lead to a more complete picture with my photo survey and the comparison to the “issued” equipment that I am focusing on as part of my project.
In my original presentation, I knew I wanted to focus on the Beat Movement of the 40’s and 50’s and the artists who were involved. After reading The Typewriter is Holy, however, I realized that I hated every member of what I had previously thought of as the “Beat Generation.” In The Typewriter is Holy, Bill Morgans thesis was that Allen Ginsberg was the head of the Beat Generation. The more I thought about this thesis, the more I realized that I wanted to argue a similar idea with a different subject. From the beginning of my research I was drawn to Carolyn Cassady, the only consistent woman figure in the group. She also seemed to me to be the only morally upright person, which also attracted me. After finishing Cassady’s memoir, Off the Road, and with the help of our class session last week, I decided that I wanted to argue that Cassady acted as the “mother” for the entire group of the Beats surrounding her (including her husband, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg).
Thus my subject changed from the beat movement to Carolyn Cassady’s influence on the Beat Movement. I’m curious to see how Carolyn’s influence can change the accepted idea of the Beat Generation as a male-dominated movement. I am still going to use the letters between the Cassadys, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg as sources, but now my main source is going to be Carolyn’s book. I am fascinated by Carolyn’s independent spirit in a decade dominated by the image of the ideal housewife.
In a letter to Neal, Allen Ginsberg writes, “Jack is full of Carolyn’s praises and nominates her to replace Joan Burroughs as Ideal Mother Image, Madwoman, chick and ignu” (Cassady 184). While raising three children by herself, Carolyn also tried to teach the men of the Beat Generation responsibility and morals. I don’t think it matters whether or not she succeeded in her final goal; what is important is that she tried. While she did divorce Neal before his death, she stayed faithful to him until his death, and she loved him for many years after their divorce. This faithfulness and kindness kept the Beat Generation together for longer than the men were interested in it.
One of Neal’s lovers wrote to Carolyn after Neal’s death, summing up Carolyn’s personality perfectly: “Please try to find some happiness for yourself- you’ve lived for him so long, and you’ll get and deserve such pleasure if you’d love someone else. I love you Carolyn. And I wish you all the tolerance, patience and devotion you’ve shown, and love” (Cassady 426).
Originally, I was planning on exploring a general history of athletics at Dickinson College, not limited to a sport or time period, however, this seemed absurd. I decided to focus my research down to the formative period between 1919 and 1941, essentially the interwar period. I chose this time frame to limit the scope of my paper, as well as because athletics was changing and developing during these two decades at Dickinson, and throughout the United States.
The NCAA was established in 1905, and was still functioned as a voluntary organization through the 1920s. This was one example of how organizations began to institute rules and regulations regarding athletics on a national level. Dickinson’s faculty and administrators created the Athletic Association, which existed before 1934, and then reorganized it into the Athletic Board of Control, which began managing the budget, hiring of coaches, creation of schedules and such duties.
Throughout the period I am studying, there are many correspondences, speeches, articles in the Dickinsonian and a couple history books that discuss the issues of subsidization of athletes and athletic programs, and how that may corrupt the pure spirit of amateur sport. In addition, the records in the archives show how concerned the administrators are with their image as an academic institution and continually emphasize the primary role of education over athletics in College life. However, they do recognize the importance of athletics as part of a student’s education. In addition, the fact that athletics helps attract students to enroll in Dickinson, and helps encourage alumni donations or involvement in the school, the College admin. and faculty are careful to not promote athletics too much.
My digging in the archives has resulted in these interesting findings and I intend to explore the Athletic Board of Control’s meeting minutes now that I have recently found. It took research and time to narrow down my topic, but it has resulted in a more focused and valuable project because of it.
Below is a photo from “Eye on the Game” website through the archives. It is the Penn Relays team from 1900.
In perfect keeping with my academic ventures, the initial plan for my paper was quite interesting to me, very very ambitious, and on the whole more than a little high-minded and obscenely impractical. While the study of mercenary soldiering’s evolution from the Congo to the modern age would be interesting and very much in line with my academic pursuits, it would also be nigh well impossible to cut down to a mere 14 or so pages.
So I decided to chop things down a bit and to focus merely on the Congo, and to try to gauge the effectiveness of the three main mercenary units that served for the duration of the Simba Rebellion. This actually made matters much easier for me, as the number of primary source documents about the Congo is considerably higher than those of, say, Biafra or Angola.
Granted, that’s as much of a curse as it is blessing. Due to the lack of secondary source documents, I have to use a lot of “source triangulation” to confirm the veracity of statements—fact-checking documents against one another. Considering the obvious self-interest of memoirs, this could have proven problematic were it not for the accounts of two players who had little to no emotional investment in the mercenary leaders. Frederic Vandewalle and Jerry Puren’s memoirs act as a sort of a baseline to judge the others off of, something that has proven quite useful.
Another benefit to the tightened focus is being able to devote greater pagespace to elements of the topic that interest me rather than rushing through them so as to ensure I cover everything possible. Overall, I feel that this new paper will be considerably more successful than the other one potentially could have been.