Monthly Archives: January 2018

A Broader View: Jewish History in Germany in the Last 200 Years

January 22, 2018

Wikipedia, Synagogue at Nuremberg, c. 1890-1900., destroyed in 1938

If the pinnacle of German achievements in science, the arts, and industry at the end of the 19th and the first decades of the 20th century would not have been possible without the “German Citizens of Jewish faith”, why was Jewish life there destroyed so easily within just twelve years?

To answer this and other compelling questions on this topic, Professor Ursula Muenzel presents a 200-year history of the Jews in Germany in her upcoming class, “Beyond the Holocaust: German Jews From Napoleonic Times To Present Day“. We visited her to find out more.

WIH Reporter: Can you tell us what is important to know about your class?

Muenzel: The rise of Jews in German society and the end of German Jewry unfolded within the short span of one and a half century. In this class, I will cover the whole scope of Jewish-German co-existence.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do we have about Jews in Germany?

Muenzel: The mistaken impression is to see the history of Jews in Germany only in retrospect, from the Holocaust, which is sometimes in the way of a broader perspective.

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know in analyzing German-Jewish history when looking through a broader historical perspective?

Muenzel: What is surprising is the Jews in Germany constituted such a tiny minority. However, they were perceived to have a much larger influence, both in good and malevolent ways.

WIH Reporter: What will be the format of your class?

Muenzel: It will combine several elements: a lecture supported by PowerPoint presentation, suggestions for independent reading and always Q and A. Ideally we will create a dialogue between myself and the students.

WIH Reporter: We like to ask every so often about what books are on on our professors’ night tables right now.

Muenzel: Current books include Die Welt von Gestern (The world of Yesterday), a memoir by Stefan Zweig, an Austrian author, who gained world fame before 1933 and who committed suicide in exile in Brazil in 1942. I just visited his last home which has been converted to a small museum, in Petropolis, Brazil. In addition a small volume of poems Brazilyrik by Nikolaus von Behr, in Portuguese and German.

Professor Muenzel’s 6-week class begins on February 8th at 10:00 a.m. For more information, or to register, click here.

David Brauer Speaks: On Women in Art

January 16, 2018


“Self portrait, 1610″ by Sofanisba Anguissola, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Soon after being asked to write this piece I learned of the passing of the distinguished American art historian Linda Nochlin (1931 – 2017).

Nochlin’s seminal piece “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists”, was published in 1971, on the first wave of feminist art criticism. The questions that Nochlin raised remain relevant to the present day.

This course will begin with the High Renaissance during which period Sofanisba Anguissola had become the first woman artist to enjoy wide-spread celebrity, leaving a body of some one hundred works.

The number of women artists increases through subsequent centuries to the present, but it is never a one-size fit all in terms of recognition and success. Not all countries produced significant women artists, this due to politics, religion and social issues. We shall try to create not so much definitive answers but at least clearer questions.

This course may have taken on an added relevance given the recent events in Hollywood and the creative world generally.

Professor Brauer’s 12-week class, “Women in Art: The Renaissance To The Present”, begins on February 8th at 1:00 p.m. For more information, or to register, click here.


 Film and Music: Two Great  American Art Forms

January 22, 2018

Photo by Connor Limbocker

In the year 2018, a year that will perhaps be known as “The Year of the Woman”, The Women’s Institute of Houston would like to feature two of its female professors and their upcoming classes. Hannah Biggs, whose class “Legendary Directors: And Film As Their Art” explores 3 major film directors says, “I always strive to make my classes lighthearted, fun, and let the movies themselves guide us in a conversation about film as an art form.”

Dominque Royem, whose class “How Music Makes the Musical: More Musicals,” takes us on a journey through the world of musicals tells us, “We will watch and listen to musicals and discuss how the music works with the drama. Since music as a language is based on perception, each member of the class might hear things differently!”

We visited with both of these professors to find out more.

WIH Reporter: What is important to know about each of your classes?

Biggs: In my class we will be studying the films of three directors: Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, and Martin Scorsese. I will show bits of these directors’ films in class, and I’ll pause for moments of lecture, ask questions of students, answer any questions, and provide clarification about the film.

Royem: In exploring the ways that music creates the musical, we will be looking at popular musicals to understand the special place music holds in drama.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do we have about film directors and musicals?

Biggs: We often think directors’ films all fall into one particular category, style, or genre when in fact directors often experiment with different film styles, motifs, and camera work as they evolve throughout their body of work. In their earlier works, you’ll see nods to the styles of their directorial role models. For example, Spielberg often uses a lot of editing elements of Hitchcock’s; and, early on in his body of work, the more Hitchcock-style elements of his films stand out. Only later on will you get to trace the development of a director’s body of work when they move to experiment and develop their own directorial footprint on the film industry.

Royem: One mistaken belief about musicals is that you have to like all the shows we will be covering – Carousel, Kiss Me Kate, The Music Man, Fiddler on the Roof, Into the Woods, and Les Miserables. The truth is that even if you don’t like a particular musical, everyone can learn something from each one!

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about the world of film directors and musicals?

Biggs: A director’s own personal biography can often have far more impact on the creation of a film than one would think. In addition to a director’s own personal biography, a director’s experiences making his/her earlier films can impact the types of films made later on. For example, Spielberg loved making films meant for children and young adults, like ET and Jurassic Park.He strove in all of his movies to reach that same feeling of suspended reality and total immersion in a world of imagination.

Royem: It will be surprising to find that we will be using the same methods of investigation for musicals that are used with classical music and opera. Learning these techniques in this class will make it easier to understand classical music as well.

 WIH Reporter: What will be the format of your class?

Biggs: I start off each class with a 15-20 minute lecture on the topic. We then view the film and work through the parts I’ve pre-selected to view in the class. Each film in this class will get two weeks of dedicated class time. I always play the movies with subtitles. You also don’t need to buy or watch the movies ahead of time unless you want to!

Royem: Our format is conversational! We will watch and listen to musicals and discuss how the music works with the drama. Since music as a language is based on perception, each member of the class might hear things differently! We will talk about why and how that happens, and what it means for our culture.

Hannah Biggs is receiving her PhD in English from Rice University. She was recommended to teach film at the WI by our very beloved professor, Dennis Huston. Hannah taught with Huston at Rice in his “Shakespeare on Film” class. Professor Biggs has published on film and television. Her review of Amazon Prime Instant Video’s original series, The Last Tycoon was published in the F. Scott Fitzgerald Review. She has served as the copy editor for The Comic Event: Comedic Performance from the 1950s to the Present, comedy on stage, tv, and movies. Currently, she is working on publishing an article on the film totem of funny farms, or comedy in agrarian storytelling—Chevy Chase’s Funny Farm, Green Acres, Cold Comfort Farm, and other such films and television series.

Dominique Royem is the Music Director of the Fort Bend Symphony Orchestra and, as such, one of the few female conductors in the country. She holds a doctorate in Orchestral Conducting from the University of Houston Moores School of Music. In her short tenure here at the WI, she has garnered a faithful following of students who have gone to see several of the symphony performances under her direction. Follow this link to see her upcoming schedule of performances

Discover one or both of these extraordinary women in their upcoming classes at The Women’s Institute.

Click here to register for Hannah Biggs’, “Legendary Directors and Film as Their Art” which begins Monday, February 5th at 10:00 a.m.

Click here to register for Dominique Royem’s, “How Music Makes the Musical: More Musicals” starts on Tuesday, February 6th at 10:00 a.m.

How Much Do You Know About…Women’s  Contributions to Film and Music?

January 22, 2018

“The Sense of Hearingo” by Philippe Mercier,  1744, Wikipedia

In anticipation of our upcoming classes featuring contributions by women in the arts, we put together a quiz to test your knowledge about little-known facts about women in music and film.





1. Who is is the only woman to ever win the Academy Award for Best Director?

A. Lina Wertmuller.
B. Jane Campion.
C. Kathryn Bigelow.

2. Who directed around 20 films over the course of her 24 years, taught Francis Ford Coppola, directed Katharine Hepburn and Joan Crawford?:

A. Bette Davis.
B. Lois Weber.
C. Dorothy Arzner.

3. What was the first superhero film to be directed by a woman?

A. Spiderman 2.
B. Wonder Woman.
C. Ant-Man.

4. Who was a medieval visionary, leader, poet, dramatist, herbalist and composer?

A. Catherine de Medici.
B. Eleanor of Aquitaine.
C. Hildegarde of Bingen.

5. Queen Victoria mistakenly thought a male had written one of her favorite pieces, “Italien” which was actually composed by:

A. Clara Schumann.
B. Fanny Mendelssohn.
C. Amy Beach.

6. Which actress became a pioneering director and producer and the only woman working within the 1950s Hollywood studio system to do so?

A. Ida Lupino.
B. Gene Tierney.
C. Dorothy Lamour.

7. Who was an American film and theater actress, singer, and dancer  best known for being the first African-American actress to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress?

A. Hattie McDaniel.
B. Josephine Baker.
C. Dorothy Dandridge.

8. Which of these leading Broadway Ladies won 3 Tony awards and originated two of the most iconic Broadway roles in history?

A. Ethel Merman.
B. Liza Minelli.
C. Carol Channing.


1. C. Kathryn Bigelow won the Best Director Oscar for The Hurt Locker. Lina Wertmuller was the first woman nominated for the 1976 film, Seven Beauties. Jane Campion was number two for the 1993 film, The Piano, and Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation was also nominated in the past.

2. C. Dorothy Arzner was an American film director whose career in feature films spanned from the silent era of the late 1920s into the early 1940s. In fact, Dorothy Arzner was the only female director working in the 1930s in the United States.

3. B. Wonder Woman (2017) was directed by Patty Jenkins. The domestic gross for the film was $285.3 million.

4. C. Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) A composer of some 70 works, Hildegard was a writer, mystic and visionary. As a Benedictine Abbess, she founded two monasteries. One of her compositions, “Ordo Virtutum”, is the oldest surviving morality play.

5. B. Queen Victoria thought the piece was created by Fannie’s famous brother, Felix Mendelssohn.

6. A. Ida Lupino was an Anglo-American actress and singer, who became a pioneering director and producer—the only woman working within the 1950s Hollywood studio system to do so.

7. C. Dorothy Dandridge was the  first African-American actress to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in the 1954 film Carmen Jones.

8. C. Carol Channing is regarded as one of the most amazing stars in history and one of the top performers of all time. Her Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly and Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes are two of the most iconic roles in Broadway history. The year Barbra Streisand was nominated for Funny Girl (1964) she lost to Carol Channing’s Hello Dolly.