The great explorations of the natural world in the U.S. occurred primarily from the early 1700s to the late 1800s. Join Naturalist Glenn Olsen on Tuesdays at 10:00 beginning October 15 as he examines the many people who were explorers, plant collectors, ornithologists, and naturalists of the emerging scientific community.
On Wednesday, November 13 at 1:00 Rabbi Seymour Rossel will be back at WIH to tell the incredible story of the secret archives—letters, poems, songs, art—that survived despite the best efforts of the Nazis to write the Jews out of history.
WIH welcomes back historian Wil McCorquodale. His upcoming Sunday lecture on The Reign of Louis XIV will debunk some of the myths surrounding this king of France. Wil has come up with some True or False statements to test your knowledge. Answers to be revealed on Sunday, October 20 at 4:00.
1) The wars of Louis XIV were by far his greatest expense.
2) Louis insisted throughout his reign that he did not need the advice of ministers.
3) Louis ignored his illegitimate offspring and relegated them to monasteries and convents.
4) Louis almost never lost his temper in public.
5) By the end of his reign, Louis XIV’s council of state was run from behind the scenes by his wife.
6) Louis rarely commanded armies and gave his generals fairly wide latitude in what they did.
What does a dead, rich, privileged white male have to teach modern America? If he’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt, quite a lot!
No one could have been more privileged than FDR, who was born to wealth, social position, and an open pathway to success. A character in an Evelyn Waugh novel remarks, “Only the rich realize the gulf that separates them from the poor,” and in 1882 (the year of FDR’s birth) that gulf was far more vast than it is now. Of course, today’s ultra-rich can buy more things, and far fancier things, than the rest of us can. But thanks to the democratization of American society, pretty much everyone today has access to education, communication, entertainment, personal transport, and good health that ordinary Americans in the 19th century simply lacked.
Being “privileged” could not prevent FDR from contracting polio in 1922. Yes, he could afford the best medical care, but it could not restore the use of his legs. In an era when a disabled person was considered a social outcast, Franklin Roosevelt was determined to present himself as strong and fully capable of leadership. He willed himself to “walk” using heavy leg braces, a cane, and the strong arm of a son or aide. To deliver a speech, he used his well-developed upper body to hold himself at a rostrum — often with only one hand, so the other could be used to wave or gesture. He never wanted to be seen in a wheelchair, at the time the very symbol of weakness. Photographers covering the White House were strictly forbidden to take pictures of the president in a wheelchair or being helped to his feet, and the Secret Service confiscated the film of those who didn’t get (or ignored) these instructions.
FDR was also blessed with tremendous good looks and charm. Another Waugh character says, “Those who have charm don’t really need brains.” FDR was plenty smart, but it was his personality that carried him beyond the family estate on the Hudson to the presidency. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said FDR had “a second-rate intellect but a first-rate temperament.” FDR used his charm to put others at ease—those who might be concerned for his physical condition; those who had lost jobs, homes, and farms during the Great Depression; and those who worried for the future of the nation and its freedoms during the Second World War. It was said Roosevelt “radiated confidence”, and the United States needed a great deal of it during the 1930s and ‘40s.
Charm alone might have made Franklin Roosevelt president. But it was his experience with polio, refusing to let it defeat him and giving him empathy for the suffering of others that made him a leader.
Real Leaders, Real People: Overcoming Obstacles on the Path to Leadership meets on Tuesdays at 10:00 beginning October 15. Chase Untermeyer is a graduate of Harvard and served in the U.S. Navy during Vietnam. He was a Texas state representative; an assistant secretary of the Navy under President Reagan; director of Presidential Personnel and director of the Voice of America under President George H.W. Bush; and U.S. ambassador to Qatar under George W. Bush.
What was the major export group of items from Colonial America to Europe?
Why did people want to study and know the plants of North America?
Who is credited with establishing the method of giving a “scientific name” to all living things on earth? ( hint: we are not referring to Adam )
How did having scientific names change the study of plants, animals, insects, and all living things.
Who is considered the father of American Ornithology? ( hint: not who you would expect )
Who is considered the father of Texas botany, when did he arrive, and where was he from?
Who founded the organization that evolved into the National Audubon Society?
For the answers to these questions and so much more join us for Zenith of Discovery: Early American Naturalists for 6 weeks on Tuesdays, beginning October 15, 10:00 a.m.
Answer: Bollywood. Hollywood produces 500 films per year on average and has a worldwide audience of more that 2.6 billion, whereas Bollywood produces more than 1000 (not consistently) films every year and has a worldwide audience of 3 Billion.
2. Bollywood was formerly known as?
A. Hindi cinema
B. Bombay cinema
C. Mumbai cinema
Answer: B. Bombay cinema. Bollywood is the Indian Hindi-language film industry based in Mumbai (formerly Bombay).
3. The name “Bollywood” was coined in which decade?
Answer: C. 1970s. The name was coined when the conventions of commercial Bollywood films were defined. Bollywood is a portmanteau derived from Bombay (the former name for Mumbai) and Hollywood, California. Unlike Hollywood, Bollywood is not a physical place and some film journalists and critics criticize the name because they believe it implies that the industry is a poor cousin of Hollywood.
4. Bollywood has been described as “Poetic justice in two and a half hours.” For the most part, the movies are about what?
B. Music, song, and dance
D. Action and horror
E. All of the above
Answer: E. All of the above. Some argue that there’s a tried-and-true formula to any quality Bollywood film: swoon-worthy romance, swelling soundtracks, ridiculously attractive lead characters, and plot twists that you can see coming from a mile away. Others say that Bollywood’s secret is far simpler—it’s just a good time from beginning to end.
5. Films in Bollywood are produced in how many languages?
Answer: D. Films in Bollywood are produced in the following languages: Hindi, Gujarati, Malayalam, Punjabi, Assamese, Bengali, Marathi, Tamil, Kannada and Telugu. Around 14 million Indians go to the cinema every day, which equates to 1.4% of the entire population. Cinemagoers pay around a day’s wage to watch a Bollywood film.
1. The first meeting of what would become the catalyst for the suffrage movement took place in 1848 in what town?
A) Cleveland, Ohio
B) Sioux Falls, Idaho
C) Seneca Falls, New York
D) Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Answer: C. Seneca Falls, New York. In 1840, when Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton attended the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, they were forced into the gallery along with all the women who attended. Their indignation led them, eight years later, to organize the first U.S. women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York.
2. What year was woman suffrage ratified in the U.S. Constitution?
Answer: C. 1920. Although some states and territories had already given women the right to vote (on varying levels of national, state, and local elections), it was not ratified as national law until 1920.
3. Suffragists were all women. True or False?
Answer: False. Not all suffragists were women, and not all anti-suffragists were men. Numerous men were committed suffragists, and some were imprisoned and force-fed just like their female comrades. Many prominent women also proclaimed disapproval for the suffrage movement, arguing that women did not want to vote, and that it would mean competition with men rather than cooperation.
4. Which of these reasonings was used for denying women the right to vote?
A) 80% of women eligible to vote were married and would only double or annul their husband’s vote.
B) Most women did not want the vote and only a few, mostly radical, women would use it.
C) Women were too emotional and made decisions based on intuition.
D) All of the above.
Answer: D. All of the above. Many reasons were argued, but surprisingly, among the most organized came from women running the organization called the New York State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage. It published the first issue of The Anti-Suffragist in 1908. The quarterly magazine echoed the views of the anti-suffrage movement, which began in Massachusetts and New York in the 1890s and eventually gained a foothold in some 20 other states. For the most part, antisuffragists were middle-class, conservative, Protestant women who subscribed to the notion that women were biologically destined to be child-bearers and homemakers, whereas men were to be the lawmakers and leaders. In short, anti-suffragists believed it was against the laws of nature for women to seek enfranchisement.
5. Which was the first U.S. state or territory to give women the right to vote?
Answer: B. Wyoming. Women there had been voting since 1869 in Wyoming Territory, which only agreed to join the Union if this right was maintained. Congress threatened to deny statehood over the issue, but Wyoming wouldn’t back down.
Women in Politics: An Uneven Road Since Suffrage meets for 3 weeks on Tuesdays at 10:00 beginning September 23.
WIH is proud to welcome Leandra Zarnow, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in History at UH, to our faculty this fall. Dr. Zarnow specializes in U.S. women’s history, political history, and legal history. Her first book Battling Bella: The Protest Politics of Bella Abzug will be published by Harvard University Press in November 2019. We asked Dr. Zarnow to talk about her upcoming class Women in Politics: An Uneven Road Since Suffrage.
WIH Reporter: Welcome to WIH Dr. Zarnow! We are really looking forward to your class. As we get closer to the 100th year since woman suffrage – what do you consider the greatest achievement in women’s politics since?
Zarnow: I think the groundswell of women who ran for office in 2018 coming on the heels of the Women’s March of 2017 was a historic milestone and proved that women are increasingly willing to put themselves out there as candidates. So much attention has been placed on how few women are in Congress—and it is a pretty dismal 23.7%—but we might also look at how many women want to be there but have not yet made it. 528 women ran for Congress and nearly half made it past the primaries in 2018. This is huge, but the question is, why has it taken so long to reach a critical mass in this national power center? And as a historian, I want to also know about the hundreds of women who tried before 2018 and have not been considered as historically important because they lost.
WIH Reporter: What are you most excited to share with your students?
Zarnow: I am eager to explore with my students how much women have seized the opportunity to be involved in politics at every level since the ratification of the 19th Amendment, as well as why women continue to face impediments to voting rights and gaining public office.
WIH Reporter: What do you see as the most critical impediment to the slow advancement of women in politics? Is it merely a reflection of society in general or is there something deeper?
Zarnow: I think it is important to acknowledge that the founding framework of our legal and political system was one of patriarchy. We have come a long way from the days in which it was assumed women did not need the vote because their husbands and sons would vote for them and vote the same way. But it was not until 2011 that women in the House of Representatives finally got a women’s restroom near the Speaker’s lobby; a parallel renovation was made in the Senate in 1993. This was something women in Congress had complained about since at least the 1970s, and it reminds that our nation’s seats of government are patriarchal by design. It will take more years ahead to fully eradicate the law and culture that goes along with this architecture.
WIH Reporter: What do you think the first female presidency will look like?
Zarnow: I think the first female presidency will be most impactful in settling the longstanding misperception that women are not as tough on issues of national security, and likewise help destabilize our gendered conception of the commander-in-chief. It has been difficult for women politicians to overcome an enduring masculine political ideal. We see this in the Democratic Party presidential primary, where six women are running and two—Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris—are leading contenders. And yet, political commentators keep asking, “Are they viable?” and related to this question is talk of which woman would make a better vice-president. This preoccupation suggests to me that this masculine political ideal is still a quite dominant and powerful cultural preference.
WIH Reporter: In today’s world of women finding their voices and standing up to misogyny, what would surprise us to know about the women you will be discussing?
Zarnow: My idea for this class really came from a collection I am co-editing with historian Stacie Taranto, Suffrage at 100: Women’s Uneven Road in American Politics Since 1920, which John Hopkins Press will be publishing in summer 2020 timed with the centennial. We and twenty others are writing about women who have been persistent in using their political voices over the past one-hundred years to show that they are not merely finding them today, but rather there is a longstanding tradition of women’s political speech and political acts.
WIH Reporter: Tell us a little about your book Battling Bella: The Protest Politics of Bella Abzug. What made you choose her as an important historical figure?
Zarnow: New York Representative Bella Abzug served in Congress between 1971-1976, and in her time, was seen as the embodiment of women in politics so much so that Life magazine put her on the cover in 1972 of an issue that explored that year as a “Year of the Woman.” When I began this project in the early 2000s, I was surprised to find that even though Abzug was a major figure in the feminist and anti-war movements, no major work had been done on her. I believe this was largely because she lost her bid for Senate in 1976 and did not return to public office thereafter. In my book, I explore how Bella Abzug was a key figure of a Democratic New Politics faction that pushed the party leftward in the late 1960s and early 1970s not unlike the progressive challenge that is happening today.
Women In Politics: An Uneven Road Since Suffrage meets for 3 weeks beginning Tuesday, September 24 at 10:00.
Local academics, politicians, business and civic leaders, all say something similar: Houston is America’s most diverse urban area. But how well do we understand or engage these diverse communities? Diversity is neither good nor bad—it just “is,” especially in the Bayou City. It’s up to us to figure out how best to leverage our diverse communities; it’s up to us whether we’ll see people from different places and points of view as a reality to be embraced or avoided, whether it instills in us the desire to seek greater understanding or greater isolation.
I’ve been interested in religion as a practitioner since childhood, and academically since my first religion class 30 years ago. Since then, I’ve been on a path that has taken me through a career of leading faith communities and being an educator about religions. I’ve never wanted to foster some sort of religious “goo” of sameness; avoiding examining the different ways we believe or practice means we’ll look at religions in a superficial way, which is both boring and dangerous. Differences and similarities are both crucial in understanding religions. I also know that religions are more than just terms and concepts; they are comprised of people believing the terms and practicing the concepts. Being a child of two cultures and ethnicities means that, for me, this isn’t just an abstract exercise—they (and we!) are real people living real lives, living in community.
A funny story: when I proposed the title of this class, I didn’t make clear the punctuation. When I proposed what became “The World’s Next Door” I was really thinking about it in the plural: “The Worlds Next Door.” In the plural form, I was thinking about the different religious worlds that are our neighbors. But I love the unintentional yet serendipitous wordplay that has happened. Yes, there are many worlds all around us here in Houston, but I also think that “The World’s Next Door” as in “the world is next door,” stresses the urgency and immediacy of these worlds. We don’t have to go far to experience other people and other beliefs. They are right here as our neighbors, co-workers, friends, people who care for us, and we for them.
WIH is pleased to introduce Gregory Han, the Director of Interfaith Relations at Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston. His upcoming class The World’s Next Door: Religions in Houston begins Tuesday, September 10 at 10:00. The class will be an exploration of our fellow Houstonians’ many religious traditions—Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, and Buddhism—culminating with a site visit to a house of worship.
WIH is excited to introduce military historian John Bradley. Mr. Bradley served as an infantry officer in the U.S. and Korea and as an infantry advisor in Viet Nam. Recipient of a Bronze Star Medal, among others, he began his history career by teaching seniors at West Point. We recently caught up with him to learn more about his 10-week class World War II: The German-Soviet War that begins on Thursday, September 12 at 10:00. (Image of Soviet Soldiers Celebrating in Berlin, 1945)
WIH Reporter: Can you share one of the least known facts about the war?
Bradley: I think that one of the least known facts is how Stalin demanded that the Allies repatriate all Russians in Western Europe—Soviet POWS held by the Germans, Soviet deserters who fought for the Germans, Russians who had escaped from the USSR and lived in free Europe, all Russian émigrés who left Russia after the Russian Revolution and still lived in Europe—and the Allies complied fully. Tragically, the Allies even used military force to return Soviet personnel and Russian people who did not want to return to the USSR to Soviet custody, and they did so even after the Soviets summarily killed hundreds immediately after they gained custody of them.
In addition, the Soviets did not return all Allied POWS held by the Germans whom they captured when overrunning East Germany in 1945, and the Allies did little to regain custody of their POWs.
WIH Reporter: In your course description, you have described the German-Soviet War as the “largest war in modern history”. Since this is the case, why is it that so few of us have grown up learning about this aspect of one of the four wars contained within World War II?
Bradley: I propose the first reason would be that the Allied air and ground victory over Hitler and Nazi Germany in Europe – from D-Day at Normandy – dominated World War II history in the US. Americans were more interested in what the US had done and what American leaders and men had done rather than what our allies, British and Soviet, had done. Victory in Europe even dominated the US victory over Japan in the Pacific in the US, the British victory over Japan in Burma in the UK, and the huge Sino-Japanese War.
The second reason would be that the Soviet Union became our primary enemy in 1946 and remained so until 1991. Americans focused on the Cold War and the possibility of nuclear war with the USSR, and they were not interested in what the Soviets had accomplished in WW II. Moreover, the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe, the discovery that the Soviets had spied on us during WW II, and the growing knowledge about the savage Soviet dictatorship destroyed most positive feelings about what the Soviets had done in the past. I do not know of any people I knew who held good opinions of the Soviets during the Cold War.
The third reason would be that the history of the war is overwhelming in scope, in the numbers of people and military units, in the number of large actions, in the strange and difficult place names, and in the immense tactical detail—few American historians, professors, or high school teachers know enough about it to teach it.
Lastly, the German-Soviet War was an ugly war in which little quarter was given on either side, where the number of battle casualties numbs readers, and where ghastly atrocities mar the military achievements of both the Germans and the Soviets.
WIH Reporter: Perspective is everything—the Russians called the Eastern Front of World War II the Great Patriotic War while in Germany it was called the Eastern Front. What does this tell us about the mindset of these two world powers?
Bradley: For Germany this was a repeat of the Eastern Front of World War I. For Stalin, suffering disastrous defeats in 1941, he decided to revive Russian nationalism —something Lenin opposed—to somehow turn the war around: thus, the Great Patriotic War.
WIH Reporter: As a former infantry officer and now military historian, what were some of the main strategies used by each side to advance or defend their countries?
Bradley: To defeat the USSR in 1939, Hitler identified three major objectives: Leningrad, Moscow, and Kiev, but he did not designate Moscow, the critical one, as his main objective. To achieve the strategic objectives, the German commanders planned huge penetrations and tank-led turning movements supported by tactical air forces (Blitzkrieg) to break through the Soviet defense and then destroy the Red Army. The large turning movements in the center and south dominated the initial campaign and trapped and destroyed hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers at key places. Because of the wide distribution of forces, however, Hitler’s commanders did not have the combat power to seize any of the objectives.
The German commanders continued to use large envelopment and turning movements where possible in their 1942 campaigns.
In 1941, the Soviets had a shallow fixed defensive line all along their western border built around some strong points. After disastrous defeats, the Soviets improved their defensive lines by digging extensive trench lines, adding back up defensive lines, bringing up more artillery, adding large minefields, and deploying large reserves behind their defensive positions. As a result, they held Leningrad, Moscow, and eventually Stalingrad and Kursk.
When the Soviets went on the offensive, they copied the Germans and with their large army groups conducted huge turning movements.
The German commanders responded to the Soviet thrusts by conducting flexible mobile defenses until Hitler constantly ordered them to defend in place and not give up any ground. That proved to be disastrous for the Germans as they withdrew or were pushed back toward Germany in 1944 and 1945.
WIH Reporter: We are all aware of why Hitler is infamous. Can you expound on the impact of Joseph Stalin and will you touch on this in your class?
Bradley: Joseph Stalin was more barbarous than Hitler, but less so than Mao Tse-tung. Stalin caused the deaths of about 4,000,000 Ukrainians and 2,000,000 others by systematic, perpetuated famine in 1932 – 33, killed 690,000 Russians in the Great Terror 1937-38, and murdered tens of thousands in concentration camps from 1918 – 1930. During the Great Terror, he decapitated the leadership of the Red Army: killed 3 of 5 Soviet marshals, 13 of 15 army generals, 8 of 9 admirals, 50 of 57 army corps generals, 154 of 186 division generals, 16 of 16 army commissars, and 25 of 28 army corps commanders.
Stalin killed people randomly, killed people and groups he did not like or trust, killed people who knew about his past, killed army officers who might argue with him, and after war began, killed several generals who he decided were responsible for early defeats and ordered the Katyn Massacre of Poles. During WWII, he deported hundreds of thousands of minorities to the east because he did not trust them, causing untold deaths. I will cover all of this information and more in the course.
WIH Reporter: What do you hope students will learn from your class?
Bradley: A sound understanding of the war and its large and important campaigns. The importance of sound and judicious national war leadership as well as battle leadership.The importance of the Red Army’s defeat of the Wehrmacht to World War II in Europe.The war destroyed one terrible dictator and his regime only to elevate a more terrible dictator and his regime to be a world power.
WIH Reporter: Since you are new to WIH, we are interested in the books that you are reading or have read that you would recommend to others?
Bradley: For a first read about the war, I would recommend The West Point Atlas of American Wars. Though dated and based heavily on German sources and written by combat experienced World War II veterans, it provides an excellent, condensed operational narrative of the war with superb correlated maps.
For a less operational summary and generally an easier read, the newer The History of the Second World War, Europe and the Mediterranean, also a West Point product, provides sound information. The authors were combat experienced US Army, US Air Force, and US Navy officers and contemporaries of mine.
For amazing breadth and depth, David Glantz’ encyclopedic books, are worth reading. Be warned, however, they are not for the fainthearted. Glantz, a US Army officer, a Russian linguist and Soviet historian, has spent his whole life working on this war.
The memoirs of German veterans are very interesting and revealing, particularly Heinz Guderian’s Panzer Leader and Eric von Manstein’s Lost Victories. Georgii Zhukov’s two-volume Marshal of Victory is valuable, but the dedicated, life-long Communist general included large doses of Communist propaganda in his work. Typical of most memoir writers, he does not deal with his disasters or the massive atrocities he fostered. But Zhukov was a huge player in the war and provides much valuable information. There are several US Army historical studies of the war, written in great part by German officers, which include some excellent maps that provide very detailed tactical accounts of some operations.
For an understanding of the German high command and its background, Walter Goerlitz’s The German General Staff is a wonderful read. For an understanding of Hitler, Alan Bullock’s Hitler, A Study in Tyranny, provides a vital, contemporary view. And, William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is an essential source and provides a fascinating contemporary view of the Nazi era.
World War II: The German-Soviet War begins on Thursday, September 12 at 10:00 and meets for 10 weeks.
Religion has been a part of the American political experiment since the country’s very beginnings. Regardless of our own personal faith practices, those of us born and/or raised in this country have specific religious consciousness “baked” into us simply from breathing the so-called “American Dream.” September 25, October 9, November 6, and December 11—4 classes, 1:00 – 3:00 or 4:00 – 6:00. Don’t miss Jill!
Fans of Dominique will know her expertise in (and love for) Musical Theatre. She’s back with “More Musicals!” this spring! We asked her to give us a little more insight into her fun and informative course.
WIH Reporter: You mention in your course description that Musical Theatre is the only true American art form. What makes this so?
Royem: The musical was created and popularized in America at the turn of last century. It has been exported to every continent except Antarctica, and is a billion-dollar industry every year. The musical is one of the most popular cultural exports of the US, permeating world culture. The intoxicating mix of music, drama and dance is an American original.
WIH Reporter: Which musical has been the most popular and what do you think has contributed most to its success?
Royem: The designation of “most popular” is a tough one. The longest running Broadway show is The Phantom of the Opera, which opened in 1988 and is still running on Broadway. Its popularity can be contributed to the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and the romantic, gothic love story it is centered around. Other really popular musicals include Oklahoma!, which is revived all over the country, Chicago, which is the longest running revival on Broadway, and My Fair Lady, also revived all over the country.
WIH Reporter: Why are musicals important as an art form?
Royem: Musicals are the marriage of music and drama, adding to the best parts of both. They speak to many things in the American experience that are hard to translate to other art forms. Musicals are one of the most popular theatre traditions that bridge theater-goer and non-theater-goer alike.
WIH Reporter: How did Musical Theatre develop and is there an “inventor” of the Musical?
Royem: Musical Theatre came from the tradition of vaudeville during the turn of the last century. The first musical, The Black Crook, was a five-hour epic production that happened after a theatre burned down and stranded a Paris dancing troupe. They needed a reason to put the dancing girls on stage, so the producers added a story and songs to create a full evening’s entertainment.
WIH Reporter: We have to know… Do you have a favorite and can you tell us why?!
Royem: My current favorite always changes depending on the weather… but right now I really love Hamilton and The Music Man. Hamilton has been all over and is taking the world by storm. The Music Man will be performed by my orchestra, the Fort Bend Symphony Orchestra, in May so I’m studying the score now.
Register here for “How Music Makes the Musical: More Musicals!”
WIH Reporter: Margaret, welcome to WIH! We are excited about your upcoming class, “Interior Design Tips on a Dime.” Tell us what inspires you to think outside of the box when it comes to decorating? What is something unexpected that you have utilized to create interest in your home?
Shilstone: I have always tried to find economic and inventive ways to create what I call elegant, cost-effective interior design. Quality interior design does not have to be expensive. A creative approach is what I find fascinating. And, through my years of personal study, I have come up with ways to create an interior design update without spending lots of money. My theory is to look “outside the box” and see potential beyond the structured use of an object. For instance, I recently found an outdoor wall planter that is meant to be mounted on a fence and hold one potted plant. It is very vintage looking, and I could see that piece hung on a wall in a kitchen to hold kitchen utensils or in a bathroom to hold soaps, paper hand towels, or hair brushes. Another trick is that I find chalk spray paint works wonders for matted frames for pictures and prints. If you don’t like the matte color, just disassemble it, spray paint the matte, and put the artwork back in the frame for something that fits in better with your color scheme. You could even spray paint the frame.
My goal for this class is to open minds to see objects to be used not as they were intended, but in new ways. And on a budget! I will share resources that I use to help in the process of creating more out of less. I promise, this class will be an eye-opener to help students see beyond what they think are limitations to an amazing world of design creations.
WIH Reporter: Are you ever overwhelmed when you walk into a consignment store? Do you go with the idea of finding something specific or is it more organic than that?
Shilstone: No, that never bothers me. I actually like to look at things with fresh eyes. For instance, a book is not just a book to me. Rather, I might put it under a potted plant to create a different elevation on a table so that there are varying, cohesive levels for displaying cherished items. My vision in design is all about layering to create a pleasing, soft look that incorporates the things you love. Sometimes just adding a “base” to an object creates a totally new and interesting table top.
WIH Reporter: Are there any rules to interior design?
Shilstone: Did you know that most table top decorations should only be displayed in odd numbers? Three is the best tabletop configuration. Odd numbers are not only recommended for tabletops but also flower arrangements. There are a lot of tricks that make for really “design-correct” displays in homes that are pleasing to the eye and I hope to suggest ways to turn up everyone’s creative juices.
WIH Reporter: What is the one thing that you hope students learn from your class?
Shilstone: I hope this class will inspire students to take a more relaxed attitude when updating their interiors. We all drool over the professional interior design pages of magazines but, quite frankly, many of us – myself included – cannot afford that look. I hope to help students to see beyond the price tag and step outside those magazine pages and into their own personal style. My goal is to help them create a comfortable, budget-friendly interior that will reflect their personality and interests and to cultivate a creative attitude that will Wow their guests. All students need is an introduction into the creative process to open their minds to what is possible within their budget.
“Interior Design Tips on a Dime” meets Wednesdays, April 17 at 1:00.
Weiman: We can easily point to the lack of time, procrastination, and distractions inherent in modern life as reasons we keep things we don’t need. We can also look at all the items that we daily bring into our homes without looking at how little goes out. Additionally, there is a pervasive Great Depression-style mentality on the part of some that they “may need this someday.” However, I must mention a very powerful reason less looked at—which is our emotional/sentimental attachment to what an object represents to us. For example, Aunt Susie has died and left her unsightly couch to her niece who would never display it. However, it is as if this is “part” of her aunt, and somehow, even though it clutters up the garage, it feels impossible to get rid of. We will examine all of these issues in this class.
WIH Reporter: Marie Kondo is so popular right now. But, some of her methods seem over the top and maybe not totally practical. Is there a way to utilize some of her philosophy without becoming obsessive? Like maybe folding a shirt perfectly isn’t that important. Isn’t the idea of de-clutttering to find balance in your life?
Weiman: Kondo has touched a nerve with so many about how objects that no longer bring joy begin to weigh us down, and her techniques have proven a revelation for millions. Her techniques are powerful, and in our class we will go over many wonderful ideas and techniques from her and other clutter experts. Her folding methods are not necessary to follow her basic precepts, and I agree that the idea of balance is the actual true goal. For some, the folding techniques represent a visual symbol of the idea of beauty and order where once there was only clutter. Even children love to fold, so why not teach them when they are young!
I feel it is important to note that in our society, we see so many clutter make-over shows in which an expert comes in and fixes a family’s clutter, teaches techniques, and leaves them with new hope and excitement for a changed life. However, when one checks back later on these families, one finds the rate of recidivism is high. There are reasons why they got to their cluttered place to begin with, and when these reasons are not addressed, there is the inevitable slide backwards. This is why, along with techniques, simple awareness of common reasons (often having to do with emotions and attachment) associated with objects can make all the difference in being able to keep the momentum going and truly leave a lifetime of clutter.
WIH Reporter: What is a good tip that you could give someone who wants to get started cleaning out their lives but doesn’t know where to begin?
Weiman: It is often overwhelming to think of trying to even start addressing the clutter, because it has grown to such daunting proportions over the years. Those going through boxes of clothes or papers often start out with lots of energy and then shortly become drained and defeated as they try to sort through it because of their ambivalence over what they should keep or throw out. My suggestion to overcome the overwhelm is to use three paper grocery-style bags and label one bag “yes” , the next bag “no,” and the final bag as “‘maybe.” At this point, take each item out of the box and go as fast as possible, throwing items into the bags. We usually know what we DON’T want and what we DO want, but what slows us down and discourages us are the items we question. Having a “‘Maybe” bag to throw those items in delays the decision until a second pass is scheduled for another day. In my past classes, so many people have reported clutter-clearing successes using this process.
WIH Reporter: What is the one thing that you hope students who take your class will learn?
Weiman: In this class, we will learn so many effective techniques to help us clear clutter (both popular and lesser-known modalities). We will learn the very important Kondo system which brings a fresh point of view to the way we view the clutter in our life. Likewise, we will include the Western ideas from some of our top clutter experts in the US and Canada and also bring in the important 5,000-year old vision of Feng Shui in considering object placement. I will bring some wonderful ideas from my own system that has enabled countless people to address the clutter for the first time in their lives—even suggesting ways of using technology to address paper clutter.
By the end of the class, students will not only learn a multitude of techniques that they can apply immediately, but more importantly, learn perspectives on why we have clutter in the first place, so we can continue the “maintenance” processes that will allow us to remain truly clutter-free for the future!
“Kick the Clutter to the Curb” begins Thursday, April 18 at 10:00 a.m.
Answer: D – Italy. Ballet, as we know it today, began during the Renaissance around the year 1500 in Italy. In fact, the terms “ballet” and “ball” as in “masked ball,” come from the Italian ballare, to dance. When Catherine de Medici of Italy married the French King Henry II, she introduced early dance styles into court life in France.
2. In which language is most ballet terminology?
Answer: C – French. The official terminology and vocabulary of ballet was gradually codified in French over the next 100 years, and during the reign of Louis XIV, the king himself performed many of the popular dances of the time. The very first academy of ballet was opened in 1661 in France, thanks to King Louis XIV, and was called the “Académie Royale de Danse.” Pierre Beauchamp, the king’s dance teacher, created the five basic positions of ballet for the feet and arms.
3. Tutus and pointe shoes have always been a mainstay in ballet costume? True or False?
Answer: False. At first, the dancers wore masks, layers upon layers of brocaded costuming, pantaloons, large headdresses, and ornaments. Such restrictive clothing was sumptuous to look at but difficult to move in. Dance steps were composed of small hops, slides, curtsies, promenades, and gentle turns. Dancing shoes had small heels and resembled formal dress shoes rather than any contemporary ballet shoe we might recognize today.
4. What is the average lifespan of a pointe shoe?
A) 10 hours
B) 50 hours
C) 100 hours
D) 250 hours
Answer: A – 10 hours. Pointe shoes look dainty, but they really aren’t. The tip of the shoe is a rigid box made of densely packed layers of fabric, cardboard and/or paper hardened by glue. Depending on her experience level, a dancer’s pointe shoes will last anywhere from a few hours up to 12 hours of dancing. A professional ballerina can dance through 100-120 pairs of pointe shoes in one season!
5. Which country popularized the “classical ballet” in the 19th century?
Answer: C. Russia. During the latter half of the 19th century, the popularity of ballet soared in Russia, and, Russian choreographers and composers took it to new heights. Marius Petipa’s The Nutcracker, The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, by Petipa and Lev Ivanov, represent classical ballet in its grandest form. The main purpose was to display classical technique — pointe work, high extensions, precision of movement and turn-out (the outward rotation of the legs from the hip)—to the fullest. Complicated sequences that show off demanding steps, leaps and turns were choreographed into the story. The classical tutu, much shorter and stiffer than the romantic tutu, was introduced at this time to reveal a ballerina’s legs and the difficulty of her movements and footwork.
6. Who is considered responsible for bringing ballet to the United States?
A) Jerome Robbins
B) George Balanchine
C) Adolph Bolm
D) Vaslav Nijinsky
Answer: B – George Balanchine. In the early twentieth century, the Russian theatre producer Serge Diaghilev brought together some of that country’s most talented dancers, choreographers, composers, singers, and designers to form a group called the Ballet Russes. The Ballet Russes toured Europe and America, presenting a wide variety of ballets. Here in America, ballet grew in popularity during the 1930′s when several of Diaghilev’s dancers left his company to work with and settle in the U.S. Of these, George Balanchine is one of the best known artists who firmly established ballet in America by founding the New York City Ballet. Another key figure was Adolph Bolm, the first director of San Francisco Ballet School.
We are so happy to have Jennifer Sommers from Houston Ballet with us this semester. Jennifer serves as the Director of Education and Community Engagement at Houston Ballet. In this rare opportunity, Houston Ballet is opening their doors to go “Behind the Scenes at Houston Ballet” and see the creation of a classic ballet, Coppélia. WIH spoke with Jennifer to learn more about the process of taking a production from the studio to the stage.
WIH Reporter: How many months in advance does the ballet start working on a production? Has producing Coppélia had any challenges in regards to this? What excites you about this particular ballet?
Sommers: As you may know, our performance home, the Wortham Theater Center, was devastated by Hurricane Harvey. Last year, we took our season on a “Hometown Tour.” This year, we are thrilled to be back at the Wortham, but while we normally open our season in September, we were unable to get back until The Nutcracker in November. That means that we are doing 6 productions between February 21st and June 23rd! The dancers have begun working on Coppélia, but they won’t be focused on this production until April. There are some challenges to Coppélia because we haven’t done this production in 12 years, so it will be new for most of our current company dancers. Fortunately, former principal dancer Barbara Bears is serving as ballet mistress. She was in the company when Ben Stevenson created it and has danced it several times. Coppélia is one of the great comedic ballets. I adore the music and love the use of character dance in Act I. It’s a fun story about an irreverent girl who goes on an adventure, and the dancing and costume and scenic design are spectacular!
WIH Reporter: Could you share what it really takes to be a dancer with Houston Ballet. The last time we spoke you mentioned that one of the principal dancers had just become a mother. What type of regimen does it take to get back on stage?
Sommers: Our dancers work 5 days per week, unless we are in performance, and then they work six days a week. They typically start their day with a 90 minute technique class followed by 6 ours of rehearsal. Because they are working on 6 productions at once, they are carrying around a lot of choreography and information in their minds and bodies. They can work on 6 different ballets in those 6 hours of rehearsal. They get a lunch break and have access to athletic trainers and other therapies thanks to our partnership with Houston Methodist, but these are some of the hardest working artist/athletes you’ll find in Houston! For the dancers who’ve had babies, it’s really a personal journey for each one. I know they work to stay in shape during pregnancy and afterwards.
WIH Reporter: Talk to us about costume design. On average, how many costumes does each dancer have? What production has the most amount of costume changes and is the most expensive to produce?
Sommers: There are lots of costumes for our full-length ballets, and most dancers have more than one costume for those. For one act ballets, they usually only have one. Desmond Heely, a world-renowned, Tony award-winning designer created the costume and scenic design for Coppélia. His work is gorgeous and transforms the Brown Theater into a German village and magical toy shop in one night!
WIH Reporter: Houston Ballet is very involved in outreach in the community. What are some of the programs that you are most passionate about?
Sommers: That’s a hard question because I love all of our programs! If I have to pick two, I’d say one is our weekly Dance for Parkinson’s class held in partnership with Houston Area Parkinson Society. We are celebrating the 10th year of this program that works on strength, balance, creativity and creates community for people living with Parkinson’s Disease and their caregivers. The other is our Chance to Dance program. This is a scholarship program for students from low-income schools. We partner with 9 schools each academic year. 25 first and second graders attend 8 classical ballet classes at Houston Ballet Center for Dance with professional teachers and a live musician. At the end of class series, all students are evaluated for full scholarships to the Houston Ballet Academy. We currently have 62 students in the Academy that have entered through the Chance to Dance program. I’m really proud of the inclusive environment we have at Houston Ballet. We are committed to equitable access to the very best this company has to offer, and Chance to Dance is a big part of that.
WIH Reporter: This is such a unique opportunity for the participants of this class. What are you hoping that they will take away from the experience?
Sommers: I absolutely love having the opportunity to share my passion for this art form and to welcome people into the Houston Ballet family. We have some of the best dancers and creative minds working in dance today right here in Houston, and I want everyone to know about and experience it for themselves.
“Behind the Scenes at Houston Ballet” is a four-week class beginning Tuesday, April 23.
WIH Reporter: Hello, Dr. Richardson! We are really excited to have you back at WIH this semester. In fact, everyone who was in your “Roaring Twenties” and “Romancing the 20th Century” classes has really raved about you and your teaching style! The last time we spoke about your upcoming class “Our Favorite Novels, Our Favorite Films” you were debating on the selections. Can you share with us what you have decided?
Richardson: Unfortunately, one of my original choices, Where’d You Go Bernadette, was set to be released in March but has now been delayed until August. I would still encourage everyone to read the novel and to see the film when it comes out, which is directed by Richard Linklater and stars Cate Blanchett. I still want to include a new film, so we’ll be reading The Aftermath (2014), by Rhidian Brook, and I’ll organize an outing to see the film, which comes out in mid-March. Due to the timing of the film release, we’ll read this novel and discuss this film first. Everything else on the syllabus will remain the same. I’m particularly excited about Austenland, which we’ll read/watch last.
WIH Reporter: Would you suggest that we read the novel and watch the movie before each class? Or, if we don’t have enough time which should we do—read or view?
Richardson: If you don’t have time to read the book, watch the movie! I understand that everyone won’t always have a chance to read the book or watch the film before class. That’s okay! Come to class anyway! I’ll provide a brief synopsis at the beginning of each session. One nice thing about the two-week, book/movie structure is that it gives you a little more time to read the novels; if you start right after we finish talking about the previous book, you’ll have two weeks. Since most of the novels are around 300 pages, if you can make the time to read 20 pages a day, keeping up will be easy. I recommend that everyone start reading The Aftermath now since we’ll talk about it during our first class.
WIH Reporter: Out of curiosity, by the end of the class will we have an idea of what your favorite novel and film adaptation are?
Richardson: Oh boy—there are so many good ones! I’ve included some of my favorites on our syllabus, and I will definitely give you some hints about which ones I like best. Beyond our syllabus, some of my other favorite adaptations include Tolkein/Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series. I watch all 12-hours of the extended editions at least once a year (nerd alert!). Amazon will be releasing a Lord of the Rings TV series, and I’m beyond excited to see what they do with Tolkein’s deep mythology. I also love The Never-Ending Story, To Kill a Mockingbird, the BBC mini-series version of Pride and Prejudice (which I own and also watch every year—devoted Janeite!), Stardust, Adaptation, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Jumanji (if, given the great creative license, this still counts as an adaptation). Can’t wait to start talking about our favorite novels and our favorite films!
“Our Favorite Novels, Our Favorite Films” meets on Tuesdays beginning March 26 at 1:00.
We are very excited to welcome new professor, Glenn Olsen, a certified Master Naturalist and owner of GOBirding Ecotours, to WIH! His class “Miraculous Migrations” is part of our new Science and Nature Category and will meet Thursdays, starting March 21. We recently caught up with Glenn to find out more about his devotion to animals and conservation.
WIH Reporter: You have dedicated your career to sharing your passion with others about the natural world. What will you bring to your class to spark that same excitement.
Olsen: I enjoy sharing my passion for plants, bird, and pollinators. My approach is to guide someone in the direction of and simply open the door to exploring the beauty and magnificence of nature and let them discover on their own the amazing beauty and intricacy of the natural world that exists all around us.
WIH Reporter: Which migratory animal that passes through Texas do you find the most fascinating?
Olsen: There are many birds that make an astounding migration but I am especially fond of the shorebird know as the Red Knot (pictured above).
WIH Reporter: How do animals know where to go when migrating long distances? Will you discuss the “guiding systems” that animals use to make these great journeys in your class?
Olsen: Researchers are learning new information about migration with the advent of tiny electronic devices. Some of this information supports existing theories and some of the data contains new details that were not known. We will discuss these theories in great detail in class.
WIH Reporter: What do you want your students to take away from this class?
Olsen: A passionate desire to get involved and connected with nature.
WIH Reporter: As a world traveler of ecotours, what has been your favorite place to visit?
Olsen: A difficult question as each location has its own beauty and uniqueness. But, up until now, I would say Ecuador.
“Miraculous Migrations” meets for 6 weeks on Thursdays at 10:00, beginning March 21. Click here to learn more.
1. C. Livy. Titus Livius Patavius wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people—Books from the Foundation of the City—covering the period from the earliest legends of Rome before the traditional foundation in 753 BC through the reign of Augustus in Livy’s own lifetime.
2. B. Virgil. The Aeneid has been considered the national epic of ancient Rome since the time of its composition. The Aeneid follows the Trojan refugee Aeneas as he struggles to fulfill his destiny and reach Italy, where his descendants Romulus and Remus were to found the city of Rome.
3. C. The Odyssey of Homer, the most famous poet of ancient Greece, depicted Penelope as the ideal female character based on her commitment, modesty, purity, and respect during her marriage with Odysseus. The Coen brothers movie “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” is loosely based on The Odyssey.
4. A. Heraclitus. He was considered the most important pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. He was born in Ephesus (circa 535-475 BCE). Little is known of his life and we only have a few sentences of his work.
5. B. Publius Ovidius Naso, known as Ovid, was the author of the Metamorphoses. Ovid lived during the reign of Augustus. He was enormously popular but for some reason Augustus sent him into exile on the Black Sea. Speculation was that his exile was due to “carmen et error”, “a poem and a mistake.”
Register for “Masterpieces of Ancient Greek and Rome” today.
Dr. Scott McGill is professor of Classical Studies at Rice University. We welcome him to WIH in his upcoming class “Masterpieces of Ancient Greece and Rome” that begins Monday, March 25. We spoke with Professor McGill to learn why it’s important to study what people did and said 2000 years ago or more.
WIH Reporter: We all know that Ancient Greece and Rome are foundational to western civilization. But, why? What does this really mean?
McGill: Ancient Greece and Rome are foundational because the literature, politics, and art of antiquity have had an incalculable influence on western culture over the past two millennia. To take one notable example, the American system of divided government and of checks and balances is designed on the ancient model. In literature, figures like Oedipus, Ulysses, and Achilles, and events like the Trojan War, have been a central part of the west’s collective imagination really since antiquity. And in art, well, you can’t have the neoclassical without the classical! And so much subject matter in art comes from antiquity.
WIH Reporter: The speed of today’s technology means that we’re used to things becoming obsolete within a few years, if not months or days. In this context, why is it all the more important to step back and take a wider perspective through the study of these lasting influences?
McGill: To understand where we are in history, it is absolutely crucial to know our history. This includes knowing the classical roots of our civilization and the ways that the classical past anticipates our history. To give an example: wealth inequality is a major issue in America and Europe today. This is not just a modern problem. Ancient Rome struggled with the issue, and the historian Livy writes about it in his monumental history of Rome. To see how the matter played out in Rome can give us perspective on our own situation. I also think that the study of the past creates good habits of mind – it inculcates a certain humility, because one sees that one’s own historical moment is not necessarily unique or central in the span of history.
WIH Reporter: What will be the emphasis of your class? Will the main focus be on literature?
McGill: The class will focus on literature. Specifically, we will read excerpts from Homer, Sophocles’ Oedipus tragedies, Virgil’s Aeneid, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and more. It’s really a greatest hits of Greco-Roman antiquity.
WIH Reporter: Who of these greats is your favorite author and why?
McGill: Well, my favorite remains Virgil, whose Aeneid has been central to my research. Virgil has such a finely tuned sense of the human struggle for meaning and community, and his poetry is filled with exquisite melancholy. Virgil also understands capital “H” History in human terms and sensitively registers how that history affects the humans that make it and are a part of it. But really, you can’t go wrong with any of the authors we will read. Homer and Sophocles are incredibly profound and moving authors, and Ovid is one of the most clever and witty poets the West has known.
“Masterpieces of Ancient Greece and Rome” meets on Mondays for 6 weeks beginning March 25.
In 1792, a year after Mozart’s death, his older sister Nannerl wrote of him: “Apart from his music he was almost always a child, and thus he remained.” The idea that Mozart was musically brilliant, but emotionally and intellectually immature only gathered strength over the next two centuries. In a 1982 biography, Wolfgang Hildesheimer wrote that Mozart “was as great a stranger to the world of reason as to the sphere of human relations.”
The reasons why this image of the composer has proven so compelling and persistent are complex. It is partly because Mozart was a child when his fame was at its height. As the most famous prodigy in the history of music, he traveled throughout Europe and astonished the people of his day with his miraculous musical talent. When he returned to Paris as a young man in 1778, he complained that “these stupid Frenchman seem to think I am still seven years old, because that was my age when they first saw me.”
But the next sentence in Nannerl’s reminiscence of her brother hints at another reason for Mozart’s reputation as a perpetual child: “He married a girl quite unsuited to him, and against the will of his father, and thus the great domestic chaos at and after his death.” Nannerl never forgave Mozart for leaving the family home in Salzburg and striking out on his own, and she insisted that he was incapable of navigating the world without their father’s guidance.
Fortunately, Mozart wrote letters as prolifically as he wrote music, and these not only tell his side of the story, but also reveal his sophistication and wit. When he moved to Vienna in 1781, Mozart finally freed himself from his controlling and overbearing father, and met with great success in his personal and professional life. He had a loving wife and a large circle of friends, who included some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the city. He composed music of great intellectual complexity and created some of the most compelling and lifelike characters in the history of opera. This is his musical legacy, the legacy of a man who was completely at home in the world of reason and in the sphere of human relations.
WIH is pleased to introduce Dr. David Ferris, associate professor of music history at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. His upcoming class, “The Most Amazing Genius: Wolfgang Amade Mozart” will meet for 8 weeks beginning Monday, March 18 at 10:00.