Sacred Musical Compositions

September 26, 2017

cburchThe beliefs and history of different faiths are often symbolized by their sacred music, for instance a Mass by Palestrina reflects the glory and majesty of Renaissance Catholicism, and a Bach cantata expresses the bold confidence of early Protestantism. Professor Vicki Gresik’s upcoming class, “Sacred Music: The Association of Music and Religion.” takes us through the basic tenets of the world’s major religions and explores the liturgical and devotional music, and classical art music inspired by these faiths. We wanted to find out much more!

WIH Reporter: What makes your class a “must take” seminar?

Gresik: I think religions are fascinating and sacred music can be some of the most beautiful music ever written. I hope to introduce my students to a variety of religious compositions. Some religious compositions will be familiar, and others might be new discoveries. Most of us are familiar with music from our own faith, but we may not have heard how others praise God.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do we have about sacred music?

Gresik: I think that many people assume that sacred music is pretty old, even ancient, but composers are writing contemporary hymns today, some using a traditional format, others using an interfaith background. Young performers are creating a sacred sound that is meaningful to their generation.

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about sacred music?

Gresik: Besides the fact that contemporary composers are writing sacred music today, if we listen to the lyrics of a number of popular songs we might be surprised to hear a religious theme. Also many well- known classical composers have contributed to the sacred genre.

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

Gresik: The handout will contain a brief review of the religion(s) for the class, followed by a list of the pieces to be heard during the class & the composer, often with remarks about the composition itself. I hope to have you listening to the music more than hearing me talk.

WIH Reporter: We often like to ask what books are on your night table right now?

Gresik: Because my house flooded with Harvey, I have no night stand at present, but I am presently finishing reading The Evolution of God by Robert Wright, and because I’m in a graduate program at Rice & taking a course on Russian history & music, I’m researching the Russian Orthodox Church using The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware. On my Kindle the two most recent selections are: A Distant View of Everything by Alexander McCall Smith & Glass Houses by Louise Penny.

WIH Reporter: Is there anything else about your class that you would like to add?

Gresik:  Because I want to introduce a number of pieces each week, the listening will be limited to 1-2 minutes each. You may want more, but if you don’t like the piece you won’t suffer long!

Professor Gresik’s class begins on October 18th at 1:00 p.m. For more information, or to register, click here.



Japan’s Unique & Traditional Culture

September 26, 2017

18th century woodblock print by Utamaro

WWII tends to dominate the vision that we in the West have of Japan since many of our fathers or grandfathers fought in WWII. But there is much more to be said about Japan and its art, culture, and historical significance in the wider world. Melanie Urban’s newest class is an intriguing exploration into Japan’s history, culture, and national psyche. We visited with her to find out more.



WIH Reporter: What is important to know about your upcoming class?

Urban: In all periods of Japan’s culture, art has played a significant role. As in most cultures, from West to East, art served first as glorification of one or many belief systems. When Buddhism arrived in Japan in the 6th century, art enhanced the religious experience. During the imperial period, patrons prized various forms of art for its own sake – not just painting, but also sculpture, ceramics, lacquer ware, textiles, architecture, and even garden design.

WIH Reporter: What do we need to know about Japanese culture?

Urban: The native belief system survives and holds an equal place with the imported religion of Buddhism in the minds and hearts of Japanese people. Another example is that Japan honors its craftsmen as living treasures, a practice that preserves ancient skills in many art forms.

WIH Reporter: What are more examples and results of this inclusive philosophy?

Urban: An example from the 7th century: the regent promulgated a constitution with 17 articles, among them rules for governing the country as a harmonious whole.  He borrowed directly from both the Buddhist canon and Confucian principles.  Following on that, a subsequent ruler commissioned the largest bronze Buddha in the world during the 8th century.  It stands over 50 feet tall (or should I say “sits”).  And in the 11th century, a lady of the Heian court penned one of the first novels ever written, The Tale of Genji, a wonderful portrait of imperial court culture.

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

Urban: I lecture using pictures taken mostly from travels, either trips to locations pertinent to the subject or to museums.  My “technical assistant” takes the photographs and organizes my presentations to his own high standard.  I prefer discussion during the presentation when anyone in the audience has questions pertinent to the topic at hand.

WIH Reporter: What do you consider one of the most interesting facts we should know about Japan?

Urban: One of the most interesting facets of Japanese culture is how it fascinated people in the West from at least the 16th century.  As the Europeans discovered and exploited commercial opportunities in Asia, they imported Japanese, Chinese, and South East Asian art objects in increasing quantities.  The evidence of this trade can be seen in many European paintings, which often feature Japanese and Chinese ceramics and lacquer wares.  This fascination extended over centuries, and when Chinese goods were hard to come by, Japanese and South East Asian exports filled the gap.  This notion of imported Japanese art generated a whole new reaction during the late 19th century in France, the era of the Impressionists.  Many of the French painters of the 1880s and 1890s collected Japanese woodblock prints and used the new perspectives and compositional styles reflected in them.

Professor Urban’s class begins on October 19th at 10:00 a.m. For more information, or to register, click here.


A Historical Introduction to the New Testament

September 26, 2017

Wikipedia-Papyrus 46, one of the oldest New Testament papyri, showing 2 Cor 11:33-12:9

In Charles Schmidt’s upcoming class, “A Historical Introduction to the New Testament” students will explore the texts of the New Testament from the perspective of modern academic scholarship, with an emphasis on their historical and social context. We checked in with Professor Schmidt to find out more.




WIH Reporter:  What is important to know about your upcoming class?

Schmidt: This class will provide a historical and cultural background to the world of the early Jews and Christians who wrote the texts that would eventually become codified as the New Testament. We will take a look at the historical figures of Jesus of Nazareth and Paul within the broader history of ancient messianic expectations and discussions of the Torah (the Jewish Law). My goal is to share some of the insights biblical scholars have had about these texts and traditions.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do we have about the historical basis of the New Testament?

Schmidt: There are myriad examples, all of which I will discuss in more detail during the first week of this class. But for right now I would have to say that the arrangement of the texts in the New Testament gives us a false impression as to their relative dating. The New Testament opens with four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), before moving on to Acts and the letters of Paul. For over two centuries, however, biblical scholars have known that these gospel accounts about the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth actually post-date the letters of Paul.

In other words, if we wanted to read the New Testament chronologically, we would have to begin with Paul rather than the gospel writers. The arrangement of these texts in Christian Bibles gives us the impression that the gospel accounts are the real beginning of the story of Christianity. In many ways, this makes perfect sense; why not begin the story of Christianity with Jesus, after all. But for someone who wants to learn about the history of earliest Christianity and the development of its Scripture, it may not be the most historically accurate approach.

WIH Reporter: What don’t we realize about the New Testament?

Schmidt: For starters, I would say the most surprising thing would be that our earliest complete copies of Christian Bibles date to around the fourth century—about three hundred years after the life of Jesus. Additionally, these Christian Bibles contain some books in their New Testament that are not found in those used by modern Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox Christians. For example, they include texts such as 1 Clement and The Epistle of Barnabas, or substitute the Apocalypse of Peter for the Apocalypse of John. I’d also like to point out that the earliest canon list identical to the 27 New Testament writings in today’s Christian Bibles dates to the year 379. The point I’m trying to make is that the New Testament we’re familiar with today came into being through a complex historical process and did not appear one day, fully formed.

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

Schmidt: This class will primarily take the format of a discussion-based seminar. In other words, I like to run my classes as open forums for sharing and discussing ideas. Each class meeting will be organized around a particular topic or text about which our learners will read short texts or select passages before we convene. I begin class with a brief lecture designed to provide some historical context for that week’s material and topic. After that, the remainder of the class will be spent doing close readings of select passages, leading discussion, and answering questions that arise in the moment.

WIH Reporter: What books are on your night table  right now?

Schmidt: At present I am re-reading George Orwell’s 1984 and attempting to get through a collection of Greco-Egyptian esoteric texts called the Corpus Hermeticum, which are magical-philosophical writings about the ultimate reality of the cosmos.

Professor Schmidt’s class begins October 19th at 1:00 p.m. For more information, or to register, click here.


Painters of Fashion & Their Famous Subjects

September 26, 2017

Wikipedia_ Portrait of Marie Antloinette by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1778

Helga Aurisch’s class, “Painters of Fashion: Fashionable Painters” seeks to take us on a fascinating journey exploring the interaction between artists, painters, and fashion. Starting with the reign of Marie Antoinette, arguably the most fashion-obsessed queen to occupy the French throne, the class will examine how she and her favorite portraitist Elizabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun, set the fashion world on its head in the years just before the French Revolution. We interviewed Aurisch to find out more.



WIH Reporter: Can you tell us a little about your upcoming class?

Aurisch: I hope it will be as entertaining and enlightening for the participants as it has been for me to assemble it. It will be a fascinating look at various moments in history, a snapshot look at collaborations between painters and fashion makers that speak volumes not only about art and fashion, but also about politics and the social developments that defined their historical periods.

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about the painters of fashion?

Aurisch: I think most people classify them unjustly as shallow. But these artists, who were superbly gifted painters, had the great ability to paint their subjects as they liked to be seen, a difficult feat. Many specialized in portraiture, but not all. They also produced works in other genres such as still lifes, landscapes, and history paintings as well.

WIH Reporter: There must be interesting stories about the fashion painters and their interactions with subjects!

Aurisch: Yes! They also often had to be sensitive listeners, entertainers and oh, so much more than just dexterous with a brush.

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

Aurisch: The class will be a richly illustrated lecture, with breaks for questions and answers. I would like to encourage the active participation of the class. Hopefully, the class will be enticed to look into the various topics more deeply on their own. I will be happy to supply reading lists for each class.

WIH Reporter: We like to ask what books are on your night table right now?

Aurisch: Right now, I’m reading Caroline Weber’s Queen of Fashion, What Marie Antoinette wore to the Revolution, Eleanor P. Delorme’s  Josephine, Napoleon’s Incomparable Empress, and Kimberly Chirsman-Campbell’s Fashion Victims, Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. All of them are great sources, and very readable. Meanwhile, I’m off to Paris tomorrow, hoping to garner a few more delicious details for the course.

Professor Aurisch’s class begins on October 23rd at 10:00 a.m. For more information, or to register, click here.


How Much Do You Know About Houston’s History?

September 26, 2017

Sam Houston, circa 1850, Wikipedia

In anticipation of Professor Jim Blackburn’s class about the economic and ecological future of Houston we put together a quiz on little-known facts about our great city!




1. The first air-conditioned room in Houston was installed in 1922. It was located in:

A. The Rice Hotel.
B. The Second National Bank.
C. Rice University.

2. The Rice Military area near Memorial Park is named for an army training camp during:

A. World War II.
B. World War I.
C. Civil War.

3. Houston is larger than which of the following?

A. Maryland.
B. New Jersey.
C. New York City+Boston+San Francisco combined.

4. In Houston, you cannot sell the following on Sunday?

A. Limburger cheese.
B. Alcohol.
C. Caviar.

5. Houston was founded by:

A. Sam Houston.
B. John Kirby.
C. Augustus & John Allen.

6. Which of these is true about Sam Houston?

A. Beat a US congressman with a cane.
B. Opposed secession.
C. Honorary member of the Cherokee nation.


1. A. It used to be that large blocks of ice were placed in front of fans to try and keep cool air moving throughout a room. With the advent of air-conditioning, Houston installed a system first in the cafeteria of the Rice Hotel in 1922. The next year, the Second National Bank took it one step further by becoming the first completely air-conditioned building in Houston.

2. B. Rice Military area near Memorial Park was named for Camp Logan, an Army training camp from World War I. In fact, many streets are named for hometown heroes who lost their lives fighting in the war.  Dunlavy in the Montrose area is named for Herbert Dunlavy, a Marine and the first Houstonian killed in the war after an artillery shell landed in a trench near him.

3. A, B, and C. Houston is larger as a city than the entire state of Maryland and New Jersey. The total area of Houston is so large, it could contain the cities of New York, Boston, and San Francisco at the same time.

4. A. An old existing Houston law forbids the sale of Limburger cheese on Sunday.

5. C. Houston was founded by  Augustus Chapman Allen and John Kirby Allen, who honored Sam Houston by naming the city after him. Near the center of Houston where Interstates 45 and 10 intersect is almost the exact spot that Houston’s founders, the Allen brothers, settled.

6. A, B, and C. Houston is named after Sam Houston, the military commander who led the battle for the independence of Texas from Mexico. He was the first president of the Texas republic, and as he became more of a politician, he became more and more colorful as a personality. For instance he opposed secession, was an honorary member of the Cherokee nation, and once caned a U.S. congressman after being insulted.  

Houston: Economic & Environmental Issues for the Future

September 26, 2017

houstonnightJim Blackburn, Professor in the Practice of Environmental Law in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Rice University, is offering a unique course about the future of our city in the wake of recent events and issues. Blackburn’s course, “Full World: Houston’s Economic And Ecologic Future” explores where where we are heading as a local and global community, from the perspective of economics, ecology, eco-play, eco-spirituality; and, the implications that these changes will have on business, on city and regional form, and on each of us. We visited with him to find out more.

WIH Reporter: What is important for us to know about your upcoming class?

Blackburn: This class is about understanding and addressing the challenges of a world that is now full of humans and human impacts, a world that is changed from the world we grew up in, a world that is moving from “empty world” thinking  to “full world” thinking.  This class is about “full world” thinking and action.

It is about the future of Houston, the United States, and the world, and the challenges and adaptations necessary to succeed in the future.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do we have about Houston?

Blackburn: Perhaps the biggest mistaken impression about Houston and the Texas coast is that contrary to popular belief, it is an ecological wonderland – a place with biological diversity and tremendous outdoor recreation potential for kayaking and birding specifically.

WIH Reporter: What else might surprise us to know about Houston and Houstonians?

Blackburn: Another mistaken impression is that good Houstonians do not talk about climate change when in fact, good Houstonians are necessary to help the oil and gas industry into understanding, discussing and addressing the challenges of the 21st century.

WIH Reporter: Speaking of climate issues, how will Hurricane Harvey, in your estimation, affect the future of this city?

Blackburn: The economic future of the city of Houston is dependent upon our response to these floods.  We are at a crossroads and inaction or business as usual will be the beginning of the end of Houston as an economic powerhouse.

WIH Reporter: Can you elaborate on what we can do to keep Houston viable as an economic and environmental leader in the future?

Blackburn: The “full world” that I refer to is a world where the climate is changing, and Harvey was a climate-change storm.  We as a society do not know how to address these changing storms.  We also do not know how to address the cause of climate change.  The course will have specific lectures about the transition to the full world, hurricanes and flooding in Houston, climate change and addressing climate change.  I will likely devote a portion of at least one class to the 15 points concerning Hurricane Harvey and Houston that were first published by the  Baker Institute at Rice.

Professor Jim Blackburn’s class begins on October 17th at 10:00 a.m. For more information, or to register, click here.



Terrence Doody Speaks: On “Loose and Baggy Monsters”

August 8, 2017
Dorothea Brooke and Will Ladislaw from Middlemarch by George Eliot,The Jenson Society, NY, 1910 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Henry James called the nineteenth-century novel a ” loose and baggy monster.”

James thought the novel ought to discipline itself to a single character’s point of view. This character need not be the narrator because the novelist’s art consists in finding a way to say everything necessary within these voluntary limits. What results is not the omniscient voice of the culture, but the consciousness of the individual, who grows more and more alienated as we enter the twentieth century. If nineteenth century novels are typically long, twentieth century novels are inevitably hard because there is no more all-knowing narrator to tell us what to think and feel.

George Eliot’s Middlemarch is loose and baggy, because it is filled with an unusually wide range of characters across the society of Middlemarch at a time of historical transition. Anna Karenina has fewer characters, a more intense focus, but it is built on the parallel fates of Anna Karenina and Constantine Levin, who is a version of Tolstoy himself. Anna is a tragic figure while Levin is a spiritual seeker. The novel has two endings that prevent conventional closure.

How do these and other novels of the time take us to the very edge of Modernism?

Anna Karenina has two endings that prevent conventional closure. Tolstoy’s style is “simple,” lucid, irrefutable—it is quite simply like no one else’s which is why, by everybody’s measure, Leo Tolstoy is the greatest of the nineteenth century novelists.

James’s The Portrait of a Lady poses American innocence against the Old World’s sophistication, which is seen through the eyes and assumptions of Isabel Archer. Its ending is very provocative, and James is no help at all: his characters are as independent of their author as any in the nineteenth-century—an independence that turns into modern alienation and puts us at the edge of Modernism.

None of these differences diminishes any one of the novels. They are all masterpieces and the grounds for a nice debate about the relationship between the exigencies of real life and the freedoms of fiction’s aesthetics.

“The Novel Moves to Modernity” begins Thursday, September 7 from 1:00 – 3:00.

Click here for more details.

How Much Do You Know About…Spanish (and other Romance Languages)?

August 6, 2017

veniceIn anticipation of Hector Urrutibeheity’s, Victoria Arbizu-Sabater’s and Luisa Kluger’s upcoming Spanish language classes, we put together a quiz on little-known facts about Romance Languages!

1. Which language below is not a Romance language:

A. German.
B. Romanian.
C. Italian.

2. Romance languages all descend from this original language:

A. Germanic.
B. Latin.
C. Celtic.

3. Which language is the number one spoken language of the Romance Languages?

A. French.
B. Spanish.
C. Russian.

4. Which Romance language is the language used in classical music?

A. English.
B. Spanish.
C. Italian.

5. Although Spanish is a Romance language, it is heavily influenced by:

A. Arabic.
B. Russian.
C. Portuguese.

6. Which is the largest Spanish-speaking country?

A. United States.
B. Spain.
C. Mexico.

7. When did the Spanish language begin (that we would recognize today)?

A. 11th century.
B. Before A.D.
C. 13th century.


1. A. German is not a Romantic Language.  German is actually the root of another linguistic family we call the Germanic languages, which English is a part of.

2.  B. Latin. Romance Languages descend from Latin, which was the language of the Romans.

3.  B. Spanish. Of the five most widely spoken Romance languages by number of native speakers, Spanish (410 million) is the most widely spoken.

4. C. Italian. According to Miles Hoffman, author of The NPR Classical Music Companion, Italian is the linqua franca of classical music. “So many of these musical forms—sonata, cantata, aria—started in Italy,” Hoffman says. “Plus, Italian musicians were in positions of prestige all over Europe, so it became the lingua franca.”

5.  A. Arabic. The origin of a lot of words in Spanish can be traced back to Arabic—the language that has had the most cultural influence on the Spanish language after Latin. The Arab presence in Spain that lasted for nine centuries led to the absorption of multiple Arabic words by Spanish speakers. About 4,000 words in the Spanish language are of Arab origin, such as “aceituna” (olive), “almohada” (pillow), “azúcar” (sugar)  and “arroz” (rice), to name a few.

6. C. Mexico. This country has a population of more than 121 million people who speak Spanish, and as such, is geographically the largest Spanish-speaking country. The United States is home to the second-largest Spanish-speaking population, followed by Colombia, Spain and Argentina. Each country is home to many different Spanish dialects.

7. C. 13th Century. It is still not known exactly when Castilian Latin of the north-central region of Spain turned into Spanish. However, the laws passed by King Alfonso in the 13th century that established Castilian as a distinct official language of the government helped to give rise to the language. In fact, when Columbus traveled to the Americas in 1492, the Spanish he spoke would have been understood by today’s Spanish speakers.



Contemporary Women’s Fiction: Experience, Style, and Themes

August 6, 2017

contempwomenWomen have been writing up a storm in the twenty-first century, sharing ideas, sufferings, and joys with their increasingly diverse audiences. Laura Richardson’s upcoming class, “Contemporary Women’s Fiction,” explores some of these current literary trends in women’s writing, seeking to identify shared threads of experience, style, and thematic approach in a diverse and interesting set of texts from the twenty-first century.

WIH Reporter: What is important to know about your class?

Richardson: Our syllabus is exceptionally contemporary. All of the novels we’ll read were written in the twenty-first century—in fact, half of the syllabus was published as recently as 2013!

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do we have about contemporary women’s literature?

Richardson: That women only write about women! Plenty of the texts we’ll be reading feature strong, often emotionally-complicated male characters. I would love for our class to have a lively conversation about what it means for a woman to write a male character and vice versa, especially in the context of contemporary writing.

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about women’s experiences as reflected in the books you cover?

Richardson: Perhaps how many similarities there are among experiences of women from diverse backgrounds. Being a contemporary woman in a global community means a worldwide kinship with women’s issues. One of our primary objectives in the course will be to identify and celebrate (or commiserate with) these likenesses.

WIH Reporter: Can you tell us about the format of each class…readings, images, the legacy or importance of these women authors?

Richardson: We’ll discuss one novel (or memoir) each class, and three classes will also have “extra-credit” reading that’s meant to enhance or accompany our understanding of the main reading. Class will be broken up into lecture and discussion. I’ll start each day by providing students with biographical information about the author, as well as any important historical context that helps us understand the text. After that, I’ll have a series of questions to pose to students, who are welcome to discuss and/or listen as they feel comfortable.

WIH Reporter: What books are on your night table right now?

Richardson: Too many to list all of them here! I just finished John Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse, which is a short story collectionhilarious and weird. I’m now midway through Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections and have also begun rereading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Talein anticipation of watching the TV adaptation. I love book recommendations, so when you see me at the WI, please tell me what you’re reading and loving!

Laura Richardson’s class beings on September 6, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. For more information, or to register, click here.

How Women Won the West

August 6, 2017
calamityJane copy

Calamity Jane, wikipedia

Scott Pett’s upcoming class, “Women in the American West,” students will
learn about the hardships, hopes, and homes of the “American West” through the eyes, voices, and memories of women. Pett plans to use film, memoirs, biographical fiction, and poetry to discover how our ideas of the nineteenth-century and present-day West have been created and complicated. We checked in with the new WI professor to find out more.

WIH Reporter: What is important to know about your upcoming class?

Pett: This will be a multimedia class. We’ll be reading a few different kinds of writing from different women—some who were born and raised in the West and some who migrated there. We’ll also view excerpts from a terrific film, “The Homesman” (2014), starring Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones.

There is a lot of ground to cover (bad pun intended), so the class will be focused on breadth rather than depth. I will start each class with a lecture and discussion about particular women artists, activists, and public figures like Georgia O’Keefe, Laura Gilpin, and more. We’ll talk about representations of women in Hollywood westerns like Westward the Women (1951), which is almost too laugh-out-loud ridiculous to be offensive. We will also discuss the suggested texts for the course. And, if anyone would like to do a brief presentation on an ancestor of theirs, I think that would be a lot of fun.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do we have about the American West and women?

Pett: Perhaps the biggest thing is that we tend to think and talk about “the West” in the singular. For some reason, it’s easier to talk about the West that way, as one big region. There is a kind of romance to it; the singular West gives us some closure to and hope about the supposed destiny of American nation building.

But in fact, there are a plurality of “Wests” with distinctive geographies and overlapping social histories. Do we mean the Rocky Mountains? The US/Mexico borderlands? The plains of Oklahoma? The Pacific islands? “The West” is all of these.

Of course, we also have to make sure to think about “women” as a plural category, rather than singular. We tend not to think about the experiences and voices of black women in the American West, nor do we give much thought to places like L.A. It doesn’t fit within the master narrative of a singular “West,” which conjures images of wild, rural, lowland landscapes.

WIH Reporter: People are fascinated with Native Americans, and the interaction with settlers of the American West. Abductions of women were rare, but there were many stories about this. Although your class deals with literature, and this concerns chronicles or newspaper articles, can you comment about the interactions?

Pett: What little I know about this subject, I’ve learned from reading Mary Rowlandson’s account of her experience (1682), the novel Hope Leslie (1827), Dorothy M. Johnson’s story “Lost Sister” (1957) about Cynthia Ann Parker, and lastly the account of a young Mormon girl named Olive Oatman.

Captivity narratives were often sensationalized. They made for tantalizing reading in periodicals like Saturday Evening Post, while also reinforcing perceptions of American Indians as savages and white settlers as enlightened. Such a spin made it easier to justify the destruction and displacement of indigenous peoples in the name of protecting white womanhood.

With the exception of Rowlandson, who was kidnapped later in life and only separated from her family for a few months, these women and the literary characters they inspired had a difficult time being reintegrated into white communities. In the case of Cynthia Ann Parker, Texas Rangers “recaptured” her. Newspapers recorded how “she vainly tried to escape” white society. After years of being away from her family, she had come to identify culturally and ethnically with her tribe. She had become “thoroughly Indianized,” to use the words of an article purporting to tell the story of another woman taken captive, Frances Slocum, who also later refused to leave her Native family.

But, depending on an author’s agenda, there were competing narratives about the dangers of settler abduction. Propaganda novels like M. Emilia Rockwell’s A Home in the West (1858) were written to reassure women who were afraid to emigrate to places like Iowa because of captivity narratives. In her novel, Rockwell assures her readers that Indians, while “savage,” were not a threat. The goal was to convince women that westward expansion was in the best interest of both their families and the nation.

Q: What would surprise us to know about the American West in terms of women’s experiences?

One surprising thing is that in certain places—Wyoming and Utah territories, for example—white women were allowed to vote up to 50 years before the rest of the country! They didn’t necessarily do this for the right reasons, for example to make sure black citizens remained disempowered, and there were efforts to repeal in both cases. In Utah, women’s suffrage was later repealed as part of an effort to prevent the normalization of polygamy, which was its own unique experience for some women. I find that whole history very fascinating.

WIH Reporter: Do you have a quote from a woman of the American West from literature that symbolizes the experiences of women there?

Pett: For me, there is probably no more interesting and important figure than the ambitious writer and illustrator Mary Hallock Foote, an East-coast transplant whose work captured the life of mining communities in places like Idaho and California. She also lived in Mexico, Colorado, and South Dakota. She was likely the first woman to illustrate an American novel, which happened to be Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. She was very accomplished, but is now mostly forgotten except for being the inspiration (and sometimes direct source material) for Wallace Stegner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Angle of Repose (1971). Over a period of 35 years, Foote carried on a very intimate, conflicted, and beautiful correspondence with her friend Helena Gilder, which allowed them to express “the cries that one woman utters to another.”

Here is one of my favorite excerpts from a letter from Mary to Helena:

“I read in the Bible last night that a ‘meek and quiet spirit’ is the only thing for a woman. But how can one ever do or be anything if meekness and quietness are the best things in life. I know plenty of women who have meekness but they have attained it only by giving up all hope or thought for themselves. I could not do that without giving up ambition too.”

Scott Pett’s class begins on September 8th, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. For more information, or to register, click here.



Celebrating 100 Years of Auguste Rodin

August 6, 2017

wikipedia, public commons

In this year, the centennial of Auguste Rodin’s death, Professor Anna Tahinci presents her new art course, “Auguste Rodin and Modern Sculpture“. In this course, students will engage in Rodin’s fascinating artistic career—initially full of rejections, controversies, and scandals, which he managed to transform into international successes.   We interviewed her to find out more.


WIH Reporter: What in your opinion makes this a “must take” class at WIH?

Tahinci: Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) was acclaimed as the greatest sculptor since Phidias and Michelangelo, boldly bringing the ancient art of sculpture into the 20th century. We are all familiar with Rodin’s iconic The Thinker, but this is the perfect moment to rediscover Rodin and his contributions to modern sculpture.

WIH Reporter: Since Rodin is your specialty, can you tell us what motivated you to study him?

Tahinci:  I studied Greek archaeology in Athens and when I moved to Paris for my graduate studies I became fascinated by Rodin’s passion for antiquity and decided to explore his oeuvre and contributions. At that moment I discovered the archives of the Musée Rodin in Paris and the rest is history, or I should say Art History! I did my doctorate at the Sorbonne on Auguste Rodin and studied at the Ecole du Louvre, while working at the Musée Rodin and the Musée d’Orsay.

WIH Reporter: Why is Rodin important for us to study?

TahinciRodin is a key figure in the history of sculpture since he is a bridge, a shifting point between academic sculpture of the 19th century and modern sculpture of the 20th century. He had a challenging career and practice, full of rejections, controversies, and scandals, but he always managed to transform those into future opportunities. As a result, he is an inspirational example of resilience.

WIH Reporter: In what ways did Rodin depart from the traditional sculpture of his time?

Tahinci: Rodin deliberately and systematically broke all academic conventions of his time in at least three different ways: in terms of his subject matters (dealing openly with sensuality without the pretext of mythology), of his style (treating fragments as complete and finished artworks), and his materials and techniques (with his endless experimentation with found objects and archaeological artifacts).

WIH Reporter: What is his legacy?

Tahinci: Rodin explored the expressionistic power of forms (including fragments) while remaining faithful to nature and life. He refused to idealize his figures and at the same time he would embrace accidents and the chance factor in his artistic process. He opened the way to entire generations of sculptors in France, Europe, and America.

WIH ReporterWhere can we see a Rodin sculpture in Houston?

Tahinci: The MFAH has an amazing collection of sculptures by Rodin that you can engage with by visiting both the Beck building and the Cullen Sculpture Garden, such as his iconic “Walking Man”, an amazing example of fragmentation that captures mid-stride motion. It also helps to put Rodin in context by studying sculptures by his master Carrier-Belleuse and by his students Bourdelle and Brancusi, also in the MFAH collection. 

WIH Reporter: What books are on your night table right now?

Tahinci: I am currently in Paris conducting research and gathering material. Thus, the exhibition catalogue of the Rodin centennial is what I am reading. I look forward to sharing my discoveries with my students in the fall.

Professor Tahinci’s six-week class begins on September 5th, 2017, at 10:00 a.m. For more information, or to register, click here.

WIH Debuts Unparalleled Spanish Language Program

August 4, 2017

habla2Dr. Hector Urrutibeheity has created a Spanish program especially for The Women’s Institute of Houston that is unparalleled in this city. Urrutibeheity’s program is uniquely immersive and comprehensive, and he has brought with him two of his doctorate-bearing students from his Rice University classes. We visited with him to find out more.

WIH Reporter: Can you tell us more details about the Spanish program that you have developed for The Women’s Institute?

Urrutibeheity: The Spanish program at WIH is designed exclusively for adults who want to learn Spanish. Our teaching method takes into account the fact that adults often have different reasons for learning a language and also a different way of learning. In our classes, for instance, students are given CDs on which each new lesson is recorded with pauses for them to repeat plus oral exercises to complete.

WIH Reporter: There are Spanish classes offered all over the city of Houston. Please explain how this program is different.

Urrutibeheity: All three instructors in our program have doctorates in Spanish linguistics. They have taught Spanish for several years at the university level. They are familiar with the approach I have developed, and both Dr. Kluger and Dr. Arbizu-Sabater were my students at Rice University. All three of us have taught languages in other countries: Dr. Arbizu-Sabater has taught Spanish in Poland, Dr. Kluger has taught in Israel, and I have taught English in Argentina.

WIH Reporter: What reasons do people generally have for wanting to learn a foreign language? Why is this potentially important in a city like Houston?

Urrutibeheity: Most participants in our classes want to be able to communicate in Spanish, whether it is in Houston or when traveling within a Spanish-speaking country. Eventually, they will be able to read original texts (short stories, newspaper articles, novels) written in Spanish.

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about learning a new language?

Urrutibeheity: The teaching techniques we use at the WIH were developed by my experiences teaching English, French and Spanish in college courses and in university extension courses. Learners no longer have to memorize lists of words and they do not have to answer questions in the language from the very beginning. The instructor makes sure that every student learns the new materials IN CLASS. They are given a CD on which the materials that were introduced were recorded with pauses for the learner to repeat. Students who can spend a minimum of 15 minutes every day listening and doing the activities in the CD will be surprised to see how well they understand and speak the new language after only a few weeks of study.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do people have about learning new languages?

Urrutibeheity: Learning a language in a context in which the student “wants” to learn is quite different from one in which they “have” to learn it, as in a college course. Students´attitudes have a lot to do with learning not only languages but any other subject. In our language classes, progress of the class depends totally on how ALL members of the class are learning the new material. Again, our instructors do not have “to finish the book”. Their main and only objective is to make sure that participants keep being motivated to learn the new language and avoid the all too frequent frustration that sometimes develops in beginning classes.

WIH Reporter: How is the language program set up?

Urrutibeheity: The language program is organized around three levels: beginning, intermediate and advanced. Each level consists of two, seven-week sessions. The advanced level can be taken several times. Students often take it to maintain their knowledge of the language, to increase their vocabulary and to practice their listening and speaking skills.

For more information on Dr. Urrutibeheity’s Spanish language courses, click here.

Two Rainbows To Appear At WIH This Fall

July 18, 2017

rainbowsAs lifelong learners, Jesse and David Rainbow have much in common with the students who attend The Women’s Institute of Houston. The brothers, raised in Strathmore, California, a small town in the state’s agricultural center, learned from the land, not merely from textbooks. Growing up, the grandsons of a seed salesman had agricultural jobs, Jesse working in the orange and olive groves, while David was dairy farming.

College was a jumping off point for Jesse, who attended the University of Houston Honors College on a scholarship, majoring in history. He also studied Spanish, and took a special interest in Near Eastern languages and civilizations. “It was a wonderful place to be a student,” he recalls. “What drew me in at 18 was the curriculum. It’s an intellectual community, where the faculty learns with the students.”
David, today a Russian scholar, tried a couple of different approaches to college, and in between, worked as an engineer aboard a merchant ship in the Pacific. Later, as a student at Fresno Pacific University, he visited Russia for the first time. “I felt like I was studying a totally different world,” David says. “It hooked me.” He graduated from Fresno Pacific, completing an honors thesis on Vladimir Lenin’s role in the Russian Revolution.

Following college, Jesse and David both took a step back from academia. But the yen for more knowledge kept tugging on the brothers. Jesse, a high school history teacher, took humanities classes during the summers. “The more I learned, the more I wanted to know,” he notes. “When I ran out of things to study, I decided to go to grad school.” Jesse received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, where he was a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

After college, David headed back west, and for the next two years was a cowhand on a ranch in western North Dakota, where, like Jesse, he felt a similar draw to continued learning. “I started taking courses from the Teaching Company,” David says. “When I found myself listening to their CDs in my tractor, I knew it was time to go back to school.” David earned an M.A. in European intellectual history from Drew University, a Ph.D. in Russian history from New York University, and was a postdoctoral Fellow at the Harriman Institute for Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies at Columbia University.

The brothers are now assistant professors at the University of Houston Honors College. Jesse teaches courses in ancient Near Eastern History, Religion, and Medicine. He has written on topics such as scribal culture in the ancient Near East, ancient Jewish and Christian interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, and the place of magic and divination in the Bible. He regularly leads archaeological study trips to Israel, Turkey and Italy. David teaches and writes about modern Russian and Eurasian history. He is writing a book on Siberian regionalism from the 1860s-1930s, and is editing a book on the history of race in Russia.

Jesse is looking forward to teaching his first WIH class, “Egypt’s Greatest Pharaohs,” this fall. “At Harvard, some very inspiring teachers piqued my interest in the ancient Near East,” he notes. His study of the Hebrew Bible included comparative study of other ancient Near Eastern civilizations, including Egypt. “We’ll be getting inside the Egyptian way of thinking,” he explains, “telling the stories about the people who lived and died.” Jesse will focus on 8-10 significant figures, from Ramses the Great to Cleopatra, telling their stories in interesting and compelling ways. He plans to use a lecture format, employing lots of images and photos.

David, who taught a WIH class on the Russian Revolution this past spring, will  offer a fall class on “Forced Exile in Modern History,” looking at significant points in time where people were forced to leave their homes for political reasons. He will focus on six cases in the last two hundred years: Britain, Tsarist Russia, France, the United States, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

David says he is excited to return to WIH, “where the students are extremely engaged. It’s a self-selected group, and people ask good questions.” David appreciates the perspectives of students, who have rich life experiences. “Teaching the Russian class, it was great to talk with people who know about Russia, who are immigrants or are the children of immigrants.”

Although the brothers are busy teaching, writing and raising families, they enjoy spending time together, particularly combining their academic interests with a love of travel. This summer they are taking 16 of their Honors College students to Russia, visiting St. Petersburg and Moscow.

Jesse Rainbow’s class, “Egypt’s Greatest Pharaohs”, begins on September 7, 2017 at 1:30 p.m. For more information, or to register, click here.

David Rainbow’s class, Forced Exile in Modern History, begins on October 19th, 2017 at 10 a.m. For more information, or to register, click here.

The Writer’s Art: Keys to Unlocking Creativity

June 12, 2017

Orpheus poet of classical mythology, by Corot, via Wikipedia

In Sarah Cortez’s upcoming writing workshop, “Keys to Enjoying the Writer’s Art: Literary Romps and Productive Pauses,” students will learn the secrets of creating compelling and enduring stories, characters, and places. Starting on September 5th, and meeting once a month for a total of 6 sessions, this class will explore such topics as how to tell a story, how to use the tricks of creating poetry to enhance your prose, how to use vivid imagery in writing, how to use humor, and how to focus on what’s important in your story. We visited with Cortez to find out more about her unique class.



WIH Reporter: What is important to know about your upcoming class?

Cortez: What’s important to know is that we are going to have fun in this class as we explore the wide, wide world of writing, reading, and thinking about what others have written so that we could experience their experiences. A poem comes to us as a potent message in a blue bottle washed ashore at the edge of the ocean. It is a gift. (in the words of wonderful Edward Hirsch).

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about the topic of your class?

Cortez: This is a class where we will really hone your storytelling skills by looking at the secrets of oral and written storytellers. You will learn when to pause in your writing and when to add details. You will learn when it is best to speed up the story and when the story needs to be slowed down. The stories you create will mesmerize with their magic.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions might folks have about the subject of your class?

Cortez: I will talk about my first class “Don’t Be Afraid of Poetry”. Many people think just because they open a book of poetry in the bookstore and it doesn’t make sense that they don’t like poetry. Hogwash! I don’t like most poetry I read. But the poets I do like—there’s nothing better to read! You have to be patient and curious to find the poets you admire and enjoy. In this class I will hand over to you the keys to the poetry kingdom—those golden keys that will unlock a world of enjoyment.

WIH Reporter: What format do you plan to use in your writing class?

Cortez:I am an energetic and engaging lecturer. We’ll also stop often for participants’ questions and comments. We are TOGETHER in all of this.

WIH Reporter: Can you tell us what books are on your night table right now?

Cortez: I have Henri Nouwen’s “Prayer” and Pat Conroy’s “Prince of Tides.”

WIH Reporter: Please add anything else about what we should know about your upcoming class.

Cortez: I have been published and won awards in almost every genre of writing there is! I love writing, editing, and reading. But what I love even more is teaching….so I was particularly thrilled when The Women’s Institute reached out to me to compose these classes for its clients.

For more information on this class, click here.

Shakespeare: From Page to Stage

June 12, 2017

theatre2 The authority on all things Shakespeare, Kate Pogue, shares about her exciting class for the Fall:

“Shakespeare’s plays are great and satisfying in part because they were written for fine actors to perform. Shakespeare (unlike many of his contemporary playwrights) was himself an actor and wrote parts for his own performance. As a result, he learned to encode interpretive stage directions into his language—messages for his fellow actors to pick up on to shape their performances. Through his writing he gave keys for memorization, set the rhythm of a scene, and the pace of the play. He punctuated the ends of scenes, created the dynamism of relationships, established irony and ambiguity, established mood and atmosphere. In the 1980s John Barton rediscovered these Shakespearean stage directions and shared them in a BBC series with a team of actors including Judi Dench, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, and David Suchet. In the Fall 2017 Shakespeare class we will be sitting in on John Barton’s master classes, learning to perceive Shakespeare’s directions to his actors. This thrilling exploration will change our way of approaching and appreciating the works of the greatest poet/playwright of the English language.”

This class will meet for six weeks on Thursdays beginning September 7. Click here for more information.

Contemporary Women’s Fiction

June 12, 2017

tablet-1632909__480 “A novel is not an allegory … It is the sensual experience of another world. If you don’t enter that world, hold your breath with the characters and become involved in their destiny, you won’t be able to empathize, and empathy is at the heart of the novel. This is how you read a novel: you inhale the experience. So start breathing.” -Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran

Professor Laura Richardson’s class “Contemporary Women’s Fiction” meets Wednesdays, September 6 – October 11 from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. More details here.

How the West Was Won: Women of the American West

June 12, 2017

Homesteader sized

Join Scott Pett on Fridays from 10:00 – 12:00, beginning September 8 as he explores the strong women of the American West.

“After thirty years here I know this area a little, but the earth is constantly changing, rocks that move, pebbles that roll out from under the sole of your shoe and throw you down, shifts and changes that are new to me because they were not here, not yet visible.” ~Leslie Marmon Silko, The Turquoise Ledge

To learn more, click here.


Auguste Rodin and Modern Sculpture

June 12, 2017


The progenitor of modern sculpture, Auguste Rodin said, “The artist must create a spark before he can make a fire and before art is born, the artist must be ready to be consumed by the fire of his own creation.”


Dr. Anna Tahinci’s six-week class “Auguste Rodin and Modern Sculpture” will meet on Tuesdays from 10:00 – 12:00 beginning September 5. Learn more here.

How Much Do You Know About…Egypt’s Pharaohs?

June 12, 2017
King Tut, wikipedia

King Tut, wikipedia


In anticipation of Jesse Rainbow’s upcoming September class, Egypt’s Greatest Pharaohs, we put together a quiz on that intriguing subject!





1. To keep their blood lines pure, Pharaohs only married:

A. Members of their own race.
B. Members of their own family.
C. Members of their own social class.


2. The last Pharoah of Egypt was a woman. Who was she?

A. Nefertiti.
B. Cleopatra.
C. Hatshepsut.

3. How did 19-year old King Tut die?

A. He was gored by a hippo.
B. He was murdered.
C. He had malaria and a leg infection.

4. The word Pharaoh means:

A. King.
B. God.
C. Great House.

5. Cleopatra’s first husband was:

A. Julius Caesar.
B. Mark Anthony.
C. Her half-brother.

6. All Pharaohs wore:

A. Ceremonial robes.
B. Makeup.
C. Fake beards.

7. A Pharaoh’s meal typically consisted of…

A. Meat, grain, and wine.
B. Bread, honey and beer/wine.
C. Rice, corn, and beer.


1. B. Pharaoh’s married family members to keep their bloodlines pure. This enabled them also to claim ancestry from the Gods so the family bloodlines were even more important. DNA research on King Tut showed his parents were brother and sister.

2. B. Cleopatra was the last Pharaoh. She tried and failed to hold off the Romans under Augustus.

3. C. DNA research showed that King Tut died of malaria which exacerbated his leg infection.

4. C. The word “pharaoh” means “great house”. It is a Greek word that referred to the palace of the king, rather than the ruler specifically.

5. C. Per Egyptian custom, she married two of her brothers (one after the other one died).

6. B, C. Both male and female pharaohs wore fake beards and makeup. Egyptians were obsessed with being hairless, and made sure that they were hair-free, so their beards were fake.

7. B. Egyptians had a poor diet, and DNA testing shows obesity and diabetes among the Pharaohs.

How to Make Abstract Art

June 12, 2017
Wassily Kandinsky_ On White 2_ 1923_ Wikipedia

Wassily Kandinsky_ On White 2_ 1923_ Wikipedia

According to artist and educator Sheila Zeve Lipkin, abstract art—for all its complexities—is much easier to create than other kinds of art. In her upcoming September class, How to Make Abstract Art, she will introduce the key principles of this style of art so her students can then begin setting up their first abstract painting. We checked in with Lipkin to find out the details.

WIH Reporter: What is essential to know about your upcoming class?

Lipkin: Abstract art is not difficult to make when one is aware of the basic components. After the presentation and discussion of making abstract art, ideas will be presented for each participant to begin making his/her abstract painting.

WIH Reporter: What is crucial to understand about creating abstract art?

Lipkin: Abstract art is easier to make than representational art. When painting landscapes and still life and other subjects, a stronger foundation in drawing is needed, which is not the case in making abstract art.

WIH Reporter: What is necessary to know about making abstract art?

Lipkin: The elements of abstract art are basically shape, color, line, working with positive and negative spaces, imagination, and design.

WIH Reporter: Can you tell us the format of the classes?

Lipkin: The first class will introduce the basic concepts of design, mainly composition, showing by examples how this works and talk about the creative process involved. Ideas on setting up abstract paintings and thoughts to go along with them will also be introduced. At the beginning of each class the abstract paintings created by each member will be discussed.

Sheila Lipkin’s class, How to Make Abstract Art, begins on September 5, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. For more information, or to register, click here.

Fernando Casas Speaks: On The Politics of Art

June 12, 2017

Adoration of the Magi, El Greco 1568, via Wikipedia

Migration, racism, Islamophobia, religious intolerance, and persecution have come to define our present political circumstances.These also defined the political circum-stances of the Spain in which El Greco, Velazquez and Goya lived. However, unlike the artists of today, these three artists were forced to work for and under the control of authoritarian monarchies.

Nonetheless, these artists are not only admirable for the technical and aesthetic quality of their work but, more importantly, in spite of their repressive and dangerous circumstances, they were able to speak truth to the abuse of power and close-mindedness through their paintings. This is exactly the method used by the best political artist of our times.

How did they do this?

Look at any of their great paintings and what do you see—masterly technique and beauty? Yes.  Images that aptly convey and support the oppressive and close-minded values of their society? No. Indeed, these paintings seem to embody the strict social, political, and religious tenants regulated by the Spanish Inquisition for three centuries.  But this is true only of their superficial look—a protective skin required for the survival of the artist.

Hidden underneath the conventional content of these paintings resides another painting; one far more profound and noble which is, in one form or another, in sharp opposition to the accepted societal norms. In fact, it is the voice and beauty concealed in such paintings that largely exhibits the aesthetic and moral development of humanity.   We ought to look and listen to them.

Fernando Casas’ class, Politics, Religion & Ethnicity: El Greco, Velazquez, Goya, & Picasso, begins September 11th, 2017, at 1:00 p.m. For more information, or to register, click here.


Artist/philosopher Fernando Casas is a native of Bolivia. In 1968 he arrived in the USA with a LASPAU scholarship. In 1970 he received his BA in Philosophy from Colorado College graduating Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa and receiving the Hastings Prize for a paper in Philosophy. He continued his studies at Rice University receiving his MA in 1972 and his PhD in Philosophy in 1978.

Casas has exhibited his works of art in numerous group and solo exhibitions in commercial galleries and museums in cities such as Houston, New York City, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Florence, Lima (Peru), La Paz (Bolivia) and Santiago (Chile). In 2003 he was awarded the Premio alla Carriera at the Florence Biennale.

Since the 1980s, Casas has taught and lectured at several universities in South and North America. His longest association is with Rice University where he has taught in Humanities and Philosophy as Distinguished Lecturer for about 20 years.

Among his publications are The Limit of The Visual World (1990), Polar Perspective: A Graphical System for Creating Two-dimensional Images Representing a World of Four Dimensions (1984), and Flat-Sphere Perspective (1983).