Understanding the Seven Eastern Religions

October 3, 2018

hinduThe religious traditions that we now know as Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, all originated on the South Asian peninsula where they have developed a stunning array of religious ideas and practices over the course of the last 3,500 years.

In her upcoming class, “The Silk Road: Seven Religions Of The East,” Sravana Borkataky-Varma introduces us to religious traditions that we now know as Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, which all originated on the South Asian peninsula. We visited with her to find out more.



WIH Reporter: What are the mistaken impressions about Eastern religions and why a course on religions?

Borkataky-Varma: Let me begin with few personal situations I deal with, often. At Starbucks, when I say “Varma” on my order, I often get a cup saying “Cakra.” How and why does Varma translate into “Cakra?” Since Starbucks gets my name wrong every single time, I like to go order “Tea Tea.” The teller invariably looks at me confused. So I explain “Chai” means tea in Hindi. So, technically, you are selling Tea Tea, which of course makes no sense. And we usually laugh.

WIH Reporter: Do you have more instances that you can tell us about?

Borkataky-Varma: At the end of a yoga class, the instructor says Namaste. Namaste in the Indian social context means “Hello.” Why do we say Hello at the end of a class? People assume that Hindus and Buddhists are vegetarians. So I go on a teaching mode. Sixty percent of 1.2 billion people in India eat meat. I add some humor at the end of my teaching moment by saying Indian holy cow is not the American cow. So, technically eating beef in the USA should be acceptable and justified. After all filet mignon is delicious.

WIH Reporter: What else would surprise us about the view from the Eastern perspective?

Borkataky-Varma: In India, Buddhism and Jainism were counter-culture, counter-religious movements that began in response to Hinduism in late 6th century BCE—approximately around the same time Confucianism and Taoism  originated in China. So, why does history define timelines around BC and AD. Is it a true representation? What are the inherent biases embedded with a BC and AD understanding? Also, India produced four World Religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.

WIH Reporter: Why is it important for us to know about the seven Eastern religions?

Borkataky-Varma: A course on Eastern religions fosters conversations. At a fundamental level, the course provides an introduction to seven different religions and the basic tenets of each of the religions. But at a deeper personal level, it leads to participants asking and or exploring some myths and biases that are embedded deep within each one of us.

WIH Reporter: What is the format of your class?

Borkataky-Varma: I will use a PowerPoint presentation as a lead into meaningful conversation paired with assigned light reading.

WIH Reporter: We like to ask the following question. What books are on your night table?

Borkataky-Varma: “Rainbow Body” by Kurt Leland and “The Flavors of Nationalism” by Nandita Haskar.

Dr. Sravana Borkataky-Varma’s 7-week class begins on Monday, October 22, 2018 at 10:00 am-12:00 pm. For more information or to register, click here.

Dr. Anna Tahinci Speaks: On “Seeing Ourselves:” The Art of Self-Portraiture from Dürer to the Selfie

August 16, 2018

Rembrant, self portrait, 1660

In 2013, the Oxford Dictionaries announced that “selfie” was their word of the year and defined it as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.” As an art historian, I immediately started thinking about the kinds of self-portraits art’s greatest masters may have created if they had access to smartphones. In 2018, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston acquired a photograph titled “Monkey Selfie,” a selfie taken by a crested macaque in Indonesia using equipment belonging to British photographer David Slater, raising complex legal questions about art and copyright. I immediately started working on a series of lectures that I titled “Seeing Ourselves: The Art of Self-Portraiture from Dürer to the Selfie,” offering a panoramic overview of drawn, painted, sculpted and photographed self-portraits in Art History from Dürer and Rembrandt to the Post-Modern and Contemporary period. What do artists see when they are looking at themselves in the mirror? Self-portraits are not innocent depictions of reflections or distortions in the mirror. They are a complex visual language that involves a series of choices, from the simple “this is what I look like” to the multi-layered “this is who I am, or who I am not.” The artist’s ego as his or her own model raises a series of fascinating questions on self-representation and self-image, likeness, status, identity, role, story-telling and narcissism. As with any exercise in art appreciation, it becomes even more complex when self-portraits are examined from the viewpoint of both the artist and the viewer. Self-portrayal by artists may reflect their desire to record individualized features and appearance, to become self-important and famous, to stage likeness with self-esteem and self-confidence, alone or in company, for the present moment and for posterity. It is a very relevant and meaningful topic to explore in light of our 21st century’s obsession with selfies and the self. Dr. Anna Tahinci’s class, “Seeing Ourselves: The Art of Self-Portraiture from Dürer to the Selfie”, begins September 11th, 2018, at 10:00 a.m.

How Much Do You Know About…The Lesser-Known Gems of the Art Museum World?

August 14, 2018


In anticipation of Barry Greenlaw’s upcoming class, “Beyond the Louvre: Art Museums for the Connoisseur,” we are offering a fun and informative quiz about lesser-known art museums and their holdings. See how much you know about the gems of the art museum world!


1. Which museum is home to the ONLY Michelangelo painting held in an American collection?

A. The Museum of Fine Arts, TX.
B. The Kimbell Museum, TX.
C. Crystal Bridges Museum, TN.

2. Who is planning to open the Musée Jacqueline et Pablo Picasso in the south of France featuring Picasso’s paintings, sculptures and more?

A. Paloma Picasso.
B. Catherine Hutin-Blay.
C. Claude Picasso.

3. What is the best museum to view more than 100 Van Gogh paintings and features one of the largest sculpture gardens in Europe?

A. Musee d’Orsay, France.
B. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.
C. Kroller-Muller Museum, Netherlands.

4. Which smaller museum was endowed with a private art collection assembled over a 30-year period by an industrialist and contains European art from the Renaissance to the 20th century, including Southeast Asian art spanning 2,000 years?

A. The Broad Museum, CA.
B. The Norton Simon Museum, CA.
C. The Frick Museum, NY.

5. Which small museum is located in a house designed by a famous 19th century architect that is crammed with marble sculptures and paintings, including those by Hogarth and Turner?

A. Sir John Soane Museum, UK.
B. Sir Charles Barry Museum, UK.
C. Frederick Law Olmstead Museum, USA.

6. Which museum has the design of a 15th century Venetian-style palace that contains a peaceful courtyard surrounded by three stories of galleries, that include art by Titian, Raphael, Rembrandt, Matisse, and more? Hint: It was also the location of the biggest art heist in history!

A. The National Art Museum, Norway.
B. The Whitworth Art Gallery, UK.
C. The Isabelle Gardner Museum, USA.

7. Which museum in Philadelphia has one of the best Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collections in the world?

A. The Barnes Foundation.
B. Brandywine River Museum.
C. The Palmer Museum of Art.


1. B. The Kimbell Museum of Fort Worth, Texas contains a small copy of a painting that Michelangelo created when he was only 12 or 13. Although it is not representative of his later work, it does show his early talent. The permanent collection of the Kimbell  is home to works by Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Goya, Monet, Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, Titian, and more. In comparison to other museums in Texas (and around the country), the smaller-sized Kimbell Museum has been regularly spotlighted for focusing on quality over quantity.

2. B. Picasso’s stepdaughter, Catherine Hutin-Blay, is planning to open a museum dedicated to Picasso and his second (and final) wife, Jacqueline Roque. Aptly named Musée Jacqueline et Pablo Picasso, the venue will hold over 1,000 paintings (in addition to drawings, sculptures, ceramics, painted plates, and photographs) that are dated between 1952 and 1973—the years the couple were together, until Picasso’s death in April 1973.

3. C. One of the most overlooked museums in Europe is the Kroller-Muller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands (about an hour outside of Amsterdam). This museum houses over 100 Van Gogh paintings  along with Seurats, Mondrians, and Picassos. In addition, it contains one of the largest sculpture gardens in Europe.

4. B. The Norton Simon Museum is known around the world as one of the most remarkable private art collections ever assembled. Over a 30-year period, industrialist Norton Simon (1907–1993) amassed an astonishing collection of European art from the Renaissance to the 20th century and a stellar collection of South and Southeast Asian art spanning 2,000 years. Modern and Contemporary Art from Europe and the United States, acquired by the former Pasadena Art Museum, also occupies an important place in the Museum’s collections.

5. A. The Sir John Soane Museum is a small, historic house which features a surprising art collection including paintings by Hogarth and Turner. The house was designed by Sir John Soane, one of England’s most famous and unique 19th century architects.

6. C.  The Isabelle Gardner Museum is located in Boston, and features a courtyard surrounded by three stories of galleries. This museum was also home to the biggest art heist in history; the thieves stole works by Degas, Rembrandt and Vermeer. Empty frames still mark the places where the paintings were stolen. However, this museum is still considered to have one of the best art collections in the world.

7. A. The Barnes Foundation was originally created to show paintings in the context of a home, rather than a museum, and its forced move into a more public structure in 2012 caused much controversy at the time. However, this museum  that includes works by Renoir, Cezanne, Picasso, Van Gogh and others is considered to hold one of the best Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collections in the world.


Genesis 1-11: Understanding the Bible’s Most Memorable Stories

August 14, 2018

Sacrifice of Isaac, Caravaggio, 1603

In Professor Jesse Rainbow’s upcoming class, “The Bible’s Primeval Story: Genesis 1-11,” we will learn about the original meanings and enduring legacies of some of the Bible’s most memorable stories—the creation of the world, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the great flood and Noah’s ark, and the tower of Babel. We checked in with Rainbow to find out more.
WIH Reporter: What is important for us to know about your class?

Rainbow: We’ll cover a relatively limited but densely filled portion of Genesis—just eleven chapters. Each session, I will lecture on one or two chapters, and each presentation will include interpretations of the stories in art history. I think it’s important to consider not only the history of interpretation that is represented in literary sources—the New Testament, rabbinic literature, the Qur’an—but also in visual art. The vast majority of people who encountered the stories of Genesis prior to the advent of printing in the 15th century did so not as readers but as hearers and as viewers of visual art. Art history can show us how people understood the stories in ways that are sometimes strikingly different than we find in contemporary and sometimes rarefied scholarly discussions.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do we have about your class topic?

Rainbow: I think that since the modernist vs. fundamentalist controversy of the 1920s, many people assume that the only interesting questions about Genesis 1-11 have to do with religion versus science, or history versus myth. And consequently, that modern scientific discoveries about the origins of humanity and the universe have rendered Genesis 1-11 irrelevant and uninteresting to everyone but religious fundamentalists. From my perspective as an academic biblical scholar, I find these stories to be—like Gilgamesh, the Greek myths, etc.—beautiful and intriguing, encapsulating a particular set of answers to some of the enduring questions of human existence.

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

Rainbow: As prominent as figures like Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and Noah are in the Western imagination, they barely appear in the rest of the Hebrew Bible after the opening chapters of Genesis. They become huge in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic thought, but in the Bible itself, these stories exist in the margins, occupying just 2% of the Bible. In some cases, other parts of the Bible offer radically different stories of the creation of the world, for instance. One of the intriguing puzzles of biblical scholarship is figuring out what the opening chapters of Genesis might have meant to the people who wrote and compiled the Hebrew Bible—people who opened their Bible with a set of unforgettable tales and then proceeded to say almost nothing more about them!

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

Rainbow: I will lecture and present slideshows of relevant images.

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

Rainbow: The Iliad, the Zhuangzi, stories of Agnon, James Scott’s Against the Grain.

Jesse Rainbow’s upcoming class, “The Bible’s Primeval Story: Genesis 1 – 11,”  starts on September 11th at 1:30. For more information, or to register, click here.



Art Museums for the Connoisseur

August 14, 2018

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Art lovers around the world know the many pleasures of the Louvre, the Prado, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and other famous art museums, but some of the most exciting art can be found in smaller museums with unique collections. In his upcoming class, “Beyond the Louvre: Art Museums for the Connoisseur,” Barry Greenlaw takes us on a tour of the larger museums, but also some lesser known institutions in this country and abroad. We visited with him to find out more.

WIH Reporter: What strikes you most about art museums in today’s world?

Greenlaw: Art museums have never been more popular or more visible. For instance, in spite of raising the price of admission recently, the Metropolitan Museum of Art just announced record attendance for the last fiscal year, and the Met continues to be New York’s most visited tourist attraction. Every day there are long lines for admission to the Louvre that snake around the Pyramid entrance and if you want to visit the new Broad Museum in Los Angeles, you either need to make advance reservations, or wait in long queues for standby admission.

It’s not just art but also architecture. Enormous new museums, designed by “starchitects” like Frank Gehry or Renzo Piano have became a necessary signature for the status of rising cities
all over the world, from China, the Middle East, and Latin America.

WIH Reporter: It sounds like larger museums and big names are the trend in today’s art world.

Greenlaw: Here’s an example. A single painting attributed to Leonardo da Vinci sold at auction for $450 million, and will soon be put on display as the focal point of the new mega-museum in Abu
Dhabi, and next year will make its debut at the Louvre itself (almost certainly increasing the length of the lines around the Pyramid).

WIH Reporter: In this context, it sounds easy to miss some smaller and more unique art collections. What should we know about the smaller venues you are covering in your upcoming class.

Greenlaw: The famous art museums in the great cities of the world will be considered in this course, but will be seen in the context of a large number of small, less visible and less well-known institutions, in this country and abroad.

These can be found in the lesser cities, towns, countrysides and universities and colleges, where their often remarkable and surprising collections make an even greater impact to their visitors than the world-famous works of art in the great blockbuster museums.

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about these art collections?

Greenlaw: Instead of visiting London or Madrid, Chicago or Boston; Tokyo or Mexico City, you can visit Barnard Castle in England, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Colmar, France or Waterville, Maine, and I’m not forgetting Louisiana (but the museum I’m referring to is not the museum that comes to mind!).

WIH Reporter: Is there anything else we should know about your upcoming class?

Greenlaw: Each week of this 10-week course will be a surprise to you, and probably to me as well.

Barry Greenlaw’s class, “Beyond the Louvre: Art Museums for the Connoisseur” begins on Sept 10th at 1:00 p.m. For more information, or to register, click here.

How Much Do You Know About…Music in the Movies

April 18, 2018



In anticipation of Dominque Royem’s class, “Music in the Movies,” we created a quiz to test your knowledge about music in the movies.



1. Who is the only person to win Oscars for both acting and song-writing?

A. Cher.
B. Barbra Streisand.
C. Anna Paquin.
D. Jennifer Hudson.

2. What was the first movie in film history to have a soundtrack?

A. Snow White.
B. The Wizard of Oz.
C. The Adventures of Robin Hood.
D. A Fistful of Dollars.

3. Who was nominated for Best Score of a Musical Picture in 1961 but lost to the arrangers of “West Side Story”?

A. Duke Ellington.
B. Dmitri Shostakovich.
C. Elmer Bernstein.

4. Who is the only person to win an Oscar for Best Original Song as well as a Nobel Prize?

A. Rabindranath Tagore.
B. Bob Dylan.
C. George Bernard Shaw.

5. In the 50s and 60s, Elvis Presley made many movies with soundtrack albums. Which was the one that sold the most?

A. G.I. Blues.
B. Roustabout.
C. Blue Hawaii.

6. What are the two bestselling soundtracks of all time?

A. Dirty Dancing.
B. Saturday Night Fever.
C. The Bodyguard.
D. Purple Rain.


1. B. Barbra Streisand is the only entertainer to be awarded an Oscar for Best Actress: for Funny Girl (1968), and for Best Original Song, for the Love Theme (Evergreen) from “A Star is Born.” (1976).

2. A. The first movie soundtrack album commercially available was from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. It was such a new concept in music that the album had the title, “Songs from Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (with the Same Characters and Sound Effects as in the Film of That Title)“.

3. A. and B. Dmitri Shostakovich and Duke Ellington were both nominated the same year at the height of their careers, but their scores were beaten out by the popular hit musical “West Side Story.”

4. B. Dylan won the Oscar in 2000 for the song Things Have Changed in the movie “Wonder Boys,” and also  won the Nobel Prize for Literature just last year making him the first person to ever hold both awards. The only other person to win both an Oscar (in any category) and a Nobel Prize is the author George Bernard Shaw who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925 and an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for his 1938 film “Pygmalion.”

5. C. “Blue Hawaii” sold three million copies and is also the bestselling studio album of Elvis’s career.

6. B. and C.  The Bee Gees “Saturday Night Fever” (1977) and the Whitney Houston’s “The Bodyguard” (1992) have sold more than 14 million copies in the U.S.


Ruth Chow-Kneese Speaks: On Shopping

April 18, 2018

shoppingMany women shop for clothes unaware of what they want or need. To make the items in your closet work for you and to make everyday dressing easier, it is important to shop with awareness. Really looking at an item, and thinking about what it can be worn with is the most important question to ask yourself before purchasing an item. Can you create several different outfits with this item? Shopping with a clothing stylist will bring these important questions into focus. Learning the tricks of the trade will make dressing so much easier and in the long run, save you time and money. Have the closet and wardrobe that work for you and your lifestyle.

Chow-Kneese’s 4-week class, “Shopping Wisely” starts on May 2. For more information, or to register, click here.

Meet Two New Professors: Victoria Jones and Hank Roubicek!

April 18, 2018

passion2The Women’s Institute of Houston is featuring two new professors who speak in very unique ways about important facets of human experience as it relates to art, relationships, and storytelling.


Victoria Jones, a counseling psychologist and co-founder of Psynergy Psychological Associates, explains the impetus behind her class “Illuminating the Psyche Through the Arts: Art As Lens To Relationships With Others” as follows, “Our individual journeys absolutely depend (even neurologically) on learning from each other. Thus, the class involves both supportive interaction and individual discovery.

Henry Roubicek, popular radio show host, award-winning educator, and instructor of the upcoming class “Storytelling is dedicated to helping students learn the art of storytelling in order to craft the story that they want to tell. Dr. Hank, as he is called, describes storytelling as follows, “Every story that people tell is a part of their life. The personal episodes that occur to you form a culmination of your life. Obviously, some are more meaningful than others. But, I really believe we’re born a blank book, and every episode that occurs in our life fills those blank pages.”

WIH Reporter: It’s wonderful to meet you both. Can you tell us what we should know right away about about your upcoming classes?

Jones: The most complex and illusive interdisciplinary subject of them all—the human experience—is not a required course from grade school to graduate school! A few of us may have included psychology as an elective or minor, but most of us know very little about a subject that dramatically influences daily happiness. My class is designed to help you discover catalyzing questions—and even answers—that move us closer to the place we are all heading in our individual ways.

Roubicek: In my class, “Storytelling,” we will see how storytelling is the best way to connect with others. When stories are told, listeners are invited into the windows of the teller’s soul. And, the single greatest denominator that binds people together is fully experienced – vulnerability.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do we have about your specific class topics?

Jones: My subjects—the human psyche and the creative arts—often feel subjective, vague, ephemeral, confusing—quite the opposite of what I am planning for our focused work together. Our focus will involve working with inevitable tensions, like profound truth and playful curiosity; intrinsic rights and the erosion of time and focus; the things we prioritize and those we avoid; fear of abandonment/engulfment and our capacity for intimacy; and, the need to protect and defend in the face of incessant projections to and from others.

Roubicek: Mick Jagger once sang, “It’s the singer, not the song.” That’s another way of saying that delivery counts when you tell a story. Even in a traditional setting, there must be a shared sense of discovery so there is a payoff. Good tellers know how to make good listeners.”

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

Jones: The format of my class will involve exploring fundamental psychological concepts or themes using the arts as window, lens, translator, mirror. This might involve hands-on activities; guided discussion; or writing inspired by a poem or painting. The process may also be reversed, in which we begin with a creative prompt which then leads to psychological exploration.

Roubicek: The format of my class will be interactive. “Even in a traditional setting, there must be a shared sense of discovery so there is a payoff. Good tellers know how to make good listeners.” “When you deliver a narrative, you have to come across as sharing information. People want to hear things when you share it with them. To me, a good storyteller makes sure there’s a payoff. You have to take something with you. When I had Holocaust survivors tell their stories on my radio show, the listeners didn’t take away the individual stories. They took away the bravery and gutsiness of the tellers.

WIH Reporter: Is there anything you would like to add about your classes?

Jones: The creative arts are central to psychological growth allowing us to imagine our way out of life’s double binds. Creative problem-solving unifies the brain, thereby inhibiting intrusive, inflexible, and habitual ways of thinking. With increased goal-directed behavior we can not only think outside the box when we are engaged in creative exploration, we are also more likely to take action. Creative thinking increases calm and focus, as well as access to excitement and pleasure.

Roubicek: A good storyteller offers complete thoughts, in a sequence. Our imagination puts thoughts and ideas together in symbols we call words. You must use words descriptively as a painter uses a paintbrush. Words are your color, texture and images, especially how the words are spoken. You add posture, gestures, voice, pitch, and other speech tools to create a message. In advertising and acting, you put these things together to create a message. But, the difference is storytelling creates a community. We remember people through the stories they tell.”

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

Click here to register for Victoria Jones’ 8-week class, “Illuminating the Psyche Through the Arts: Art As Lens To Relationships With Others” class which begins Wednesday, May 2 at 10:00 a.m.

Click here to register for Hank Roubicek’s 2-day class, “Storytelling” which takes place on on May 1 and May 2 at 1:00 p.m.

Barry Greenlaw Speaks: On Bridges

April 18, 2018

I have always been fascinated with bridges. On my first visit to New York, as a young boy, I was far more impressed with crossing the George Washington Bridge, than visiting the Statue of Liberty, or the top of the Empire State Building.

Many cities are defined by their bridges – who can think of London  without London Bridge, or Tower Bridge; Sydney without its Harbor Bridge; Prague without Charles Bridge? Sailing out of New York Harbor beneath the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, or into San Francisco beneath the magnificent Golden Gate, defines the whole concept of departure and arrival.

This class will be roughly organized in a chronological manner from the earliest, primitive stone and timber crossings, to the magnificent modern engineering marvels of today. We will spend significant time with the first great bridge builders, the Romans, who linked their widespread Empire together with their bridges.

Bridges of the Middle Ages reflected the progress of architectural styles.
We will see how the development of the Gothic arch which allowed
cathedrals to be built higher, allowed bridges to be built stronger and

The 18th century was the first to utilize the new developments of the
Industrial Revolution, with the use of iron and then steel dramatically
improving the strength and utility of bridges. The adoption of the
ancient suspension system, utilizing these new materials, enabled
spans, higher clearances, and extraordinary beauty. The 19th century witnessed
a great period of bridge engineering in both Europe and America.

And today, we are in the midst of an explosion of new construction,
based mainly on the cable-stay system which has produced some of the
most magnificent bridges ever built.

Greenlaw’s 2 week/4 session class takes place on June 11, June 13, June 18, and June 20 at 10:00 a.m. For more information, or to register, click here.

Lights! Camera! Action! Music in the Movies!

April 18, 2018

hollywood2Whether we notice it or not, music is ubiquitous in films. From catchy songs and lyrics to background music, music is an often unrecognized yet important factor in movies. Dominique Royem’s upcoming class, “Music in the Movies” covers a wide range of music in films, encompassing everything from early silent German expressionist works to the blockbusters of today. We visited with Royem to find out more.

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

Royem: There is a lot more to music in movies than what you remember hearing in the theater! You usually don’t even remember hearing the large majority of good movie music. To truly understand what’s at work, we will have to analyze why they work so well in context with the movie.

WIH Reporter: What makes music so important in movies?

Royem: Music is fundamental to the art of storytelling through film, not just something that’s thrown on top at the end. It can make or break a movie – John Williams is credited with turning Star Wars into a galaxy-spanning drama instead of a cheesy science fiction niche film.

WIH Reporter: What is the most incredible fact about music in films that you have discovered?

Royem: Music is so important to movies even silent films had music!

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

Royem: We will watch and analyze clips from major motion pictures spanning over a hundred years. Your participation is welcomed – everyone’s take on culture is different, and these small (or large) personal differences add complexity to the composer’s job.

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

Royem: These are the books I am reading right now: Film Music: A History  by James Eugene Wierzbicki, Celluloid Symphonies: Texts and Contexts in Film Music History  edited by Julie Hubbert, and Overtones and Undertones: Reading Film Music  by Royal S. Brown.

Royem’s 6-week class begins on May 3 and starts at 10:00 a.m. For more information, or to register, click here.

Love and Passion in 20th-Century Literature

April 18, 2018

romancingLove and passion in the pages of 20th-century literature is the subject of Professor Laura Richardson’s upcoming course, “Romancing the 20th Century”.  We spoke with her to  find out more.


WIH Reporter: How did you come up with this idea for your class?

Richardson: The idea came from a great discussion my students and I had in my last course, “Contemporary Women’s Literature.” We were about to discuss Ann Patchett’s “Bel Canto”, and I asked the class to share their ideas and experiences of what love is. Our amazing conversation ended up informing nearly all of our subsequent discussions; it was a special moment when we all shared, learned about each other, and then were able to take those experiences and use them as interpretative tools for the novels. I thought to myself, “I want to have more classes like this!” So the idea of “Romancing the 20th Century” was born!

WIH Reporter: What is important for us to know about romance in literature?

Richardson: As a genre, “romance” can designate either 1. a prose narrative that follows heroic or mysterious characters who participate in events in far-away times and places and/or 2. in the more familiar use of the word, a love story. We’ll be taking a close look at our course texts to determine how they specifically fit into one or both of these long-standing traditions of “romance.”

WIH Reporter: What surprises are in store for us in learning about this subject?

Richardson: Twentieth-century literature isn’t really known for its romances, but rather for its interest in technology, globalization, formal experimentation, and skepticism. As a class, we’ll be looking to define the traits of this genre in the past hundred-odd years. You won’t find a class like this anywhere else!

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

Richardson: Each day will begin with a presentation of discussion questions, useful background material on the author(s), and appropriate historical/theoretical context in lecture form. We’ll spend more time on this the first day as we talk about the definition of “romance.” Then we’ll spend at least an hour of each class in discussion.

WIH Reporter: We often like to ask the following question. What books are on your night table right now?

Richardson: I’m currently making my way through Stephen King’s The Stand (1500+ pages, but a real post-apocalyptic page-turner!) and am also enjoying Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, a nonfiction book on the role of medicine at the end of life.

Richardson’s 6-week class begins on May 1 at 10:00 a.m. For more information or to register, click here.


Understanding Culture: Bridging the Gap Between People

February 28, 2018

baba2As people come together from different backgrounds, understanding how societies are based around fundamental patterns of culture becomes essential at all levels of human interaction, from the interpersonal to the international. We interviewed Professor Claudia Baba about the subject of her upcoming class “Intercultural Issues: Developing Awareness to Understanding People” to find out more about the concept of culture and how to bridge the gaps between people of different backgrounds and traditions.

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

Baba: Because we live in an increasingly diverse and interconnected world we encounter different value systems and behaviors. Houston, for example, was ranked the most diverse city in the USA in 2017 with 1 in 4 Houstonians born outside of the country. There are 90 languages spoken and 92 foreign consulates here. The reality today is that we’re more than a multi-cultural society in which we live alongside one another with limited interactions. We are moving towards an intercultural community where people of different backgrounds are coming together and exchanging ideas and cultural norms to develop deep understanding and respect for all cultures.

WIH Reporter: What do we need to know to move into better understanding?

Baba: The key for this community to flourish beyond a superficial gloss is through intercultural understanding and communication.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken ideas do we have about culture and how can we bridge the gap between people of different backgrounds?

That culture is homogenous—a program on how to act.
That culture is a thing—without individual agency.
That culture is uniformly distributed with the group.
That the individual possess only one culture.
That culture is custom—based simply on tradition.
That culture is timeless.

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about the concept of culture?

Baba: In 1952, two American anthropologists critically reviewed the concept of culture and compiled a list of 164 different definitions.

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

Baba: Mostly lecture but there will be plenty of opportunity for discussions.

WIH Reporter: We like to find out what books are on your night table right now.

Baba: Recent books include Cultural Intelligence: Individual Interactions Across Cultures by P. Christopher Earley & Soon Ang, Culture and International Relations by Jongsuk Chay, The Truth Matters by Bruce Bartlett, The Reactionary Mind by Corey Robin, The History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani, and The Collected Stories by Grace Paley.

For more information or to register for this 6-week class starting March 22nd, click here.



Liz Weiman Speaks: On the Mind-Body Connection

February 28, 2018


The latest scientific research into the power of the mind-body connection shows us that we can be active participants in taking control of our health and healing. In my upcoming class, we will explore the latest scientific research about this mind-body connection and also learn modern and ancient techniques that have proven to have profound effects on stress reduction and health.

One factor that we will explore is the art of breathing properly. Shallow breathing is normally triggered when we are threatened, as part of our innate fight or flight defense system. However, in these stressful modern times, our breathing may have become primarily shallow. We may notice that the air stops in our throat or upper/middle chest on each breath. Babies and young children breathe naturally, using the large muscle of the diaphragm which also massages the internal organs on each breath. By learning specific exercises that counteract stress-induced breathing, we can relearn how to breathe properly, cultivate calm, and improve overall health, longevity, and quality of life.

For more information or to register for Weiman’s 6-week class “The Mind-Body Connection: Improving Health, Longevity, and Quality of Life,” starting April 5th, 2018, click here.


Helga Aurisch Speaks: On Artistic Couples

February 28, 2018

The Kiss by Gustave Klimt

Another title I considered for this course was “Artists in Love,” but that had been used by Veronica Kavass for her 2012 book on this fascinating subject. I did want to concentrate on painters. And they were not always in love. Many of the relationships that we will be looking at, for instance Dora Maar and Picasso, Gabrielle Münter and Vassily Kandinsky were turbulent to say the least. Starting as love stories, even seductions, they often ended in sadness and misery for the women. They had to battle on while their former partners rose to stardom.  At a moment when the #metoo movement is fiercely debated in our society, looking at the trajectory of these couples that often began as student/teacher relationships will add a historical dimension to the current discussion.

For more information about Helga Aurisch’s 6-week class “Artistic Couples”, beginning March 19th, click here.


The Extraordinary Role of Women in Religion

February 28, 2018

Virgin Mary and Jesus (old Persian miniature), wikipedia


The religions of the world would be mere shadows of their current iterations were it not for the women who championed them and, in many cases, illustrated the religions’ highest ideals with their very lives. In her upcoming class, “Women in Religion,” Professor Jill Carroll will focus on the extraordinary role that women have played, and continue to play, in the world’s religions.





WIH Reporter: From most people’s perspective, religions of the world are dominated by men. How will your upcoming class dispel this?

Carroll: The class, broadly speaking, won’t dispel this idea because historically it is mostly true. Religions have been made by men, for men and about men for the most part. That being the case, the stories and roles of women in the religions have been minimized. Our class will prioritize those stories and roles to balance out the portrait of the religions.

WIH Reporter: In many religions of the world, women are taught to be submissive. Would you give us an example of a female who went against this directive?

Carroll: Pretty much every woman who ever did anything notable in the realm of religion. Sometimes it was a matter of not being “submissive” – other times it was more about refusing the standard, limiting roles carved for women in a given socio-cultural context. The women who have achieved something in religion – started a movement, led a group, initiated socio-political activism, etc. – broke out of the prescribed roles in order to accomplish those things.

WIH Reporter: Do you have a favorite female prophet, disciple or saint and if so, what is her strongest characteristic?

Carroll: There are so many, but recently I’m enamored with Lucretia Mott, the 18th century abolitionist, women’s rights advocate, and religious reformer.  She was so brave, so smart, so powerful in her person and presence.  Another would be Angelina Grimke, abolitionist and women’s rights advocate.  Both these women were deeply radical in their contexts and had backbones of steel.  I admire them tremendously.

WIH Reporter: How do the women you will examine in this course illustrate the ideals of religion?

Carroll: In many ways, they exemplify the deepest ideals, teachings and ethical admonitions of the religions – and expand them into new area.  For example, Amma (a current day Hindu guru from the Dalit or untouchable caste) embodies in her life and practice many traditional Hindu virtues and does what respectable gurus everywhere do.  However, she expands her work into the world of widows – Hindu society is particularly hard on widows – and Amma from her own resources through the funds she raises has created a small pension system for widows.  I can’t imagine that such a thing would be on the forefront of a male guru’s agenda.  But Amma is a woman and understands the plight of women.  It’s not a blind spot for her.

WIH Reporter: Finally, in today’s world of women finding their voices to stand up to misogyny, what would surprise us to know about the amazing women you will be studying?

Carroll: I don’t know that it’s much of a surprise, but important to know is that so many of these women overcame significant odds against them to achieve whatever they’ve achieved.  They were scorned, put down, made fun of, harassed, rejected, etc.  But, as the recent meme indicates, “still she persisted.”

For more information or to register for Jill Carroll’s 8-week course starting March 19th, 2018, click here.


Breaking News: Bill Frisco Weighs In on Today’s Financial Market and Economy

February 28, 2018

wall2More than ever, investors are concerned with the high valuations in today’s stock and bond markets. William E. Frisco, Certified Financial Planner and Registered Investment Adviser, has a lot to tell us about the market and the economy in his upcoming class, “Today’s Market: Will the Boom Times Continue?” We visited with Frisco to find out more.


WIH Reporter: What is important to know about the areas you will cover in your upcoming class?

Frisco: The class will address key areas that concern every investor such as if the stock market is overvalued and ready for a significant drop and if bond yields will rise as a result of rising inflation.

Investors are also concerned about the major changes in the new tax bill. Investors should know how much they can spend in retirement without running out of money and how the mid-term elections will possibly impact financial markets.

WIH Reporter: What kind of information will you be sharing with your students in this class?

Frisco: In addition to covering how to manage investment risks, generate income for retirement, and diversify growth portfolios to minimize volatility, I will be covering such topics as index funds, what they are, and why Warren Buffett is recommending them. I will also detail how assets should be allocated in today’s economic climate.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do you think we have about a class like yours that covers financial markets?

Frisco: People often assume that the class is biased one way or another in covering the economy, which is an incorrect assumption. Instead, we will will review strategies that have survived good times and not so good times

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

Frisco: The class is taught in a question and answer format to improve the learning process and to fully engage the participants. Each class has detailed, updated handouts covering the topics to be discussed. I will layer a foundation in each area and then open up the discussion to cover questions and concerns from the participants. The research for the class is very current, timely, and from a variety of different sources. The class is for those who want to do their own investing as well as those who choose to work with an adviser.

WIH Reporter: We are often curious about the books currently on your night table. Could you tell us what you are reading lately?

Frisco: Books include The Accidental Superpower by Peter Zeihan, Tools for Smart Thinking, by Richard Nisbett, No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt:The Home Front in World War II by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, and The Flawed Giant – Lyndon Johnson by Robert Dallek.

For more information, or to register for Bill Frisco’s 5-week class starting on April 3rd, 2018, click here.

Romanticism: A Tradition and a Way of Life

February 27, 2018

“The Lover’s Whirlwind” 1872, William Blake

According to Professor Jade Hagen, who is teaching the upcoming class “Masterworks of Romanticism,” the literary tradition of Romanticism is far reaching and though it has been considered to be part of earlier centuries, it has strongly influenced many elements in these modern times. We checked in with Hagen to find out more.



WIH Reporter: What is important to know about Romanticism?

HagenRomanticism is arguably the most influential literary and artistic tradition in American history, and perhaps the most important tradition to arise in Great Britain after Shakespeare and Milton. Surrealism and the avant-gardes of the early twentieth century wouldn’t have been possible without Romanticism, and the Beat poets of the 1950s and ’60s explicitly acknowledge the Romantics as their precursors. 

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

Hagen: “Romanticism” does have the word “romantic” in it, but it’s not about romance in the popular sense of love or marriage. Rather, Romanticism has been described as both a literary tradition and a way of life, one that is distinctly modern in its commitment to history, change, individual genius, and cultivating a healthy relationship between nature and culture.

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about Romanticism?

Hagen: Well, I realize its my own idiosyncratic take on things, but I would argue that Romanticism should be of interest because we are still in the Romantic period. That is, although Romanticism proper is usually considered an eighteenth and nineteenth-century phenomenon, most of the major issues we’re dealing with today—consumerism, climate change, the fight for individual rights and freedoms—are a part of the Romantic legacy. As a society, we’re still working out solutions and ways to live with these issues, and the Romantics were the first to alert us to the fact that these aren’t national or even regional issues, but human issues that affect all of us, regardless of our views on them.

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

Hagen: I like to begin class with an overview of the historical and literary contexts, and the major themes and questions that I hope we as a class can explore. Then I open it up to discussion. I’m also working on setting up either a visit to Rice’s Woodson Archives, or a speaker from the Archives to come to us. The Woodson has a copy of the illuminated version of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience, which we will be reading. Blake was an engraver by trade, and engraved and colored by hand each individual copy of his poems. You can read them in a book, but it’s just not the same as seeing the original plates, which evoke a totally different feeling than if you just see the black and white print version. We may also get into some adaptations of Romantic works. Frankenstein is a favorite of course, and has so many modern adaptations they’re hard to keep track of! Some are better than others though, and once you’ve read the book, you know why, and can appreciate the better versions that much more.

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

Hagen: It’s quite the eclectic mix. Let’s see, there’s Don Allen’s anthology, The New American Poetry: 1945-1960; Hafiz’s The Gift; a collection of Rumi poems; Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic; an anthology by Robert Bly called News of the Universe; John Ashbery’s Selected Poems; Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake; and Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (a real thriller); and a pocket edition of Blake of course. There’s always Blake these days.

For more information, or to register for Hagen’s 6-week class starting April 3rd, 2018, click here.




How Much Do You Know About…the Stock Market?

February 27, 2018

In anticipation of Bill Frisco’s upcoming financial class, we created a quiz to test your knowledge about little-known stock market facts.

1. Where is the oldest stock exchange in the world?

A. Barcelona, Spain.
B. Hamburg, Germany.
C. Toulouse, France.
D. Antwerp, Belgium.

2. Where was the first stock exchange in the United States?

A. New York, N.Y.
B. Philadelphia, PA.
C. Washington, D.C.
D. Boston, MA.

3. The founders of the New York Stock Exchange took inspiration from which country’s stock market?

A. Great Britain.
B. France.
C. Italy.
D. Spain.

4. What is the name for the method of communications used by stock traders frantically running around a trading floor and using hand signals?

A. Verbal auction.
B. Open outcry.
C. Hand dealing.

5. Which of the following is an example of a defensive stock?

A. A weapons manufacturer.
B. A utility company.
C. An auto manufacturer.

6. What does it mean when a trader flashes four fingers parallel to the floor, palm out?

A. Sell four shares.
B. Sell nine shares.
C. Buy four shares.
D. Buy nine shares.

7. Which company is NOT a member of the Dow Jones Industrial Average?

A. Verizon.
B. Amazon.
C. Hewlett-Packard.
D. WalMart.
E. Pfizer.

8. How many companies are in the Dow Jones Industrial Average?

A. 10.
B. 30.
C. 50.
D. 100.


1. D. The oldest stock exchange in the world began in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1460.

2. B. The first stock exchange in the United States, opened in Philadelphia, in 1790.

3. D. The value of the dollar had been based on the Spanish real, so the NYSE founders looked to Spain for inspiration for their stock market.. The Spanish real is also the reason for all the fractional stock prices in the NYSE.

4. B. Open outcry is the way transactions are communicated using shouting and hand signals.

5. B. A defensive stock is named as such because its value doesn’t fluctuate much. A good example of defensive stock would be utility stocks.

6. B. Palm out means sell. Four fingers at a 90-degree angle indicates nine while four upright fingers signals four.

7. B. Amazon is not a member of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

8. B. 30 is the correct answer.

 Film and Music: Two Great  American Art Forms

January 22, 2018

Photo by Connor Limbocker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 22, 2018

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

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

January 22, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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