At Books@Work, we are daily witnesses to the power of conversation. As our own colleague Karen Nestor wrote earlier this year, good discussion is “an incubator for the kinds of innovative ideas that transform our lives” and allow us to reveal our truest selves. Walt Whitman once proclaimed in a poem, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” Conversation draws out the multitudes within us – and putting two texts into conversation can lead to even greater revelations.
In honor of Independence Day, we’re featuring two American poems in conversation: Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” and Langston Hughes’ poetic response “I, Too.” Whitman’s poem appeared in the iconic 1860 collection Leaves of Grass, and Hughes’ poem was published over 60 years later in The Weary Blues at the height of the Harlem Renaissance. Both poets provide their take on America. What does America mean to you?
We are more than five years into the Books@Work journey and we learn so much from our participants, professors and partners as they share their personal and collective experiences with the program. But as we shape and evolve the program, certain themes persist – as if to remind us of how far we have come and how far we still have to go. We wrestle with one such theme often as we offer new books and stories to teams and groups: whether “liking” or “disliking” a particular text affects its ability to generate and support a rich and engaging discussion. In exploring this idea, we return to a post I wrote a few years ago on this very topic. In short, we at Books@Work want all of our participants to be enriched, inspired and transformed by a text and, more importantly, the discussion. We continue to believe that there are boundless learning opportunities in each and every text – even when it’s not your cup of tea.
We recently had the chance to speak with Guido Isekenmeier about his experience as a Books@Work facilitator discussing Franz Kafka’s “The Hunger Artist” in German with German participants. Guido is an Assistant Professor of English and American Literature at the University of Stuttgart, Germany. His research and teaching focus on the history of description in narrative fiction and the relations of postmodernist literature and visual culture.
“I’m doing all kinds of classes: undergraduate, graduate, lectures, seminars,” Guido said of his current course load. “Unlike some of my colleagues in the United States, we have to cover the whole field from the beginning to the present, including literary, historical, theoretical stuff. We’re also doing English and American literature.”
In our our Weekend Reading post last week, we highlighted a fascinating article by Marcelo Gleiser, Dartmouth professor of philosophy, physics and astronomy, on teaching at the intersection of two increasingly distinct academic “cultures” – the sciences and the humanities. At a time when universities are shrinking their humanistic offerings in favor of science and technology, Gleiser comments on the weakness of an education that favors one over the other.
“We all stand to lose from this gulf between the sciences and the humanities,” Gleiser writes. “The sciences run the risk of being decontextualized from their moral and social consequences, pursuing technologies that should be regulated and scrutinized. . . On the other hand, the humanities run the risk of becoming disconnected from the pace of scientific discoveries and myopic to how they are effectively transforming the world we live in.”
So how science fiction help to bridge the gap between the sciences and the humanities?
Happy Friday! We’ve compiled our favorite articles and essays from the last month for you to browse and enjoy this weekend.
In NPR’s 13.7 Cosmos & Culture, theoretical physicist, author and Dartmouth College professor Marcelo Gleiser explores “the growing gap between the sciences and the humanities” – how it harms us, how we enable it and what we can do to bridge the divide. With a course called “Understanding the Universe: From Atoms to the Big Bang,” Gleiser hopes to portray “the sciences, the humanities, and the social sciences as different and complementary ways of knowing the world and why we matter” – a lesson that is just as crucial in the workplace as it is in the classroom. So how can we convince others to help bridge the gap?
I never would have predicted that my favorite book of 2017 would be a memoir about teaching The Odyssey. Daniel Mendelsohn’s An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic was the perfect combination of a compelling personal story, an interpretive, accessible guide to one of history’s most famous works of literature and a probing reflection on human relationships. The book has opened up many new insights for me about literature and social science and my own experiences in the world.
Early in the book, I learned for the first time about a classical literary technique called ring composition, which was used before writing was even invented. The storyteller begins his tale “only to pause and loop back to some earlier moment that helps explain an aspect of the story he’s telling – a bit of personal or family history, say – and afterward might even loop back to some earlier moment or incident . . . gradually winding his way back to the present moment.” This is the same way we engage in everyday conversation, especially when we are inspired to think creatively and expansively about a topic. Digressions don’t take us away from the conversation at hand so much as they embellish our ideas. Isn’t it true that conversational twists and turns can enrich our understanding and our interactions with each other?
This week, we are thrilled to share insights and reflections from Erin Ulrich, a senior English major at Oberlin College who recently completed a month-long internship with Books@Work.
My internship with Books@Work has focused primarily on data-analysis and listening to interview responses from program participants. While the nature of this work may seem mundane at first, it has offered me a first-hand glimpse into how exactly Books@Work works. While the impact of the program improving colleague relationships and promoting a fruitful, healthy and productive work environment are obvious from the company interviews, I have been particularly moved by the community interviews.
Happy February! We’ve compiled our favorite articles and essays from the last month for you to browse and enjoy this weekend.
In Pacific Standard, Michele Weldon examines why “as humans, we are helpless story junkies.” Take the latest winners and finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Journalism, Weldon writes: “The best reporting in all of the categories is tied to the personal stories of the individuals impacted.” Journalists, novelists, advertisers, politicians and CEOs seem to understand and capitalize on the power of story. But why does a well-told story resonate so profoundly with the average person?
In 2013, Google conducted a study called Project Oxygen to determine its top employees’ most important qualities. The idea was to test its hiring algorithms, which were set at the time to sort for elite computer science students from top universities. The study concluded that STEM expertise – widely revered at Google – was the least important quality of the eight discovered. Founding director of the Futures Initiative Cathy N. Davidson elaborates in The Washington Post:
“The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.
Those traits sound more like what one gains as an English or theater major than as a programmer. Could it be that top Google employees were succeeding despite their technical training, not because of it?”