Vacation: All I Ever Wanted
Summer Sets Faculty Loose
Harvard professors have stories to tell about their summer vacations that would delight any expository writing instructor or fill hours of fourth-grade show-and-tell.
From the craggy heights of Hawaii's volcanoes to a misty lake in Tuscany, from the proton to the poetry of ancient Greece, the freedom of June, July, and August allowed an explosion of exploration for some scholars.
Like the students they teach, the Faculty thrives on a diversity of interest--and a core of homogeneity. To a one, the scientists and historians, librarians and astronomers contacted recently complained that summer months pass far too quickly. Ask how they spent their time, however, and the similarities end; here, then are their individual answers to the age-old question: How I spent my vacation...
Robert S. Brustein, professor of English
From his description of the summer, it is clear that Brustein has had the ideal summer vacation, the kind of summer vacation everyone promises themselves somewhere in the middle of November.
He began his summer by "playing a lot of tennis" and reading at his house on Martha's Vineyard But the real high point of the season came later. On a 10-day loray into the Tuscan countryside around Lake I rasimeno. Even the name sounds placid, calm and relaxed; his days were spent, the dramatist says, "watching the mist drift off the lake and into the surrounding hills."
Was there even the slightest hint of work in all this? "All of Italy is theater." Brustein says, and he spent his time observing.
Stephen A. Thernstrom, Winthrop Professor of History
Thernstrom works hard, plays hard, and loves every minute of it. He began his summer by completing a project he has been working on for several years an intermediate textbook chronicling U.S. history from colonial times to the present. Finishing the book entitled "A History of the American People," was "very satisfting," he syas since initial hatcover versions are expected to be 200 pages long.
But that's not all, Sound body, sound mind was the credo of ancient Athens and after finishing his book Thernstrom laid academia aside to spend several weeks climbing mountain peaks in the White Mountain chain and on Mt. Desert Island. Tackling the largest mountain east of the Mississippi, Mt. Washington, was, Thernstrom says, one of the most difficult ascents. Though they left at dawn, he notes, the climb took all day. "At the top it was incredibly foggy and wet and there were no views at all," he says, "but the getting up and down were very exciting."
Owen G. Gingerich, professor of Astronomy and the History of Science
Gingerich started his summer with a heartbreak. An expert on Conpernicus' "De Revolutionibis [Concerning the Revolutions]" that first proposed that the earth rotates around the sun, rather than the reverse. Gingerich seizes every opportunity to examine the rare work. In June, he arrived in Hamburg, Germany, on his way to a scientific symposium just 24 hours after the auctioning of an unexamined copy.
"The buyer was so eager to get his hands on the thing that the auction house, which had promised to hold it for me, couldn't keep it away from him, "Gingerich says. "He made off with it just before I got there."
Other than that, the astronomer tosses off, his summer was uneventful: "A few papers on subjects like the cosmic distance scale in antiquity, and the discovery of the spiral shape of the Milky Way... a conference or two."
Perhaps, Gingerich offers, this summer was overshadowed by last, 1982, he notes, was marked by the 400th anniversary of the Gregorian calendar.
Celebrating the occasion, he visited the Vatican, discussed Galileo with the Pope, and still found time to head the U.S. delegation at an international conference in Patras, Greece.
"This year all there was was the 350th anniversary of Galileo's trial by Inquisition, and that was in April anyway."
Arthur Maass, Thomson Professor of Government
Maass mixed calm observation with 10 minutes of terror and cathedrals with bulls in the summer of 1983. And, he will tell you, he won't deduct a penny of his expenses from next year's income taxes, which is to say, he did it all for his personal pleasure.
Maass spent several months travelling in Spain. The cathedrals came, one after another over a period of several weeks, as he followed a centuries-old pilgrimage route to the cathedral of Santiago de Campotelo.
The bulls came all at once when Maass ran with the young men of Pamplona through deserted city streets chased by a dozen half-ton animals in the annual "running of the bulls." The custom precedes a bullfight in the town's central arena and is a historic test of bravado.
"I didn't run very far and I didn't run very long Naturally, however, it was exciting," he says. Adds a companion who observed the event. "He may not have run far, but he certainly ran fast."
Gregory Nagy, professor of Greek and Latin
With what begins to seem a common introduction to astounding summer tales, Professor Gregory Nagy prefaces a description of his summer with a complaint. "Well, I really didn't do anything terribly interesting."
Actually, Nagy not only took a whale-watching cruise off Cape Cod, he also completed a book of literary criticism on the work of Pindar, an archaic Greek lyric poet.
With his own book under his belt, he hustled down to the University of Texas to deliver a series of lectures on ancient rituals surrounding the inauguration of Greek Olympic Games. "It was just hot," he says of his sojourn in the I one Star State.
Daniel Aaron, Thomas Professor of English and American Literature
It's frustrating to talk to Aaron about his summer vacation because it seems as if the best part of it is yet to come. Aaron could fill a dozen "required essays of three paragraphs" with the activities of the past 12 weeks: he completed work on a five-year diary project, and he supervised the ongoing publication of the new Library of America books collecting the writings of major American authors.
But next week Aaron will be going to Sicily, Japan, and Korea to give a series of lectures on American history. The three-country tour will give him a chance to explain, in 50-minute packages, all of American intellectual history, American ethnic writing, and a variety of other topics.
"They [the lectures] will be presented at conferences designed to acquaint foreigners with specific areas of American history," he explains.
Aren't there any professors who have nothing to write about?
There are professors who had human summers.
For Mark Ptashne, professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, summer was just a time to continue things; the research that he does during the year and an annual month at an Italian music school, studying the violin.
Associate Economics Professor James I., Medoff says summer gives him time to "do the kind of-research that helps me teach better" "What you learn doing research," he says, "feeds back to students in a very positive way."
But Plot/heimer University Professor Oscar Handlin says summer can't really be classified as a time to relax for him "I don't have vacations, you know," he says, "the whole summer seems like one long list of details."
For or professor even the pressure of endless detail, seems to have been absent "My summer was not interesting enough to describe in print," says Philosophy professor Robert Nozick.