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.