Faust’s Scholarship Is Both Impressive and Relevant

To the editors:

Christopher Lacaria is welcome to his opinion (“The Apotheosis of Dr. Faust,” column, Feb. 11) about the selection of Harvard’s new president. But casting aspersions on President-elect Faust’s stunning record of historical scholarship on the Civil War, slave owners, and the political economy of Southern plantation agriculture is a strange response from a student of history at Harvard College. In particular, his derisive citing of Faust’s essay analyzing the impact of the exaggerated scale of deaths during the Civil War––more than 4,800 soldiers died on a single day in Antietam––on American life and society is particularly unfortunate given the time in which we are living.

As for the Radcliffe Institute, it could be described as many things. An intellectual hot house, perhaps, where 50 scholars from all over the United States and other countries (selected from an applicant pool of close to 800) from disciplines ranging from electrical engineering, musicology, physics, visual arts, life sciences, literature, anthropology, chemistry, law, computer science, journalism, human rights, history, political science, mathematics, sociology, and medical science to art history study. At Radcliffe, fellows work on topics such as the “Development of Techniques to Identify the Signatures of Little Higgs Models at the Large Hadron Collider with the ATLAS Detector” (physics) to “The p-adic and mod p Local Langlands Correspondence” (mathematics) to “Speech Perception in Noise: Models and Applications” (electrical engineering) to “International Human Rights Law in Uzbekistan” to “Militant Democrats: Political Repression in Western Europe” to “Designing Matter” (chemistry) to “Milk, Dairy Intake, and Risk of Endometrial Cancer” (medical science).

To refer to advanced research as ‘obscurantist’ is a screen for ignorance. And it is an odd sort of “hen house” that has so many roosters. Most research projects at the Institute have nothing to do with gender. After having read this opinion piece, that is perhaps a shame.


February 13, 2007

Cambridge, Mass.

The writer was the 2006 Vera N. Schuyler Institute Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Studies.