MIT Reports to the President 1996-97


The Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies is an interdisciplinary program concerned with writing as a means of communication of ideas, a means of creative expression, and a vehicle for exploring the cultural context of science and technology. Each year, approximately 900 undergraduates enroll in our subjects. Some subjects satisfy either Phase One or Phase Two of the Institute Writing Requirement.

In addition to its curriculum, the Program offers a number of cultural and literary activities to the MIT community. The distinguished Austrian writer Gregor von Rezzori was a Writer-in-Residence in November, spoke in our Writers Series, and offered some master writing classes. Poets John Ashbery, William Corbett, W. S. DiPiero, August Kleinzahler, Martha Collins, Carolyne Wright spoke in our Poetry at MIT series.

In research and writing, Professor Kenneth Manning continues to increase and document his large data base on black physicians in his project on "Blacks in American Medicine, 1860-1980". Professor James Paradis continues his work on Samuel Butler. Professor Elóbieta Ettinger Chodakowska continues her biography of Hannah Arendt. Professor Harriet Ritvo has completed her new book, The Platypus and the Mermaid and Other Figments of the Classifying Imagination, which will be published by Harvard University Press in October 1997. Professor Cynthia Wolff continues work on slave narratives and primary research for a biography of Willa Cather. Assistant Professor Susanne Klingenstein is making final revisions on her new book, Enlarging America: The Cultural Work of Jewish Literary Scholars, 1930-1990, which will be published by Syracuse University Press. Senior Lecturer Edward Barrett continues his work on the Electronic Multimedia Online Textbook in Engineering and has begun a new series of books at the MIT Press on digital communication. Writer-in-Residence Pamela Alexander published her collection of poetry, Inland, which won the Iowa Poetry Prize. Writer-in-Residence Stephen Alter completed a memoir of his childhood in India, which will be published by Henry Holt. Writer-in-Residence Helen Elaine Lee has completed her new novel Water Marked, which will be published by Scribner.

On other activities and honors of the faculty, Professor Wolff has won both a Guggenheim and a National Endowment for the Humanities grant for the next two years. Professor Manning spent the spring semester at the University of North Carolina in an exchange program.

In Institute service, Professor Paradis completed his second year as chair of the HASS-D Committee. Professor Alan Lightman played a significant role in developing a new Undergraduate Communication Requirement, which the Institute faculty voted to explore in its May meeting. Professor Lightman also published an essay in the May Faculty Newsletter titled MIT Education in the Age of Information.

In curricular matters, the Program has introduced a new subject, Rhetoric, offered both semesters, and we have appointed a new assistant professor of digital communication, Youngme Moon, whose research centers on the interaction between people and computers. In addition to the Youngme Moon appointment, we have appointed Helen Elaine Lee, a novelist, as assistant professor of writing. Professor Klingenstein will be promoted to associate professor without tenure. The Program has initiated a new national search for an assistant professorship in science writing. Professor Chodakowska retires on June 30th. The headship will be transferred from Professor Lightman to Professor Paradis.

We had 58 percent women on our total staff and 55 percent women in our core faculty. We have three African-Americans in our teaching staff, a lecturer, an assistant professor, and a full professor.

More information about this Program can be found on the World Wide Web at the following URL:

Alan Lightman

MIT Reports to the President 1996-97