Larry Dean Benson, 86

first_imgAt a Meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences on Oct. 4, 2016, the following Minute was placed upon the records. In 1966, on the eve of his tenure review, Larry Dean Benson published “The Literary Character of Anglo-Saxon Formulaic Poetry.” Its timing and subject matter set this article apart, because it pointedly targeted the scholarship of a senior colleague who was about to pass judgment on Larry’s promotion. According to departmental lore, his case went forward despite certain voices in opposition. Such boldness is not surprising in someone who, fresh out of high school, enlisted in the Marines for a five-year tour that took him to Korea, where his unit saw action in the invasion of 1950. His wartime experience puts Larry’s fierce sense of academic freedom into perspective. If he was going to receive tenure, it would be on his own terms.One of the most accomplished American medievalists of the twentieth century, Larry Benson retired in 1999 as the Francis Lee Higginson Professor of English, Emeritus. After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of California–Berkeley in 1959, Larry began a long, illustrious career at Harvard, which included several years as Senior Tutor of Quincy House and two stints as chair of the Department of English. He wrote and edited many books, the most important of which were “Art and Tradition in ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’” (1965); Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur” (1976); “King Arthur’s Death: The Middle English ‘Stanzaic Morte Arthur,’ and ‘Alliterative Morte Arthure’ (1974); and, most famously, “The Riverside Chaucer” (1987), for which, as general editor, he orchestrated a complex network of collaboration. Stephen Barney, one of the many editors, writes, “Larry did a fantastic job of editing: unfussy, practically always right, capable like truly accomplished people of stepping out of the way when it was appropriate, his eye steadily on the main thing.” Among Larry’s many other publications, a selection of his essays are reprinted in Contradictions: From Beowulf to Chaucer (1995).Larry was a pioneer in the digital humanities long before anyone thought of calling it that. After “The Riverside Chaucer” was completed, he seized the computer tapes from the publisher and, realizing the potential in machine-readable texts, taught himself to code Unix. One result was A Glossarial Concordance to “The Riverside Chaucer” (1993); another was his Chaucer website, which went up in the 1990s and since 2004 has tallied over 83 million visits from students across the world.Larry was a brilliant lecturer whose Core course on The Canterbury Tales enrolled as many as 300 students. One of his teaching fellows, Susanna Fein, recalls his style of lecturing:He characteristically taught with nervous energy, pacing a bit, jingling coins in his pockets, conveying through his own penetrating intelligence the brilliance, humor, and humanity of Chaucer. I learned much by watching him teach—each term was better than the last—never, for me, a repetition. He would enter the room brimming with new ideas born of his editorial attention to Chaucer. Even though I was there to aid the undergraduates, I came to feel like this was a master seminar just for me.He taught a variety of other courses, from surveys to specialized seminars. From 1995 to 2009 he brought his course on The Canterbury Tales to Harvard’s Extension School.What graduate students remember most vividly about Larry are Thursdays. In the late 1970s he started the Medieval Doctoral Conference, during which graduate students and professors gathered to discuss a paper. It was Larry’s way of fostering a scholarly community. The weekly ritual would begin with lunch at a local seafood restaurant, as Christopher Cannon, a former graduate student, recalls:[We would] all get together and enjoy each other’s company, irrespective of what the topic for the seminar was later. The speaker was always invited. And sometimes we did talk about something serious. But it was usually pretty raucous. . . . It really bonded us as a cohort of medievalists (it was so good for our confidence) but he did it all by force of his own happiness.At these lunches Larry’s vigorous, irreverent sense of humor was at its best in exposing the pretensions of those who should know better. He took special delight in celebrity scandals. Later in the afternoon on Thursdays the group would reconvene for the talk, still in a buoyant mood from lunch. No one bothered to think too hard about what kind of professionalization they were inflicting on the graduate students, but it worked. Now over thirty-five years old, the Medieval Doctoral Conference continues to be a centerpiece of the community of medievalists in the English Department.Larry’s self-deprecating manner deflected attention from his enormous accomplishments, but his longtime colleague Derek Pearsall was not fooled:Larry was a master of deceit. He deceived everyone into thinking that he was an idle, irresponsible, philistine son of the Arizona soil, whose main pleasure was in drinking and smoking and telling stories of a generally incorrect nature, and whose greatest delight and cause of self-congratulation was to have put one over on the eastern academic establishment. None of this was true, or nearly none of it. Larry was a scholar of great range and depth of learning whose judgment was meticulous and expressed only on those subjects that he knew about (a rare form of restraint).His distinctive gifts as a scholar included a capacious memory, a philologist’s attention to detail, and a literary critic’s perceptiveness. The voice that emerges from his writing is clear and compelling, always attuned to the literature he loved.His many honors include admission to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1982. In 1974 he was made a fellow of the Medieval Academy of America, an organization he cared about deeply. He also served on the editorial boards of numerous journals and publishing projects.Larry Benson died on Feb. 16, 2015, at the age of 86. Deeply devoted to his family, he was predeceased by his wife, Margaret, and his son Gavin. He is survived by three children—Cassandra, Amanda, and Geoffrey—and by ten grandchildren and one great-grandchild.Respectfully submitted,Joseph C. HarrisW. James SimpsonNicholas WatsonDaniel G. Donoghue, Chairlast_img read more

Student focuses senior project on topic of campus sexual assault

first_imgSenior design major Mary Kate Healey said she tries to think of her major as problem-solving.In the spring of their junior year, design majors propose an idea for their big final project. Healey said when coming up with an idea she mulled through the things she was really passionate about and eventually decided she wanted to do something raising awareness for sexual assault, specifically at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s.Mary-Kate Healey “We always hear about statistics, we get crime emails,” Healey said. “There’s a lot of impersonal information passed around. It’s very statistics driven and there’s also the kind of hidden shame and embarrassment that comes with it.“I wanted to collect these very intimate stories and display them in a very public, unapologetic way while still maintaining the story of the storyteller.”Healey’s project is a 9-foot wide and 4-foot tall white sheet with quotes from sexual assault stories from students at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s. The quotes were first written out on the sheet and then Healey went back and stitched them on afterwards.“The reason I’m doing the stitching is because there’s a lot of art history between women and the domestic craft,” she said. “Women have always been making art, but because they didn’t necessarily have the resources, doing domestic crafts like creating clothing, embroidery, cross-stitch, quilting … those were never considered art because those women weren’t considered artists.”Healey said stitching and embroidery has been used a lot among feminist artists such as suffragettes and most recently on signs at the Women’s March on Washington.“I wanted to tap into that history,” Healey said.Healey said use of a sheet as her canvas was purposeful; the fabric itself holds a double meaning since a bed should be considered a safe place for rest, but that for many people “it often becomes a crime scene.”Healey went through the Institutional Review Board since her project technically counted as human research and had to be declared ethical before she could proceed. After it was approved by the board, she went on with a survey that she circulated and received 64 responses from. On April 7, her project will be put on display at the Snite Museum of Art.Healey said the act of sewing itself was so laborious and that it took her several hours to sew even a sentence, however, that was not the most difficult aspect of the project.“The hardest part of it has been the emotional toll of it,” she said. “A lot of these people revealed very upsetting stories and I don’t know if I anticipated going into it how difficult it would be.”One story that stood out, Healey said, was a submission that was in the form of a poem. She said what was striking was that each line of the poem started of with “he was a friend of mine.” Healey said the way the poem ended powerfully when the student wrote, “I wish trying to erase my pain hadn’t caused me more pain.”Because she wanted the project to be collaborative, Healey started a sewing circle to create dialogue in a very straightforward way. The group has met five times so far and she said everyone is welcome to join, and most of those who have joined did not have prior sewing experience.Healey said she received some negative responses from her survey from people who had misconceptions about rape on campus and thought that it was not as prevalent a problem as she was making it out to be. She said her hope is that her project expels these “rape myths” and raises awareness.“I think people also just don’t understand that it could happen to anyone,” she said. “It happens to tons of people, so I think that just the way people interact with each other, the way people look out for each other, the way people speak with each other … I just want people to be more conscious of that and to have the courage to engage in these conversations.”Tags: design, Mary Kate Healey, sewing circles, sexual assaultlast_img read more

IPE Views: How big can an Apple grow?

first_imgJoseph Mariathasan wonders what, if anything, can check the technology giant’s astonishing growthApple was valued at more than $770bn (€687bn) at its peak in February, making it by far the single-most valuable listed company on the planet. Despite its mammoth size, its chief executive, Tim Cook, announced that it could grow at a rate more akin to a start-up. But how large can a company grow? For some companies, there may be a clear upper limit – how many cans of sweetened fizzy drinks can Coca-Cola sell to a global population, with increasing worries over an epidemic of obesity-related afflictions such as diabetes?That may be a reasonable question to ask of Coca-Cola, but can an analogous question be asked of Apple, with an enormous market, global distribution and a strong brand that, despite being enormous, still has a lot of growth in front of it? Will the limit to Apple’s growth be set when every person on earth has an iPhone?Mega companies were clearly growth companies at an early stage of their lives to reach their gargantuan sizes. But, at what stage should mega-cap mega brands be seen as purely post-growth and value/dividend plays? Deciding when a company such as Apple has reached that position is unclear. The limits to growth are clearly dependent on the business strategy a company chooses to follow. Apple is clearly not a one-trick pony. It is not just a hardware company like Dell, having built an ecosystem around a seamless integration of innovative products and applications way beyond production of commodity hardware. The limits to growth are further away for companies with three key characteristics. First, as famously outlined by Warren Buffet as the companies he favours, are those with an economic moat that protects them against competitors, with a well-known brand name, pricing power and a large portion of market demand. This can provide the ability to grow enormously, but, sometimes, disruptive technologies can overwhelm even the widest moat. Kodak is a classic example, where its domination of photography could not withstand the impact of digital technology. But Apple has become the ultimate consumer brand, with the ability to create interest in any new product or variation of an existing product by just adding the prefix ‘i’.A second economic driver for growth also requires high-quality companies to be able to get better as they get bigger. Bigger does not always mean better, and the banking industry is the prime example of this. Citibank has a global footprint, but its value lies in having a few particularly strong local franchises in countries like Mexico.The insurance industry is another case in point. Life insurance and property and casualty insurance are locally regulated and require capital to be domiciled in local markets, giving few benefits in size, beyond reducing the overall volatility of results. Reducing volatility benefits senior management but not shareholders who could gain equivalent diversification themselves. At the reinsurance level, however, size can bring benefits because of the nature of the business and the size of the transactions. For Apple, the iPhone ecosystem that has grown is a classic example of something that gets better the bigger it grows.The third key characteristic that virtually all mega companies have is the ability to seek customers in the emerging markets.Any constraints to its size are further away for Apple than for most other companies, as it has all the three factors for growth in spades. So what can be the limits to growth for Apple? “The biggest risk for most of the companies we own is anti-trust regulation in the US that will force them to split apart,” said one fund manager on his Apple weighting. “We don’t like that problem, but we certainly prefer it to others we might have!”That is exactly what happened to the old AT&T, which once dominated the US telephone market and was forced to split up in 1982 into seven regional telephone companies – the ‘baby Bells’. That is unlikely to happen to Apple, given that it does not operate in oligopolistic markets and its innovations have attracted rapid and ferocious competition.There appears to be no limits to size for Apple. But then, AT&T, at its height, employed 1m people. Apple employs less than one-tenth of that. A great investment for its shareholders but perhaps also a sign of the problems society faces with the new generation of mega companies that are great at producing returns for shareholders but lousy at producing jobs.Joseph Mariathasan is a contributing editor at IPElast_img read more