Launched in 2008, the program honors colleges and universities and their leaders for promoting healthy trees and engaging students and staff in the spirit of conservation.
“Over the past year, many have been reminded of the importance of nature to our physical and mental health,” said Arbor Day Foundation President Dan Lambe. “[Hollins’] campus trees provide spaces of refuge and reflection to students, staff, faculty, and the community.”
To obtain this distinction, Hollins met the five core standards for effective forest management, including establishment of a tree advisory committee, evidence of a campus tree care plan, dedicated annual expenditures for its campus tree program, an Arbor Day observance, and the sponsorship of student service learning projects.
“Your entire campus should be proud of this work and the leadership of [Assistant Professor of Biology] Elizabeth Gleim and the committee,” Lambe noted.
Two new books written by Edward A. Lynch, John P. Wheeler Professor of Political Science at Hollins University, offer analysis of two of the Middle East’s most significant political crises in recent years.
The Arab Spring: The Failure of the Obama Doctrine, published by Praeger Security International, looks at the wave of revolutions that shook the Middle East ten years ago and the challenges those events posed to the Obama administration. Isolating Qatar: The Gulf Rift Crisis 2017-2021 (tentative title), forthcoming from Lynne Rienner Publishers (LRP), focuses on the events of June 2017, when Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates announced a comprehensive boycott of Qatar.
Praeger describes The Arab Spring as “a succinct, readable, and comprehensive treatment of how the Obama administration reacted to what was arguably the most difficult foreign policy challenge of its eight years in office.”
“That reaction included confusing mixed signals, inconsistent application of principles, and a repeated tendency to draw the wrong lessons from each succeeding upheaval,” Lynch says. “As a result, U.S. influence in the region diminished.”
When Qatar was blockaded, Lynch notes, “it seemed that disaster loomed for this small Gulf nation. But not so. Instead, in an unexpected turn of events, the Qatari government deftly used its enormous wealth and extensive reserves of soft power to nullify most of the effects of what came to be known as the ‘Rift.’”
“Exploring the historical and contemporary causes of the dispute, the reactions to it both regionally and globally, and the surprising end to the crisis, Isolating Qatar serves also to highlight the often unrecognized role of small states in international relations,” says LRP.
A member of the Hollins faculty since 1991, Lynch was a foreign policy consultant to the Reagan administration and is a frequent commentator on political events. He has made several trips to the Middle East for research. He is the author of six books and numerous articles.
Hollins will observe the 25th anniversary of the Art History Senior Symposium and pay tribute to retiring Professor of Art History Kathleen Nolan during two virtual events on Saturday, April 24.
The annual Art History Senior Symposium, the capstone experience for art history majors, will take place from 10 a.m. – noon EDT. Four members of the class of 2021 will present their original research through a series of 20-minute talks. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for the Zoom link and more details.
From 1 – 3 p.m. EDT, art history alumnae will come together for a reunion to honor Nolan and her distinguished 35-year academic career at Hollins. Nolan shaped the art history department into a multi-faceted program and taught majors, minors, and non-majors the skills to perceptively and thoughtfully interpret images from the past and present alike. She has taught medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque art history, and her scholarly interests include the history of women in the Middle Ages, and the works of art commissioned by women to tell their stories. She co-edited Arts of the Medieval Cathedrals: Studies on Architecture, Stained Glass and Sculpture in Honor of Anne Prache. Her book, Queens in Stone and Silver: The Creation of a Visual Identity of Queenship in Capetian France (Palgrave 2009), looked at queens’ personal seals and effigy tombs. Her articles and essays have appeared in The Art Bulletin, the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Studies in Iconography, and Gesta.
Christine Holt Fix ’97, Zirwat Chowdhury ’05, Gwen Fernandez ’06, Sarita Herman ’08, and Rory Keeley ’17 will deliver brief reflections on how their experiences studying with Nolan shaped their career paths. Through short videos, many other alumnae will also offer greetings and share their recollections. The celebration will also include opportunities to catch up with classmates, provide updates, and make new connections. Preregister for the Zoom link, or contact Amy Torbert ’05 at email@example.com to learn more about the reunion event or to contribute your own memories.
“I didn’t work on it eight years consistently,” laughed van Eerden. “There were a lot of other things in that time, but this book took a lot of reimagining.” Call It Horses revolves around three women—niece, aunt, and artist stowaway—and the 1990 road trip that this improbable trio embarks on from West Virginia to New Mexico. Spending a lot of time experimenting with the book’s structure, van Eerden first tried out a narrative poetry sequence, then a more traditional first-person plot, before finally settling on the current epistolary form (i.e. told through letters).
“I think the joy of publishing a book is seeing something that you’ve labored over come to fruition,” said van Eerden about the long process of writing Call It Horses. “To complete that circuit with readers, that circuit of something that’s lived in your head for so long, it’s pleasurable no matter what.”
In the end, all that hard work paid off for van Eerden. In 2019, she was named the winner of the coveted Dzanc Books Prize for Call It Horses—the manuscript was selected from a pool of hundreds—a win that resulted in Dzanc Books publishing Call It Horses. Flash-forward a year and a half, and now van Eerden’s looking at a spring and summer of events to promote her new novel. “It’s exciting because it’s a book that’s very close to me,” she said. “I’m always interested in letting my characters go out in the world and meet other people.”
Indeed, the novel does hit close to home for van Eerden. Call It Horses starts in Caudell, West Virginia, a small rural town reminiscent of van Eerden’s own upbringing in that same state. “It is interesting my relationship to place with respect to my fiction,” she said. “I feel that there’s the physical landscape of where I grew up, and also the spiritual landscape: of the community of people and the tiny church and the ways that people interacted and cared for each other.” In Call It Horses, those two landscapes inform both van Eerden’s fictional Appalachian world as well as the quasi-spiritual journal out West undertaken by the three central characters.
As for the future, van Eerden isn’t taking a breather. She’s already working on her fifth book, a return to nonfiction and essay portraiture, a form that won her the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award for her 2017 portrait essay collection, The Long Weeping. “I’m planning on peering into some portraits of biblical women,” she said. “[I’m] doing a lot of excavation of biblical myth alongside more memoiristic material of my own narrative life—looking into the philosophical realm of human responsibility and human freedom, and the relationship between those two poles of existence.”
The launch of Call It Horses is at 6 p.m. today and will also feature acclaimed writer Siamak Vossoughi, winner of the 2014 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. To participate, please RSVP here.
Jeff Dingler is a graduate assistant in Hollins’ marketing and communications department. He is pursuing his M.F.A. in creative writing at the university.
“I like the idea that the small painting is kind of monumental rather than miniature – that it can contain a bigger space, like the imaginative space of a book,” Ray said not only about the scale of her paintings, but also the idea of placing oneself in an immersive setting created by another either through the use of words, or as in Ray’s case, through carefully composed or framed visual components, and leaving it to the reader or viewer to imagine being there.
Ray received her undergraduate degree from Amherst College and completed her M.F.A. at the New York Studio School. Her numerous awards and residencies include the Ucross Foundation, Wyoming; Edward F. Albee Foundation, New York; the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Painting; and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Purchase Prize.
Elise Schweitzer: Painted Arches and Walled Gardens features a labyrinth of rich color and liminal spaces in a body of work that was created by the associate professor of art at Hollins during her recent sabbatical. Schweitzer is well-known for her large-scale figurative action-filled oil paintings, and Wilson Museum Director Jenine Culligan noted, “These small, beautiful, jewel-like gouache paintings are conceptional departures. One could describe them as cerebral exercises filled with experimentation, sometimes humor, and focused on the play of light, shapes, and color.”
On her shift in style, Schweitzer said, “When I am composing a figurative painting I am always thinking about the direction of the light, the relationship of colors, the balance of opaque to translucent areas in the painting…I think part of making this work was cutting through the need to have a realistic reference and instead just painting the thing that I had always been excited about, without the motif.”
A member of the Hollins faculty since 2013, Schweitzer teaches painting and drawing. She has shown her paintings in Chicago, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia, and won numerous awards and grants. She has taught landscape painting classes in Italy and participated in an artist residency at the Vermont Studio Center. Her paintings are included in Manifest Gallery’s Painting Annual 1, 3, and 4.
When Professor of English and Creative Writing T.J. Anderson III is asked how long he spent writing his newest book, he says he always answers, “It took me 62 years.”
Of course, he’s joking. But as Anderson further explains, a profound truth lies in that reply. “First, I had to acquire language. I next had to acquire an aural sensibility because music is very much a part of my aesthetic. Then of course, I had to read a lot of books and a lot of poetry to get to this point.”
The latest literary stop on what Anderson describes as his life’s “artistic journey, a journey that is rooted in African-American culture and American culture” is Devonte Travels the Sorry Route, a collection of poems published in 2019 by Omnidawn Publishing. The work is his fourth volume of poetry following Cairo Workbook (Willow Books, 2014), River to Cross (The Backwaters Press, 2009), and the chapbook At Last Round Up (lift books, 1996). He is also the author of Notes to Make the Sound Come Right: Four Innovators of Jazz Poetry (University of Arkansas Press, 2004) and the spoken word CD, Blood Octave (Flat Five Recordings, 2006).
“I think the work that I write is me, and it’s also not me and it’s community,” Anderson said. “One of the things that I think is true, which is a way of thinking about the afterlife of slavery in regard to how we inhabit this historical time, is the sense of temporal engagement where the past, the present, and the future are not discreet and cut off from one another. Rather, we live in simultaneity of that entanglement. That’s my challenge as a writer: How does one narrate that? How do I bring those voices into dialogue?”
When describing his aesthetic, Anderson cites two core components. He employs fragmentation and compares it to making “a quilt where I’m constantly gathering various kinds of materials, different kinds of fabrics, some silk, some rough cotton, and stitching these things together so that these fragments are in conversation. There’s the use of space in my work, too, where there are things that can’t be said or I haven’t found the words for these things.”
Devonte Travels the Sorry Route is presented in four parts, and Anderson has also developed a process for making those divisions that aligns with his perception of the poem as a musical score. “I’ll print out all of my poems and go into a large room and lay every piece of paper on the floor. Then, I’ll walk around and read them. I’ll see what fits, what’s developing in terms of a narrative and musicality. First and foremost, it’s music. I’m orchestrating things in terms of how I hear them sounding and putting them into a particular order. They’re kind of musical sections.”
Anderson’s inspiration to begin writing the poems that would ultimately become Devonte Travels the Sorry Route stemmed from seeing a painting by Irish-American artist Brian Counihan called “The Sorry Route.” He was intrigued by the work’s two dominant figures – one man in a tri-cornered hat and another who appeared to be in shackles – and the way the painting evoked colonialism.
“All of a sudden I started writing these poems that came to me that embodied this voice of a character who called himself ‘Dickerson,’” Anderson recalled. “After I drafted a few of my Dickerson poems, I started sending them out to magazines and some were getting accepted, which was really pleasing. I began to see that somehow I was working on a series.”
Anderson learned that Omnidawn, which specializes in innovative and experimental writing and is one of the author’s favorite publishers, was sponsoring an Open Book Poetry Contest where anyone who has already published a book can submit an entry. He put the series of poems into a manuscript, changed the main character’s name from “Dickerson” to “Devonte,” and Devonte Travels the Sorry Route was created. To Anderson’s surprise, the manuscript was named a contest finalist.
“The publisher called to congratulate me and as I talked to him I realized that I had only 20 poems of mid-size length in the series. Now, that will get you what is called a chapbook, usually a small printing of poems that runs about 40 to 50 pages and has just a limited dissemination. So, I really tried to expand it by writing more poems and opening up more space.”
Why did Anderson change the name of his poems’ key figure? “‘Dickerson’ has a kind of harshness to it, so one point I was going to call the character ‘Dante’ as an allusion to The Inferno, but I decided not to do that. I chose ‘Devonte’ because it alluded to ‘Dante’ but it also was a distinctly African-American name and certainly sounded more poetic than ‘Dickerson.’ At the same time, I realized there was a young man by that name who was a victim of police violence.”
In the series, Anderson says his title character “traverses time. His sense of identity is constantly being cut by historical events, so much so that there becomes no discernable separation of past and present. I’m responding to the painting and shifts of identity within the African-American cultural and historical narrative. Devonte inhabits multiple dimensions, and in several poems, he encounters history on both a macro and micro level that doesn’t solely apply to dates and images. How do we deal with the ghost of history? Devonte resists and straddles all those attempts of containment by society.”
At its core, Devonte Travels the Sorry Route is the story of an artist for whom jazz is a profound force. “It is a spiritual connection that goes beyond consumptive entertainment and appreciation,” Anderson explained. “The idea of music – tonal sounds, tonal vibrations – and what it does to the body, and how it can affect one’s ability to be in multiple places at multiple times, that’s of interest to me.”
The book’s second pivotal character, “more of an idea than an actual person,” is “Isabella.” “I see her as a representation of colonialism and its exploitation of the land that some people see as feminine. But Isabella is being used. She becomes a participant in White supremacist domination. It’s a gendered idea that’s problematic and I hope readers see that.”
Still, Anderson is comfortable with readers approaching his work differently from his own interpretation of it and even missing the allusions he makes. He recalls his own study years ago of the influential American poet Charles Olson and his seminal work Maximus Poems, a long serial poem that encompasses more than one thousand pages. “I read that entire book, I also read the criticism, I also read the biographies on him, and I didn’t understand everything. But later on, the more you allow things to ruminate and to simmer, I began to gain more of an understanding of his work. I think that’s the way I’ve always approached literature and particularly difficult literature. I don’t necessarily feel the need to ‘get’ something at first reading, that it’s important to go back and sit with something, and maybe 20 years from now you might say, ‘Oh, that’s what that line meant. Okay, I get it now.’ And that’s fine. The process for me, the process of literature, is an organic process.”
Pursuing scholarly or creative work while ensuring a meaningful experience for students in the classroom is a daily challenge for every college professor. Associate Professor of Film Amy Gerber-Stroh, who chairs the film department at Hollins and codirects the university’s graduate programs in screenwriting and film studies, has accrued 40 years as a professional filmmaker and nearly three decades teaching film in higher education. For her, immersion in both vocations is the key to success and fulfillment.
“Teaching learners of all ages and abilities has been really rewarding. It has made me a better filmmaker, much more so than if I were balancing filmmaking and [the demands of] Hollywood,” she said.
Gerber-Stroh laid her foundations at Los Angeles’ CalArts (California Institute of the Arts), which was founded by Walt Disney. Alumni including directors Tim Burton and Sofia Coppola set high standards. “It’s a school that shaped me in terms of experimental directing and trying different things from an artist’s point of view rather than a consumer point of view. A lot of the other film schools in L.A. are really more geared toward the Hollywood box office.”
After CalArts, Gerber-Stroh admits she “got sucked into Hollywood and worked on a lot of strange stuff, mostly as a casting associate.” Her mainstream movie credits range from City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold (1994), Angels in the Outfield (1994), and Tank Girl (1995) to Goldeneye (1995), The Craft (1996), and The Mask of Zorro (1998). Fortunately for Gerber-Stroh, casting work was just a day job. “At the same time, I was making a lot of experimental art films, and I was also working at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. That was a great gig because I was able to make films about painters and sculptors. It honed my sensibilities and drove me artistically.”
In 2000, Gerber-Stroh launched her own production company, FlatCoatFilms, and began producing her own short films, documentary features, and animation projects. After joining the Hollins faculty in 2007, her task was to balance filmmaking with her new passion for teaching.
“It takes a long, long time to make films. I sort of rotate between longer and shorter pieces,” she explained. “Shorts can take a couple of years. Feature-length projects for independent filmmakers take anywhere from four to eight years. The reason is, if you’re not backed by a major production company or studio, the money is trickling in. You’re getting grant money, maybe you’re getting people who are investing in your films, or you’re getting GoFundMe campaigns going. Thanks to Hollins, I received seed money for my current project.”
Gerber-Stroh has addressed a variety of subjects in her films. Public Memory (2004) explores the meanings and motivations of American memorials. The Truth About Trees: A Natural and Human History (2015) is a three-part documentary series for PBS made in collaboration with the James Agee Film Project. Do Cell Towers Dream of Morse Code? (2019), which imagines the possibilities if cell towers actually developed consciousness, won the Silver Award for Experimental Works at the 2020 University Film and Video Conference. (“Professors who make films have developed such a great community, and so it was really nice to win an award there.”) Cell Towers also earned awards and acclaim at the Miami International Sci-Fi Film Festival and Chicago’s International Art House Film Festival.
But the greatest source of inspiration and material has come from both sides of Gerber-Stroh’s own family. In My Grandfather Was a Nazi Scientist: Opa, von Braun and Operation Paperclip (2011), she uncovers the secret past of Dr. Eduard Gerber, who was among hundreds of Nazi scientists brought to the United States after World War II through a classified and controversial government program. She’s currently writing, directing, and producing a hybrid documentary called Hope of Escape. It tells the story of how her forebears escaped slavery.
“Some scholars believe Cornelia Read, my great-great-grandmother, and her mother, Diana Williams, were born free in Charleston, South Carolina. But we know that, at some point, they became enslaved. They learned they were about to be sold and separated forever, so they had to get out of there. At the same time, Cornelia had a sweetheart. This is the man who would become my great-great-grandfather, William Benjamin Gould. He was also enslaved and planning his escape from Wilmington, North Carolina.
“Cornelia fled by train in a harrowing journey. William eventually escaped in a skiff on the Cape Fear River and was picked up by the U.S.S. Niagara, a Union steam frigate that was blockading the Wilmington harbor. I detail their escapes, getting into what they both were thinking and feeling, while giving insight into their lives, their times, and the obstacles they faced. Both my great-great-grandparents were literate, highly educated, and wrote beautifully. Literacy for the enslaved was illegal in the South, but someone was definitely teaching them. What it was like to be enslaved and educated, and acknowledging the benefits of having lighter skin, are also aspects of their escape that the film will examine.”
Gerber-Stroh has a compelling primary source, a diary that William Gould kept during his escape and continued to write as a sailor for the Union during the Civil War. “My uncle, named for William Gould, wrote a book about this diary, which is one of just three in existence that depicts such an experience. It’s located in the Massachusetts Historical Society and is a great resource for me, serving as a jumping-off point for how I’m going to approach the story.”
Quite a few boldface names played roles in this epic history. Diana and Cornelia grew up in family circles that included the Ball and Laurens families (of Hamilton fame). “Sometimes you would have to pay what was called ‘ransom money’ to gain your family’s freedom. The famous abolitionists Henry Highland Garnet and Lewis Tappan, along with the Rev. James Crawford, gathered money from as far away as England, where many abolitionist societies were dedicated to helping the enslaved. The Duchess of Sutherland was truly an angel investor in that 19th century GoFundMe!” said Gerber-Stroh.
As the film project has ramped up, meaningful opportunities have arisen for Hollins undergraduates. Film major Anja Holland ’21 served as one of Gerber-Stroh’s research fellows on the project. “Anja really helped me with historical research, finding scholars, developing a production schedule, and looking for locations.” Filming is set to begin this summer in Wilmington on the Cape Fear River and also in Charleston.
Gerber-Stroh is devoting her spring term sabbatical to continuing work on Hope of Escape. “This is a really great time for me to dig into my roots and tell the story. It’s a popular genre in film right now—I’m thinking of Harriet (2019)— but Cornelia, William, and Diana had a unique experience that I think audiences will appreciate. I’m very excited. How many filmmakers get the chance to make ‘profiles in courage’ of family members they’re proudest of in the whole world?!”
Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Elizabeth Gleim is a disease ecologist whose research centers on the study of zoonotic diseases (those that can be directly transmitted between animals and humans) and vector-borne diseases (infections that require transmission through vectors such as ticks or mosquitoes). But a lot of people at Hollins and beyond who are familiar with her work simply know her as the “Tick Lady.”
Ever since she was pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of Georgia, Gleim, who is also a Hollins alumna (class of 2006), has investigated tick-borne diseases. “There are three main areas on which my research questions focus,” she explained. “The first is identifying ways to better control and prevent tick-borne diseases, especially in the human population but also in domestic animals. I also do a lot of work in vector and disease dynamics, which can vary dramatically based on the ecosystem or the region of the country, and even just from year to year. The other piece is trying to better understand anthropogenic drivers, which is how humans are affecting tick-borne disease risk with their actions or behaviors, and then understanding environmental drivers of disease risk, which can include changes in weather, forest management practices, wildlife population changes, and other factors.”
Gleim’s passion for her work has remained constant. “One of the first things that drew me to this discipline is the fact that I get to do both lab and field work, so there’s a lot of variety that I really enjoy. It’s also been wonderful in terms of offering a wide array of research opportunities to Hollins students.”
Over the past 18 months, Gleim has been involved with two major research projects. The first involved studying the impact of a process known as “prescribed fire” on the risk of tick-borne disease, which was published in the July 10, 2019, edition of Scientific Reports. This investigation was prompted by the fact that, over the past several decades, both the emergence and incidence of tick-borne diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease have risen dramatically. The challenge for scientists and disease ecologists has been to find ways to reduce and control tick populations and mitigate the risk of tick-borne disease, especially in humans. For years, prescribed fire has been used to successfully manage forests, grasslands, wetlands, and other types of landscapes.
The first phase of Gleim’s research looked at how fire impacts tick abundance and seasonality. The second phase, which she brought to Hollins, focused on whether fire might also affect the pathogens that circulate in the ticks. It was the first study that had ever been done to examine the effects of prescribed fire on tick-borne pathogens themselves. Gleim spent two years doing field work in Southwest Georgia and Northwest Florida, “and collected a whole lot of ticks – 50,000 of them. I then tested almost all of those ticks for all known tick-borne pathogens.” She determined that while prescribed fire did not affect all pathogens, it did impact some. Furthermore, fire greatly reduced the density of ticks infected with pathogenic bacteria in an area and showed a 98% reduction of encounter rates with infected ticks.
“The findings here were exciting and promising, and led to some interesting questions that I hope I can explore in the years to come. First, would we get the same types of dramatic reductions in ticks that we observed if we did this work in other ecosystems or other regions of the country or even the world? Second, could prescribed fire reduce Lyme disease risk specifically? Where I did this work in Georgia and Florida, Lyme is not endemic (e.g. does not occur). It’s at least possible that it could affect the pathogen that causes Lyme.”
The dynamics of Lyme disease in the United States have evolved considerably over the past two decades. As recently as 2001, Lyme cases were seen primarily on a limited basis in New England and the Midwest. However, just 16 years later, Lyme was common everywhere in the Northeast and had begun to spread to other parts of the country.
“By 2017, the western region of Virginia was at the leading edge of what would probably be considered a Lyme endemic area with a distinct hotspot developing in Southwest Virginia,” Gleim said.
Jory Brinkerhoff, a professor at the University of Richmond, collected black-legged tick (the vector of Lyme disease in the eastern U.S.) nymphs, the life stage particularly associated with Lyme cases in humans, at four sites on an east/west gradient across the state. He found the greatest number of nymphs at his western-most site and the highest level of the Lyme pathogen there, but it was just one site. “We all know in science that you can’t draw any firm conclusions from just one place,” Gleim said. She, Hollins Professor of Biology Morgan Wilson, and then-senior Ciera Morris ’19 set out to understand black-legged tick dynamics in the region, particularly in Southwest Virginia’s hotspot.
For Morris’ senior honors thesis, the team established 12 sites around the Roanoke Valley area to collect ticks on a monthly basis for an entire year. They collaborated with an Old Dominion University tick ecologist collecting ticks in the eastern part of the state that same year. “We found a significantly higher number of black-legged tick nymphs and larvae in the Roanoke region versus the Norfolk area,” Gleim said. “What’s notable though is that we do not have significantly more adults. It seems to indicate that we don’t necessarily have more black-legged ticks in the western portion of the state.” However, they are more forcefully engaging in a particular kind of behavior.
“It turns out ticks don’t jump or fly. The only way they get on a human or animal host is to physically brush up against them. For a tick to get on a host, they crawl up to the tops of vegetation, grass, or low-lying plants, and they wait for something to brush up against it. We call that behavior ‘questing.’”
Gleim cited previous studies that demonstrated ticks in the Northeast quest much more aggressively than those in the Southeast. “Ticks in the Southeast tend to stay down in the leaf litter and therefore are unlikely to come into contact with humans. Thus, a migration of ticks from the North into Virginia via the Appalachian Mountains is a possibility.”
Using some of the groundwork laid by Morris and Shravani Chitineni ‘21, and in collaboration with Gleim, Brinkerhoff, and Hollins Professor of Biology Rebecca Beach, Leemu Jackson ‘20 performed her senior honors thesis last year doing a genetic analysis to compare Roanoke-area black-legged tick populations to those elsewhere in order to verify whether migration was occurring.
“We did what we call a phylogenetic analysis, which is sort of a fancy way of saying we created a family tree of all the different ticks we were testing from Roanoke as well as the state of Virginia and the entire eastern U.S.,” Gleim said. “That analysis compared the DNA sequences of all these ticks and showed how similar those sequences are and thus how related they are to one another. What we discovered was a really high genetic diversity here in the Roanoke area, more so than what we’re seeing in the eastern part of the state. This does not definitively prove that ticks are migrating into Virginia, but it certainly provides some evidence to support that hypothesis.”
Another factor that Gleim believes may be contributing to the prevalence of Lyme in the Roanoke Valley involves human dynamics. “In a lot of urban or suburbanized areas, people don’t spend a lot of time outside. But that’s simply not the case here. We have an outdoor-centered lifestyle, so there’s a large number of people who are spending a lot of time outdoors in an ideal tick habitat.”
The “Tick Lady” emphasizes there is still much work to be done. She hopes to submit Morris’ senior thesis for publication in the next month or two (“She’ll be first author on that paper, which is really exciting.”). In addition, “Shravani has picked up where Ciera and Leemu have left off – she’s a senior who is doing her thesis with me right now. She’s getting to do what she really loves, biostatistics, and she’s working on a Lyme simulation model with an ecological mathematician at Old Dominion University and myself. We’re examining different control methods that might be used to effectively control Lyme disease risk, particularly in different regions of the country.
“My hope is that over the next six months or so, we can get published the work that Leemu and Shravani have been doing. And down the line, we may begin to examine other tick species and pathogens in addition to further exploring our questing behavior work.”
Cinephiles around the globe are no doubt celebrating the centennial of famed Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini. The year 2020 marks a century since the birth of one of cinema’s most quirky, creative, and surreal auteurs—Fellini directed more than a dozen projects across a career that spanned nearly five decades—and this month will see the release of Essential Fellini, a new 15-disc Criterion Collection box set of Fellini classics, including Academy Award-winners La Strada, Amarcord, and, perhaps the original hyper-meta film-within-a-film, 8 ½.
Fellini films also have quite a history at Hollins University. The Italian director is a favorite of Professor of English, Creative Writing, and Film R. H. W. Dillard, award-winning author and editor of The Hollins Critic.
“He’s an extraordinary filmmaker, and he does it with such clarity in his heart,” said Dillard about the enduring popularity of Fellini’s cinematic universe, which was so unique it gave rise to the term “Felliniesque.” (Fellini’s La Dolce Vita also spawned the word “paparazzi” from one of the movie’s characters, an obnoxiously persistent photographer named Paparazzo.) “Fellini’s humanity draws us back to him, as well as his art,” said Dillard about the director’s gifts. “There are lots of artistically competent filmmakers, but Fellini I’m drawn back to again and again. It’s a cliché, but his films have this heart to them.”
To Dillard’s point, Fellini had a gift for depicting all his characters, even some of his most despicable or grotesque, with a kind of forgivability and gentleness. There are no true antagonists or villains in many of Fellini’s films, only flawed but usually likeable and endearing characters against the currents of the larger world. “Amore per tutti (love for all),” one of Fellini’s characters famously declares in the director’s 1965 film Juliet of the Spirits, a movie about a suburban woman who begins seeing visions while grappling with the abandonment of her husband. “Love for all” seems to perfectly sum up the director’s attitude toward not just his own characters but indeed to the larger, messier tapestry that is humanity. In Amarcord, a film about growing up in Fascist Italy under Mussolini, even Fellini’s depiction of the Fascists and their supporters reveals that, for the most part, they are just people, too: neighbors and townsfolk, a high school math teacher, a clerk at a cigarette shop, or—in the case of the semi-autobiographical central character Titta—a freeloading uncle who rats out his own brother-in-law.
“He was an artist determined to reveal his full vision as vividly and completely as possible, to discover the universal in the particular,” wrote Dillard in a 1994 essay published in Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture shortly after the Italian auteur had passed away. “Fellini was an artist who depended upon individual and particular vision and expression rather than politically codified generalities and stereotypes.”
Dillard’s connection to both Fellini and Hollins runs deep. In addition to offering a course on Fellini for many decades at the university (he’s actually teaching Fellini this semester, in honor of the maestro’s 100th, in his Film as a Narrative Art class), Dillard said that Hollins is where he saw his first Fellini film. Ever. “When I was an undergrad at Roanoke College, La Strada was showing at Hollins,” said Dillard, recalling the classic film that fetched Fellini his first Oscar win for Best Foreign Language Film (Fellini would go on to win three more awards in this category, a record). “That was also the first time I ever set foot on the Hollins campus. Eight years later, I came back to work here, and I’ve been teaching Fellini ever since. So I’ve always connected the two.”
That screening at Hollins sparked a decades-long Fellini fascination for Dillard. In a situation somewhat reminiscent of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dillard’s dedication to Fellini cinema even caused him to brave a crowded theater during the H3N2/Hong Kong flu pandemic in the 1960s. “When Hollins was the first college in America to close down with the Hong Kong flu—and the national news reported it—my friend [and film professor] Tom Atkins was teaching 8 ½ in his film class in Babcock,” Dillard recalled. “I thought, ‘I’m not gonna miss 8 ½,’ because back then that was the only way I could see it. And the room was full of people with blankets, all of them were sick. I watched the movie and loved every moment. And I caught the flu for it.” (Dillard is quick to caution current Hollins students not to follow in his footsteps.)
As for Fellini’s future in the pantheon of the world’s great filmmakers, Dillard has no doubt of the Italian director’s place. “I think he’s made it—he’s never going away,” said Dillard. “Post-World War II cinema is one of the great periods of art, like Elizabethan/Jacobean drama in English, and that doesn’t go away. Fellini and Bergman and Antonioni, they’re all gonna last. And thanks to technology, we can see them in Blu-Ray.” Speaking of which, Dillard added that he’s already preordered his copy of the Criterion Collection’s Fellini Essential box set (due out November 24). With a smile, Dillard said he’s just waiting for it to arrive so he can watch Fellini’s masterpieces all over again.
Cell towers have become a ubiquitous 21st century presence, so common that most people hardly notice them anymore. Amy Gerber-Stroh, associate professor of film at Hollins University, is the observant exception.
“High above they are watching us, listening to us, and digesting us,” she says. “At first you never see them, but once you start actively looking, you realize that they are everywhere.”
Gerber-Stroh is fascinated with the ways in which cell technology has impacted society, and imagines the possibilities if cell towers actually developed consciousness. “What does it mean to have these looming totem poles on our landscape? Knowing that millions of bits of data go through cell towers every day, could they tell us something about ourselves if they could speak? What would they say? These questions creep into my mind whenever I spot the strange, inconspicuous metallic structures that dominate our space much like telegraph poles once did in the 19th century. Today the air is alive with signals from all directions, some clean, some not, both in terms of content and form. Are cell towers nostalgic for their wooden telegraph ancestors who channeled signals that were simple and pure?”
Gerber-Stroh explores these scenarios in her latest film, Do Cell Towers Dream of Morse Code? Shot in Roanoke, the 27-minute production was honored with the Silver Award for Experimental Works at the 2020 University Film and Video Conference (home of the Journal of Film and Video), and also earned awards and acclaim at the Miami International Sci-Fi Film Festival and Chicago’s International Art House Film Festival. (Please note that the film contains adult language and is intended for mature audiences.)
“In Do Cell Towers Dream of Morse Code?, Gerber-Stroh presents us with a vision of an artificial intelligence that, after being forced to ‘consume’ the suffering and pain of others, wants to have a say in the outcomes it can only witness,” says Vincenzo Mistretta, professor of film production at the University of Southern Mississippi. “The film beautifully captures humanity’s collective cognitive dissonance at the prospect of trying to untangle the borders between real and virtual, connected and alienated, human and non-human. As these categories continue to collapse into one another, our own lives may become increasingly difficult to navigate.”
Do Cell Towers Dream of Morse Code? begins with a “breaking news” teaser from a fictional TV channel: In an “increasingly disturbing situation,” cell towers are catching fire across the country, inexplicably and at an alarming rate.
The film then shifts to a point of view from above two adjacent city parking lots at night, and eavesdrops on the text conversations of three unrelated characters who are waiting there: “Kate” is picking up her son from music lessons; “Amanda” is looking forward to meeting a date for the evening; and “Daniel” claims he is heading to the nearby Y to work out.
“Amongst the scores of parked cars at night in any town or city, one may find a collection of glowing blue light that shines through the fog and condensation of their windows,” Gerber-Stroh says. “The inhabitants think they are alone as they perform a symphony of chords in gigahertz, willingly offering up their electromagnetic fields of hopes, dreams, and fears. But they are not alone. A cell tower is always nearby.”
Solely through their text messages, the film gradually reveals that each character’s story is far more complex that it initially appears. Kate, a single parent, is struggling with a personal financial crisis. Amanda’s date’s ex-boyfriend is jealous and possibly violent. Daniel is in fact a stalker. The tension grows when three men drive into the lot and begin acting oddly after they step outside their vehicle.
Meanwhile, a technician who arrives at the cell tower to do maintenance starts receiving cryptic messages on his work laptop. Dismissing the communications as the work of hackers, the tech is incredulous when the source claims to be an artificial intelligence that has become sentient – the cell tower itself. Proclaiming it is “ill” from “information fatigue,” the cell tower shares its dilemma: “As you might surmise, the world goes through us. We see everything, yet we can do nothing. It is eating us alive. Like a cancer. Or to be more precise: like consuming multitudes of fast food.”
The tower concludes, “Knowledge is worthless without action,” and sets itself on fire. Climbing back down to street level to escape the danger, the technician receives a final video message from the tower that, as Mistretta explains, “guides the repairman toward noticing the real world. It accomplishes its goal to have a real effect on the physical world.”
At its core, Gerber-Stroh believes Do Cell Towers Dream of Morse Code? “offers a brief view from an observer at a unique vantage point. We experience a witness’ fixed perspective of events that occur on a supposed benign street corner. Who is the witness? And what is the witness’ connection to the lone souls below, parked in cars and affixed to their smartphones? The film captures a linear moment in time, exploring the ideas of connectedness and isolation, detachment and engagement, that sometimes occur simultaneously in our modern world.”
Gerber-Stroh’s documentary, My Grandfather Was a Nazi Scientist: Opa, von Braun and Operation Paperclip, was shown at the Charles Guggenheim Center for Documentary Film and also received several other film festival and honorary screenings. Amazon describes it as “a very interesting account of events that are rarely covered in our nation’s history. The film chronicles Gerber’s personal journey to discover and uncover her grandfather’s role in post-war America.”
Russia Was a Woman, Gerber-Stroh’s award-winning screenplay, is gaining some interest at Rooster Teeth and Netflix as a possible limited series. In its review, Fresh Voices calls the work “an interesting revisionist take on Ivan the Terrible’s wife,” and praises Gerber-Stroh for her “ambition, imagination and creation of two lead LGBT characters.”
Gerber-Stroh has had significant professional film experience in Hollywood and New York. She worked on several movie features by Roger Corman and casted 12 major motion pictures including The Mask of Zorro (Columbia Pictures), Goldeneye (MGM), Afterglow (Sony Pictures Classics), Tank Girl (United Artists), and Angels in the Outfield (Disney).