Are the Humanities Still Useful?; Buttermaking in Wisconsin; Gene Editing to Treat Blindness; Wisconsin’s Lost Coastal Communities

Hi WN@TL Fans,

Aristotle was not hostile to investigations of both Nature and Society.  In founding his Lyceum he pioneered the liberal arts university as an enterprise that raised high the idea of original empirical inquiry built on prior scholarship.  While many of his works are lost, we have in hand books on philosophy and ethics, on the natural sciences, on politics, on poetry and on rhetoric.  The latter four seem especially intriguing to the covid epoch, when story and persuasion have become as influential as data and dispassionate dialectic.  It’s also a case of an ancient conundrum that through modern computation is taking on a fresh twist.

On July 19 Solon Simmons of George Mason University will pose the question, “The Afterlife of Story: Are the Humanities Still Useful?”

Description:  For over a century, it has been fashionable to describe the state of the humanities as a crisis, largely because the methods of analysis that proved to be so successful in the physical sciences did not seem to apply to the subject matter of the humanities. Now we live in the era of large language models (LLMs) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) and this crisis has reached a climax. As reported in February of 2023 in the New Yorker in an article called ‘The End of the English Major,’ “during the past decade, the study of English and history at the collegiate level has fallen by a full third.”

It appears that even the students who might once have been drawn to study literature or the arts are simply interested in more practical pursuits: with a strange fetish for computer science. Can we still speak about higher purpose in a systematic way? Is there a future for humanistic scholarship? What role can narrative social science play? In this talk, Solon Simmons, director of The Narrative Transformation Lab and a professor from George Mason University will speak about findings from new research on plot structure and its relationship to the abstract ideals of peace and justice. Not serving as a replacement for art, history, and literature programs, a purposeful social science with a narrative focus might serve as an alternative way for creative students to cultivate an interest in developing an educated imagination.

Bio:  Solon Simmons is the director of The Narrative Transformation Lab (TNT Lab) at George Mason University’s Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution. A sociologist by training, he is the author many books and articles on narrative and storytelling in peace and politics, including Conflict Resolution after the Pandemic Building Peace, Pursuing Justice (2021), Root Narrative Theory and Conflict Resolution; Power, Justice and Values (2020);  and The Eclipse of Equality: Arguing America on Meet the Press (2013). He is currently finishing a book about story grammar and basic plot types.

At The Narrative Transformation Lab, Solon is leading efforts to develop cutting-edge narrative tools for use in practical applications in both adversarial struggles for justice and collaborative journeys toward peace. Solon served as interim dean for the Carter School in 2013, and Vice President for Global Strategy for George Mason from 2014-2017, and he teaches classes on the craft of peace writing, conflict theory, narrative, media, discourse and conflict, human rights, quantitative and qualitative methodology, global conflict, and critical theory.

Explore More:

On July 26 Gina Mode and Ben Ullerup Mathers of the Center for Dairy Research will share their insights on the historic sagas and current technologies of Buttermaking in Wisconsin.

Description:  Please join Gina Mode and Ben Ullerup Mathers, Wisconsin licensed buttermakers from UW-Madison’s Center for Dairy Research, for an evening of everything butter. Churn the pages of butter’s long and storied history and uncover Irish bog butter and fascinating lore plus the unique history of buttermaking in Wisconsin, the dairy state. This will include some only-in-Wisconsin topics such as the Oleo Margarine War, the prohibition against serving margarine at public eating places as a substitute for butter, and the requirement that all butter for retail sale in Wisconsin be graded. Discover butter’s place in Wisconsin’s $43.4 billion dollar dairy sector and the significant contributions of the UW to Wisconsin’s dairy industry. Delve into what butter is, how it is made, some of the different types, and how to store it to keep it at its delicious peak. Bring your appetite for butter knowledge!

Bio:  Gina ModeAssistant Coordinator, Cheese Industry & Applications  Gina’s love of the dairy industry began when she was raised on a fifth generation family dairy farm outside Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.  Gina has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Food Science, Master of Business Administration Degree, and holds Wisconsin Butter Grader, Buttermaker, Cheese Grader, and Cheesemaker Licenses.  As a member of the Cheese Industry and Applications Group at the University of Wisconsin – Madison’s Center for Dairy Research, she works closely with butter and cheese brokers, ingredient suppliers, and manufacturers – from farmstead to commercial.  Gina is involved with everything from butter and cheese trials and troubleshooting to short course instruction and outreach efforts.  She particularly enjoys working with buttermakers and cheesemakers to develop new specialty products.  Gina has served as a technical judge for a variety of county, state, national, and international cheese contests.

 Bio:  Ben Ullerup Mathers, Research Cheesemaker  Previously a software developer, Ben’s growing interest in fermentation and food production led him to accept a 3-month position at Uplands Cheese doing affinage for Rush Creek Reserve in the Fall of 2019. Finding a love for the art, science, and culture of cheesemaking, Ben then worked for the winter at Cedar Grove Cheese before returning to Uplands for the 2020 cheesemaking season. There, Ben became involved in all parts of the cheesemaking process, from vat to packaging, and received his cheesemaking license. Ben is thrilled that his thirst for more cheese knowledge and experience has brought him to the Center for Dairy Research, where he sees knowledge and passion working together to advance the industry.

Explore More:

Hope to see you soon — in person, by YouTube livestream or by Zoom — at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab.

Tom ZinnenBiotechnology Center & Division of Extension, Wisconsin 4-H