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Three Hampshire Professors Receive Grants for Research Abroad

Professors Branner, Darling, and Wallen receive Whiting Foundation grants for research to enrich current courses and develop new ones

Three Hampshire College faculty members have earned grants for travel abroad to conduct research that will have a direct impact on enriching their courses. This year the Marion and Jasper Whiting Foundation awarded grants to Associate Professor of Theatre Djola Branner, Five College Assistant Professor of Sustainable Architecture Naomi Darling, and Professor of Comparative Literature Jeffrey Wallen. The purpose of the grants is to stimulate and broaden the minds of teachers and to improve and enhance the quality of their instruction.

With his award, Djola Branner, a playwright and performer, will conduct research in Spain. There he will study the architecture, language, history, and customs of Barcelona and Seville, with a particular focus on how they affect dramatic works in America. He hopes to gain insights into Charise Smith Castro’s process when writing the play The Hunchback of Seville—a work he plans to highlight in a fall course on deconstructing theater artists’ methods. Branner believes that this opportunity will not only help him develop new curriculum, but will also help facilitate important discussions. In applying for the grant, Branner wrote, “It is imperative that we engage in conversations about race and culture across disciplines, cultural and historical divides…. Each discussion deepens collective awareness, and allows us to understand and articulate our differences—and similarities.”

Naomi Darling will use her Whiting Grant to go to Finland and visit as many of Alvar Aalto’s projects as possible, as well as the forests and landscapes that inspired him. Aalto was a key figure in the history of Finnish architecture, one whose ideas can be applied to help create sustainable buildings today. For her grant, Darling, an architect, wrote that “in an era of climate change, architects must be part of the solution.” It is important for materials and sites to be chosen with great intention, she wrote, and Aalto’s innovative use of wood could be an inspiration. This trip will also give Darling the opportunity to strengthen her knowledge of Finnish architecture and incorporate it into her architecture studio classes, as well as explore a new course with a focus on wood experimentation and design.

With his grant, Jeffrey Wallen will examine the use of Jewish objects in museums in Central and Eastern Europe for telling the story of Jewish history and culture. By speaking to archivists and curators in Warsaw, Prague, Vienna, and Berlin, he plans to further his research on migration and material culture, and the many approaches to learning from objects and artifacts. Wallen, who will direct Hampshire’s semester-long Berlin program in 2017, also aims to create a course on material culture, as well as enhance courses he already teaches. Trained in comparative literature and focusing additional research on Holocaust Studies, Jewish Studies, microhistory, and material culture, Wallen wrote in applying for the grant, “One of the joys of teaching at Hampshire is the freedom to develop new research interests and to quickly bring these new ideas into the classroom.”

Through their studies abroad, all three professors will create innovative curricula and augment their current courses, benefiting not only the professors’ research, but also their students’ learning. Since 2000, the Marion and Jasper Whiting Foundation has funded 36 Hampshire faculty fellowships, with grant awards totaling $204,140, greatly impacting faculty development and student learning.

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