Category Archives: Humanities

Celebrating Paper Theater

Paper theater (also called toy theater) is a form of miniature theater dating back to the early Victorian era. Paper theaters were often printed on posters and sold as kits at playhouses, opera houses, and vaudeville theaters, and proved to be an effective marketing tool. The kits were assembled at home and the plays performed for family members and guests, sometimes with live musical accompaniment and sound effects.

At the height of its popularity over 300 European theaters were selling kits, but paper theater saw a drastic decline in popularity in the late 19th century as realism began to dominate the dramatic arts, and again with the arrival of television. Thankfully, paper theater survived near-extinction and has enjoyed renewed popularity in recent years among puppeteers, writers, hobbyists, designers, educators, and filmmakers. Several publishers now offer replicas of famous paper theater kits as well as new models, and there are numerous international paper theater festivals throughout the Americas and Europe.

One such festival is presented yearly at the UC San Diego Library under the direction of staffer and “paper devotee” Scott Paulson. The Library’s Paper Theater Festival (billed as “The Smallest Show on Earth”) features examples of the form from Paulson’s personal collection, as well as performances of student-authored plays. The exhibition runs the gamut of paper theater history and formats, including posters, pop-ups, postcards, and souvenir books. Paulson attributes his interest in the medium to seeing Franco Zeffirelli’s autobiographical film “Tea with Mussolini,” which prominently features a paper theater performance. Others are drawn by paper theater’s tactile nature and by its value as an interactive educational toy, one that serves to stimulate a child’s creativity. A number of well-known figures were introduced to art by paper theater or have worked with the form, including Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, Winston Churchill, Edward Gorey, Maurice Sendak, Ingmar Bergman, Terry Gilliam, Pablo Picasso, and Orson Welles, to name just a few.

Like these luminaries Paulson appreciates paper theater both as a fascinating link to theater history and as an art form in its own right, one that celebrates craftsmanship and beauty on an intimate scale. He inaugurated the annual Festival in order to share his enthusiasm and to encourage others – children especially – to step away from our technocratic age for a time and let their imaginations take the lead.

Watch Celebrating Paper Theater.

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Sally Ride Forever!

When the United States Postal Service chose UC San Diego as the site to unveil its new Sally Ride Forever postage stamp, the UCSD community could not have been more thrilled. Ride, the first American woman in space, taught physics at UCSD after finishing her stellar run at NASA and then, through Sally Ride Science, inspired a new generation to embrace STEM. As seen in the Stamp Dedication Ceremony [uctv.tv/shows/33665] and the Women in Leadership [uctv.tv/shows/33160] discussion that followed, Dr. Ride’s fellow trailblazers Billie Jean King, Ellen Ochoa, Lynn Sherr and Condoleezza Rice, proudly honored the memory of their late friend.

Watch Women in Leadership Presented by Sally Ride Science at UC San Diego.

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Music Is Powerful

“I say I survived for a reason: to tell my story. I believe that…Music is powerful. It is the only thing that can speak into your mind, your heart and your soul without your permission.”
– Emmanuel Jal

The Second Sudanese Civil War from 1983 to 2005 was one of the longest and bloodiest civil wars on record, yet it barely registered in Western media. The war resulted in the deaths of roughly two million people and the repeated displacement of over four million others in southern Sudan alone, constituting one of history’s largest refugee crises. Among the atrocities committed during the war were slavery, rapes, mutilations, mass killings, and the forced enlistment of children as soldiers by all sides.

Emmanuel Jal was one such child soldier. Born in what is now South Sudan, Jal was a young child when the civil war broke out. After his father joined the rebel army (SPLA) and his mother was killed by loyalist soldiers, Jal joined the thousands of Sudanese children travelling to Ethiopia, hoping to escape the conflict and find education and opportunity. Along the way, however, many of the children, Jal included, were forcibly recruited by the SPLA and taken to military training camps where they were taught to kill, in Jal’s words, “mercilessly and efficiently.”

For the next several years Jal and his comrades fought with the SPLA, first in Ethiopia and then back in Sudan, until the fighting and deprivations became unbearable. Jal and some of his friends ran away, and for three months they were constantly on the move, stealing food and dodging roving patrols. Eventually Jal met a British aid worker who adopted him and smuggled him to Kenya, where he attended school. It was in the slums of Nairobi that Jal became a community activist. He also discovered hip-hop and the power of the spoken word; singing and rapping became a form of therapy to ease the pain of his experiences, and his life’s course was set. Over time Jal developed a unique form of hip-hop, seemingly conventional in form but layered with African beats and sung/chanted over African-inspired choruses.

Unlike many of his American counterparts, Jal sees hip-hop as a powerful vehicle to lobby for social justice and political change in a positive manner, rather than as a method of pursuing street credibility. His raps and spoken word pieces emphasize unity and common humanity as motivators for young people and weapons in the fight against the scourges of ethnic and religious divisions, such as those that plague his homeland. This hopeful outlook, combined with his many humanitarian activities, dovetails neatly with the goals of UC San Diego’s Eleanor Roosevelt College, and marks Jal as a suitably inspirational figure to help celebrate the College’s 30th Anniversary.

His dynamic performance is by turns thought-provoking and uplifting, at times almost somber, but also leavened with humor and, yes, with fun. As Jal himself puts it, “Life without fun is no life at all,” a remarkable perspective from one who has suffered much but has refused to give in to bitterness or cynicism.

Watch From War Child to Global Citizen with Emmanuel Jal.

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Bring Back Mammoths

Remember Dolly the sheep? How in 1996 she made international news as the first cloned mammal? Now, imagine using those techniques to bring back extinct animals, such as the mammoth or the passenger pigeon. While the concept may no longer be science fiction, the costs and consequences of this research are still unknown. MacArthur Award recipient and evolutionary biologist Beth Shapiro of UC Santa Cruz discusses the scientific and ethical questions raised by what’s known as Ancient DNA research in this fascinating talk presented by the new Institute for Practical Ethics at UC San Diego.

Watch Can We, Should We, and Will We Bring Back Mammoths? with Beth Shapiro .

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Golda Meir Through a Feminist Lens

8232Author and Boston University law professor Pnina Lahav discusses her forthcoming biography, “Golda Meir: Through the Gender Lens.” She explores the first and only woman prime minister of Israel, and her complex relationship with her role as a female leader in a man’s world.

As a child, Golda migrated from Russia to Wisconsin and received conflicting messages about her place in the world. Wisconsin law insisted she had to be educated in school and wouldn’t allow her to work at her mother’s grocery store during the day. However, as a young woman, the message from society was also clear: women were supposed to become wives and mothers – and her parents were eager for her to comply.

Her sister, Sheyna, encouraged Golda to run away from home in order to pursue the life she wanted. Sheyna gave her this advice: “The main thing is, never get excited – always become an act of cooling. This action will bring you good results.” Golda put this advice to use in the many political crises she encountered throughout her adult life.

According to Lahav, Golda had a nuanced view of the division of labor between men and women. During the rise of the feminist movement, many women resented being resigned to the kitchen. However, Golda endorsed kitchen work as a way to contribute to the community. She felt that, in the fullness of time, gender roles would melt away, and she instead focused on the needs of the Jewish people as a whole, as opposed to the needs of women, specifically.

During her long career, when Golda was in favor with the public, she was considered the “grandmother” of the Jewish people. However, according to professor Lahav, when people disagreed with her political strategies, the old gender stereotype kicked in. “They believed it was because she was a woman that many of the harms were visited upon them. A woman is considered nasty, unnecessarily rigid, emotional, capricious, whimsical and unfit for public office. She was not even beautiful and did not dress well, they said – as if that was a necessary qualification for the job.”

To learn more, watch Golda Meir Through a Feminist Lens. Browse related programs in the series Herman P. and Sophia Taubman Endowed Symposia in Jewish Studies.

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