Media: Experiencing the events in Ukraine as media consumers

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, the immediate fallout has been harrowing for those both directly and indirectly affected. There’s fear, uncertainty, the mass movement of Ukrainian refugees, and a constant barrage of powerful photos and videos of the killing of Ukrainian civilians bombarding news and social media networks. Two years after the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic—and amidst worries about rising inflation—the invasion of Ukraine has increased stress levels and caused feelings of helplessness for those who wish they could do more. The New York Times recently referred to this interconnectedness as “World War Wired,” and despite the fact that residents of the U.S. have distance and safety from the events happening in Europe, there is an understanding that the world is wired more intimately than ever before in terms of telecommunications.

Karina Skvirsky, associate professor of art, whose teaching areas include photography, media art, and video art, can share insights on how photography and video are evidence and proof of historical and horrific events that have happened—but that it is up to the viewer to examine accuracies in the “post-truth world”:

  • We are experiencing the events in Europe through the lens of distance, and photography and video are evidence of what’s happening and make us feel connected, despite that distance. Photographs can impact in a way that words can’t.
  • We must be savvy when it comes to consuming media. Where we get our information from and how we decode it is part of a larger “post-truth world” where not all sources of information can be trusted.
  • This generation is more aware than any other, and many have learned to compartmentalize and navigate the extreme situations the world is experiencing, even while reeling from one crisis to another.

Literature: Were Shakespeare's plays written by someone else?

On April 23, 2022, there will be 458 candles on William Shakespeare’s birthday cake and hundreds of thousands of voices in the worldwide chorus singing the playwright’s praises. As we prepare to celebrate the man who may well be the most applauded writer of all time, Charles A. Dana Professor Emerita of English—and Shakespeare expert—June Schlueter says there’s another important guest who should be invited to the party: Sir Thomas North.

Schlueter has teamed up with independent scholar Dennis McCarthy and investigative journalist Michael Blanding to send shockwaves through the Shakespeare community with their recent groundbreaking research, which suggests The Bard borrowed from North, a 16th-century translator and playwright, to create some of his best-known works.

Working with digital searches of the massive Early English Books Online (EEBO) database and documents they uncovered in major libraries in the U.S. and England, Schlueter and her team have pieced together a surprising treasury of evidence indicating that North was the author of a canon of now-lost plays that became sources for all but two of Shakespeare’s plays. 

In 2018, Schlueter and McCarthy made national and international headlines—and the front page of The New York Times—when they discovered another manuscript written in 1576 by George North (likely Thomas’ cousin) that Shakespeare also used for inspiration. In 2021, they published Thomas North’s 1555 Travel Journal: From Italy to Shakespeare, a book that delves further into the connection between the two playwrights.

Most recently, Blanding—who was at first a skeptic but later became a firm believer in Schlueter and McCarthy’s thesis, and who eventually joined their research team—unearthed 16th- and 17th-century texts once owned by the North family, including one now housed at Harvard University’s Houghton Library. That volume contains handwritten notes outlining the historical plot of Cymbeline, one of Shakespeare’s later tragicomedies. Further investigation done by Schlueter and McCarthy confirmed the notes were written by North.

Schlueter—who earned a Ph.D. from Columbia University and enjoyed a 30-plus-year career at Lafayette College, during which she frequently published on England’s most famous playwright and, for 20 years, co-edited Shakespeare Bulletin—can share insights on: 

  • Who Thomas North was, and why he isn’t a household name like Shakespeare
  • What documents were discovered through the research done by Schlueter and her team, and how they shed further light on the link between Shakespeare and North
  • Specific similarities between the two playwrights’ works that, when uncovered, provided striking evidence that Shakespeare’s plays had been previously written by North
  • How Shakespeare might have accessed North’s plays
  • Why Shakespeare’s borrowing of North’s work isn’t plagiarism
  • What these unprecedented discoveries reveal about Shakespeare and what they mean for his legacy

Economics: Social Security spousal benefits not useful

Social Security benefits play a large role in providing monthly income as people plan for their retirement, but a newly published study co-authored by Erin Cottle Hunt, assistant professor of economics, reveals that the program’s spousal benefits are not very useful. Social Security mainly provides retirement benefits to people who have worked, but the program also has spousal benefits that are often overlooked by economists. When the program was created in the 1930s, many families had a working father and a mother who stayed at home with their children, and so some of the benefits are designed for single-earner couples. 

Erin Cottle Hunt is an assistant professor of economics. Her research and teaching interests include macroeconomics, public economics, and behavioral economics. She is an applied theorist who uses analytical and quantitative models to answer questions about social security, pensions, saving, and the macroeconomy.

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