UMF hosts Henry David Thoreau Bicentennial Symposium

On Friday, Sept. 22, UMF celebrated the life and work of author Henry David Thoreau. The event kicked off in the morning with a roundtable discussion, followed by a talk from guest speaker James Finley. Professors Steve Pane and Kristen Case performed a collaborative piece featuring Pane on piano and Case reading poetry. Finally, the symposium ended with a documentary by filmmaker Huey: Henry David Thoreau: Surveyor of the Soul.

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James Finley

James Finley delivered a thoughtful and thorough analysis of Thoreau’s collection, The Maine Woods. In his lecture, Finley offered insight into Thoreau’s appreciation for wilderness.

“I think his book The Maine Woods is fascinating as it is both an environmental book and a political book,” Finley said. “I think he liked how Maine wasn’t as developed as Massachusetts, so he could go canoeing for three weeks and not run into dams.”

“As a thinker, he never lands on one place and stays there,” Finley said in regards to what he found interesting about Thoreau. “He’s always rethinking and revising his thoughts.”

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Kristen Case and Steve Pane

English professor Kristen Case collaborated with music professor Steve Pane on a performance that showcased their connection to Thoreau. Case read poetry inspired by Thoreau’s journal entries, and Pane accompanied her on piano. Pane also performed a solo piece (with a brief flute interlude).

Finally, the symposium ended with the documentary Henry David Thoreau: Surveyor of the Soul, directed by Huey. Surveyor of the Soul featured interviews from Thoreau scholars and a fitting soundtrack comprised of “tunes that Thoreau would have sang around the fire,” discovered when Huey flipped through the Thoreau family songbook.

Huey addressed many issues Thoreau would have with the world today; “There’s the issue of environmental ethics today, people chaining themselves to the White House fence, and also Standing Rock…” he said. “There’s all that, and Native Americans, they’re still struggling to get their rights, so I think that what he was touching upon are issues that we still haven’t fully resolved in our society.”

When an audience member asked Huey for his personal thoughts on Thoreau and if he felt the film rang true to him, Huey posed some questions of his own, including: “Who is Henry David Thoreau?”

The bicentennial symposium delivered multiple answers. Thoreau was an environmentalist, author, philosopher, rebel, and a friend of the finer things in life.

“He’s a special figure in American writing. We have a finite time to be on this planet, and Thoreau really makes you think about that,” Case said. “Are you really spending your days the way you want to? I think that’s a question we need to be asking.”

 

 

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UMF English Department kicks off the new year with Fall English Barbecue

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English majors and professors discussing classes, the food, and literature

On Friday, Sept. 15th, the English faculty and several English majors gathered at professor Daniel Gunn’s house for the inaugural Fall English Barbecue. Set in the perfect backdrop with a comfortable breeze, trees with fiery leaves of red, orange, and gold, and an endless soundtrack of classic and indie rock, the event was an opportunity for current faculty and upperclassmen to meet incoming English majors and discuss the life of an English major at UMF.

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Professors and students discussing favorite books and authors

Incoming English majors had the opportunity to meet and talk to English professors about the different classes they offer, bond over literary puns and apparel, and enjoy a scrumptious barbecue dinner and dessert, thanks to professor Gunn and his wife.

Upperclassmen attended as well. Along with catching up with old professors and acquainting themselves with the unfamiliar ones, they also talked with the new students about classes, homework, and campus life around UMF in general.

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Professors and students had the chance to bond over various literary jokes and apparel

The barbecue lasted well after the skies turned black for the night. The English department looks to keep this budding tradition alive for years in hopes that new English majors will feel welcome in their new community.

Noisy, Wild, and Fire-Breathing: a Discussion on Dragons, Westeros, and Storytelling

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On September 4th, “Noisy, Wild, and Extremely Troublesome: Lectures in the Arts and Humanities” kicked off the new school year with an engaging discussion about the smash hit HBO series Game of Thrones, based off the series “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George RR Martin. Presented by UMF English professors Eric Brown, Kristen Case, Daniel Gunn, and Michael Johnson, the panel and the audience joined in a rigorous analysis of the show’s narrative, storytelling, and its mysterious appeal to a vast audience; comparing these elements from past seasons with the current season.

Beginning with Johnson, he expressed that his favorite part of the show was its tendency to draw on multiple genres. Case explained that she is not typically a fan of fantasy, however, Game of Thrones drew her in with its exploration of power (powerful characters, power dynamics, etc.), as well as their fight scenes. She claims that Game of Thrones fight scenes are “compelling,” adding that “the cinematography, the music, the imagery, it all builds tension and you can feel the anxiety that comes with the action.”

Gunn enjoys the excess that comes with Game of Thrones. As a reader of the series before watching the show, he was thrilled to see the excess of the world of Westeros brought to life on the screen. Like Case and Johnson, Brown was also interested in the layers of genre. He appreciated that the first season was lowkey on the fantasy register, allowing fans outside of the genre to approach it easily. He went on to say that the series “has advanced beyond the books,” which he would go on to explain is both a good and bad thing for the series as a whole.

The audience chimed in with their own responses to how they got into the phenomenon. Many agreed that it was the compelling storylines that drew them in, and others enjoyed that the world of Westeros felt immersive and complete. However, fans who read the books argued that this translation is lost in the show.

One audience member explained what he feels is the biggest downfall of the series, with which everyone agreed: “Martin wasn’t done when the TV adaptation started. He gave them an outline to work with, he’s nowhere near done the books. What people like about Game of Thrones is the expansiveness, but now Martin has to wrap up the series in two books.”

Case reiterated this point, stating that the narrative was “slightly clumsy this season” because they need to tie things up. The storytelling and consistency has suffered as a result: for example, travelling across vast distances now happens in a matter of an episode instead of a season. Brown agreed, arguing that at this point, “the series is spinning out plot after plot, it’s going too fast to keep up with.”

Despite this season’s fall in storytelling, the panel and audience agreed that the characters and cinematography come together to create an intensity that draws audiences closer to their screens. “We really see the characters transform, like Jamie [Lannister], who went from kind of a lazy heartthrob into this respected war hero,” Case claims, “and Daenerys, who at the beginning was a child sold into marriage, and she’s now the Queen of Dragons. The character arcs are compelling.”

As Game of Thrones comes to a close next season, our panel and audience will be glued to their screens to see how it the epic adventure ends. According to Johnson, whenever that end may come, “we plan to be back in Lincoln for another discussion!”