7 Questions

6 Questions with Samuel Fleischacker, author of “Being Me Being You: Adam Smith and Empathy”

November 13, 2019
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In his new book, Samuel Fleischacker delves into the work of Adam Smith to draw out an understanding of empathy that respects both personal difference and shared humanity. We sent him a few questions to learn more about Smith, empathy, and how it all relates to our world today. Your book uses the philosophy of Adam Smith to explore the nature and value of empathy. To start us off, can you give us a quick introduction to Smithian empathy? Smithian empathy is the kind of shared feeling that arises when I imagine myself into your situation. David Hume had understood empathy (what he and Smith called “sympathy”—the word “empathy” wasn’t invented until after their time) as my feeling whatever you feel. Smith understands it as my feeling what I think I would feel if I were you, in your situation. Hume’s empathy is a kind of contagious feeling—I “catch” your feelings, whether of sadness or of joy, whether I want to do that or not. Smith’s empathy requires more action on our part and depends on imagination. I try to show that Smith’s kind of empathy is deeper and more important to morality. What drew you to Adam Smith, and to the topic of empathy . . .

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6 Questions with Michael Rossi, author of “The Republic of Color: Science, Perception, and the Making of Modern America”

October 14, 2019
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In Michael Rossi’s compelling new history, The Republic of Color, he shows readers how the control and regulation of color shaped the social contours of modern America—and redefined the way we see the world. We sent Rossi a few questions to learn more about color science and how it affects us today. First, can you give us a quick introduction to the “republic of color”—what does this term describe? As you might know, “the Republic of Color” was not the original title for the book. Credit goes to Prof. Kathleen Belew for coming up with the felicitous wording over dinner after a workshop session. Credit also to numerous other readers, colleagues, and friends who convinced me that my own titular ideas were obtuse and/or confusing. Thank you, all! This said, “the Republic of Color” works so well as a title because it emphasizes that the book is about color and politics. Rather than simply an ideologically neutral fact about the visual world, color perception—and especially scientific research about how human beings see, experience, and talk about color (or not)—was an important part of the project of American statecraft at the turn of the century. Instead of being ancillary to politics, . . .

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Q & A with Poets Ahmad Almallah and Graham Barnhart

October 1, 2019
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This fall, the Phoenix Poets series features debut collections by two poets: Ahmad Almallah and Graham Barnhart. We spoke with these poets about their new books, the process of writing and assembling their collections, and their experiences of war, central to both of their works. This fall, each of you will publish your first book of poetry as part of the Phoenix Poets series (congratulations!). Could you both talk a little about your process of organizing your work into a collection and how you decided on the theme and scope for your book? Graham Barnhart (GB): I started writing these poems while I was in the MFA program at Ohio State. I’d been active duty for six years and just transferred to the national guard, so it was a strange time. I was still in the Army but also kind of not. I didn’t think of the poems as a book until later, but at the time I just followed the stories and experiences that most interested me—that sparked poems. I knew the theme of the book in very general terms would be war and my military experience, but the scope or focus didn’t emerge until I started trying to . . .

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6 Questions with Mark Hineline, author of “Ground Truth: A Guide to Tracking Climate Change at Home”

September 9, 2019
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We know that the Earth’s climate is changing and that the magnitude of this change is colossal. At the same time, the world outside is still a natural world and one we can experience on a granular level every day. Ground Truth is a practical guide to living in this condition of changing nature, to paying attention instead of turning away. Ground Truth features detailed guidance for keeping records of the plants, animals, and seasonal changes that occur in our neighborhood. This practice is known as phenology—the study and timing of natural events—and these records can be put to practical use by scientists. We talked with author Mark L. Hineline about how he came to practice phenology, and why it’s more important now than ever. The media and scientists highlight increasing temperature when they talk about climate change, but you discount temperature and instead highlight phenology. What is phenology, and why do you think it is more important than temperature? Temperature, global temperature, is very important. But as people going about our daily business, we’re not equipped to make distinctions at the scale of a degree or two, or even five degrees. Humidity makes a difference in how we experience . . .

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5 Questions with Colin Koopman, Author of “How We Became Our Data”

July 29, 2019
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From banking to social media, our lives are becoming ever-more entwined with our data, and questions about the truthfulness and privacy of our records feel increasingly pressing. In his new book, How We Became Our Data, Colin Koopman takes us back to where this explosion of record-keeping all started. To understand more about our data and why it’s so important, we asked Colin a few questions. He shows us how central data is to so much of our lives and what it has to do with cultural phenomena from redlining to The Great Gatsby and Buzzfeed quizzes. First, can you give us a quick introduction to the “informational person” —who does this term describe? Informational persons live through, are recognized by, and reflect on themselves in terms of their data. How We Became Our Data describes how, in a period of a few quick decades in the early twentieth century, it became obligatory for us to live as informational persons. Why does this matter for us now? In short, because we are poignantly aware of how much of our lives are today transacted in terms of data. Consider social media selfhood and mass surveillance dossiers as two convenient exemplars. The . . .

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Five Question for Jennifer A. Jones, author of “The Browning of the New South”

June 20, 2019
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Studies of immigration to the United States have traditionally focused on a few key states and urban centers, but recent shifts in nonwhite settlement mean that these studies no longer paint the whole picture. Many Latino newcomers are flocking to places like the Southeast, where typically few such immigrants have settled, resulting in rapidly redrawn communities. In this historic moment, Jennifer A. Jones brings forth an ethnographic look at changing racial identities in one Southern city: Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  To get a better sense of what inspired Jones to focus her book on this particular city, we sent her a few questions recently about her research. How did you come to follow the line of research that forms the backbone of The Browning of the New South?  In some ways, I came to the research that forms the backbone of The Browning of the New South by accident. I consider myself a race scholar, and for my MA research I had done some ethnographic research on group identity formation among multiracials. I was really interested in how race gets made and wanted to pursue another project that helped me explore that process. I came to Winston-Salem to do research because . . .

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Six Questions for Hollis Clayson, author of Illuminated Paris

May 18, 2019
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Six Questions for Hollis Clayson, author of Illuminated Paris

To celebrate International Museum Day on May 18th, we sent professor of art history and the Bergen Evans Professor in the Humanities at Northwestern University, Hollis Clayson, a handful of questions about art and the city of light. Let’s start at the beginning: what sparked your interest in the nighttime illumination of Paris? Was there an artwork, or a trip to the city, that started your research? The book grew out of my interest in the topic of Americans especially artists in Paris which of course grew out of my experiences (from wonderful to terrible) as an American in Paris, an American billing herself as an “expert” on French culture. At the beginning of the enterprise, I was initially focused exclusively on Mary Cassatt (who figures prominently in the book and in other essays of mine), but the light angle only really dawned when I saw a painting in storage at the old Terra Foundation Museum of American Art on Michigan Ave., which is on the cover of the book: Charles Courtney Curran, Paris at Night, 1889.   It made me start asking questions about the American imagination of the Paris night and how it differed from the conception of the modernity . . .

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5 Questions for Robin Wolfe Scheffler, author of “A Contagious Cause: The American Hunt for Cancer Viruses and the Rise of Molecular Medicine”

May 16, 2019
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5 Questions for Robin Wolfe Scheffler, author of “A Contagious Cause: The American Hunt for Cancer Viruses and the Rise of Molecular Medicine”

In his new book, A Contagious Cause: The American Hunt for Cancer Viruses and the Rise of Molecular Medicine, Robin Wolfe Scheffler explores the United States’s century-long search for a human cancer virus and reveals the ways in which the effort, while ultimately fruitless, profoundly shaped our understanding of life at its most fundamental levels. We sent Scheffler a few questions to learn more about his research, his motivations for writing the book, his recent reads, and more.  How did you wind up in this academic field, and what do you love about it? A British scientist named CP Snow once claimed that the sciences and humanities were two separate cultures, but I’ve never felt that way. I studied history and chemistry as a student at the University of Chicago. I was drawn to these two subjects because they each connected things—chemistry bridged biology and physics, history bridged the humanities and the social sciences. I explored everything from the economic geography of grain elevators to the mathematical modeling of dimerization before a professor suggested to me that studying the history of science might allow me to connect all of my interests. He was right!   Years later I still enjoy working in . . .

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5 Questions for Connie Voisine, Poet and Author of The Bower

April 25, 2019
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In honor of National Poetry Month, we sent Phoenix Poet Connie Voisine a few questions to delve into her writing and reading life and her thoughts on poetry today. Describe your ideal reader. My ideal reader never changes (ideal is ideal), but the person I write to is quite specific and variable. My old mentor, James McMichael, recommended directing a poem to a specific person, to make it rhetorically focused, urgent. I have some writer friends who represent the best of poetry with their rigor, intelligence, wit, and devotion to craft, and to each I have addressed poems and whole books to. My last book, however, was for the reader my daughter will be some day . . . to thank her. Do you see poetry as having a “moment” right now? And if so, why? I can’t answer that question. Probably. But I am more curious about what the moment produces than what generated it. I used to teach a group of women writers whose average age was perhaps 80. Those women could really read poems because they had done it all their lives. I could throw anything at them—language poetry, conceptual poetry, spoken word, as well as John . . .

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5 Questions for Karen Routledge, author of “Do You See Ice?: Inuit and Americans at Home and Away”

April 24, 2019
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Many Americans imagine the Arctic as harsh, freezing, and nearly uninhabitable. But as Karen Routledge shows in Do You See Ice?, the living Arctic—the one experienced by native Inuit and others who work and travel there—is a diverse region shaped by much more than stereotype and mythology.  We sent Routledge some questions recently to delve into exactly how she came to study this unusual topic. How did you end up working as a professional historian, and what do you love about it? I’m a historian for Parks Canada, the Canadian national park service. I was lucky to end up here. When I was a graduate student, I thought I wanted a tenure-track job, and feared I’d be a failure if I didn’t get one. Near the end of my PhD, a Parks Canada historian (my now-colleague Meg Stanley) told me they were hiring. I realized I badly wanted the job. Thankfully I got it, and I’ve been here since 2010. This has ended up being an ideal job for me. I love that Parks Canada projects can reach a wide audience, and that so many local people and visitors are passionate about our sites. I work mostly on project teams . . .

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