June 12, 2002
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Schiffer to Edit Shakespeare Volume

Poring through hundreds of books in search of striking commentary on a Shakespeare play and compiling the results in a large volume that dissects each passage is a formidable task. It is also a scholarly honor that should keep Jim Schiffer (English) occupied for the rest of his career. He has been appointed editor of the New Variorum edition of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night or What You Will. When completed several years from now, the volume will be published by the Modern Language Association.

“The end result will be a moderated and threaded discussion of more than 400 years’ worth of significant remarks or observations written by critics and editors,” he said. “This book will include line-by-line commentary and essays on sources for the play, major characters, critical reception and stage history. Variorums tend to run between 700 and 1,000 pages. They make terrific research tools for students and scholars.”

The variorum tradition was established in the mid-19th century. A new wave of updated editions covering Shakespeare’s writing – approximately 38 in all – is in the works. Three of these contemporary versions have been published and most of the remaining projects have been assigned to editors. The last variorum to focus on Twelfth Night, which Schiffer would argue is The Bard’s best comedy, was published in 1901.

“There has been more written about the play in the century since that date than in the entire three centuries before,” Schiffer added. “It is a huge task. It is a real honor to be asked to participate, but not everyone is willing to take on something like this. I’m actually taking over for William C. McAvoy of St. Louis University, who died after investing a number of years in the project. There is much more work to be done. Within the next year or so, I plan to recruit one or two associate editors.”

Schiffer was appointed by a committee of scholars affiliated with the MLA. He attributes the selection to essays he has published on the play and Shakespeare poems, in addition to his previous experience editing a collection of essays on Shakespeare’s sonnets. During his research on the latter, he frequently consulted the sonnets variorum.

“I realized that a variorum is a lasting monument of scholarship with a life span of 100 years or more,” he said. “The earlier volumes are still fascinating. I hope this appointment brings honor to the English department and to the university. There will be opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to assist with the research. This project will definitely keep me busy for a number of years.”

Bourgault Receives Fulbright Grant

Louise Bourgault (CAPS) will receive a Fulbright grant to study how performance art is being used to address the AIDS crisis in Mali, West Africa. Bourgault will focus her attention on a women’s group that performs street theater to warn others about the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases. She said it is a complete reversal of traditional Malian street theater, which excludes female participation.

“Men play women’s roles and the material often spoofs women for not being obedient enough, costing too much money, etcetera,” she said. “Now you have women dressing as men and doing parodies that show men as irresponsible for not practicing safer sex. The significance for gender is extraordinary and it’s amazing this is happening in an Islamic society where men have power.”

It is also a society in which men are allowed to marry four women. According to Bourgault, research shows that men are more likely to be unfaithful than women in both polygamous and monogamous relationships. If a man contracts the HIV virus, he could unknowingly bring it into his household, infecting multiple wives and future children.

“Most AIDS messages in Africa are designed to promote sexual responsibility among men,” Bourgault said. “Studies show that women are more careful, yet they have few choices in sexuality. If men decide they don’t want to use protection, there’s usually no disputing it. A United Nations organization, UNAIDS, has made it clear that campaigns need to focus on altering the African male’s definition of masculinity. This is revolutionary.”

The Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program sends approximately 800 American scholars and professionals per year to more than 125 countries, where they lecture and/or conduct research in a wide variety of academic and professional fields. Of the 13 research grants that will apply to the African region, Bourgault said four deal specifically with AIDS.

The grant funding covers travel, living expenses and support personnel. Bourgault attended an orientation this month in Washington, D.C. She will be in Mali conducting her research from January through April.

Established in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the program’s purpose is to build mutual understanding between the peoples of the United States and the rest of the world.

NMU Offers Internet II Music Lesson

Northern recently took its first step toward the goal of creating a rural music program that would give NMU and Upper Peninsula musicians access to top-quality instructors via interactive television.

“Geography can be an obstacle for studying music,” said Don Grant (Music). “In metropolitan areas, there’s no problem because there are people available who specialize in most instruments. That’s not always the case in rural areas. With technology, we can link students with faculty who can help advance their performance skills to a higher level.”

The technology used to bridge the distance is Northern’s Internet II wide bandwidth connection. In its first musical application, it enabled a U.P. high school student enrolled in an NMU directed study course to take lessons from a renowned instructor in Ann Arbor.

Evan Premo, a double-bass player from Forest Park High School in Amasa, made monthly trips to the Learning Resource Center at NMU. In a lower-level conference room, he played his instrument for Diana Gannette of the University of Michigan. She was able to watch and listen through interactive television, then offer immediate visual and audio feedback on Premo’s technique.

“The music faculty wears many hats to fulfill our primary mission, which is music education," Grant said. "We don’t have a performance bass player on staff, but Evan’s parents were excited about our capability to put him in touch with one without having to make the long drive to lower Michigan.”

If the program develops as planned, Grant said U.P. schools with interactive television could pursue similar opportunities. Students might supplement their local instruction with lessons from NMU faculty.

“This would be a way to recognize students in the Upper Peninsula who may be interested in Northern, but it certainly isn’t meant to replace the learner who wants to travel to campus,” he added. “ITV quality is getting better, but watching on a monitor is not the same as personal, face-to-face interaction. You can’t detect all the subtle nuances that go along with playing an instrument. Still, the technology presents another level of communication and the opportunity for a more comprehensive learning experience.”