Our Fourth Casual Conversation with a member of the Dartmouth Faculty: He started when we did, English Professor Emeritus James Heffernan
For some months during our enforced isolation, we have been fortunate enough to attend casual conversations by Class members and friends. Among the conversations have been: junk science in medicine, religion in the military, mental health during the pandemic, representing defendants accused of a capital crime, the origins of the Civil War, clerking for and appearing before the U.S. Supreme Court, travel, the future of baseball, infectious diseases and medical ethics, and teaching bystander intervention. Still to come on May 30 is a visit with a Holocaust survivor who married a Holocaust survivor.
More recently, we have added Dartmouth faculty to the mix, an innovation credited to Bruce Alpert, who invited Jewish Studies Professor Susannah Heschel to spend Zoom time with the Jewish Culture Group in a session to which all classmates were invited. This was followed by the Chair of the History Department, Professor Cecilia Gaposchkin, spending time with us to discuss both the journey of her illustrious grandmother, Harvard Professor of Astronomy Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin; and, as a Medievalist, why we study the past and how it gives us a better understanding of who we are. She and our Jim Staros had a conversation about the future of liberal arts institutions and why students are making the choices they are today about what they study. Both women professors were generous with their time and in sharing their wisdom. Robert Santulli, M.D., is on the faculty at Geisel and a Senior Lecturer at the College, who will speak with us on June 13 about aging. Dr. Santulli came to our attention through the good offices of Peter Schaeffer who participated in a discussion led by the good Doctor with members of Peter’s Choate class.
Recent events, and looking to broaden our relationships with Dartmouth faculty, caused me to contact English Professor James Heffernan. I wrote to him, in part, as follows:
As you can tell, our casual conversations have been woefully short on the humanities, especially literature and the arts. That is what happens when a Class has too many doctors and lawyers. This was brought home to me upon learning of the recent death of Joycean scholar Michael Groden, Dartmouth ’69. I did not know Michael at the College or thereafter, but the memories of him by those who did were heartfelt and warm. While not intended as a tribute to Michael, I thought that it would be particularly appropriate to ask you to help us discuss, not just Joyce, but also the state of the humanities at Dartmouth and the changes you have seen over the years, and what studying the humanities has meant to us over our lives. I had the pleasure of going to your website and watching your last Bloomsday talk. You were compelling and engaging.
You are also one of the few human connections we have with the College from when we were students there. As you likely will recall, we started at Dartmouth the same year you did and we were your first Freshman English students. Indeed, Thomas “Tim” Means ’69 tells us of his lifelong appreciation for the writing skills you taught him, as well as his delight that his son, Benjamin Means ’95, had the opportunity to experience your Ulysses seminar years later.
Professor Heffernan gave his positive response in six minutes. He will be our casual conversationalist on Tuesday, June 8 at 5 pm Eastern.
Of course, this being a continuation of Freshman English, there is homework. Here is Professor Heffernan’s College directory entry. Professor Heffernan’s most recent Bloomsday talk may be found on his personal website. (Bloomsday is June 16.) For extra credit (only kidding), you can watch two other talks he has given on Joyce (on his website as well), as well his Great Courses lectures. Finally, Professor Heffernan sent along the following link to remarks he gave recently on the value of the humanities .
If you wish to participate, please send me an email by Sunday June 6, indicating that you are RSVPing for the June 8 Casual Conversation with Professor Heffernan: Arthur.Fergenson@ansalaw.com . I will send out a Zoom invite on the Monday, the day before the event.
Please join us for this rare opportunity to connect our past with the present. But isn’t that what the humanities and a liberal arts education are for?