Sewanee Seminar Talks
Professor Mishoe Brennecke, Art and Art History
“Vision on the Mountain: Johannes Oertel and the University of the South”
The University of the South owns nearly thirty paintings by the German-American artist Johannes Oertel (1823-1909). The majority of these were donated by Oertel himself, with additional gifts made after the artist’s death by his family and descendants of his students. These works, which comprise the largest collection of his works in this country, offer a sampling of Oertel’s subject interests and include the culminating expression of his artistic career, a group of four large religious paintings he called the Great Series. This lecture will explore Oertel’s art, especially the Sewanee works, against the background of his fascinating life from his formative years in Germany, to his dual career as artist and Episcopal priest in the United States, his relationship to Sewanee, and his reasons for giving some of his most important works to the University.
Professor Martin Knoll, Earth and Environmental Systems
“Tenneswim: A 652-Mile Swim For Science”
During the summer of 2017 Sewanee hosted the Tenneswim, a record-breaking 34 day swim of the entire length of the Tennessee River by scientist Dr. Andreas Fath. This event was coupled with the most extensive water quality survey ever conducted on the river, focusing on over 600 chemicals and micro plastics. We will examine both the extreme sport aspect of the project as well as the overall health of the river and how it compares to other great rivers of the world.
Professor Kathryn Mills, French and French Studies
“Enigmas on the Lyre”
The poetry of Wil Mills springs from the texture of family life, his deep roots in the South, compassion for misfits, and love of lyrical beauty. When this Sewanee alum died of cancer in 2011, at 41, he had already been anthologized and his poems were regularly appearing in the nation’s top literary journals. As I was compiling his Selected Poems, I saw much that was familiar, but also noticed things I had not known about him in life. As an evangelical Christian, Wil lived with certainties; his poetry, however, struggled with doubt. Driven by that tension, his poems raise larger questions: are faith and doubt mutually exclusive, or is each state most authentic when it works with the other? How can poetry get around the limitations—and the dangers—of language as a human instrument, and somehow express the inexpressible? An additional challenge I faced as a literary critic and as my late husband’s literary executor involved reconciling personal and literary considerations. My talk will engage with these complexities embedded in life, faith, doubt, Southern quirkiness, and poetry.
Reading Assignment: Baudelaire’s “Painter of Modern Life” Sections I, III, IV, and XIII and “Selected Poems” by Wil Mills, available on amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Selected-Poems-Wilmer-Mills/dp/093098272X. In particular, I’d recommend “Mockingbird Boy,” “A Codex for Killing,” “After the Fact,” “From Lookout Mountain at Night,” “Monorhyme for my Wife at Forty,” “Recordari-Song,” “Benjamin Shooting Skeet,” “Fallen Fruit,” “Snowman Argument,” "Ruach.
Professor Richard O’Connor, Anthropology
“How a Good College Gets Stuck in Not Just Your Head but Your Heart”
Like a fish blind to water, the academy knows surprisingly little about how a college education actually works. It’s not—or not just—the content of the courses. It’s how the collegiate context holds your heart and the way academic culture seeps into your head. How does that moral and mental ‘coming of age’ come about? Ongoing research with Sewanee students is telling us how college works.
Professor Nick Roberts, History and International and Global Studies
“Jerusalem: Tales of the Real and Imagined Holy City”
Sacred to three great religions, the contested future capital of two nations, a place of longing for millions around the world, Jerusalem is one of the world’s great cities. This talk looks at the history, geography, and religious significance of the Holy City, while also considering how Jerusalem has functioned and continues to function as a city of the imagination. In view of President Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, particular attention will be paid to America’s historical fixation with Jerusalem both as a real and ideal city.