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20 Nov
hazen After the Civil War, the presidency was a difficult seat for a southern politician to obtain. Past political agendas held by southern legislators created obstacles for modern presidential candidates to overcome. Jimmy Carter was the first southern president to take the highly stigmatized southern language and reshape its meaning from one of inability to one of competence and sincerity.

We spoke with Kirk Hazen, professor of linguistics in the Department of English and director of the West Virginia Dialect Project, to gain some insight on southern language features and the presidency. Professor Hazen is the author of An Introduction to Language (2015).

How did Jimmy Carter open the presidency to other southern language speakers such as Bill Clinton?

Jimmy Carter made it possible for a southerner to hold a high political office outside of local government. Before that point, it was sort of like John F. Kennedy’s initial troubles. During his campaign, people were worried that he was Catholic, but people were also worried about how he sounded — this New Englander status — and whether it would be respectable to the rest of the world. Now, it’s somewhat iconic. Jimmy Carter made it so that southerners who would normally be seen so negatively for their dialect features could actually be seen in a positive light.

What sort of stereotypes did southern language speakers have to overcome? What was their perceived advantage?

There are negative views of southerners’ ability to do things – to do intellectual things, to do technical and detailed things, to fly a plane and do brain surgery. The upside is that southern dialects are considered more personable, friendlier, more in-touch. There is a field of study called perceptual dialectology where we ask, “how do these people sound to you?” Are they friendlier, more competent, and all of the questions that would feed into those two main categories. Southern dialects usually rank lower in terms of perceived competence, but they rank highest in terms of perceived friendliness, warmth, and sincerity. Because of those qualities, you can use southern features to come across as truly earnest. In the United States, there is a third side to regional dialects. To be standard, you are not required to reach a certain set of vowels, a certain dialect. Standard simply requires you to not have any vernacular features. As long as you don’t have anything that sticks out as clearly stigmatized, everything else is fine. In England, there is actually a target upper-middle class dialect called “RP,” Received Pronunciation. We don’t have anything like it in the United States. Here, you just have to avoid heavily stigmatized bits of language in order to be considered standard.

Was President Bill Clinton able to achieve an acceptable standard with his southern language features?

Bill Clinton actually had a broad repertoire, so he could go towards more formal ends and then sound a great deal friendlier in smaller audiences, or contexts where he wanted to sound more approachable. He could definitely control range. He was the governor of Arkansas for many years, so he had plenty of practice before he became president. Even well before the presidency, he traveled widely. For example, he was a Rhodes scholar in England. There is a lot about him that doesn’t sound all that southern, but there are still features there. He can be pegged as sounding more southern than George W. Bush, whose campaign would always promote his southern roots. Since he spent some early years in Texas they wanted to latch on to that because that seems much more authentic than New England and Yale.

Before Carter, was there anybody else that tried to implement this thought of southern dialect in order to achieve what Carter was able to?

Directly before Carter in the ‘50s and ‘60s, the trouble was that southern politicians who were on the national stage were people like Strom Thurmond, who tried to break off the Democrats into the Dixiecrats and wanted to maintain segregation. So, the image of southern dialects had a lot to do with that. It was hard for people to hear some dialects and not think racism. So, one of the negative sides, other than the supposed lack of competence, is if people hear southern dialects, they think that everyone is a racist. The civil rights angst from southern politicians did not help this image at all, because it became clear that they wanted to maintain segregation no matter what. The politicians in the south were overtly campaigning and getting elected on the basis of maintaining segregation in schools, which looks horrendous from this century.

Are there any barriers in today’s presidency that have been removed?

There is a book about President Obama’s language called “Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language, and Race in the US” by Alim and Smitherman. It deals with his use of any bit of language that could possibly be seen as Black English and people’s perceptions of his language. He has walked a very weird and fine line between wanting to sound human and people saying he is such a good speaker. There were plenty of news reporters who would say things like, “Oh he is very articulate,” which can only be said if you have this underlying assumption that he wasn’t going to be able to say words out loud or be understood in the first place, which is covert racism.



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20 Nov
Brennan & Jaworski MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The Department of Philosophy at West Virginia University will host a talk featuring authors Jason Brennan and Peter Jaworski. The Georgetown University professors will present their book, “Markets Without Limits,” Friday, Dec. 4 at 12 p.m. in Ming-Hseih Hall G21 on the Downtown Campus. The event is free and open to the public.

The talk is based upon their most recent book, ”Markets Without Limits: Moral Virtues and Commercial Interests.” In the book, the authors discuss if it is permissible to do something for free, then it is permissible to do it for money. Brennan and Jaworski argue that there are no inherent restrictions on whether something can be bought or sold, only on how it can be bought and sold. Their visit to WVU is part of a national speaking tour to discuss their book.

The talk is co-sponsored by the Center for Free Enterprise in the College of Business and Economics and the Department of Philosophy.

Brennan and Jaworski will give another talk to the philosophy students on Thursday, Dec. 3 at 4 p.m. in the Bluestone Room in the Mountainlair, “Why Are Anti-Commodification Intuitions Resilient?”

Brennan is associate professor of strategy, economics, ethics, and public policy, as well as associate professor of philosophy at Georgetown University. He is the author of ”Why Not Capitalism?,” “Compulsory Voting: For and Against,” with Lisa Hill, “Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know,” ”The Ethics of Voting,” and ”A Brief History of Liberty,” with David Schmidtz. 

Jaworski is assistant teaching professor of strategy, economics, ethics, and public policy at Georgetown University. Prior to joining the faculty at Georgetown, Jaworski was visiting research professor at Brown University’s Political Theory Project. He is a senior fellow with the Canadian Constitution Foundation and serves on the Board of Directors of the Institute for Liberal Studies.



Check daily for the latest news from the University. Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.

20 Nov

Lowell Duckert, assistant professor in the Department of English at West Virginia University, has written a book investigating the transhistorical intimacy between humans and water.

“Enter, Wet: Composing with Water in Early Modern Drama and Travel Literature” builds on the writings of of early modern dramatists who claim that the human body is always wet.

“You’re always entering wetness, and you’re always being entered by wetness,” said Duckert. “This is also a way to think about our corporeal existence with water. Glaciers flip people. Rivers influence you – they push you. Swamps bog, and rain penetrates, it gets under your skin.

“You are writing with water; you are writing with a living thing,” he said.

The title of the book, he said, was inspired by stage directions from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and “Pericles.” At one point in each of these plays, the stage directions instruct the actor to douse themselves with a bucket of water before entering the scene.

Duckert’s book also focuses on how the wet stage is in dialogue with global experiences described by early modern travel literature. For instance, the first chapter of “Enter, Wet” highlights the expedition of the late 1500s explorer Walter Raleigh, who once said that the waterfalls of South America drew him in.

“He talks about how the sound waves of the waterfall enter his body, and it’s a wonderfully collaborative experience,” said Duckert. “Each one of my chapters concentrates on the bodily and textual compositions water makes, its potential for both desire and catastrophe in the commingling.”

Duckert said he hopes that through early modern literature, he can make environmental health and justice a clear and combined effort.

“Two-thirds of the world’s population depends upon the Southeast-Asian monsoon. When climate change starts to affect the amount of rainfall more and more, what’s going to happen? Industrial chemicals pollute the Elk River and elsewhere in Appalachia.

“I’m thinking about the stormy things that we can’t control or predict, and how to survive,” Duckert said.

“We need more voices, and those voices are non-human too,” he said. “Water – what is it saying? How do we register that? It’s in the way that we write about it and the stories that we tell.”

Duckert’s research interests include ecotheory and ecocriticism, which explores the various ways that literature treats the subject of nature. Ecotheory acknowledges the different ways people encounter water.

“Enter, Wet” is forthcoming and will be published in late 2016 by the University of Minnesota Press.

18 Nov
Maura McLaughlin A hundred years after renowned physicist Albert Einstein published his theory of general relativity, researchers at West Virginia University are using a unique pulsar system to test it.

Using a three year, $208,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, Maura McLaughlin and her team will hire a graduate assistant to analyze data collected from the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia.

Pulsars are the remnants of massive stars that have ended their lives in supernova explosions. Roughly 300 of the 2500 known pulsars are in binary systems with other stars, and only 10 of these are in binary systems with other neutron stars. The large masses and short orbital periods of these double neutron star binaries make them remarkable laboratories for tests of gravity, and in particular general relativity.

The system that McLaughlin and her team will study is the only known double pulsar system in which both of the neutron stars have been detectable as radio pulsars. This dramatically improves the precision of the tests.

“So far, the measurements of this double pulsar system are in exact agreement with Einstein’s theory of general relativity,” McLaughlin said.

The size of the objects, as well as the way they interact with each other, provide a perfect opportunity for McLaughlin and her team to further test Einstein’s theory. The sheer size and scale of measurements necessary mean general relativity experiments cannot be conducted on Earth. However, without general relativity corrections, systems such as GPS would not function.

This continued research will also help shed light on how pulsars themselves produce emission through studies of the interactions between the two pulsars. These interactions may enable us to determine the location of emission regions above the neutron star, which directions the neutron stars spin, and the shape of the magnetospheres of the two stars.

“We really don’t fully understand how pulsars produce their emission,” McLaughlin said. “We think this double pulsar system can serve as a high precision probe of these mechanisms.”

18 Nov

The Department of Biology at West Virginia University welcomed two new faculty members this fall.

Sadie Bergeron and Timothy Driscoll have come on board as tenure track assistant professors.

“I am pleased to have them join the faculty of the Department of Biology,” said Richard Thomas, professor and chair of biology. “Dr. Bergeron’s research using zebrafish as a model to study neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism, builds on our strengths in neuroscience and developmental biology.

“Dr. Driscoll expands our strong genomics and bioinformatics program by bringing his expertise in microbiomes and bacterial diseases,” he said.

Bergeron received her bachelor’s degree in biology from Roger Williams University and her doctorate in molecular and cellular biology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her research examines the genetic and neurobiological mechanisms underlying sensory processing and motor control.

Driscoll received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Ursinus College, and master’s degree in marine biology and biochemistry from the University of Delaware, a master’s degree in molecular and cell biology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a doctorate in genetics, bioinformatics and computational biology from Virginia Tech. His research uses genomics and bioinformatics to study microbiomes and host-microbe relationships in ticks and other organisms.

18 Nov

Getting directions to somewhere you’ve never been before is easy for many in 2015 – just ask your phone’s assistant or pull up Google Maps. But for many of the most vulnerable people in the world, insufficient and inadequate mapping of areas can endanger lives.

The Department of Geology and Geography at West Virginia University, together with Texas Tech University and George Washington University, have developed a new program called Mapping for Resilience. The program is supported by a $1 million grant from the United States Agency for International Development.

The program launched Tuesday in the Rayburn House Building on Capitol Hill as part of the national Geography Awareness Week.

Together with USAID, the schools will provide high-quality mapping data for areas around the developing world where people are highly vulnerable. In largely agricultural areas, where farmers depend on their crops to eat, families can slip into extreme poverty. Even worse, should a natural disaster strike, it can prove difficult for aid workers to know where to go and how to provide rescue and recovery services.

Just recently, member schools mapped the African city of Quelimane, Mozambique, as part of a “mapathon.” Students took high-resolution satellite imagery provided by the USAID, analyzed it and produced high quality maps. USAID will now be able to provide workers with detailed information about local buildings and structures to help combat malaria through indoor spraying. The disease is estimated to have killed 500,000 in 2013, with an estimated 198 million infections.

That data can then help save lives, said Brent McCusker, associate professor of geography and associate chair of the WVU department of geology and geography.

“The USAID office is going to take that map, use it and make sure they can get the best coverage of anti-malaria spraying they can get. We’re providing geographic analysis to help decision makers make the best decisions.”

Data created in a lab in WVU’s Brooks Hall, administrators say, can impact so many lives.

“The work being conducted by Brent McCusker and his students will have a significant and positive impact on the developing world,” said Maryanne Reed, Interim Dean of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. “These kinds of research efforts at WVU, and our partner schools, reflect a commitment to giving back that is a fundamental mission to a land grant university.”

Provost Joyce McConnell agreed, adding that “Everywhere we go, both President Gee and I tell the story of the bold, innovative work our researchers are doing at West Virginia University. The Mapping for Resilience program is exactly what we mean—a forward-thinking and globally-focused initiative that will truly change the world for the better.”

This new consortium award builds on McCusker’s and Associate Professor Jamison Conley’s current research program with USAID’s GeoCenter.

McCusker established a relationship with USAID and its specialized geographic analysis unit, the GeoCenter, during his recent sabbatical at the agency.

The WVU geography professors have been supporting USAID decision makers for the past two years by analyzing and mapping large datasets on livelihood vulnerability in Niger, Uganda, Ethiopia and Bangladesh.

Their work has uncovered the key factors that lead to human vulnerability in those countries and recommends ways to strategically and efficiently invest scarce development aid resources.

For more information, contact McCusker via email

16 Nov

Lynne Cossman, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at West Virginia University, has been named co-editor for the journal Population Research and Policy. Her appointment begins January 2016.

Cossman currently serves as associate editor to the journal, which publishes six times a year. The journal is the flagship publication of the Southern Demographic Association, a collective of demographers with interests in demography and population studies. The journal is published by Springer scientific publications.

“It’s a real honor because the Southern Demographic Association is what I refer to as my academic home,” Cossman said. “It’s a conference I’ve been attending since I started graduate school. So to be one of the people at the helm is a big honor for me.”

Each issue of the journal publishes papers surrounding a specific topic. It receives 200-300 submissions a year, ultimately choosing as many as 50 to publish. The journal features research relating to the three main aspects of demography – mortality, fertility and migration.

Each submission must contribute to a larger, societal dialogue, Cossman said.

“I don’t just want to do research for other academics to read, but research that’s ultimately going to have an effect on society,” Cossman said. “That’s why this journal is so important, it also has the public policy component.”

Cossman came to WVU in 2014 from Mississippi State University, where she was Professor and Department Head of Sociology and a Research Fellow at the Social Science Research Center, examining issues related to health assessment, prevention and social epidemiology. Her recent research focuses on spatial concentrations of mortality and morbidity, the physician workforce, and fear of crime for vulnerable (sick, elderly) populations.

Her research projects have been funded by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Mississippi’s Division of Medicaid. Her work has been published in several sociology and interdisciplinary journals including the American Journal of Public Health, Social Problems, Health and Place, Population Research and Policy Review, Sociological Inquiry, and Sociological Spectrum.

9 Nov

Author to explore the mystery of Boston-bound tea ship in 1773 that washed ashore at Cape Cod


The West Virginia University Department of History will feature author and historian Mary Beth Norton for its annual Rush D. Holt Lecture Series. Norton will present her lecture, “The Seventh Tea Ship; or, a Tale of Shipwrecked Sailors, Combative Communities, and a Fractured Family” Thursday, Nov. 12 at 7:30 p.m. in White Hall G9 on the Downtown Campus. The event is free and open to the public.

Norton is the Mary Donlon Alger Professor of American History at Cornell University. Her books have won prizes from the Society of American Historians, the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, and the English-Speaking Union; and her Founding Mothers & Fathers was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History in 1997.

She was named Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions at the University of Cambridge in 2005, and has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Rockefeller and Guggenheim foundations, as well as from Princeton University and the Huntington Library.

She is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.

“This year the history faculty nominated eight scholars who have deepened our knowledge of the past through their compelling research, professional service, public engagement and outstanding academic careers,” said Joseph Hodge, department chair in the Department of History.

“We chose Mary Beth Norton for her outstanding contribution to American history and to the field of women’s and gender history.”

Norton’s lecture, will recount the unknown story of the tea ship that, bound for Boston in late fall 1773, wrecked on Cape Cod before reaching the harbor.
The ship would meet a different fate from those brought down by taxation-protesting residents.

“This is a chance to hear an exciting and never-before-told tale about the early history of this country,” Hodge said.

The first annual Rush D. Holt Lecture was presented by the WVU history department in 2011. The lecture series was opened by the Honorable Rush D. Holt, Jr., a Congressman from New Jersey and son of former U.S. Sen. Rush D. Holt of West Virginia, after whom the series is named.

The lecture series is supported by the family of Senator Holt through the Senator Rush D. Holt Endowment established in 1998. The same endowment sponsored a biennial historical conference previously organized under the sponsorship of the WVU history department.

This year, the History Department has created four new thematic areas of strength for the graduate program, in gender and kinship; imperial and post-colonial societies; labor and political economy; and war and society.

“Professor Norton’s expertise on the interplay of gender, society and politics in early American history fits nicely with our thematic strength in gender history,” Hodge said.

The lecture is part of WVU’s yearlong celebration of the anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing of the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act into law, which created the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

More details about the celebration and a calendar of events are available at Check back often for features, updates and showcases of WVU departments throughout the year.

6 Nov

Merrimack College in North Andover, MA hosted the 37th annual Association for Interdisciplinary Studies (AIS) conference October 22-25, 2015. AIS attracts scholars and administrators from across the country and from around the world with a keen interest in developing and promoting research, pedagogy, and programs in integrative and interdisciplinary studies. The conference theme was “Impact for the Common Good” and included many presentations from Eberly College’s Program for Multi and Interdisciplinary Studies.

Program Director, Evan Widders, presented multiple times at the conference, including “A Long Six Years: Lessons Learned Bringing an Interdisciplinary Studies Program to Life,” and “Improving Interdisciplinary Advising: How Assessment and Student Engagement Can Enhance Students’ Academic Success,” as well as a panel discussion “Measuring Impact of Interdisciplinary Learning” with Benjamin Brooks of New York University. Widders has been active in AIS for many years.

Two faculty members in the program presented as well. Clarissa Estep, associate professor, presented “An International Observer’s Observations: An Interdisciplinary Explanation of Tunisia’s Democratization Process” based on her experiences in Tunisia, certifying elections as part of a group from The Carter Center.

Renée Nicholson, MFA, assistant professor, read from her hybrid creative research, “Writing with Old People: Narrative Medicine’s Role in Eldercare.” Nicholson, a past recipient of a WVU ADVANCE grant for her work in Narrative Medicine, had presented at a previous conference on her ongoing initiatives in integrating creative writing into health care settings.

Two graduate assistants from the program were also involved with the conference. Dominique Bruno, a PhD candidate in English served as the advising GA for the program and presented “The Role of Advising and Private Conferences in Student Retention as Part of a Multidisciplinary Studies Program,” pulling from her year and half of experience working with MDS undergraduates to ensure quality advising. Eric Myers, a PhD student in Political Science, works with MDS 489 instructors and the Center for Service and Learning to ensure quality learning outcomes for students, and shared his insights into the process by “Evaluating and Reinventing and Interdisciplinary Paradigm for Service Learning Models.”

“The MDS faculty shares a strong commitment to interdisciplinary studies and scholarship,” says Widders. “Both the quality and variety of presentations made at AIS this year speaks to those commitments.”

6 Nov

Glenn Pettigrove, senior lecturer at the University of Auckland in New Zealand will discuss forgiveness in a public lecture hosted by the Department of Philosophy at West Virginia University on November 10.

The talk, “Please Forgive Me for Who I Am” will begin at 4 p.m. in room 126 Ming Hsieh Hall on the Downtown Campus. The 90-minute lecture will discuss the roles that apology and forgiveness play in maintaining everyday relationships.

“Most accounts of apology focus on apologizing for wrong acts and their outcomes,” Pettigrove said. “The standard accounts of forgiveness, likewise, presuppose that the thing for which a person is forgiven is a wrong act.”

Pettigrove’s lecture will argue that focusing on wrong actions leaves out an important dimension of moral failures: failures of character. He suggests that attending to failures of character promises to enrich the understanding of both apologizing and forgiving.

Sharon Ryan, associate professor of philosophy at WVU, said that forgiveness is crucial for surviving as human beings.

“But what is forgiveness? Is it simply letting go of negative attitudes, or does forgiveness also involve a positive response of seeing the wrongdoer as a good person, worthy of love and respect, despite his or her mistake?” Ryan said.

These questions, and others addressing what a person does when they forgive, will be at the core of Pettigrove’s lecture, Ryan said.

Pettigrove earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Michigan, a master of divinity degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and a master’s degree and doctorate in philosophy from the University of California, Riverside.

He has written numerous articles, including, “Re-conceiving Character,” “Conjuring Ethics from Words,” “Meekness and Moral Anger,” and, “Is Virtue Ethics Self-Effacing?” His most recent book, “Forgiveness and Love,” was published in 2012 by the Oxford University Press.

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