People, Places, and Ideas to Explore

Join our experts as they consider the singular people, places and ideas that have shaped our world.

image flickr: Fetmano, TokyoLunch

January 29, 2015

How to Write a Bad Poem

People, Places, and Ideas to Explore

In 1913, Poetry magazine published Ezra Pound's "A Few Don'ts by an Imagiste." The piece offered would-be poets such memorable advice as "don’t imagine that the art of poetry is any simpler than the art of music" and "don’t retell in mediocre verse what has already been done in good prose." A hundred years later, acclaimed literary scholar Marjorie Perloff, the recipient of the 2014 International Humanities Medal, put her own spin on Pound's famous guidelines. Perloff shares her five additional "don'ts" and reflects on her early childhood in Vienna.

October 27, 2014

The Witches' Hammer: Magic and Law in Early Modern Europe

Halloween 2014

In 1487, when the witch trials were just starting to take root in Europe, a Dominican priest published the Malleus Maleficarum, or The Witches' Hammer, a treatise on the prosecution of witches in a court of law. This text would be used over the next three centuries as the authority on the trial and torture of witches, laying out why women in particular were so susceptible to witchcraft. By the end of the witch craze in the 1720s, an estimated 80,000 had been tried and executed. In this extended episode, Gerhild Williams, a professor of comparative literature and Germanic literature and culture, breaks down the witch trial phenomenon into three parts: (1) defining the witch and the roots of these beliefs, (2) how the political landscape evolved and the contents of The Witches' Hammer, and (3) how and why the witch craze took hold and what we can learn from it today.

April 4, 2014

Behind the Mask, Part 2: The Evolution of a Genre

People, Places, and Ideas: Episode #15

Last week, we defined the superhero. However, superheroes have evolved greatly over the last seventy years. The Adam West Batman of the 1960s now only vaguely resembles Christian Bale's Batman of The Dark Knight, to say nothing of the rise of the anti-hero in Alan Moore's classic, Watchmen. How do we reconcile these heroes and their many iterations? Dr. Peter Coogan, the founder of the Institute for Comics Studies and lecturer within American Culture Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, returns to trace the evolution of the superhero genre. He explains how superheroes are both a reflection and product of America's shifting modern mythology.

April 2, 2014

Behind the Mask, Part 1: Superheroes and Supervillains

People, Places, and Ideas: Episode #14

It's hard to recall a movie season in recent memory that hasn't been marked with at least one superhero blockbuster, so we're taking a closer look at these stories and heroes. In the first episode of this two part series, we consider what makes someone a superhero. Is it simply a question of superpowers? According to Dr. Peter Coogan, the founder of the Institute for Comics Studies and lecturer within American Culture Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, that's certainly part of the equation. He will layout the criteria caped crusaders must meet and the hallmarks of the wider superhero genre.

March 5, 2014

Venus, Deconstructed

People, Places, and Ideas: Episode #13

Today, we're going back to 18th century Florence, Italy to tell the story of one museum, La Specola, and its infamous exhibit of gruesome wax anatomical models. At the time of its founding in 1771, the new Archduke Peter Leopold found himself confronting the deep-rooted legacy of his famous predecessors—the Medici. La Specola quickly became the crux of a larger movement within Tuscany, and the museum and its wax inhabitants helped set the course for a new Enlightenment era. Rebecca Messbarger, a professor of Italian and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, is our guide, and she explains how one figure, the Venus, became central to this new regime of the human body.

January 8, 2014

Into the Heart of Mathematics

People, Places, and Ideas: Episode #12

As a society, we are pretty conflicted about mathematics. On one hand, we recognize that math has allowed us to achieve some amazing things including space travel and much of our technology. Yet, math gets a bad rap in popular culture. In movies and tv shows, we're more likely to see kids complaining about or struggling with algebra and calculus than enjoying them. But what's so scary about math? For those of us who might have shied away from it in the past, John E. McCarthy, the Spencer T. Olin Professor of Mathematics at Washington University, breaks math down to its most fundamental essence and explains how both pure and applied mathematics are only another way to examine and understand our world.

December 17, 2013

Uncovering Numismatics

People, Places, and Ideas: Episode #11

William Bubelis, assistant professor of Classics at Washington University in St. Louis, introduces us to the exciting field of numismatics. What is numismatics? Well, we had the same question. Essentially, numismatics focuses on coins and currency. Professor Bubelis explains how coins can reveal unique and important information about the ancient cultures from which they came. He also explores the origins of counterfeiting and considers objects people might not normally consider as currency.

November 20, 2013

Musical Mathematics

People, Places, and Ideas: Episode #10

As a mathematician and a musician, professor David Wright believes in approaching the world both analytically and artistically. Back in 2002, he designed and began teaching "Mathematics & Music," an undergraduate course focused on the connections between these two abstract and beautiful fields of study. Wright, who serves as associate director of the musical group Ambassadors of Harmony in addition to chairing the mathematics department at Washington University in St. Louis, shares some concepts from the course and reflects on both the artistry of mathematics and the mathematical structure of music.

September 25, 2013

Girlhood in Hollywood

People, Places, and Ideas: Episode #8

Miley Cyrus' recent twerking incident aside, young actresses have been struggling with how to grow up in Hollywood since the silent film star Mary Pickford, "America's Sweetheart," first arrived on the silver screen. As they transition from childhood to adulthood, how can young actresses prove their womanhood on screen? And why do they need to? In her book, Precocious Charms: Stars Performing Girlhood in Classical Hollywood Cinema, Gaylyn Studlar, the director of the film and media studies program at Washington University in St. Louis, takes us back to Hollywood films of the 1910s to the 1950s to examine representations of girlhood by stars like Shirley Temple, Elizabeth Taylor, and Audrey Hepburn. Studlar examines how each of these actresses confronted their age both on and off the screen.