November Thiel Forum Examines Changes in Human Society

By Brian L. Brink

How does human society change over the course of history?

The last Thiel Forum of the fall semester on Thursday, Nov. 16 focused on this question in three different presentations. Professor Sheila Nowinski presented about landscape art, Professor Dane Claussen presented about Cambodia, and Professor Jared Johnson presented about ghostwriting.

Nowinski spoke about a summer 2017 seminar she went to at the Yale Center for British Art. Claussen spoke about his 2015 visit to Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the history about the site. Johnson spoke about a talk he gave at the Ohio Valley Shakespeare Conference.

The seminar Nowinski attended was “Landscape and Identity in the United States and Britain,” led by Tim Barringer, chair for British art at Yale. Its main topic, Nowinski said, was how landscape art engages the audience to think about environmental degradation and climate change.

She talked mostly about Thomas Cole, who was an artist born in the middle of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. She said that he moved to the United State and became a painter before going back to Europe to keep learning. After he returned to the US, Nowinski said, he began work on the first of five paintings known as “The Course of Empire.”

These paintings, she said, show the rise and fall of empires. She also said that the last painting deliberately shows nature taking back what civilization took. It is reminiscent of a painting called Hadleigh Castle by John Constable. She said that both show decay, decline and change.

During Claussen’s presentation about Angkor Wat, Cambodia he mentioned that is almost no written record of the Khmer empire between the 1300 and 1600 CE. Angkor Wat was built by hand with the help of elephants between 900 and 1300 C.E. He also said that there are hundreds of structures on top of 1000s of acres and after 300 thousand people working for 37 years it still wasn’t completed.

He said that few artifacts are found at Angkor Wat because it was the subject to a lot of looting throughout its history. He showed one picture of Buddha statues that were missing heads because of the looting. Claussen said that looters did this to sell on the black market around the world.

“Every square inch of Angkor Wat is covered by carvings,” Claussen said when talking about its walls. He showed a picture of carved text with no translation; even locals don’t know what it says.

Claussen said that even though Angkor Wat is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and an archeological site, it is still an active temple. He also said that it has shown up in Hollywood blockbusters such as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.

Johnson continued the movie theme by starting his presentation, entitled “I shall not be ghostwriter to your fate’: Specters of Shakespeare in Ian Doescher’s Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge,” by having the text crawl from Star Wars explain what he was going to talk about.

Johnson said that in Doescher’s book, Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge, the author claims that at least three of Shakespeare’s plays were cowritten by Christopher Marlowe. Johnson said that because of this, the idea of ghostwriters come into effect. This is why Shakespeare is jokingly named as the original author of all seven Star Wars movies, Johnson said.

Johnson said he went to the Ohio Valley Shakespeare Conference to find out when the term ghostwriting first came into use. He found out that it emerged in 1927 with the Hardy Boys. He defined ghostwriter as, “a term from the US, a hack writer who does work in which another person takes credit.”

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