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Faculty Scholar Award

C. Michelle Thompson teaching Vietnamese History class

Vietnam is often viewed by Americans as a country heavily influenced by China, its neighbor to the north. After all, the Vietnam War – etched in the collective memory of the Baby Boom Generation – is remembered as a proxy fight between the United States and China/Soviet Union. And it would be inaccurate to say that Vietnam has been devoid of considerable Chinese influence.

But the relationship between Vietnam and China is quite complex, according to Michele Thompson, professor of history and an expert on Southeast Asia. She explores that relationship through a medical lens in her book, Vietnamese Traditional Medicine: a Social History.

The book, published by the National University of Singapore Press, was so highly regarded by her peers that Thompson was selected as the recipient of the 2018 SCSU Faculty Scholar Award on the basis of the book.

“The (Faculty Scholar Award Committee) was impressed by your use of multilingual source material, the interdisciplinary range of your book, and the fact that it forces scholars to re-examine long-held assumptions about the relationship between Chinese and Vietnamese traditional medicine,” said Rex Gilliland, chairman of the Faculty Scholar Award Committee.

Thompson focuses on the 18th and 19th centuries, and the social and political context of Vietnamese medicine. “While it is very closely connected to Chinese medicine, it is not some carbon copy,” she said.

She points to Vietnam’s acceptance of early Western vaccination techniques as a key example in how it differentiated itself from China in the medical realm.

In the late 1700s, British doctor Ed Jenner discovered that people who had cowpox didn’t seem to get smallpox. The viruses that cause the two diseases are closely related, though cowpox usually has milder symptoms.

Jenner was a pioneer in the effort to begin a form of vaccination, albeit a primitive one. In other areas of the world – those without European cows — doctors began attempts to eradicate smallpox through arm-to-arm, human-to-human vaccination from those who had cowpox.

Vietnamese medicine preferred this Western approach to the Chinese alternative inoculation method. The latter involved taking a small amount of material from smallpox sores and transferring them to others. The Chinese method sought to produce a weakened form of the virus.

Thompson said it is an honor to be selected for the Faculty Scholar Award. “I was surprised,” she said. “I remember getting the envelope with the announcement in it, but it came at the end of the fall semester, when everything is pretty hectic. So, I just sort of randomly opened that particular envelope and was surprised to see what it said.

“But I am honored to follow in the footsteps of so many other excellent scholars before me.”

Thompson began teaching at SCSU in the fall 1998. Before coming to Southern, she taught at the University of Washington. She previously taught English as a Second Language in Taiwan.

She grew up in Alabama, and currently resides in New Haven. Her expertise is in Southeast Asia, with a particular focuses on Vietnam.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Middle East History Professor Steven Judd says he doesn’t “shy from controversy” when it comes to scholarly work or university life – and he’s demonstrated that in his recent book: Religious Scholars and the Umayyads: Piety­ minded Supporters of the Marwanid Caliphate.

The book forces scholars to re-examine long held assumptions about the early history of Islam.

Judd is this year’s recipient of the Faculty Scholar Award, an honor conferred jointly by the Faculty Scholar Award Committee and the university president. The award recognizes scholarly and creative work of exceptional merit by a full-time member of the SCSU faculty.

Judd’s book argues that opposition to the Umayyads was not universal and that a substantial network of pious religious scholars actively supported the regime. “Religious Scholars and the Umayyads was meant to disrupt,” Judd wrote of his book.

Judd asserts in his work that “the standard historiographical approach to the period falls victim to the biases of a few selected sources and that a broader array of sources provides a necessary corrective.”

He goes on to explain, “By exploiting different sources, I reconstructed the network of religious scholars who supported the supposedly Godless regime and demonstrated their influence on Islamic legal development.”

A colleague reflecting on the book informed Judd that he and others were “impressed by the depth of your scholarship, your imaginative use of biographical sources, and the fact that your book forces scholars to re-examine long held assumptions about the early history of Islam.”

Another colleague wrote: “Dr. Judd’s imaginative use of biographical sources is used to shed new light on an era that is forcing even the defenders of the orthodox position to acknowledge that some assumptions need to be re-examined.”

In describing the book, Judd writes that the Umayyad century, between 661-750 CE, has traditionally been treated “as an interregnum, characterized by ungodly rulers confronting pious opponents whose resistance ranged from rebellion to quietist withdrawal.”

Judd’s book has been well-received by scholars in the field, he says, “despite its disruptive intent and its critique of long-standing historical and historiographical paradigms.”

Reviews of the piece have appeared in diverse venues, including American, German, Turkish and Italian publications. The work has also been cited extensively in a variety of publications.

Hamza Zafer, the leading Islamic historian at the University of Washington, asserts that the work “changes our understanding of lslam’s early development,” and “upends the standard Western and Muslim narratives.”

David Powers, senior Islamic legal scholar at Cornell and long-time editor of “Islamic Law and Society,” describes the work as ”a solid and persuasive monograph” and “an important contribution.”

In addition to formal reviews, Religious Scholars and the Umayyads has been cited in a variety of articles, including by Nimrod Hurvitz, a leading Israeli scholar who notes that Judd’s work “marshaled a convincing body of historical ‘evidence that contradicts the ‘opposition paradigm.”

Judd says that broad and largely positive interest shown in the book around the globe suggests that it will have a long-term impact on the field and force scholars to question long-standing historical and historiographical paradigms.

“If that is the case,” he said, “the book will have accomplished its purpose.”

Judd holds a Ph.D. and master’s degree from the University of Michigan and a bachelor’s degree from St. Olaf College. He counts among the courses he teaches: Islamic Civilization, Muhammad to the Mongols, Modern Iraq, Islamic Fundamentalism, and The Medieval Middle East.

 

Pina Palma, professor of Italian, has been chosen by the Faculty Scholar Award Committee as the recipient of the 2016 award.

Palma’s application, consisting of her book Savoring Power, Consuming the Times: The Metaphors of Food in Medieval and Renaissance Italian Literature (University of Notre Dame Press), was found to be “outstanding and impressive” by the committee, chaired by William Lunn, associate professor of human performance.

The committee was particularly impressed with the quality of journals that had positively reviewed Palma’s book, as well as the breadth of her work and her candid inclusion of negative reviews to balance positive critiques.

“Moreover, committee members volunteered that your publication was just plain fun to read,” Lunn wrote. “Your chapter on “The Language of Food in Boccaccio’s Decameron” was a particular joy.”

The book, according the the publisher’s website, “is an innovative look at the writings of five important Italian authors—Boccaccio’s Decameron, Pulci’s Morgante, Boiardo’s Innamorato, Ariosto’s Furioso, and Aretino’s Ragionamento. Through the prism of gastronomy, Palma examines these key works in the Western literary canon, bringing into focus how their authors use food and gastronomy as a means to critique the social, political, theological, philosophical, and cultural beliefs that constitute the fabric of the society in which they live.”

Palma earned her Ph.D. at Yale University and is a member of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences. She will be honored at the Celebration of Excellence event during the spring semester.

President Joe Bertolino said, “My congratulations to Pina, and the Department of World Languages and Literatures. Her achievement is yet another example of the tradition of excellent scholarship and research established by our faculty.”