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About the photos from Malawi, and a thank-you for books

A quick note here on the pictures of people and places around Chancellor College and the town of Zomba. While the landscape and the setting of the College is obviously stunning, and Malawians themselves handsome and dignified, don’t let that fool you. Like ancient and modern Greeks, Africans live largely out-of-doors and so things tend to look better on the outside than on the inside or up close. The magnificent African sun casts its spell, too. ChanCo is a solid institution, to be sure, but not an educational paradise. There are serious challenges and shortfalls here, including tons of deferred maintenance, broken furniture, and a lack of basic amenities and academic resources, like books, computers, modern lab equipment, and office supplies. In case you don’t believe me upon viewing the pictures, I’ll post more photos later so you can see for yourselves. That said, however, this is also a place of great resourcefulness and serious study, populated by very motivated and competent people—students, faculty, and staff alike.

As far as books are concerned, when I was here in August (funded by a Loeb Classical Library Foundation Grant), I taught a course on Oral Traditions (i.e., Homer, Hesiod, Old Testament, Gilgamesh, the Sundiata epic, Parry-Lord, Ong, etc.) for which there was only one copy each of the Iliad (a falling-apart paperback edition of Lattimore’s monstrous translation) and of the Odyssey (a moldy, dog-eared copy of Fitzgerald’s version). The students had no copies of their own and no money to buy them (and no copies available here for purchase in Malawi anyhow). The sole copy of Gilgamesh in the College library was Sandars’ Penguin paraphrase (which I actually like to use for teaching), but it was missing a dozen pages. Needless to say, there was no Hesiod or any works by Parry, Lord, or Ong milling about. I wound up teaching that course entirely without texts and had to summarize plots/episodes and highlight salient points off the top of my head, supplemented by what handouts I had on my computer. It worked surprisingly well, and I enjoyed the challenge, but I vowed, if I were to return, I would bring texts with me. I’ve now done that, and I want to acknowledge here the generosity of two publishers and my home institution, The University of Vermont, which, combined, contributed a huge cache of useful materials.

Hackett Publishing—credit due to the eager, ever friendly support of editor Brian Rak and his associates—donated outright 20 copies of Meineck’s Oresteia, which I am using in the seminar I am teaching here now. Hackett also sold me 25 copies each of Lombardo’s Essential Homer and of their excellent multitext edition of Sundiata at a deep discount. Naomi Weinstein at Penguin very kindly supplied 25 “desk copies” of Sandars’ Gilgamesh, and my department at the University of Vermont donated a nearly complete hardbound set of JHS and JRS (online access not being an option here at present or in the foreseeable future). So, on behalf of my colleagues and students in Department of Classics at Chancellor College I would like to extend heartfelt thanks for the kind generosity of these publishers and of UVM, and, even more so, for the expression of support for Classics here that such generosity represents.

Man frying chips

The hard-working Classics students in my seminar

View of Chilradzulu Mountain from Zomba Plateau

Zomba Market

About Mark Usher

Mark Usher (Ph.D. University of Chicago 1997) is an Associate Professor and Chair of Classics at the University of Vermont. His research interests include the use and techniques of quotation in antiquity, oral poetics, and Near Eastern influences on Greek and Roman literature. In addition to academic books and articles in the field of Classics, Usher has published three books for children and an opera libretto in Latin. At the CHS, he will be working on two projects: an article about Pasolini's film Notes for an African Oresteia and a study on Near Eastern elements in ps.-Seneca's Octavia.

2 Responses to About the photos from Malawi, and a thank-you for books

  1. Wonderful news, Mark! Really great to see. I have no doubt you are doing wonderful work. I look forward to updates! best luck and good health, Brian

  2. Fascinating stuff! When I was there (1995-7), one of the courses I taught included Gilgamesh, the Iliad (yes – Lattimore), the Odyssey, and the Aeneid. That moldy Fitzgerald may have been mine. The department had an old Olivetti copier. No toner, though, so my Uncle, then Venezuelan Ambassador to the Vatican, would send me toner cartridges for the copier, and I would make readers. I remember doing that especially for the political history course, but I *think* we had a sufficient number of books for the epic class (which was not large).

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