Author Archives: Brett Tomlinson

#ThrowbackThursday: Moving In, 1948

Upperclassmen move in to Witherspoon Hall in September 1948. (Alan W. Richards/PAW Archives)

Upperclassmen move in to Witherspoon Hall in September 1948. (Alan W. Richards/PAW Archives)

Princeton upperclassmen arriving back on campus in September 1948 found a couple of significant changes: Firestone Library was nearly complete, while the books at the old Pyne Library had been pulled from their shelves; and the swimming team finally had a new home at Dillon, after being pool-less for four years due to a fire that destroyed the gymnasium.

The U-Store, in the midst of a reorganization, had found dusty boxes of silk top hats and canes — relics that, according to PAW columnist William T. Barry III ’50, “drew curious eyes and eager buyers.” But students had more than costumes and frivolity on their minds. At class registration in Dillon Gym, a sign directed them to visit the balcony and register for Selective Service. “These signs reminded all the non-veterans that their college careers are liable to be interrupted by the draft before graduation,” Barry wrote.

Princeton, 1996: Campus Headlines From the Year the Class of 2018 Was Born

This week, Beloit College’s annual Mindset List noted several interesting tidbits about members of the incoming Class of 2018: Since most were born in 1996, their lives never overlapped with those of Tupac Shakur or Carl Sagan; the terrorist attacks of 2001 happened when they were in kindergarten; and they’ve never known a world without The Daily Show.

clintonBut what was happening at Princeton when the Class of ’18 was still in diapers? Quite a lot: 1996 is the year when the Tigers upset UCLA in men’s basketball and said farewell to Pete Carril; President Bill Clinton delivered the Commencement address as Princeton celebrated its bicenquinquagenary (250th anniversary); and alumnus Richard Smalley *74 shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of a novel type of carbon molecules.

The Pyne Prize that year went to Derek Kilmer ’96, now a U.S. Congressman from the state of Washington, and Daniel Walter ’96, who went on to earn a Ph.D. from Princeton’s physics department. Kilmer’s Congressional colleague Jared Polis ’96 also was on campus. PAW wrote a column about his ambitious course load, which included 25 classes in his first two years (just over six per semester). Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Poet Galway Kinnell ’48

Galway Kinnell ’48 at a 2009 reading. (T. Carrigan/Flickr)

Galway Kinnell ’48 at a 2009 reading. (T. Carrigan/Flickr)

When former Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin revived the practice of appointing a state poet laureate in 1989, she didn’t need to look far for her first selection. Galway Kinnell ’48, a Pulitzer Prize winner who lives in Sheffield, Vt., about an hour north of the capital in Montpelier, accepted the post, becoming Vermont’s first poet laureate since Robert Frost — and in Kunin’s words, “a treasure for the state.”

Earlier this month, Kinnell returned to the Statehouse for a ceremony celebrating the 87-year-old poet’s life and career. Kunin was on hand, along with several poets and family members who read favorite poems from Kinnell’s career and selections of their own work.

Kinnell, a friend and Princeton classmate of former U.S. poet laureate W.S. Merwin ’48, was a student during the early years of the University’s creative writing program, when the faculty included poets R.P. Blackmur and John Berryman. But he shied away from poetry courses. “The true reason I didn’t enroll was that I didn’t feel my poetry was developed enough,” he explained in a 2011 interview with American Poetry Review. “I didn’t want to submit work that I already knew was badly flawed. But one of the professors in the English department, Charles Bell, saw something in my poems. I liked his poems, too, and we developed a wonderful, lifelong poetry friendship, during which our meetings were sometimes very much like workshops.”

Kinnell’s modesty has endured, even after publishing 18 books of poetry and prose and receiving the American Academy of Poets’ Wallace Stevens Award in 2010, for “proven mastery in the art of poetry.” “A poet should not call himself a ‘poet,’” he said in the  2011 American Poetry Review interview. “Being a poet is so marvelous an accomplishment that it would be boasting to say it of oneself.”

#ThrowbackThursday: Princeton’s Aviation Pioneers

Flying ace Elliott Springs, Class of 1917, with his wife, Frances. (PAW Archives)

Flying ace Elliott Springs, Class of 1917, with his wife, Frances. (PAW Archives)

Nearly a decade after earning fame as a World War I flying ace, Elliott Springs, Class of 1917, had transitioned to a new career as an author, editing the best-seller War Birds and writing a pair of other popular books. But, as Springs wrote in PAW, flying remained an integral part of his life. And even though he’d endured enemy gunfire, stalled engines, a leak that squirted hot oil into his face for hours, and a motor that vibrated so badly that it shook a filling from his tooth, he claimed to have “never made a flight that I did not enjoy.”

Springs, pictured above with his wife, Frances, headlined the Feb. 24, 1928, issue of PAW, which was devoted entirely to aviation — a hot topic in the winter following Charles Lindbergh’s historic trans-Atlantic flight. Other authors in the magazine included F.B. Rentschler 1909, the president of Pratt and Whitney Aircraft Co.; James L. Breese 1909, part of the U.S. Navy crew that made a trans-Atlantic flight (with stops) in 1919; and James S. McDonnell ’21, a young airplane designer who would go on to create McDonnell Aircraft.

The issue also featured an article called “A Vacation on Wings,” about summer training in the Naval Reserve’s air unit, written by Harvey Williamson ’27. Sadly, Williamson died six months later in a plane crash near his home in Duluth, Minn. The airfield there was re-named in his honor.

Tiger of the Week: Fields Medal Recipient Manjul Bhargava *01

Manjul Bhargava *01 (Courtesy International Mathematical Union)

Manjul Bhargava *01 (Courtesy International Mathematical Union)

High-level math is not all fun and games, but for alumnus and Princeton professor Manjul Bhargava *01, games can be an important part. Bhargava, one of four mathematicians to receive the Fields Medal last week, has used games to help visualize problems. He explained one notable example in an interview with New Scientist:

“Gauss’ law [of composition] says that you can compose two quadratic forms, which you can think of as a square of numbers, to get a third square. I was in California in the summer of 1998, and I had a 2 x 2 x 2 mini Rubik’s Cube. I was just visualizing putting numbers on each of the corners, and I saw these binary quadratic forms coming out, three of them. I just sat down and wrote out the relations between them. It was a great day!”

Bhargava teaches a freshman seminar called “The Mathematics of Magic Tricks and Games,” which uses card tricks and the like to dig into meaty math topics such as number theory, topology, and cryptography. But his interests don’t end with groundbreaking math and clever magic: He also plays the tabla, a traditional Indian drum, and enjoys rhythmic Sanskrit poetry, according to a Quanta Magazine profile.

Bhargava is the eighth Princeton mathematician to receive the Fields Medal, presented every four years to influential researchers under age 40. His fellow 2014 honorees included the first woman to win the award, Maryam Mirzakhani of Stanford University, who taught at Princeton from 2004 to 2010.

READ MORE: Bhargava’s thoughts on the intersection of music, poetry, and mathematics, from a 2010 PAW story.

Solomon ’14 Revisits Thesis About Comedy and Mental Illness in the Wake of Williams’ Death

Amy Solomon ’14 (Courtesy Amy Solomon)

Amy Solomon ’14 (Courtesy Amy Solomon)

Earlier this year, Amy Solomon ’14 wrote a senior thesis that explored the “sad-clown” stereotype that permeates the world of comedy — the idea that humor and mental illness often are two sides of the same coin. Her research, which included interviews with more than 30 working comedians, landed her a spot on the Aug. 8 episode of The Gist, a Slate podcast hosted by Mike Pesca. A few days later, reporters were calling Solomon for her thoughts about the death of one of her comedy idols, Robin Williams, who committed suicide Aug. 11.

The experience was both “really weird” and somewhat uncomfortable for Solomon. “It’s a difficult topic to talk about in definitive terms, because everyone wants to know — in a sound byte — ‘Is the connection between mental illness and comedic genius true?’ ” she told PAW. “I think there’s a lot of nuance, and in my thesis, I got to explore that.”

For example, when she asked comedians if they thought the link between depression and humor was real, they gave a resounding “yes.” But many doubted that the rate of depression or mental illness was greater among comics than it would be for, say, plumbers. Comedians, they told her, “are just the people who are allowed to talk about it and who have that platform.” Continue reading