On Sabbatical

By Emily Drinkwater’14

Nearly 50 percent of Hamilton’s juniors study abroad each year, but they aren’t the only members of the community leaving the Hill for a semester. Many professors take their own “semester abroad” for travel or research, also known as a sabbatical. Last year 35 Hamilton professors left their classrooms to pursue their interests elsewhere – whether remaining in Clinton, leading the New York or Washington, D.C. programs, or studying internationally. Professors’ options for sabbatical are limitless, especially considering that they don’t have the added stress about transferring credits as the juniors do! Professors Vasantkumar, Rivera, and McEnroe all went on sabbatical last year, and were kind enough to recount some of their anecdotes about their experiences away from the Hill.

Christopher Vasantkumar

For the fall of 2010, Christopher Vasantkumar, Luce Junior Professor of Asian Studies and Anthropology, chose to spend his sabbatical in Maynooth, Ireland; Lisbon, Portugal; New Orleans, Lousiana; and, lastly, Clinton, New York. While in retrospect he wishes that he could have taken the whole year off to do research, it is obvious based on his accomplishments that he packed a lot into four months. In Ireland, Professor Vasantkumar presented papers on the experience of dislocation of Tibetan migrants on both sides of the Himalayas. In Lisbon, he showed his work comparing the history of tourism of the American Southwest with recent trends in Chinese domestic travel to Tibetan areas of the PRC. His favorite thing in Lisbon, he explained, was eating grilled squid and fried potatoes with a cold beer in the Alfama.

During the domestic leg of his journey, Professor Vasantkumar presented more papers on a new interpretation of Georg Simmel’s The Philosophy of Money and, lastly, in Clinton, Professor Vasantkumar had ample time for reflecting and reading. “Catching up on recent developments in the field really helped me to rethink several articles I'd been working on for a while,” he explained.
Prior to setting off to Europe, Professor Vasantkumar expressed that he hoped to teach himself the literature on STS (science, technology, and society) studies, a field of work that has been very significant in anthropology in the past ten years. In doing so, he actually designed the syllabus for a class on STS (Anthropology 319, “The Anthropology of the Incredible”), a class he taught last spring. His most significant achievement, though, along with much progress in completing literary works in his field, was getting a paper accepted in The Journal of Asian Studies, the top Asian Studies journal in the country. 

Sharon Rivera

Sharon Rivera, Associate Professor of Government, spent the majority of her sabbatical in the United States, splitting her time between Clinton and Utah. Her labor-intensive goal was to complete two databases that together are now the foundation of her current research projects. One of the databases is comprised of demographic information on more than 2,500 people who, in the past two decades, have been dominant in either the political, cultural, or economic life in the Russian federation. The other original database contains information on economic, political, and social indicators from the past ten years on each of the twenty-eight formerly communist countries in Europe and Eurasia. She describes, “I can do this kind of work better when I have long stretches of uninterrupted time… I figured that it would be a good use of my sabbatical to get this work done, so that I could focus on writing and other things when I returned to teaching.”

Along with these ventures, she worked on a project with Cristina Garagola ’11 called “When States Crack Down on Dissent: The Logic of Persecution in Authoritarian Regimes,” a Levitt award for Student-Faculty Collaborative Research.

Professor Rivera also ventured to Stockholm, Sweden to present her personal research at the VII World Congress of the International Council for Central and East European Studies. She described that while most of the panels drew around ten to thirty attendees, hers attracted 200 people! She says she was “very gratified to see the interest that our research was generating, but was also a little nervous as people continued to pour into the room.”

Though this sounds like an incredible achievement, she said that, as a person scared of heights, her most gratifying accomplishment was hiking up Utah’s Mount Timpanagos to explore a cave. While much of Professor Rivera’s sabbatical was very research orientated, she explained that she and her family utilized the free time she had to explore many of the stunning national parks in Utah.

John McEnroe

A professor in Art History, Professor John McEnroe spent his spring semester and summer pursuing research in archaeology. To begin his semester he spent time in Athens, where he resides as a senior member of the American School of Classical Studies. Athens, he describes, is where the brainpower is in classical archaeology. There he had the opportunity to conduct some final research before departing for Gournia in Crete. With his colleague, Vance Watrous, and a team of 50 students including Caroline Morgan ’13, Professor McEnroe conducted very groundbreaking work at one of the oldest archaeological sites in Crete. 

Throughout the summer, Professor McEnroe’s principle objective was to date each structure using electronic distance-measuring survey equipment so he could accurately and completely map out the layout of the town. As part of the second group of people to conduct research at this site in the past 100 years, Professor McEnroe is at present the excavation architect for the site and will continue his work in Gournia until the project is completed.

Throughout his work, Professor McEnroe has tried to make connections between his research in archeology and art history. Ultimately, he believes that both disciplines are concerned with and convey meaning.