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Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Stage Monkeys

     The Stage Monkeys is an improvisational comedy group that performs every other Thursday night at the University of Southern Mississippi.  These performers are truly hilarious, and the shows, from 7-9 p.m., are always entertaining.  
     The performing group is made up of students from the university, and the only costumes worn are bright orange t-shirts to distinguish the members from the audience, which at times, is more important than it might at first seem.  The shows are always audience-interactive, with the host constructing games around audience suggestions.  Sometimes, members even distribute themselves among the audience members, and games are then played with the audience as important part.  
     The games the monkeys play are almost like Mad Lib puzzles come to life.  For example, in one game, three guests, each with a distinct quirk, arrive one-by-one to a party thrown by a fourth monkey, the host in this game.  To determine each guest's quirk, the host of the show asks the audience for suggestions with prompts like, "What is this monkey obsessed with?" while the host of the party is out of the room.  The host must then guess the particular quirk of each of his guests while the guests themselves drop subtle, funny hints.  
     It is astonishing and impressive how quickly some of the monkeys can make their guesses while being witty and funny the entire time.  

World Civilization Film Series

     This semester, the History Department at the University of Southern Mississippi has put on a film series.  Every Wednesday at 6:30 in room 108 of the Liberal Arts Building, a history-related film has been shown for several weeks.  All of the films this semester deal with the theme of technology.
     Throughout most of the first film, Agora, the female protagonist Hypatia acts and is treated as an equal among men.  She works as a highly respected philosopher in the library of Alexandria, and she is very close to her students, at times referring to them as her brothers.  She even serves as an advisor and friend to a politically powerful former student, who she once rejected as a suitor.  She is a free thinker and dares to reject well-established theories and substitute her own.  She even has male slaves who wait on her and assist her.  Additionally, she refuses to conform to the standards of her society; she does not convert to Christianity, and she does not marry or feel compelled to marry and bear children.  Her presence throughout the film serves as an overt reminder of the powerful capabilities of woman.
     Another notable film was Kingdom of Heaven. Although the opening scene of Kingdom of Heaven involves the burial of a woman, there is a noticeable absence of other female characters throughout the rest of the film, with the exceptions of the Princess of Jerusalem, Sibylla, and the sister of Saladin, the Muslim leader.  The fact that the film focuses primarily on male characters illustrates the male dominance and prominence during the Crusades. 
     Finally, the Japanese film Gojira, set in 1954, portrays the fear of nuclear radiation as a physical monster.  Following the atomic bombing of Japan, Gojira provided an outlet for expressing fear and coping with nuclear disaster for the Japanese people.  Throughout the film, the main female character is portrayed as an obedient daughter and submissive women to all of the men in her life.
     All of the movies shown so far have provided valuable insight into the lives of those in the past, especially women, and how technology has shaped each person.

USM's Science Cafe: Digital Art Authentication

     As part of the Science Cafe series, the University of Southern Mississippi presented a lecture by Dr. Jan Siesling, director of USM's Museum of Art, that discussed digital art authentication.  This lecture was held in the Starbucks of Cook Library, and as an added bonus, offered discounted drinks and free snacks. 
   Dr. Siesling opened the Science Cafe presentation by relating that the first painting he ever bought turned out to be a fake.  He said that he spent a night believing his investment could possibly be worth a million dollars.  However, he soon learned that he had paid for a fake.
     Now, as an expert on the works of Vincent van Gogh, Dr. Siesling said that he can tell the difference between an authentic painting and a fake within minutes.  He believes his ability is the result of much face time with the works themselves.  The NOVA video that was shown on this topic presents another method that can now be used to authenticate works of art using a statistical modeling approach.  NOVA commissioned an art restoration expert to try to replicate one of van Gogh's paintings, and using this statistical modeling software, three separate institutions were able to identify it as a fake among other authentic paintings from van Gogh.
     Dr. Sielsing came to the conclusion that the abundance of fake paintings that exist has caused the small number of originals to be in higher demand and retain a higher value.  He says this is because the public believes in signatures, which stems from our medieval veneration of relics.  Because approximately one-third of all the art in the world's museums is fake, Dr. Siesling's advice for procuring authentic art is to simply buy from the artist.  Dr. Siesling concluded that humans value art, not because it decorates our walls, but because we are human, and humans make art. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

USM's Special Collections

             Housing Special Collections for The University of Southern Mississippi, McCain Library is a treasure trove of interesting and culturally important artifacts.  The first thing I noticed upon entering the third floor research room was a giant songbook used by monks in the 15th century.  Because it was printed on animal skin, the pages looked very textured and hair follicles and other markings were visible.  After passing by that impressive book, I was lead, along with the other students in my class, by a librarian into a separate room where she told us about what McCain libraries has to offer. 
            Through its de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, the university acts as sole repository for the original works of Ezra Jack Keats.  The librarian showed us some of his original framed artwork and a manuscript page from a Japanese version of one of his works.  She also told us that the de Grummond collection houses 500-600 versions of the story of Cinderella, and she showed us more than a dozen editions of the story of Little Red Riding Hood. 
            McCain Library also possesses a large collection of Civil Rights memorabilia.  As part of our tour, we got to see a page from a diary of a woman who worked in Mississippi during the Freedom Summer of 1964.  Additionally, we were told about the State Sovereignty Commission and some of the horrendous actions it undertook to uphold the segregation of Mississippi, including preventing two little boys from attending public school.  As a part of this collection, we also got to see some original hate mail that forms part of the 2500 boxes of the Bilbo collection. 
            My favorite part of my time in the McCain Library was getting to see an original script from the show Saturday Night Live.  I have been an avid fan of the show for many years, and it was incredible to me to see an original script from the 1980s with handwritten edits and last-minute corrections.  Upon further research, I discovered that the head writer for the show at that time, David Sheffield, is from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, just like I am, and is an alumnus of Southern Miss.  I had no idea such remarkable artifacts resided in a library at my own university, and I definitely plan to return to look around some more—especially at the Saturday Night Live script.      

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The University of Southern Mississippi’s Centennial Exhibit

            Throughout its hundred years of existence, the University of Southern Mississippi has accumulated a great deal of treasured and historic artifacts.  Selections from these artifacts are on display at the Centennial Exhibit, located on the first floor of the Cook Library.  The web site that mentions this exhibit, as well as other centennial celebrations, can be found at  
            As a member of The Pride of Mississippi, I was particularly interested in the various artifacts that represented the history of The Pride.  As displayed by a uniform of the time, since the 1980s, the marching band’s uniform has comprised of a yellow jacket with black pants.  Another uniform, however, shows that the jacket was once red and had a Scottish theme as a tribute to the Scottish heritage of the president of the university at that time, the 1960s-1970s, William D. McCain.  During the time of this red uniform, the marching band included a bagpipe ensemble in addition to the standard brass and woodwind instrumentation.  The Pride of Mississippi Marching Band also includes a dance team whose members are nicknamed Dixie Darlings.  Their uniform now consists of a small sequined black dress; however, in the 1960s, this uniform was made from a velvet material and sported fur trim on the collar and bottom of the outfit.  The band, or at least its uniform, has evolved greatly since the early days of the university.
            The exhibit consists of much more than just band memorabilia.  Another item that I found particularly interesting was a tomato-canning machine.  This was accompanied by a placard that described a tomato club whose members grew three acres of this vegetable, canned them, and served them in the dining hall.  Another item in this particular display was a set of silverware that has STC engraved on it, which stands for one of the original names of the school, State Teachers College.  A painting that shows what was planned, in terms of buildings, at this State Teachers College hangs on the wall in the exhibit.  This picture shows the 5 original buildings that were to be erected.  One of then, the Industrial Cottage, is particularly interesting to me because it is now the Honors House, and I am a member of the Honors College.  Finally, in a back corner of the exhibit, there are large folios that contain old editions of the student newspaper, The Student Printz.  Many of the editions from the 1955-1956 collection contain very prominent advertisements for cigarettes, which I found surprising, given the effort to promote anti-smoking campaigns nowadays.  Another ad that appeared in a 1956 edition claimed that Wimpy’s was “the heart of the Southern Campus” and sold a hamburger for twenty cents. 
            Overall, the Centennial exhibit illustrates how far The University of Southern Mississippi has come since its days as the State Teachers College.  It is hard for me to imagine this now massive college once contained in only five buildings.  From the marching band’s uniform to The Student Printz, so many things have changed over the last one hundred years at Southern Miss, and I for one, am glad to be a part of such a wonderful university.