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Life at Smith Ideal for Kennedy Professor

William Oram, Helen Means Professor of English, calls Harry Berger, Jr., the finest teacher with whom he has ever studied (“and I’ve studied with a number of great teachers,” adds Oram). The two became acquainted more than 30 years ago, when Oram studied English with Berger at Yale University.

Now, their paths cross again at Smith, where Berger is serving as this year’s Ruth and Clarence Kennedy Professor in Renaissance Studies.

As part of his Kennedy Professorship, Berger will give his first of four public lectures, titled “Collecting Body Parts in Leonardo’s Cave: Vasari’s Lives of the Artists and the Erotics of Obscene Connoisseurship.” The lecture will take place on Tuesday, October 1, at 7:30 p.m. in Graham Hall in the Brown Fine Arts Center.

The lecture will be “mainly about Giorgio Vasari’s weird presentation of Leonardo da Vinci in his Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects, first published in 1550 and reprinted with hefty additions in 1568,” Berger explains.

On Tuesday, October 8, Berger will give his second lecture on “Shooting the Renaissance Elbow: Performance Anxiety in 17th Century Dutch Portraits," also at 7:30 p.m. in Graham Hall. His third lecture will also be on 17th-century Dutch portraiture and he will give a final talk on Shakespeare’s Othello.

Berger was invited last year by the Department of Comparative Literature to serve as this year’s Kennedy Professor. As such, he joins a list of highly respected scholars who have served in the endowed professorship, established in 1973 to recognize the achievements of Ruth Wedgwood and Clarence Kennedy, both distinguished faculty members in the Smith Department of Art.

Berger is a professor emeritus at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he was a member of the faculty from 1965 until his retirement in 1994. He received his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from Yale and has written extensively on the Renaissance and Shakespeare.

As Kennedy Professor, Berger also teaches a class, “Fictions of the Pose: Self-Representation in Portraits, Poems, and Plays.”

When asked how life at Smith and in Northampton has been for him, Berger remarks, “I’m having a great time here. The students I’ve encountered are first-rate in every respect, and I’m especially impressed both by the Ada Comstock Fellows and by the wonderful conception (and execution) of the program that brings them to Smith.

“Life at Smith has been idyllic, but idylls aren’t real,” he adds. “What keeps my feet on the ground is the construction outside my window.”

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