You SHOULD…Watch: The Great British Baking Show


“I read a lot of contemporary fiction, and am a scholar of public opinion and American politics.   So this may sound odd, trivial and far afield, but one of my favorite cultural obsessions is the competitive baking contest, the Great British Baking Show (now in its 9th season — only 5 seasons are available on Netflix so far:


Of all the books, movies and television I love, this is one show I’ve become particularly obsessive about.   I am a long-time baker, so it is fascinating from that standpoint of course:   Some of the very best amateur bakers in Britain display their mind-bindingly creative approaches to food, and have astounding technical talents as well.   The judges are brilliant and serious:   Choosing winners and losers is a grave business to these globally-renowned baker-judges, but they do indeed realize it is about food, so they maintain the proper (i.e. witty/dry/British) sense of humor, and a high level of self-awareness.


Putting aside the food, the reason I’m drawn to this program is its profound civility, so desperately missing from American reality television and broadcast competitions.   Perhaps it is the British manners, but I think it is far more than that.   The program is a model of how human beings need to treat each other, with dignity and empathy.   Contestants are a diverse lot with regard to class, age, profession, race and ethnicity.   They develop genuine respect for each other, and indulge in the joys of friendly competition, without the juvenile and often venal attitude promoted in American reality programs (“I’m here to win, not to make friends” is the most common contestant line of every show,  from The Bachelor to Survivor to Top Chef).


Aristotle famously wrote about friendship in Ethics as the real basis for a democratic polity, and you see a mini-civil society built before your eyes on the Great British Baking Show.   There is partnership, civility, and love among contestants and judges alike, all in the context of what is most basic to us:   the visceral joy of sharing great food.   What’s not to like, in these times of a tribalistic, violent and divided America?    We’d be a better nation, and better friends and neighbors, if we’d kick back and watch a kind bunch of people demonstrate cooking-as-community with panache.   As Levi-Strauss noted, cooking is what turns nature into culture, and what a fine culture it is, somehow turned out in hour-long segments, along with many tarts, scones, biscuits and “saucy puds” (well, you’ll have to tune in to understand that…).   Bon appetit!”


-Susan Herbst
University of Connecticut


You SHOULD…See: Moonlight


“So intimate is moonlight reflected on still water that this spare, deeply moving film appropriately bears the name. Moonlight won a Golden Globe for Best Picture, an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and was the second lowest-grossing film in history to win an Oscar for Best Picture, its all-black, mostly unknown cast beating out favored La La Land starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.


So why is this particular coming-of-age story so worth seeing? In a word: hope. Told in three parts, the film portrays black lives that are at once complex, flawed, loving, and healthy [finally!]. Moonlight 

follows from boy to man the life of black and gay Chiron. Front-and-center in the film are hyper masculinity, economic depression, and drugs, yet these situational factors are not depicted as the inherent dysfunction of blackness. Unexpectedly, we admire and care about the 40-something drug dealer whose performative masculinity slips easily from his shoulders to tenderly parent semi-orphaned Chiron. We are both crushed and empathetic when Kevin, Chiron’s childhood playmate, as a teenager and to avoid his own beating by schoolyard bullies repeatedly knocks down and draws blood from his shy unsinkable friend, Chiron. And we feel Chiron’s interiority, the ebb and flow of his self-possession, his tenuous yet durable embrace of himself. As Chiron sorts through his gay black worth, stretching toward fulfillment despite domestic abuse and betrayal, we the viewers also internalize the power of honest connection and self-acceptance. For Moonlight, both black aggression (pariah) and self-erasure (hapless victim) indeed are myths. Chiron returns again and again to his gayness, blackness, and vulnerabilities, choosing to love rather than deny himself. As we watch, the desire to engage the best of our own lives and communities is overwhelming. Moonlight is a must see. ”


Melina Pappademos,
Associate Professor, Department of History
and Director, Africana Studies Institute



You SHOULD…Hear: Songs in the Key of Life


“You should hear Songs in the Key of Life, by Stevie Wonder. In 1975, Wonder had considered leaving the music industry, moving to Ghana and working with children with disabilities. At only 25 years old, he had already released 17 albums, sold millions, and won dozens of awards, including Grammys for Album of the Year (1974 and 1975).  After some prodding from friends, family, fans (and the biggest record contract for any artist in history), he returned to the studio to record. In the midst of the dominance of the carefree hedonism of disco, the double LP, was released in September 1976 to critical acclaim. Like his previous work, this LP proved to be a beautifully discursive exploration of the human condition. Wonder assembled a group of artists from different genres and filled the album with an aural style and literary brilliance that was organically balanced with social commentary and festive jaunts about mistakes of our youth. “Isn’t She Lovely” is as infectious and fun as songs get. “Sir Duke” is classic Wonder. With more hit singles than any Wonder LP ever, it’s a challenge to justify focus on one song, but Wonder’s highpoint is one of the best love songs ever, “As.”

Songs became Wonder’s best-selling album of all time. It won Grammy Album of the Year among three other Grammys. Auteurs from Prince to George Michael have praised it as the best album ever made. The list of awards and honors is too long to put here. When you hear it, know that it offers us many ways for its consumption. Focus on the sonic, and isolate the various instruments and vocals from Herbie Hancock or Minnie Riperton. Concentrate on the enthusiastic flow of Wonder on some songs, the playful laugh, improvisation, or prattle on another. Appreciate the jazz inflections on R&B vocals. Listen to tales of love, God, struggle and joy. It is a lush, incredible example of exceptional talent and a reminder of how important it is to encourage the creation of wonderous art. ”

– Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar
Director of the Center for the Study of Popular Music
Professor of History

You SHOULD…Read and Listen: Teaching Community


“You should have a reading and listening jam session, engaging bell hooks’ Paulo Freirean-inspired critiques of structures and systems of power in Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope (2003) while absorbing the liberatory sounds of the Wynton Marsalis Quintet’s “Free to Be” (2004). In ensemble, these two works offer at once intensely personal and collaborative learning frameworks for creative action. In Teaching Community hooks interrogates how our gendered, sexualized and racialized bodies intersect and operate in the context of historically segregated educational institutions. Yet, she insists that when working in solidarity with and in diverse communities beyond the university, “democratic educators” can foster a pedagogy of hope. Similarly, as a cultural form born from resistance to oppression and as an expression of freedom, jazz music –as exquisitely interpreted by Marsalis in “Free to Be”– functions through three interconnected elements. It grounds us in the historical pain and blues of inequality and discrimination; it celebrates individual creativity and strength in improvisation; and it promises that, if we intentionally and empathetically listen to and collaborate with each other, the music and experience will swing!”


Mark Overmyer-Velázquez,
Professor of History and Latino & Latin American Studies
University of Connecticut – Hartford

You SHOULD…Read: The Anatomy of Fascism


“To help navigate these incredibly dark times and put them into historical perspective, you should definitely read Robert Paxton’s The Anatomy of Fascism.  I meet people all the time who want to learn more about fascism, but don’t know where to begin.  The pile of books that have been published on the subject could form its own mountain, and the sheer range of options can be overwhelming.  I’ve had to take a big bite out of this mountain for my own research, and I can say that if you have time to read just one book on the subject, it should be this one.

I like it because of its accessibility and avoidance of jargon, its broad scope, and because it is attuned to the contemporary relevance of his subject.  As such, he’s not afraid to say that fascism lives on in present day.  Published in 2004, Anatomy of Fascism was not conceived with the current crisis in mind, which makes it less topical and more powerful in my view.  But I like it most of all because it’s argument is solid.  Paxton doesn’t pull any cheap shots to make his subject topical.  Instead, like a good historian, he honors the specificity of pre-WWII European politics and culture, and lets his readers draw their own conclusions.

Paxton, now retired from Columbia University, argues that fascist movements can’t be defined by their political platforms – these change as values change, and fascist states shifted their policies quite often anyway.  A steadier indicator of a fascist movement is its “mobilizing passions” – that is, the emotional triggers and underlying desires that fire up its political base (you’ll have to read the book to find out what these triggers are).  Further, he argues that fascist movements rely on the enablement of traditional conservatives: if an aging conservative establishment had not given Hitler and Mussolini the keys to the kingdom, their movements would have likely died on the vine.  With an eye to the present, Paxton writes, “Fascists are close to power when conservatives begin to borrow their techniques, appeal to their ‘mobilizing passions,’ and try to co-opt the fascist following.”



-Christopher Vials,
Associate Professor of English & Director of American Studies
University of Connecticut



You SHOULD…Listen: to Running for the Drum


“You should listen to Buffy Ste. Marie’s 2009 album Running for the Drum.

It’s not her most recent, or her most acclaimed (though it won a coveted Juno award). It’s not her most innovative (in my completely uneducated opinion, that accolade belongs to 2016’s Power in the Blood, which had me looking for Bjork in the liner notes. She wasn’t there. Neither were liner notes, actually, because it’s not 1988 anymore, but you know what I’m saying). But I think it’s the best album this prolific artist has given us to date.

Running for the Drum comes out of the gate hard and righteous. “No No Keshagesh” was on constant repeat in my house for a while (“keshagesh” is a Cree word meaning “greedy guts”, and the song lives up to every expectation you just had). The second half softens up with “America the Beautiful” (not exactly the version you’re expecting, but perhaps the version you need). As always, Buffy delivers truth to power and a celebration of indigeneity layered with love, anger, sorrow, pride, and longing. Granted, I’ve got Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” on my playlist (and I am not ashamed), so I may not be the sharpest music critic on campus. But you really should give Running for the Drum a listen.”                        


-Barbara Gurr,
Associate Professor in Residence,
Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program,
University of Connecticut





You SHOULD…Read: Ready, Player One


“Read like a curious teenager; read for delight.  Read Ready, Player One and everything else.


I mean here the embrace of reading, not because a novel or work of non-fiction is “essential,” but because it on some or all levels brings us joy to be reading it.  And by that I don’t mean that it’s necessarily a cheery read (Game of Thrones is not a feel-good series although it feels good to read it).  I’m an English PhD (read cultural critic), so I get that discomfort (formal, personal) is valuable, but I’ve come to see that for me the great power of reading is that, once we give ourselves over to it completely, we read and read and read and read and the sum of it all matters, even if a given book is a formulaic best seller (and those often shed light on “now” in unexpected ways). So mix it up: read The Girl on the Train and all of Louise Penny, and the Wayward Pines trilogy, and Wolf Hall, and Ender’s Game, and everything by David Eggers, David Mitchell, Jonathan Franzen, Neal Stephenson, Gaiman, LeGuin, McCaffrey, Murakami and Neil de Grasse Tyson.  And everything else.”


-Susanna Cowan, PhD

Director, Summer & Winter Programs
University of Connecticut



You Should…WALK: Around Alexander Calder’s Stegosaurus

“You Should…




Around Alexander Calder’s Stegosaurus (1973) in downtown Hartford.


Alexander Calder (1898-1976) is best known for his mobiles, hanging sculptures comprised of abstract metal shapes that dance on currents of air. Stabiles such as Stegosaurus do the opposite: the sculpture stays put and it is the spectator who moves around the artwork. Stegosaurus is a good example of the large-scale, outdoor sculpture that became the primary focus of Calder’s work during the last two decades of the artist’s life. The 50-foot tall, painted steel sculpture is comprised of 45 steel plates bolted together to form an abstract, arced structure. The sculpture seems to encourage spectators to walk around and even underneath it by refusing to present a static, single image for contemplation. Instead our perception of it constantly changes. It demands to be experienced first-hand.


The sculpture’s five triangular fins invite comparisons with the Jurassic period dinosaur Calder referenced in the title, although Stegosaurus was commissioned in honor of Alfred E. Burr, a publisher of the Hartford Times. It stands in Burr Mall, between Hartford City Hall and the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. Stegosaurus isn’t the only example of post-war public sculpture worth exploring in downtown Hartford. Its neighbors include Stone Field Sculpture (1977) by Carl Andre, located adjacent to the Ancient Burial Ground, and Amaryllis (1965) by Tony Smith, which stands on the Wadsworth Atheneum’s front lawn. Studies and presentation models for all three sculptures, as well as two temporary outdoor works, are currently on display in a special exhibition at the museum through the end of October.”


-Dr. Amanda A. Douberley

Academic Liaison/Assistant Curator, William Benton Museum of Art

You SHOULD…See: A Taxi Driver

“You Should “See” Taxi Driver(2017) …  No, not Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster, the new South Korean one…


Lost in the barrage of news surrounding North Korean nuclear ambitions and Singapore dreams is the astonishing current history of South Korea. Throughout 2016-2017, hundreds of thousands of South Koreans marched in downtown Seoul leading to the rare—if not unprecedented—peaceful and democratic overthrow of a democratically elected national leader. Immediately coined, “The Candlelight Revolution”because protestors armed themselves only with small flames, a central demand was the government’s ongoing accountability for the country’s dictatorship era (1953-1993). Gone are the secret jails and “disappeared” family members. Throughout the past twenty-five years, South Koreans have transformed their society into a vibrant democracy with regular elections and the right to challenge government openly. Up for grabs now is writing the history that came before, and central in the mix is the 1980 Gwangju uprising during which South Korean troops slaughtered several hundred largely unarmed citizens who were demanding the release from jail of the prominent pro-democracy politician, Kim Dae-jung.


Last summer, acclaimed director Jang Hoon released Taxi Driver, starring South Korea’s George Clooney, Song Kong-ho, in a fictionalized work-up of a real-life cab driver who ferried German journalist, Jurgen Hintzpeter, to the center of the violence as it unfolded in Gwangju. Hintzpeter’s smuggled footage of South Korean soldiers shooting innocent students caused an international sensation and ultimately led South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan to reign in the massacre. More violence would come until his overthrow in 1987, and the real cab driver never surfaced despite Hintzpeter subsequent efforts to find him.


In the whorl of today’s debate about North Korea, Taxi Driver underscores why it is essential to include South Korea as an equal in any discussion concerning Korea’s collective future. ”


-Alexis Dudden
Professor of History
University of Connecticut


You SHOULD…Read:Orwell, Leopold, and Teale

“You should…Read: Orwell, Leopold, and Teale

But not the Orwell you think. Read  Politics and the English language to be reminded that “Political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind” and Shooting an elephant for a concrete example of how “when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys.”[1] Read Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac to learn that when Canada geese return north in the spring “the whole continent receives as net profit a wild poem dropped from the murky skies upon the muds of March” and the many things a poor farm can teach those willing to learn. Read Teale’s A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm to learn Leopold’s lessons in our own backyard on a farm in Hampton.

[1] And for the best first sentence in an essay: “In Moulmein, in Lower Burma, I was hated by a large number of people–the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me.” WARNING: Descriptions in the essay would have offended many in 1936. More will find them offensive now.”


-Kent E. Holsinger
Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor,
Vice provost for Graduate Education,
Dean of the Graduate School,
University of Connecticut