September 9, 2002
UC Santa Cruz professor travels country on teaching
By Ann M. Gibb
For a man who jokes that he's "out to pasture," Harry Berger
Jr. maintains a teaching and travel schedule that would fatigue a racehorse.
The UCSC professor emeritus of literature and art history will be crisscrossing
the country this year, teaching in two programs featuring distinguished
Professor emeritus Harry Berger Jr. will be teaching and guest
lecturing at eleven colleges and universities during the upcoming
academic year. Photo:
Ann M. Gibb
"I used to be a musician so I think of this as a gig, traveling
around the country and trying some ideas out," said Berger, a former
amateur jazz clarinetist who hasn't stopped researching, writing, publishing,
delivering guest lectures, and teaching the occasional class since his
retirement from UCSC nearly a decade ago.
This month, Berger travels from Santa Cruz to Northampton, Mass., where
he was selected for an endowed visiting professorship in Renaissance
Studies at Smith College for the fall semester.
During the winter and spring of 2003, he will be a Phi Beta Kappa visiting
scholar, giving lectures at eight colleges and universities around the
United States. In addition to the stops on his visiting scholar itinerary,
he's squeezing in guest lectures at the University of Tennessee and
Berger started his journey in literature and art history at Yale University,
where he earned his B.A. and Ph.D. in English and taught for nine years.
"When I was in graduate school, I became fascinated by Edmund Spenser's
1,000-page poem, the Faerie Queene," said Berger. "That's
how I got into it all."
Although much of Berger's initial scholarship was in Renaissance poetry,
particularly Spenser's work, his research and interests quickly expanded.
"I got into teaching all kinds of things at Yale: Dante, Plato,
metaphysics," said Berger.
Berger came to UCSC as a founding faculty member in 1965. His wide-ranging
and interdisciplinary approach was a good fit with UCSC's approach,
where traditional academic boundaries were less evident, especially
in the early years of the campus.
At UCSC, Berger taught a variety of subjects under the general category
of culture theory and Renaissance culture, including Renaissance drama
and Shakespeare. He also published extensively. "Sometimes I have
a sense of myself as sitting at a typing table and floating on a cloud
for 50 years," said Berger, who has almost a dozen books and more
than 80 articles to his credit.
In art history, Berger has a special interest in Italian and Dutch
painting and the theory and practice of portraiture. "When you
think about a portrait, it's someone striking a pose for the painter
and whoever will see the portrait after it's finished," said Berger.
"Are they trying to impress someone, the viewer, who is necessarily
absent from the creation process? Maybe they are wondering how other
people will experience their portrait. Thinking about this led me into
my work on performance anxiety."
At Smith College, Berger will lead a colloquium called "Fictions
of the Pose: Self-Representation in Portraits, Poems, and Plays,"
which will be a close study of performance and performance anxiety in
painted portraits, lyric poems, and the Shakespearean soliloquy. The
Kennedy Professorship in Renaissance Studies at Smith, established nearly
30 years ago, brings scholars to the campus to teach and deliver public
As a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar, Berger will travel to universities
and colleges that have Phi Beta Kappa chapters, spending two days at
each campus. During each visit he will meet informally with undergraduates,
participate in classroom lectures and seminars, and give one major address
open to the entire academic community.
Topics Berger is offering as a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar include
the unreliable narrators in Plato's Dialogues, Renaissance misogyny
and masculine anxiety in Edmund Spenser's the Faerie Queene,
and "realism" and performance anxiety in 17th-century Dutch
"These are issues I've been working on, some of them for 40 years,
and I've got some new ideas about them," said Berger. "It's
time for me to go public and see what the reaction is."
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