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September 9, 2002

UC Santa Cruz professor travels country on teaching 'gig'

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 scholars.

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 Cornell University.

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 lectures.

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 painting.

"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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