The University of Chicago Magazine

June 1997



Voices of the People.

As Britain's political power grew during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, so did England's cultural sway. In Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire (Princeton), Katie Trumpener, chair of Germanic studies, writes that British imperialism sparked strong literary nationalism in the empire's constituent cultures and overseas colonies, a nationalism Trumpener links to the development of the period's major new genres-ballad collection, sentimental and Gothic fiction, national tale, and historical novel. Arguing that the Scottish and Irish peoples reacted to Enlightenment dismissal of Gaelic oral traditions by invoking the figure of the bard, or poet-singer, in their theories of national and literary history, she then examines bardic nationalism's influence on the early 19th-century novel. While bardic nationalism is "a lasting source of anti-imperialist inspiration," notes Trumpener, "it also helps ensure that cultural nationalism…can be contained within an imperial framework."

Marking the Path.

Autism affects nearly one of 1,000 children, few of whom function independently as adults. People with the disorder have difficulty with relationships, are slow to learn speech, and exhibit repetitive behaviors. There is no cure. Now researchers, including a team from the U of C Medical Center, have found the first link between autism and a specific gene abnormality, reported in the May issue of Molecular Psychiatry. Because elevated blood levels of serotonin are associated with autism, the group focused on the genes that regulate serotonin production and function, finding that autistic children were much more likely to have inherited a short form of the promoter of the serotonin transporter gene. Psychiatrist and lead author Ed Cook says this find is one of at least three to five genes whose interactions result in autism.

Circumcision Surveyed.

Though circumcision has been advocated as a way to reduce the spread of venereal diseases, a U of C study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that circumcised men are slightly more likely than uncircumcised men to have had a sexually transmitted disease. They can't explain why that is, but sociology chair Edward Laumann; SSA student Christopher Masi; and sociology graduate student Ezra Zuckerman, AM'94, did find that circumcised men engage in a wider variety of sexual practices and also report less sexual dysfunction as they age.

Has the Political Become Too Personal?

Lauren Berlant thinks so. In The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship (Duke), the U of C English professor argues that--beginning with the Reagan era--the American political public sphere has become an intimate public sphere that focuses on issues of sexuality and family. Asking why the ideal of citizenship is measured by personal, not civic, acts, Berlant criticizes conservatives for espousing the virtues of privacy, the free market, and lack of government regulation--but acting invasively when it comes to intimate concerns. She also examines in what ways and to what extent the left has adopted the right's views. Each essay follows iconic examples of U.S. citizenship--from Forrest Gump to Anita Hill--and highlights some of their pilgrimages to the nation's capital.

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