Autocracy and the Challenges to Our Imagination
In the Brooks College House Great Room a few days before Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen addressed a campus audience, a group of students were discussing the writer's works.
"I really like the way Gessen writes," Madison Galczyk from Norristown, Pa., said.
The Franklin & Marshall first-year was paging through "Surviving Autocracy," Gessen's 2020 guide to understanding and surviving the "calamitous corrosion" of American democracy that occurred in the last few years.
As the Oct. 6 speaker for Common Hour, the weekly community discussion conducted during the semester, Gessen talked about the autocracy of Russia's Vladimir Putin and his country's invasion of Ukraine and the war that, at the moment, Ukraine appears to be winning.
The Moscow-born Gessen, who has written numerous books about his former country, recalled someone asking him soon after the war began why many people, including those in Ukraine and Russia, refused to believe Putin would launch an invasion.
"I said, 'because it's unbelievable,' and it continues to be unbelievable even as we witness it," they said. "I think that, aside from seeing it as a fact, we also have to see it as a challenge. It's a challenge to our imaginations."
Gessen, a member of Russia's LGBT community who uses the pronouns them/they, has been an astute chronicler of the rise of authoritarianism in Russia. Among his acclaimed works are the New York Times bestseller, "The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin" and the National Book Award-winning "The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia."
A renowned activist as well as a journalist, Gessen is the 2022 Mueller Fellow. Now in its 41st year at F&M, the fellowship is made possible by the generosity of the Paul A. Mueller, Jr. family.
Although Gessen spoke virtually, they engaged with students, faculty and staff that evening and continued the conversation at a reception in Shadek-Fackenthal Library.
After citing the monstrous atrocities Russians troops are accused of committing against Ukrainian civilians, Gessen said, "The second part of the challenge is thinking about a future — how does this war end, because it will end, and what happens after this war ends?"
Professor of Russian and Russian Studies Jon Stone, who introduced Gessen at Common Hour, spoke about the writer's book, "Surviving Autocracy."
"In trying to make sense of the maelstrom of contemporary American politics in 2020, Masha Gessen read closely a Russian poem from the Soviet 1930s. In Osip Mandelshtam's defiant poem about Stalin, Gessen found that "[e]very line is recognizable six decades later: the sense of not knowing where we live and who we share a country with; the stultifying feeling of not hearing and not being heard, of the isolation that is both the precondition and the product of totalitarianism; and most of all, the daily exercise of demonstrative humiliation and deliberate cruelty."
February 27, 2023
Alumni Spotlight: Every Stitch Tells a Story
It's not every day you wear hoops skirts, bustles and bonnets to work — let alone hand-stitch them. But for Franklin & Marshall College alum Rachel Sheffield, it's just another day on the job. Sheffield, an American studies major and Italian minor, is the lead interpreter and historic clothing coordinator at First State Heritage Park in Dover, Del.
November 21, 2022
Students Decode Zoom Gestures
A team of Franklin & Marshall College students combed through six hours of Zoom class footage to identify gestures exhibited by participating professors and students. The results were overwhelming. Over the span of four recordings, the team identified 1,497 gestures. "That's 1,497 cases of communication where the person performing it may not even be aware they were doing so," said sophomore Ayako Belka, a biology and psychology double major.
November 11, 2022
F&M Compost Co-Op Diverts Costs and CO2 in Lancaster
A Franklin & Marshall College compost initiative has evolved into a co-op saving the City of Lancaster $5,215 per year — all while diverting 16,638 pounds of food waste from the solid-waste stream each month. The Lancaster Composting Co-Ops (LCC) are a volunteer-led, community initiative enabling Lancaster residents to reduce household food waste by creating high-quality compost. Three students spent their summer evaluating and co-authoring a white paper documenting the LCC's first year in terms of cost savings and social impact.