The University Record, January 30, 1995

Conference on work and play coming to Institute for the Humanities

By Betsy Nesbit
Institute for the Humanities

A conference on “Serious Play, Playful Work,” Feb. 10–11, will examine the blurred lines between “work” and “play,” with talks on the American beauty culture, funerals and religious rites, child’s play, holidays and the spectacle of the Roman gladiators. The two-day program, sponsored by the Institute for the Humanities, will be held in Rackham Assembly Hall.

Institute Director James Winn points out that work and play are often indistinguishable, that one may inform the other. “For example,” he asks, “why are serious religious rites invaded by play? Why do we tell jokes at a wake? What does child’s play tell us about adult behavior? What truths are realized in the game with the highest stakes, the confrontations of the Roman gladiators?”

Conference speakers who will address these questions and others are:

Kathy Peiss, history, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is writing a book on the history of the cosmetics industry and women’s beauty culture. She will examine notions of appearance put forth by advertisers, producers and women consumers in the 1920s and 1930s.

Jean L. Briggs, anthropology, Memorial University of Newfoundland, will trace the moral development of an Inuit child as she works through the “social-emotional plots” of everyday life.

Gail Holst-Warhaft, Society for the Humanities, Cornell University, asks what laughter and sexual jokes have to do with death and mourning. She suggests that the tragic and comic are closely related to the “work of mourning,” and that renewal may come through ribald laughter.

Michael Fishbane, Jewish studies, Divinity School, University of Chicago, will talk about the transcendent powers of dance as taught by a Bratzlav rabbi. He describes dance as a “deep process of human and divine transformation” that has the power to suspend sin and depression, at least momentarily.

Carlin A. Barton, history, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, will look at the ultimate game—that of the Roman gladiators—examining what a person revealed and risked in the “moment of truth” of the contest in ancient Rome.

Richard Lim, history, Smith College, will explain how Sunday came to be a public holiday. The day of rest grew from Graeco-Roman traditions of holidays and festive days, but also was inspired by the needs of certain bishops to compete for attendance with such public spectacles as animal hunts, theatrical shows and circus races.

The free, public conference is supported in part by the Ford Motor Company Fund. For information, call the Institute, 936-3518.

Conference schedule

Feb. 10

• 10&150;11:30 a.m.—Carlin Barton, “Playing with Fire: The Contest in Ancient Rome.” Richard Lim, “The Origins of Sunday as a Public Holiday in Late Antiquity.”

• 1:30–3 p.m.—Jean L. Briggs, “Out of the Garden of Eden: Morality Play in the Life of an Inuit Three-Year-Old.” Kathy Peiss, “At Work on the Play of Appearance: ‘Modern Women’s Accounts of Making Up.”

• 3:20–4:50 p.m.—Gail Holst-Warhaft, “The Fun in the Funeral: Play and the Work of Mourning.” Michael Fishbane, “To Jump for Joy: The Rites of Dance in Bratzlav Hasidism.”

Feb. 11

• 10–11:30 a.m.—Summary panel of conference speakers.