The University Record, May 8, 1995
By Rebecca A. Doyle
Genetic research, a five-movement full symphonic work, a model of the formation and dissolution of nations in the post-Cold War era and a study of demonic and saintly spirits seem almost too diverse to be contained within one university. Yet those were the topics of the four dissertations whose authors were chosen to receive the 1995 Distinguished Dissertation Award, presented in late April.
The 10th annual ceremony recognized Nancy Caciola, history; Lars-Erik Cederman; political science; Gregory Cox, human genetics; and Stephen Newby, music composition, for their outstanding dissertation work. The winners are selected from more than 600 nominations by a group of scholars from the Michigan Society of Fellows.
"Telling a saint from a demoniac may seem an easy task, especially to those who believe in neither. Medieval observers, however, always attentive to spirit possession and its visible effects on the human body, often had to determine by observing these very effects whether a given person was possessed by Christ or by the Devil," wrote Gideon Bohak, Michigan Society of Fellows, of Caciola's dissertation. "When confronted with an inspired, miracle-working individual, any cautious audience would react with the admiration reserved for the Lord's saints coupled with a modicum of suspicion, lest it was the Devil who really was lurking behind the scene. The ecclesiastical authorities ... had to find ways to determine who shall be canonized and who shall experience the Church's eternal wrath, and in developing such mechanisms, changed Europe's understanding not only of Sainthood but of witchcraft as well.
"It is into this fascinating world of penetrating spirits and permeable bodies ... that Nancy Caciola leads us."
Lars-Erik Cederman, who could not attend the ceremony, wrote his dissertation on the development and dissolution of nations "in a way that incorporates the effect of events occurring at different levels" in the hierarchy of statewide and local levels.
"Cederman accomplishes this by making a distinction between nation and state," wrote P. David Polly for the Michigan Society of Fellows. "Using models derived from the study of complex adaptive systems, or general systems in which interacting processes produce emergent phenomena, Cederman shows that the interplay between nations and states affects their long-term stability in a number of ways."
Gregory A. Cox studied the genetic mutations in mdx mice, the animal model for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). DMD and Becker muscular dystrophy (BMD) are sex-linked diseases of the musculature that affect approximately one in 3,500 males and lead through progressive muscle degeneration to wheelchair confinement and early death.
"To assess the plausibility of gene therapy for DMD, Cox explored the potential of the normal dystrophin gene to correct dystrophic symptoms in the mdx mouse. This was accomplished by the production of transgenic mdx mice. These transgenic mice were created by inserting a copy of the normal dystrophin gene into mdx mice. Cox observed that restoration of the normal dystrophin gene in the transgenic mdx mouse was able to eliminate the symptoms of muscular dystrophy without deleterious side effects," said Karen Martell, who reviewed the dissertation for the Michigan Society of Fellows. "These results provided the first functional evidence of the feasibility of gene therapy for muscular dystrophy."
"Shall I play for you?" asked Stephen Newby when his turn came at the microphone during the award ceremony. Excerpts much too short to appease his audience were followed by his explanation of the process of writing a five-movement symphony for full orchestra, full choir and tenor solo.
"What is most astounding about this piece is its ability to synthesize and incorporate these various traditions [of African American gospel singing, jazz instrumentation, West African rhythms and the message of Martin Luther King Jr.] into classically 'European' musical notation and orchestration while still giving prominence to the individual voices and styles of each of these traditions," noted Twila Tardif, who reviewed the piece for the Michigan Society of Fellows.
"Newby's composition conveys a very personal and heartfelt synthesis that is highly original and, at once, easily shared by its listeners."
Symphony: Let Thy Mercy Be Upon Us, A Tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., is a piece Tardif assures us will be picked up by performers quickly.
The Distinguished Dissertation Awards are sponsored by University Microfilms International, which publishes more than 35,000 dissertations annually. Dissertations are nominated for the award by faculty members and Graduate School deans.
The John H. D'Arms Awards, presented for the first time this year, honor faculty in the humanities who have provided "crucial pedagogical support to doctoral students," noted Robert A. Weisbuch, associate dean for faculty programs at the Graduate School. By recognizing those faculty and students who produce outstanding dissertations, he said, the awards also honor D'Arms by "honoring those faculty and student values, both pedagogical and intellectual, that his term as Rackham dean has especially encouraged; values which he has lived out himself."
Financial awards of $5,000 are made to each faculty member's department. The department then determines how the funds, which are designated as Summer Research Travel awards, will be distributed. Each department awarded the funds to two students this year
Faculty honored were Judith Becker, professor of musicology and ethnomusicology; Luis Gomez, professor of Asian languages and cultures; and Ludwig Koenen, professor of classical studies. Each received a $5,000 individual award.
In Becker's "work with dissertating students," Weisbuch said, "remarkable as it is for the support and enthusiasm she exudes, it is always clear that rigorous intellectual standards obtain."
Gomez, one of the pre-eminent scholars of Buddhism in the world, "founded Michigan's program in Buddhist Studies, which only a few years after its beginnings was named the finest program of its kind in North America," Weisbuch noted. "He has directed the dissertation of each of the program's graduates, and their topics have shown an extraordinary range, from a study of a cave temple complex in India to a study of the relations between mothers and their monk sons in Chinese Buddhist literature."
Koenen has "continued to give generously of his expertise to each of his many students," Weisbuch said. "His work is remarkable for its punctilious nature as well as his scope, a laudable combination he has encouraged and developed in his students as well."
Students who received awards are Jake Dalton and Dian Li, Asian languages and cultures; Christopher Barnes and Matthew Kraus, classical studies; and Nanette de Jong and Luke Howard, musicology.