IU’s Contemporary Dance Program

The Terpsichoreans, n.d.

Indiana University’s Contemporary Dance Program dates back to 1927. Dancer Jane Fox, a graduate of Columbia University (NY), came to the IU campus as a faculty member with the intention of introducing “natural dance” to students. Though we know it to be its own department today, the Program first began as a part of the Women’s Physical Education department, under the supervision of the School of Education, which supported and funded it. Classes were held in the Student Building and in 1935, the first modern dance performing group, the Terpsichoreans, was organized. This group later evolved into the Modern Dance Workshop.

"Workshop" large
“Modern Dance Workshop…” Indiana Daily Student, 21 Sep 1960

Jane Fox was not only a staunch defender of dance education but also worked to validate the art of dance to the campus in general. In her quest to gain a wide acceptance of modern dance as a legitimate art form and academic discipline, Fox garnered campus, community, and national support. She immersed herself not only into IU’s culture, but also became the Chair and Secretary of the Dance Section of the American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation (AAHPER), the head of the National Committee on Standards in Teacher Education in Dance, and frequently contributed scholarly writings to the Journal of AAHPER and The Dance Observer. Fox continued to defend the validity of the art form during her time at Indiana University, and soon the medium was well respected on campus.

“Sports healthy for women” Indiana Daily Student, 14 Nov 1967

In 1949, the Dance Major Program was formed, and with continued support from Fox, as well as increased student enrollment, modern dance was soon seen as a legitimate part of the campus community and a respected academic discipline.

The Dance Major Program experienced tremendous growth in both enrollment and reputation from this time until the late 1980s, and had a successive number of coordinators to direct the Program including Dr. Jacqueline Clifford, Fran Snygg, Bill Evans, Vera Orlock, Gwen Hamm, and Dr. John Shea.

Despite their best efforts to keep students enrolled during 1988-1991, the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation administration decided that a moratorium would be placed on the Dance program, effective May 1991. Students would be allowed to complete their Bachelor’s degrees in dance, but no new students would be accepted into the Dance Major Program.

Program Booklets, 1980s
Department of Dance, Program Booklets, 1980s

Despite this massive change, the professors and staff members committed to the role and mission of the program spent the next ten years (1991-2001) attempting to salvage the work they, Fox, and others had put forth during the last 60 years. 1991-2001 saw an increase in the number of students enrolled in the Elective Dance Program, which gave them hope for the future. Courses were expanded, students were surveyed, and the administration began to discuss the possibility of reinstating the Dance Major in 2004. Once all of the reinstatement procedures were determined and the curriculum revision had taken place, the fall of 2005 saw the first audition and admission of students to the Dance Major since 1991.

modern dancers to compete, zoom
“Modern Dancers to Compete…” Indiana Daily Student, 15 May 1951

Today, the Dance Major Program is supported by 16 faculty and staff members. The program is based in modern dance, but students

"Spring Performers" 30 Mar 1967
“Spring Performers” Indiana Daily Student, 30 Mar 1967

also study ballet and world dance forms, and can elect to study musical theatre, tap, and jazz. The Program boasts over 50 Dance Majors and 100 Dance Minors.

To learn more visit the IU Contemporary Dance Program’s website, or visit the IU Archives to view the Jane Fox papers or the Dance Program records.

Risks and Rewards

What’s the greatest risk you’ve ever taken? How old were you when you chose to take this risk? For pianist and Indiana University professor Menahem Pressler, one might argue that flying around the world to compete in an international piano competition was one of his greatest risks. From a young age Pressler was a natural player and chose to hone his skills as he grew older by attending the Tel Aviv Conservatory in Israel, where he and his family had emigrated to in 1939 from Germany to escape Nazi sentiments. After taking years of piano classes, Pressler decided he would enter into the Debussy International Piano Competition hosted in San Francisco, California. Luckily for him, his knowledge and talents supported him through the competition and Pressler won, marking his place in the world as a pianist and artist from that moment forward.

A young Menahem Pressler playing piano
A young Menahem Pressler playing piano

Menahem Pressler made his debut as a classical solo artist with the Philadelphia Orchestra only a few short weeks after winning the Debussy Competition. From there he has traveled the world performing solo, with his classical music ensemble the Beaux Arts Trio, and with other musicians and musical groups for over sixty-five years.

In 1955, Pressler accepted a position as a professor at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. That same year, he performed with the Beaux Arts Trio for the first time, a classical chamber music group he co-founded with violinist Daniel Guilet and cellist Bernard Greenhouse. The Trio played their first concert at the Berkshire Music Festival (now known as Tanglewood) in Lenox, Massachusetts and continued to play together in different configurations with Pressler at the helm until 2008.

The Beaux Arts Trio, c.1962
The Beaux Arts Trio, c.1962

With a career as illustrious as Menahem Pressler’s, it comes as no surprise that the materials documenting his career is voluminous. Processing Professor Pressler’s collection was interesting for me as it helped me fully understand the breadth of his life and career, and how much of both he had dedicated to engaging the public with his talents.

The Beaux Arts Trio 1960 Itinerary
The Beaux Arts Trio 1960 Itinerary

Although I knew Pressler was constantly in motion with either travel or teaching, I was delighted to come across an itinerary from 1960 that delineated the places and time spans of each concert he had that year. From Indianapolis to New York, London to Jerusalem, Pressler’s influence spanned the entire world twice over. Program booklets and clippings match up with the itinerary dates and show which selections the Trio and Pressler focused on during this time period.

Beaux Arts Trio, Program Booklets, 1960
Beaux Arts Trio, Program Booklets, 1960

One of the first concerts of the year took place on January 27 in Miami, Florida. The trio played a classic Haydn’s Trio No. 3 in C major before moving on to a more contemporary piece by Aaron Copland entitled Trio on Jewish Themes (“Vitebsk”). One of the group’s last concerts took place at The Library of Congress’s Coolidge Auditorium where they played pieces from Joseph Haydn, Georg Friedrich Händel, Maurice Ravel, and Hermann Zilcher.

The Scotsman, September 5, 1960
The Scotsman, September 5, 1960

An article published by The Scotsman on September 5, 1960 stated that, “If the old Italian craftsman [Stradivarius] could claim some credit for the refined yet ample tone which flowed from [their] instruments he would have rejoiced at finding his instruments in the hands of such masters, for each is a soloist in his own right.” Another article published just a few days later on September 7, 1960 by the Daily Telegraph and Morning Post stated, “The pivotal point is the pianist, Menahem Pressler. His greatest technical asset is his touch, which, at the command of intense musical understanding produces not only runs of unusual fluency and the realization of hypersensitive phrasing, but the power to hold clearly the shifting balance of the music between the instruments with never any loss of control or tone.”

Menahem Pressler
Menahem Pressler

Accolades such as these continue up until this very day for the now 90 year old musician. Mr. Pressler has been the recipient of many influential and important awards such as the German President’s Cross of Merit, First Class (2005), France’s Order of the Arts and Letters (2005), and a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Edison Foundation (2009). None of these accomplishments could have been achieved without the daring choice to take a risk (an instructive example to us all).

The Pressler papers document his career as an artist and professor at Indiana University and are now processed with a finding aid available through the Archives. Contact the Archives for more information or to gain access to the papers! Additional information about Menahem Pressler may be found on his official website: http://menahempressler.org

R., J. W. “Instruments in Master’s Hands.” The Scotsman [Edinburgh] 5 Sept. 1960: 5-6. Print. Edinburgh Festival
Warrack, John. “Edinburgh Festivial-Exciting Trios.” Daily Telegraph and Morning Post [London] 7 Sept. 1960: 9-12. Print.

Influencing Academia: Denis Sinor’s Legacy at IU

Denis Sinor at 93
Denis Sinor at 93

Denis Sinor was an esteemed professor at Indiana University for over four decades. His work in the field of Central Eurasia shaped the way academics view the topic and area today. Sinor was born in Hungary on April 17, 1916, and was educated in Hungary, Switzerland, and France. Sinor was very active in the political scene in his youth, and during World War II, he served in the French Army as a member of the French Resistance. After his time in the military, he decided to enter the world of academia and after obtaining his MA in Oriental Studies at Cambridge University, he was appointed to its faculty.

In 1962, Sinor came to the United States as a visiting professor at Indiana University. His active professional life at Cambridge University surely influenced IU’s interest in him, as he wrote more than one hundred articles and reviews on the linguistics and histories of Inner Asia.

Defining Central Eurasia

Soon after joining IU’s faculty, Sinor was appointed to the head of the Uralic and Altaic program (later renamed the Central Eurasian Studies program [CEUS]). He served as the Chair for this program from 1963-1981, but continued to hold other important administrative positions as well as teaching and along the way, securing the title of Distinguished Professor, one of greatest honors IU bestows upon faculty, in 1975.

Inner Asian & Uralic National Resource Center (INUNRC)

In 1963, Sinor created the National Defense Education Uralic and Altaic Language and Area Center (later renamed the Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center [IAUNRC]) and served as the Director from 1963-1988. From 1965 to 1967, Sinor was the Chairman for the Asian Studies Research Institute (later named the Sinor Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies [SRIFIAS] in 2006). His work with these research centers, as well as the considerable amount of written work he produced, helped define the term “Central Eurasia” for the academic world.

Professional life


Professor Sinor also focused his considerable energy to professional service. He served as the editor of the Journal of Asian History (JAH) from its inception in 1967 until 2011. The JAH studies the regions of East, South, South-East and Central Asia before 1900. At IU, Sinor edited the Uralic and Altaic Series (over 174 volumes) and the Oriental Series. Sinor was a major force in the establishment of the Permanent International Altaistic Conference’s (PIAC) headquarters in Bloomington in 1962, for which he served as Secretary-General for numerous terms.

Sinor in North Pole
Sinor in the North Pole

Throughout his lifetime, Sinor traveled extensively in Asia, including Afghanistan, Chinese Turkestan, Soviet Central Asia, Northern Pakistan, Siberia, and Inner and Outer Mongolia. He received many honors within and outside of the United States from groups such as the American Oriental Society, the Oriental Institute of the Russian Academy of Science, and was the twice holder of a Guggenheim Fellowship (1968, 1981).

Professor Denis Sinor passed away on January 12, 2011. Through the gift of his papers to the University Archives, his teaching mission can continue.  Those interested in learning more about Professor Sinor, his life and his professional activities, should feel free to contact the Indiana University Archives for assistance!

Part 2: The Indiana University School of Letters and the Mid-Century Transformation of Literary Studies

This is a continuation of a post on the history of the IU School of Letters by guest blogger Dr. James E. Dobson of Dartmouth College. 

Students and Teachers: The School’s Impact on Literary Studies

The impact of the School of Letters on the study of literature is hard to overstate. The School encouraged and promoted the work of scholars, poets, and critics including Richard Chase, Northrop Frye, Monroe Beardsley, Alfred Kazin, and Irving Howe. Perhaps one of the most influential scholars teaching at the School for many summers was Leslie Fiedler.

School of Letters annual report, 1951. IU Archives Collection C211
School of Letters annual report, 1951. IU Archives Collection C211

At the time of his first appointment to the School, Fiedler was working on what would become the manuscript for Love and Death in the American Novel (1960), a book of literary criticism that was one of the first to discuss certain recurring American social-psychological compulsions such as male homo-social bonding expressed in many American literary works. The preface to this famous volume notes the importance of his teaching and his students at the School of Letters in 1952 and 1954 for helping him to develop his ideas.

One of the students who encountered Fiedler’s radical critically transformative ideas at Indiana was James M. Cox, PhD ‘55, who would go one to become a significant American-literary scholar in his own right. In 1951 Cox was a graduate student at the University of Michigan and came to Bloomington for the summer to attend the School. It was his second year at the School; his first was spent in Ohio at the School of English. His experiences in the classroom with Fiedler led Cox to apply for admission to Indiana University. Quickly working through the course requirements for the Ph.D., Cox added the School of Letters as a minor and continued to take classes in the School of Letters. Cox would eventually himself become a fellow at the School of Letters, and after receiving his first permanent teaching job at Dartmouth College, he would return several times to teach classics of American literature including Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, and the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Martha Banta, PhD ’64 took a course on American literature under Cox in the summer of 1962 through the School of Letters while also obtaining a PhD minor in the School of Letters. She would write her dissertation on Henry James and author many important works of literary criticism. Both Banta and Cox would eventually receive lifetime achievement awards from the Modern Language Association and in their responses to the award they cite their time at the School of Letters as a major influential experience.

The poet and literary critic John Hollander PhD ’59 took his studies under School of Letters Senior Fellow Lionel Trilling at Columbia University to the English Department and the School of Letters, completing a PhD minor alongside James M. Cox. Hollander would go on to teach at City University of New York and Yale University. In 1961 Steven Marcus, a professor of Victorian literature at Columbia University came to Bloomington as a fellow of the School of Letters during which a chance encounter on campus launched him into a fundamental rethinking of Victorian culture and literature. Marcus describes this encounter in the preface to his highly influential critical work The Other Victorians (1966):

In the summer of 1961 I was teaching at the Indiana University School of Letters. It is a tradition at the School of Letters that each summer its several Fellows, or instructors, be conducted on a tour of the Institute for Sex Research. I was impressed by and interested in what I saw on this tour…I was invited to return to the Institute to conduct researches in its library and archives. These had largely been amassed by the prodigious energies of the Institute’s founder, the late Alfred C. Kinsey. They had also, I was told, gone largely unused and unexplored. It was the opinion of the Directors that the time had now come to begin to exploit this material, as it was also their belief that the time had now come to begin to open up the heretofore locked doors of the Institute, and to extend the use of its immense resources to scholars from other fields of study.

Marcus returned in to Bloomington in 1962 to teach for another summer session and continued the research that exposed a completely new account of the Victorian era’s concern with the centrality of sex. Prior to his groundbreaking book, this topic had been just as locked as the doors of the Kinsey archives.

The philosopher Stanley Cavell would come to lecture as part of the faculty in 1969 while researching a topic that would soon after be published as the well-received The Senses of Walden (1972), a radically new look at Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Other important students of the School included Ihab Hassan, a theorist of what was then termed avant-garde literature, who was a summer student in the School and came back to teach during the summer of 1964; Mark Spilka M.A. ’53, who would later become chair of the English Department at Brown University and author of books on Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, and D. H. Lawrence. Among the School’s important critical participants, one must also cite Geoffrey Hartman. He attended the School in 1951 in its first year at Bloomington, and distinguished theorist of literature as well as member of the Department of English at Yale University.

Irving Howe, American literary and social critic, served as a member of the School of Letters faculty. (Photo source: 1968 Michiganensian, p. 82)
Irving Howe, American literary and social critic, served as a member of the School of Letters faculty. (Photo source: 1968 Michiganensian, p. 82)

The End of the School

Indiana University announced the end of its formal relationship with the School of Letters on July 28, 1972. The Director for almost the entirety of its twenty-year existence, Newton Stallknecht, gave as his reason the same budgetary difficulties that initially necessitated the move of the School from Kenyon to Indiana: “This action has been taken owing to grave budgetary problems which the University faces, along with many other schools of higher education.” With Stallknecht also eager to retire, Dean of the Graduate School George W. Wilson proposed closing the School of Letters. The other major reason given was that the program had become less popular—it granted only two or three M.A.’s per year in the last few years—ironically due to its success: the School, along with its students and faculty fellows, was ultimately instrumental in carrying out its goal to transform literary studies. Literature departments had come to embrace, in turn, both the New Criticism that was the founding raison d’être of the School and the catholic approach to literature that subsequently became the School’s enduring trademark. Despite its historical eclipse, this Indiana University-sponsored program constitutes a lurking precedent for the various kinds of institutionally concentrated literary-critical study that still take place to this day.

The Archives has a number of collections containing information on the School of Letters, including the Director’s records spanning 1947-1979. Contact the Archives for access or further information! 

The Indiana University School of Letters and the Mid-Century Transformation of Literary Studies

James E. Dobson, PhD ’14 recently defended his dissertation “The Awkward Age of Autobiography: Modernization, Temporality, and American Self-Representation, 1865-1914” in IU’s English Department. He teaches at Dartmouth College and works on intellectual history and American literature. He would like to thank the archivists and staff at the Indiana University Archives for their assistance in locating materials on the School of Letters.

The School of Letters

In 1951 a group of distinguished scholars gathered in the heat of the Bloomington summer for the first year of the School of Letters at Indiana University. These scholars were among the very best in the nation working on literature and literary criticism. They had been invited to Bloomington at the invitation of Indiana University President Herman B Wells. As the School of English, the program had been, for the three previous years, housed at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, but financial difficulties required that another institution host the yearly summer institute. Over the next twenty years the School of Letters at Indiana University would be responsible for instituting major changes in the way that we read and talked about literature. The students and teachers participating in these annual institutes would use their time and proximity to each other and to resources like the Kinsey Institute during the summer months to conduct research and to produces theories that have utterly transformed our understanding of major literary works.

Course offerings, School of Letters, 1951. IU Archives Collection C36.
Course offerings, School of Letters, 1951. IU Archives Collection C36.

The School of Letters was initially organized and run by three senior fellows: John Crowe Ransom, F. O. Matthiessen, and Lionel Trilling. Some of these scholars participated in various degrees in a scholarly movement called “The New Criticism” and referred to themselves as the “new critics.” New Criticism was a revolt, begun almost a decade before the creation of the School of Letters, against the dominant reading methodology at the time that worked to place literary texts in their historical context, the historical time of authorship. The New Critics sought to shift the emphasis away from the biography and social circumstances of the author to an examination of literary aesthetics, the structural and formal features of a particular text. The famous literary journal run out of Kenyon College, The Kenyon Review, provided a platform for the articulation of the new critical credo and the School of Letters, a training ground for the dissemination of their views of the proper way to read and teach literary works to a new generation of scholars. The School was announced under the following description that made explicit the focus on the New Criticism: “The school is devoted to the critical analysis and evaluation of literature in the belief that such study has as much validity as a graduate discipline as the more frequently recognized historical scholarship, with its equally valid emphasis on textual, bibliographical, biographical sociological, and philological studies.”

Indiana Innovations

The first summer session at Indiana ran from June 25 to August 3, 1951 and enrolled fifty-three students. The university decided to expand the program inherited from Kenyon by offering a graduate degree, a Master of Arts in literary criticism. This new and innovative degree program would bring students back to Bloomington for a second summer, provide a sense of continuity, and enable people with teaching appointments elsewhere to gain a graduate degree during the summer months. In addition to the M.A., the Graduate School made the School of Letters available to students as a Ph.D. minor, enabling those studying within a wide range of graduate departments at IU to have intimate contact with some of the best scholars working in literary studies. The innovation of the Ph.D. minor in literary criticism rendered the otherwise traditional departments cutting edge and attracted a great number of students to take up graduate study at Indiana University. In addition to course work, the Ph.D. Minor required taking an extemporaneous exam. The exam asked questions that required students to think in terms of the ideals of criticism taught at the School. In the early years, when formalist and aesthetic questions dominated the scene, students would be asked if a work of literature can adequately be “judged on purely literary (aesthetic) grounds” or if it was possible to give an allegorical reading of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” In addition to the courses that were available to registered students, the School of Letters also sponsored a series of public lectures—known as the “Evening Forum”—to be given by the visiting faculty fellows. These lectures proved to be very popular to the university community; some lecturers, such as Robert Lowell, Allen Tate, and Cleanth Brooks, were able to attract nearly two hundred audience members.

John C. Ransom, one of the School of Letters organizers and among the first fellows.
John C. Ransom, one of the School of Letters organizers and among the first fellows.

After implementing these academic innovations, the School of Letters began to revise the content of the courses taught and issued an updated new mission statement. The announcement for the 1955 session revised and “corrected” the original mission statement inherited from the Kenyon days. While the School maintained its insistence that “the usual college and university courses in English have not discharged their responsibility for the art which is in their keeping,” the School recognized it could not be too dedicated to “some particular doctrine of criticism.” It now dedicated itself to representing “various modes of contemporary theory and practice” as applied to an increasingly diverse body of world literature. The School’s primary adherence to New Critical ideas helped continue the quiet revolution begun in these early summer sessions. Faculty and students came to Bloomington over the following two decades to learn and develop new theories and methodologies for the reading of literature.

Stay tuned for Part 2!