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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Understanding the Place of Traditional Agriculture in Africa's Food Security

Here is a link to the interview.William Moseley, a geographer from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, recently returned from a study trip to Botswana. He talks about the changes in African agriculture and the importance of traditional small scale agriculture for food security. The public education issue he identifies would be familiar to people thinking about food issues in rural Minnesota, where small scale agriculture is similarly under-valued.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Chinese Students Discuss Their Heritage

Three Chinese students speak about the role that Confucius and Taoist teachings play in their lives.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Student Employment and Teaching

Mat Lipman is best known as founder of the international Philosophy for Children movement, a great educational innovator in the tradition of John Dewey. He is less well known as a teacher of individual students, but, in that area also, Lipman was an important innovator. One story to illustrate this: the amazing 30 year career of Joanne Matkowski, who came to Lipman's Institute in its early days as a student worker. She was invited early on into the daily policy discussions and into the activity of philosophic inquiry. Over 30 years, she took on increasing responsibility, finally running the business side of the operation and consulting on a broad range of important questions; her cover art even appeared on one of Mat's novels for children. Joanne's story can serve as an important reminder of what can be accomplished, if those supervising student workers in academic settings take their teaching responsibilities seriously.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Zoe Daniels - Stand-up Comedy in Montreal

Zoe Daniels, a young comic and actor, talks about learning to do stand-up comedy.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

An overview of Confucian Ethics

Kirill Thompson, a life-long student of Chinese ethics, gives a fine introduction to the Confucian tradition in this September 2011 interview.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Thinking about Support Groups

Maran Wolston, a PhD candidate in Philosophy writing a dissertation on issues surrounding multiple sclerosis, explores the ethical issues raised by the support resources provided by drug companies.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Reinventing Disaster Response

Peter Kerre explains how he responded to the North Minneapolis tornado, and thereby changed what was possible in disaster response and effective action.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

An Overview of the Flooding Problem in Louisiana

Rob Gilmer, a recent University of Minnesota History PhD, discusses the history of floods and flood control in the Mississippi delta region.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Philosophical Reflection on One's Own Situation

Maran Wolston, a PhD candidate in ethics who teaches philosophy at Normandale Community College, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis four and a half years ago. She decided to do a thesis reflecting on her own condition and the issues it raises.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Terry Dosh - Historian

Terry Dosh entered a Roman Catholic seminary at the beginning of the great transformations of the Church surrounding the Second Vatican Council. His life, and his work as an historian, is in constant dialogue with the ideas of reform and renewal exemplified by Vatican II.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Litchfield Area Adult Writers Group

This is a show I did in 1997 with my parents, Jim and Ardes Shea. The writing group they describe provided stimulation and support and a monthly challenge for them for decades. My dad died a couple of years after this interview; my mother is still an active participant in the group.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Oil and Water - An Exciting New Kind of Course

This semester, the University of Minnesota is offering a course called "Oil and Water: The Gulf Oil Spill of 2010." This is a rapid response to important events; it has received a lot of good press at the national level. The Institute for Advanced Study is making arrangements to post the course lectures online, so that people all over the world can follow along. Here is the first lecture. The details about subsequent episodes will be posted within a week.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Teaching People How to Live in the Nineteenth Century

Connie and Norm Peterson are committed to slowing down, to values that come from 19th Century rural culture. They are also passionate about teaching crafts -- fiber arts and woodworking -- as ways of entering into that state of mind. Here is their story.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Walken Schweigert: the Unseen Ghost Brigade

Walken Schweigert, an actor, director, performer, with a talent for learning new skills and having adventures, discusses an upcoming project: a trip down the Mississippi on raft, helping the ghosts of characters from the time of Mark Twain visit towns along the route from Minneapolis to New Orleans.

Edith Morgan - Pacifist and Holocaust Survivor

World War II presented a particular problem for pacifist principles. In this interview, Edith Morgan, a Jewish refugee from Europe whose family settled in Minnesota, tells the story of her escape and reflects on how she and her family thought about the problem of war, in light of their own history and the reality of Nazi ruthlessness.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Was McLuhan Right? The Gutenberg Galaxy and the Future of the Book

A passionate discussion in the philosophy section of a good bookstore, bringing together people who cared passionately about printed books and reading, people who were enthralled with new gadgets and techniques of information accesss and display, and people who just wanted to understand what is happening to our culture, as print becomes in various ways inconvenient and problematic:

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year's Request -- and New Dog Intro

As the year 2010 emerges, I am asking my viewers -- on cable and on the blog -- to check in with me, so that I may estimate better the impact of some of these video efforts. Please send me a note at this address: -- to let me know that you are following the blog or watching the show. Responses or suggestions for future directions would also be welcome.

My best wishes for a good New Year.

Peter Shea

Thursday, December 24, 2009

"Things keep happening to me."

I interviewed Meredith Gillies, Library Assistant to the Children's Literature Research Collection at the University of Minnesota, as part of a special show on the collection's 60th Anniversary. (She poses in front of the cake from the anniversary exhibit.) She told me her story after the tour, how she came to a job that she really likes, and a very rich creative life, through a series of lucky accidents and also through taking a lot of student jobs seriously over the years. I think the story of Meredith's persistence and optimism and good luck is one that lots of job-seeking undergrads need to hear - if only to get it straight that this sort of story is possible.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

What we learn through just living

Sony alone from Bill Cunningham on Vimeo.

Making decisions from Bill Cunningham on Vimeo.

The California Kid from Bill Cunningham on Vimeo.

Mary Pauluk is chaplain at St. John Lutheran Home in Springfield, Minnesota. In these excerpts from a series of talks soon to be posted on her own web page, Mary discusses the difficulties of decision-making with elderly relatives -- and also the possibilities for learning and growth in those discussions and deliberations: the way people gradually come to understand the process of aging and its implications for their lives.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Making Music Theater

People with strong interests sometimes have to make painful choices -- and sometimes not. Sometimes different artistic interests combine to make new art forms -- or to make lives that contain a bewildering variety of activities. This excerpt from an interview at the MN Fringe Festival shows how such creative fusions come about for performing artists.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Learning through mime

Some of the performing arts, in some of their versions, allow artists to reflect on, document, process their experience in multiple ways, over a long time. In this interview, Dean Hatton and Kirsten Stephens tell about their experience developing mime pieces. They also describe the teaching style of Marcel Marceau.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

How a class evolves

Juliette Cherbuliez, of the the French and Italian Department, University of Minnesota, talks about the evolution of her thinking about the theme of Medea in literature, as dialogue with students provoked new insights and questions.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Jeanne Willcoxon: directing, teaching, exploring a play with a group of actors

It's my privilege this week to talk to people in various parts of the theater world about their work. This conversation with Jeanne Willcoxon, a director and a faculty member at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, casts some light on the collaborative process of directing a play, on the way that the director and cast explore the central ideas embodied in a script.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A new vision for math education

This provocative piece from the magnificent TED website opens an important discussion.
Contributors to that website have begun to process this idea in helpful ways, in the extensive comments section posted with the talk. To take this discussion in another direction, I asked J.B. Shank, an historian of science and mathematics at the University of Minnesota and a frequent guest on The Bat of Minerva, to comment on this suggestion and to place it in historical perspective, thinking about the development of both calculus and probability mathematics in the 17th Century. This excerpt is taken from that wide-ranging interview:

Sally Roach: Writing a play for the first time

One of the most important things to understand in making sense of education: the various ways that reflection and creative expression enter into very busy lives. If educators don't talk about that -- a lot -- students have no way of understanding what their education -- all that literature and philosophy and history and math -- can do for them, once they get into the middle of pretty repetitive, down to earth, often specialized adult life. Some people address their creative and scholarly impulses by creating parallel lives, a sort of second career. Others have to put off creative and reflective projects for a long time, until the right opportunity presents itself. In this excerpt from an interview just the before the 2009 Fringe Festival, Sally Roach describes what it meant to her to come back to theater, to writing, to extended storytelling after a long interval spent raising a family, addressing the needs of aging parents, and working in the community.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Ensemble theatre: continuing education for actors

Some people live an entire second life, their whole life. Actors in small companies may have 40 hours a week of work outside of their day job, and may keep up this schedule for decades.

I recently did a piece about Sandbox Theatre, a collaborative ensemble theatre in the Twin Cities. It seemed to me an astonishing machine for keeping people creatively alive, long-term -- an opportunity for talented people to participate in every aspect of theatrical production and to explore ideas and images that matter to them at a reasonable pace. Sandbox does one production a year, starting with an idea and a bare outline. All members of the company engage in reflection, research, and creative experimentation, leading up to a show in the Fall.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Robin Gillette - On finding one's place in the theater

Robin Gillette talked to me on the brink of the Fringe Festival 2009 about how she came to be a theater administrator and about her vision for theater as a place where people are transformed. She tells two stories about finding her place – about settling on the work she wanted to do within the broad theater enterprise, and then, later, about settling on the kind of production she could invest in. I think of her experience as I talk to students choosing careers. They know they want to be involved with medical or technical or artistic enterprises, but they often have trouble finding their place within those enterprises or even determining what places are available to them, within those enterprises. Robin had astonishing luck, in finding situations in which she could try out a variety of roles for herself, a variety of production companies, on the way to settling into something she really believed in. As a model of what is possible in career exploration, this is an inspiring story.

Also in this excerpt, Robin says some important things about the way the particular setup of the Fringe Festival teaches people to be more attentive audience members. Brecht wanted to build inducements to consciousness and critical thought into the structure of individual dramatic pieces. This idea seems more promising: to craft a context in which drama naturally provokes informed critical discussion over an extended time.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mike Fortun - Ethnographic studies of ongoing scientific projects

Mike Fortun is an associate professor in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Insititute. His most recent work is Promising Genomics: Iceland and deCODE Genetics in a World of Speculation (University of California Press 2008), an ethnographic account of deCODE Genetics in Iceland. In this interview, he discusses his work doing oral history/anthropology of ongoing scientific enterprises.

Fortun is concerned to convey the messiness and “humanity” of science, in a public climate in which scientific inquiry is often held up as a model of fairly simple, clear rational procedure. He also wants to capture the kind of information about scientific advances that is often lost in an era in which communication by cell phone and email have supplanted scientific correspondence.

Fortun gives a very interesting and surprising account of the interview process, presenting as intuitive and exploratory and messy, like the scientific enterprises he is trying to understand.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Alan Love: the emphases of disciplines studying scientific practice

I was excited at the prospect of interviewing a new (2006) member of the University of Minnesota philosophy faculty, Alan Love, because I knew that he is engaged in careful study of scientific practice in areas of biology, as a prelude to philosophic analysis. When I came to the department as a graduate student in 1974, people were beginning to make use of careful, extended case studies, entering into dialogue with those engaged in a variety of practices. I wanted to hear more about the current state of that sort of philosophic enterprise.

In this excerpt, Alan Love discusses the differences between the kind of “descriptive” enterprise philosophers undertake and similar efforts in history and cultural anthropology. Some of Love’s work in philosophy of science concerns the motives for interdisciplinary approaches to areas of biology; this interview suggests that some comparable interdisciplinary work is required to do justice to biological research.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Wendy Rahn - Work on behalf of cancer survivors

Wendy Rahn, a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota, responded to a breast cancer diagnosis with research, experimentation, and finally institution-building; Wendy created an organization to promote exercise among women with cancer and to advocate that exercise be taken seriously as part of the long-term treatment of cancer. (The website for institutions she founded is at

Wendy applied her insights, skills and experience to work for her community. This excerpt from a longer interview describes the origins of her project.

Don Holt -- Crafting new metaphors for aging

Don Holt has had many adventures, over a long life – as a Marine, as a minister, as a social service professional, as an author. As Don turned 70, he began to think and write about the challenges of aging, trying to imagine this part of life in ways that had not been available to his parents. This interview excerpt sketches some of his ideas.

I like this piece as an example of how thought and life can sometimes be closely connected, how the most important circumstances of one’s life can give one the material for sustained thinking and the motive to engage in such thinking. I also like fact that this piece makes it so clear why thinking isn’t optional, how the process of re-imagining is central to living well. Conventional thinking contains traps leading to despair, to stasis, to unmitigated boredom. Don Holt provides one model for thinking one’s way out of such traps.

This show was cablecast on July 19, 2009.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Ann Margaret Sharp - Learning to teach in a new way

Ann Margaret Sharp is one of the founders of the worldwide Philosophy for Children movement, an approach to philosophy teaching that relies on a self-correcting community of inquiry, rather than the authority of the teacher, to provoke and guide philosophic discussion. This is a major transfer of responsibility to the students, a teaching innovation with important implications for philosophy teaching at every level. In this interview, she describes one of her early experiments with turning responsibility over to students.

This story is important partly because it shows how moving among different ways of connecting to students and different kinds of students provokes different thinking about the practice of teaching. Once it was established that students could learn in this new way, could take this kind of crazy responsibility, all sorts of questions were open about the assumptions governing the conventional classroom. But it took a very unusual experience to raise those questions – and a very remarkable teacher to see the implications of those questions.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Katrina Vandenberg on her residency in Amy Clampitt's house

In this interview excerpt, cablecast on June 7, 2009, Saint Paul poet Katrina Vandenberg describes her time as poet in residence at the house of Amy Clampitt (1920-1994).

Education and encouragement are the jobs of that educational establishment that somehow keeps thinking and creation going from generation to generation. Universities, foundations, public agencies, professional associations, libraries – all contribute something to making possible the work of the new poets and scholars and critics. In this space, I want to try to understand how such encouragement succeeds, what efforts are worth making.

What I find most striking about this opportunity is that it allowed person-to-person contact between people who had never met. Katrina had total freedom to explore as deeply as she wanted the life and mind of the other poet. The terms of meeting were left open, in the way they are open in an actual introduction.

I am intrigued by any educational opportunity that preserves freedom.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

John Calvin Rezmerski -- July 12, 2009

In May, I taped an interview with John Rezmerski, a Minnesota writer living in Mankato. (This interview aired on July 12, 2009)

I first met John when we both served on the board of the Minnesota Literature Newsletter, maybe 25 years ago, but I had never heard his story. I am always struck how often that happens; there’s no occasion in normal Minnesota conversation to find out who you are talking to.

I attach here the first ten minutes of the interview, John’s account of his life through the publication of his first book, through his first teaching job at Gustavus Adolphus College. It is a pretty ordinary story: a bright kid explores more and more widely, having great fun with words and ideas. I am struck by all the points of generosity along the way: parents with an overstocked library, indulgent small-town librarians, a scholarship with a provision for unlimited classes, a helpful poet to criticize early work, another poet to invite him to go in new directions, a contest committee that took the trouble to communicate with the runner-up in its contest. None of these advantages was huge or expensive. Taken together, they made all the difference; they made an interesting and productive life possible.

One can learn a lot about how to make an environment where people become scholars and poets from stories like this. One could almost do an index of it: the more small acts of needless generosity, the more lives work out.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Bat of Minerva

For about 14 years, the Bat of Minerva, a regional cable show, has featured thoughtful people, including many scholars, talking about their life journeys, trajectories, stumblings. From these conversations, hints emerge about the landscape of the academy, the varieties of scholarly and thoughtful lives, and also about what kind of energy or passion or annoyance keeps people thinking and working, year after year.

In this anniversary interview, I discuss some of the motives for starting the Bat. The interviewer is Mary Callahan. My name is Peter Shea; I produce and direct The Bat of Minerva.