Kenyon UniqueGAMBIER, Ohio (October 16, 2012)
Peter D. Rutkoff and William D. "Will" Scott make a unique Kenyon tandem—together conducting research, writing books, and delivering lectures like a smooth double-play combination. Those pitch-perfect lectures have them up first in a new initiative called Kenyon Unique.
Kenyon Unique will bring honored members of the faculty into a theater setting for lectures that will be streamed live on the Internet and recorded to establish a digital library of standout scholarship. Streamlined versions of the lectures will be posted on YouTube.
Professor of American Studies Rutkoff and Professor of History Scott open the series on October 25, at 7:30 p.m., in the Gund Gallery Community Foundation Theater.
The initiative was sparked by the Kenyon College Board of Trustees and championed by trustee Matthew A. Winkler '77 H'00 P'13, editor of Bloomberg News. Winkler envisioned enhancing the College's Trustee Teaching Award by providing winners with a new way to present their latest research live and online. "One of our important jobs as trustees is to make it clear to the community at large that teaching at Kenyon is exceptional—there is no debate about that," Winkler said. "We look forward to helping our professors reveal to the world their exceptional scholarship, which I believe cannot be replicated anywhere."
Rutkoff and Scott, building on their expertise on the Great Migration—the 20th century exodus of African Americans from the South to the Northeast, Midwest, and West - will discuss their work documenting the vanishing Gullah culture and language in South Carolina, preserved for generations by descendants of West African slaves. The men have worked together since the 1970s and together developed the North By South course at Kenyon that is the senior seminar in American Studies. Their most recent book, published in 2010, is Fly Away, which examines African American migrations.
They are at ease together in the classroom. "Peter likes baseball," Scott said. "We see it as a kind of shortstop/second baseman combination. You never have to give signals. You can throw it blindly if you have to. We give the stage to each other when we see that the other one can do a better job at that moment.
"If I say something abstract, he intercedes with an interesting detail. Peter is very good at describing something in detail like a novelist does. I'm better at pulling things together and narrating change, connection, and causation. He really humanizes my thinking and writing, and I think I give his writing more meaning."
Rutkoff breaks it down this way: "I tend to show a lot of visual stuff. I tend to show; Will tends to tell."
Their work in preserving Gullah culture and language is "a slice of the bigger thing," Rutkoff said, and involves a team of about twenty researchers recording oral histories of the residents of St. Helena Island, South Carolina. "This is a culture and language and people that are about to disappear," he said. "It's like a pocket, and people are leaving the place." The oral histories will be preserved at Kenyon, giving the College a unique cultural and research treasure.
Rutkoff and Scott are enthused about Kenyon Unique and looking forward to the event, which coincides with the ceremonial opening of Horvitz Hall, the new studio arts building, and an on-campus meeting of the College trustees.
"Matt Winkler was one of our earliest students," Rutkoff said. "He's seen these lectures more than he wants. We're glad to do this in Matt's honor."
Watch this event live on October 25 at 7:30 p.m.