William and Mary Digest: Oct. 18

First black, tenured professor honored

Trudier Harris was the first black tenured faculty member at the College of William and Mary. She came back to the college on Sept. 28 for a lecture, and to receive an award recognizing her as an integral part of the college's history.

“When I taught at the College of William & Mary between 1973 and 1979, I was 100 percent of the African-American faculty,” Harris said.

“Though I was welcomed warmly, clearly that situation needed to change. It is a testament to the tireless efforts of many good people that, at this 50th anniversary marker of African-American student presence at William & Mary, African-Americans now constitute a significant percentage of faculty, students and staff.”

Harris later taught at the University of North Carolina, and currently is a professor at the University of Alabama.

“Dr. Harris is an internationally recognized scholar in the field of African-American literary history and culture,” English professor Jacqui McLendon said. “Her return to the university where she began her career was an honor for us and greatly significant during this commemoration of ‘firsts’ — a truly historical moment for William & Mary.”

Professor researching bubonic plague

A history professor at the College of William has contributed to a series of papers examining whether the bubonic plague reached sub-Sahara Africa in the 14th century. One of the other scholars involved in similar research found strains of the plague in East Africa that shared an ancestor with strains found in Europe.

“And so it seems that these strains of plague which exist today are actually the closest to the ones that were recovered from 14th-century plague cemeteries in London,” Chouin said. “And this is an indication that the plague probably moved to Sub-Saharan Africa, where it found adequate rodent infrastructure for its survival in the eastern part of the continent."

Other regions of the continent did not have conditions conducive to the spread of the plague hundreds of years ago.

“In other places, like in West Africa where I work, there seem to be no modern pathogen descendants of past plagues, meaning that the pathogen was probably not able to find a suitable environment to reproduce itself. But in East Africa, it did,” Chouin said.

The idea that new societies came together after the plague is of particular interest to Chouin.

“The plague itself is interesting," he said. "But what is really interesting for me are the changes that the plague brought in societies it struck — the acute demographic crisis, the violence it generated and also the new opportunities that became available for those who could seize them. Those are the main ingredients of change.”

Homecoming scheduled Oct. 19-22

Comedian Todd Barry will be part of an Oct. 21 comedy show nestled in between many events the college has planned for its Homecoming and Reunion weekend.

Barry is well-known for his role as the Third Concord on the HBO show “Flight of the Concords.” He also appeared on late-night shows with David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O’Brien.

The annual homecoming parade will take place at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 20. It will start on North Boundary Street, then come up Richmond Road. After turning on Dillard Street, the parade will head down to Kaplan Arena.

Expect more traffic in the downtown through the weekend as students, alumni and others participate in the college’s planned activities.

For more information about events and activities, visit homecoming.wm.edu.

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