William Harris

When the Harvard Class of '48 planned the publication of the 50th year Class Yearbook I submitted the following resume of my history. Finding myself later that year buried somewhere toward the middle of a ponderous 600 page volume bound in the traditional Harvard off-crimson, a tome which nobody would take seriously as an exciting piece of bedtime reading, I decided to reproduce my entry here on the web where it can at least be seen.

This 50th year Harvard Yearbook seems a good time for me to sum up the events of my life since leaving college. After the B.A. in Classics, I did my M.A. and Ph.D., at Harvard in Linguistics under the redoubtable Joshua Whatmough, and went out to teach Classics, first at Walla Walla, then a few years at Stanford, and in l957 I came to Middlebury College in Vermont.

At the time I believed, entering the field of college teaching, that I would be working with faculty of the sharpest acumen, in a field where one could speak out openly. It was some years later that I discovered this was an illusion, that generally the faculty were quite ordinary people given to small talk, while the fine minds got fired for one reason or another. It was soon clear that freedom of speech was always a matter of grave risk.

First years at Middlebury were the end of the old Classics tradition, I had students who had done four years HS Latin, some had some Greek as well, and as the sole teacher reviving a suspended field, I taught six assorted courses for a while. Majors appeared, the best students in the college, and many went on to Ph.D. programs and academic careers. Our Classics program was tough, professional and confined to half a dozen students who were always the top honors students.These were the last days before Classics was transmuted to "Classics in English", and the end of hard study of Greek and Latin in favor of large classes basically not different from coursework in the English Department.

Ten years later two things changed: I opposed a tyrannical President in a faculty voting issue which I won, and was suddenly an academic pariah. As the strong teachers were weeded out in the next few years and others bowed in silence, I put my energies into my students and probably did my best teaching in that period. There were advantages too, no more committees, no wasted coffee time with idle colleagues, so I developed other interests in new areas:

I welded polychromed steel sculpture in the l960's, later taught some courses in Buckminster Fuller, in music improvisation, stone sculpture, even developed a part-time business in machine-shop with my son John who had finished college here. I built a large geodesic dome with participating students in l970 where I lived for years in an unconventional style, my own man on my own terms.

By l970 things had begun to change in Classics. With the appearance of Classics in Translation it became clear to college administrators that classes in English with 80 students were preferable to intense classes in Latin or Greek with five students. Thus began the move to slowly shift the field to Classical Area Studies, which could be done largely in English, in some colleges even without any Classical language work at all.

This had economic roots, as colleges sharpened their accounting pencils, but also many teachers preferred lecturing to large classes in histrionic style, as against poring over a Greek text deep in scholarship. As the century ends, "Classics" becomes popular again and clearly interesting as a general study, while the language work languishes. Classics may well end up in another quarter century like Sanskrit, a specialty study preserved only in the major universities.

On the other hand what we have now in the new Classical Area Studies is far more liberal and worthwhile than the lock-step, forced Classics of l920 when years of Latin and Greek were required core for a B.A. degree in any good college! But with modern, improved language teaching methods we should be able to get students fimly into Greek or Latin in college. Chinese and Japanese are well taught in a four year program, often to students who are not planning to go on professionally with the language, so why not Greek or Latin? First because Classics teachers often lack fire and and happy to lecture to a hundred rather than coach five students; second because the Classics have never developed modern language teaching methods, which are needed for achieving a worthwhile reading knowledge.

In l978 I entered a new marriage, this time with a young Korean woman who after University became a social worker in Seoul. A son soon appeared, my life became under Min's (Jung Soon Kim's) watchful eye became more more regulated, my clothes neater, my family living more traditional, and we both look back over the past twenty years with satisfaction as our son James finishes his BA at Oberlin.

In l990 we built a new house in the Frank Lloyd Wright modified-Usonia style, in Shoreham which is a pleasant twenty minute drive from the college libraries. I did the design myself on a CAD program, contracted and supervised the rough work while we did all the trim and finish ourselves. I love building, the design-thinking complements the hard physical work, Min and I are a great carpentry team. We may fight like any married pair, but never on the job.

I am now devoting my time to composing music, just had a l928 Steinway-L totally rebuilt, and am recording carefully planned real-time compositions which might sound like the form of Bach's "Inventions" done in Schoenbergian pan-tonal mode with a Bartokian sense of voice-leading. A jazz expert told me I had things in common with Cecil Taylor, another with Thelonious Monk, and that may be. But I keep my eyes on Bach while my hands do the rest as "cutting edge of the mind". Fortunately health is solid, my family long-lived, and I can look forward to these next years to doing the music I had in my mind since undergraduate days.

When I took early retirement I decided to make some changes, and entering the computer world, I compiled an electronic Latin dictionary which is published by Centaur in Madison WI Humanists Latin Dictionary, and thereby entered the great new Computer Age. Two years later I pulled out the boxes of papers from a lifetime of teaching and thinking, and decided that I could effectively become my own Desktop Publisher right here at my rural terminal. What was not in ASCII I ran through a scanner. I cut, edited and pasted and this summer with aid from young son James who at first grasped HTML better than I, and put the whole corpus on the web.

I am still surprised how much varied thinking went into that website. In high school I was bookish, eagerly perused Jowett's Plato, and fastened on Hippias the Elean with delight. He wove his cloak, made his sandals, composed an ode to commemorate the race he won, and sang it with his own lyre in hand. Plato looked askance at him, but I was delighted and got his message immediately: Do everything you can yourself, in short become what would eons later be called a Renaissance Man.In this age of specialization there are costs to all this but I held to my ideal firmly. The proof of part of the pudding is to be found in the links in my website, and I hope some of you will have time to take a look at then.

I am a board member of the Consortium of Vermont Composers, a fine group of skilled musical artists, which needs financial help from patrons interested in newly composed music. I would welcome email from anyone who has ideas in this direction. We sponsor new work, put on concerts in our area, and promote work which you will not hear on Public Radio or TV. For a quick view of a remarkable music-site on the web which emanates from a private studio in rural Northfield VT and gets over five million readings a year worldwide, check out this unusual url:
K and D's MUsic Bazaar .

If in conclusion a summary is expected, I would say this:

I have not had an easy life, for years living poor as a professor in a small college in bad times could be, having several failed expectations with marriage and friends, a loner with gregarious penchants who ends as a content loner after all. But I have done as many things as there was time to do, as a friend remarked "a jack of all trades and a master of most". Like my Dad who died suddenly at age 93 never thinking of dying at all, I have no thoughts about either mortality or immortality. I don't have the inclination, and above all, considering the pace of the work I am doing, I don't have the time.

Now this fall afternoon in l997, it's back to the carpentry on a new out-building, a lot of windows to be framed, dry firewood to be stacked under the south side overhang, before the frost returns and I go back to a winter with the Steinway.

William Harris
e-mail: harris@middlebury.edu
web: www.middlebury.edu/~harris/

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