9 Objects: The Office of Amy Woodbury Tease

Photo of Amy Woodbury Tease setting at her office desk in the NU English Dept.
Norwich University Office of Communications

February 3, 2016

A specialist in modern British literature with a PhD from Tufts, Assistant Professor of English Amy Woodbury Tease has a soft spot for junk television and a fascination with surveillance culture. This year her courses include two new classes, “Art in the Age of Surveillance” and “Paranoid States,” which examine contemporary surveillance society, conspiracy, terrorism, and anarchy through the lens of art. Required reading/watching ranges from Joseph Conrad’s novel The Secret Agent to the Brazilian TV series 3%. Woodbury Tease also directs the Undergraduate Research Program at Norwich and is currently writing a book about surveillance society and culture. She shares the backstory of nine items found in her Webb Hall office:

Virginia Woolf pillow1. Assorted Virginia Woolf-abalia. Woodbury Tease wrote her undergraduate senior thesis on the 20th-century English author, sparking years of Woolf-themed gifts from friends and family. Today, her collection includes a finger puppet/magnet, a poster, assorted dolls, and a “creepy” pillow.

2. Nerd-Affirming Thermos. Swag from the 2014 Norwich University Undergraduate Research Symposium. Tease launched the symposium, known today as “From Students to Scholars,” to inspire early-career students to undertake ambitious, independent research with faculty mentors. “Undergraduate research is important to every student. But specifically students at Norwich, I think, because they are such active learners.”

Photo of Muriel Spark novel and framed picture of Amy Woodbury Tease and student Hannah Bell with Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy3. Muriel Spark’s The Girls of Slender Means. A gift from recent graduate and standout research mentee Hannah Bell ’16, who was the first Norwich student to present findings at the annual Posters on the Hill conference in Washington, D.C. “[Hannah] put it in the mail with a little note that said, ‘I was at a used bookstore unwinding, and I saw this book. It was the first book that I read in your class, and I couldn’t resist sending it.’”

Photo of Mark Rothko print with two children's drawings below4. Mark Rothko Print. A holdover from Woodbury Tease’s days as a graduate student. “It just brings light into the room. Underneath it, I have paintings that my son, who is now 3, did that I thought were Rothkoesque.”

Photo of tiny French mailbox5. Tiny Post Box Replica. Purchased at a vintage store, it’s a nod to French philosopher Jacques Derrida, author of The Postcard, among other works. “He does a lot with language and the ways in which language kind of circles around itself and there is no kind of outside to language. Some people find his work maddening, other people [like me] find it incredibly engrossing.”

Photo of cards and postcards tucked into fabric and ribbon holder6. Note cards. “I love sending cards to friends.” During finals, Woodbury Tease will steal a moment or two to write friends, family, and “sometimes colleagues who I think need a dose of humor.”

7. Squashy Armchair. In the morning, Woodbury Tease likes to relax with a cup of coffee and re-read text that she’ll discuss with students later that day. “That chair is really old, from an apartment I had in Queens before I got my PhD. It’s colorful, so it brings a little bit of brightness into the office.”

Photo of two children's books, "She Loved Baseball" and "Alice in Wonderland"8. Children’s books. Before starting her PhD program, Woodbury Tease spent three years working in New York as an editorial assistant in the children’s book division of Harper Collins. “I was actually really lucky, because my editor traveled a lot. So she gave me more responsibility.” A highlight was working with artists and seeing their original work.

9. Vintage Telephone, Circa 1930. The working phone was a gift from a grad school friend on the eve of Woodbury Tease’s English PhD defense. Her dissertation explored technology, technical snafus, Modernism, and machines. “I had several chapters that dealt with the telephone and phone calls,” she laughs. “So for a while I was known as ‘the call girl.’”

Photo of Amy Woodbury Tease standing at office door


Text and photographs by Sean Markey

Undergraduate Research: A Glove That Helps Teach Sign Language

Senior Maggie Cross was one of 28 Norwich University undergraduates awarded Summer Research Fellowships to explore diverse topics across the arts, sciences and professional fields. Developed by the university’s Office of Academic Research, the competitive, six- and ten-week fellowships are funded by university endowments dedicated to supporting student academic investigation.
Norwich University Office of Communications

August 31, 2015

Overlapping worlds often spark innovation. Engineering major Maggie Cross knew she wanted to pursue an NU Summer Research Fellowship. Her advisor Prof. Michael Prairie suggested she explore haptics, the use of tactile feedback to speed learning.

Cross proposed that she develop a glove that could help wearers learn the sign language alphabet more quickly. Her inspiration: a sign language interpreter she observed while volunteering at a Vermont state LEGO robotics competition last fall.

Ideally, the glove would analyze and respond to the hand movements of wearers, activating embedded buzzers when students bent individual fingers incorrectly.

Such haptic feedback has been used to cue surgeons when they slice the wrong tissue during surgeries with obstructed views. More recently, engineers at Georgia Tech developed a “piano glove” that helps wearers learn the first 45 notes of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” more quickly.

Cross emailed the PhD student involved in that project to float ideas about her own project.

In June Cross began work in the lab. Early experiments involved attaching bend resistors, accelerometers and gyroscopes to a white cotton glove to track hand motions.

She soon abandoned that approach after discovering the Leap motion controller, an off-the-shelf device that senses and plots natural hand motions in real time. Think Wii game station controller or the Matrix sci-fi film.

Cross then moved on to increasingly complex challenges of programming, wireless integration, database comparison, and sensor feedback.

For each sign letter attempt, her glove needed to capture the wearer’s gestures; compare them against a database of proper letter signs; and send, receive and activate the correct tactile feedback between the computer-based database and the glove.

Never a strong coder, Cross says the project forced her to dive deep into a number of programming languages, including C++, Objective C, JavaScript and Xcode, the coding language behind Apple iPhone aps.

The rising senior observes that there are nearly 70 million deaf people in the world and that sign language is important not only to the heard of hearing, but to their friends and family.

“Mastering sign language takes dedication and, above all, time. Using haptic feedback to learn sign language would reduce the amount of time required,” Cross notes.

“It could make bridging the gap between the hearing and hearing impaired communities more accessible.”

Cross says she was inspired to apply for her 10-week summer research fellowship by a friend, Ryan Fecteau ’15, who conducted social science research on binge drinking at military colleges as a Norwich University undergraduate summer research fellow last year.

“He said it was a good experience and he learned a lot—not just learned technically, but learned how to do research,” Cross says.

Cross has had a similar experience this summer. “I’ve worked all weekend before on a lab project. But at the end of the weekend, it’s always finished,” Cross says.

“Whereas with this, you’ll work five [or] six … seven or eight hour days and then get nothing. So you have to take a step back and realize that you’re learning how not to do it. So you are still learning, even though you don’t have anything to show for it.”

Cross had made significant progress on her glove over the course of her fellowship.

“In a way our engineers are working with the languages of machines—but many machines, many languages,” says Norwich University Professor of Electrical Engineering Ronald Lessard. “They’re trying to find out [how] to communicate with these machines so that they can get them, the machines, to work together to do what they need.”

Cross says she may continue her work as a senior thesis project, expanding the scope of her initial summer research fellowship. “Instead of just being the hands and the alphabet, you could make a sleeve out of it [to promote haptic learning of the] full sign language alphabet with all the gestures.”

Related Articles on Undergraduate Summer Research Fellows:

Student Research: Visiting Shakespeare’s Birthplace to Study Religious Tolerance

Senior Jesse Abruzzi was one of 28 Norwich University undergraduates awarded a Summer Research Fellowship to investigate diverse topics across the arts, sciences and professional fields. Nurtured by the university’s Office of Academic Research, the competitive, six- and ten-week fellowships are entirely funded by university endowments dedicated to supporting student academic investigation.
Norwich University Office of Communications

August 20, 2015

Jesse Abruzzi, a senior history major, has long been fascinated by the intersection of religion and politics. So as a 10-week Norwich University Summer Research Fellow, he chose to study the lives of English Catholics during the Protestant Reformation in the second half the 16th century.

Abruzzi focused on the small English market town of Stratford-upon-Avon in the Catholic hotbed of Warwickshire. While practicing Catholicism could be a capital offense, a number of Catholics held seats of power in town government.

To conduct original research, Abruzzi used funds from his $4,000 fellowship stipend to visit two storied archives in England: the British Library in London, the world’s largest, and the Shakespeare Birthplace Record Trust Office in Stratford-upon-Avon.

In Stratford, Abruzzi spent days pouring over ancient manuscripts full of details about village life in the 1500 and 1600s. A main source was the Minutes and Accounts of the Stratford Corporation, or town government.

Notes recorded in the 16th century tome describe an array of ordinances that illuminate the concerns of the growing market town. Decrees ranged from efforts to control dogs, trade, and firearms to rules that sought to advert religious tensions or keep tavern owners from watering down their beer.

“Everything I was looking over slowly began to change the questions I was having,” Abruzzi says. “My question changed from a religious one to a more political one.”

He refocused his scholarship on the central issue of how Stratford-upon-Avon formed an autonomous government in such a religiously charged era.

Abruzzi found that despite anti-Catholic rhetoric and actions by the monarchy in London, religion took a back seat to political and economic interests in Stratford-upon-Avon. “[This] fostered an environment that allowed a stable town to form,” he says.

“What I just found really interesting was how a religious reformation that began in Europe resulted in a political reformation in this small English town. [One] that ultimately created, oddly, this religious diversity” imperfect though it was, he says.

Norwich University Assistant Professor of History Emily Fisher Gray advised Abruzzi on his project.

“This is a story that has been investigated by other historians relating to the larger rural county of Warwickshire, but Jesse [is] the first to ask these questions of the town of Stratford,” Gray says.

To help him with his project, Gray visited the British Library and the Shakespeare Birthplace Record Trust Office ahead of time to secure research access and canvas source material on his behalf.

“Jesse was interested in researching the experiences of ordinary people,” Gray says. “I was excited because the stories of regular folks rarely get told, and they are often the most interesting.”

Of his research, Abruzzi says, “I was doing work that I’ll probably be doing at the PhD level one day. So it was great practice actually being in the ‘field’ on my own and getting firsthand experience having to solve certain problems without help.”

He says his greatest takeaway from his fellowship experience this summer was a greater sense of personal and academic independence. “I had some help in the archives the first few days,” he says. “But after that, I was on my own.”

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Photograph courtesy Emily Fisher Gray, PhD