Prof. Dominic Tierney and Nell Bang-Jensen ’11 Discuss Media and War

Political Scientist Dominic Tierney and Nell Bang-Jensen ’11 recently led a discussion on the media’s responsibilities in times of war.

Body of an American

The discussion followed The Body of An American, which explores the friendship of photojournalist Paul Watson and playwright Dan O’Brien (played by Harry Smith and Ian Merrill). Photo by Alexander Iziliaev.

Swarthmore’s zeal for interdisciplinary studies and collaboration took center stage at the Wilma Theater earlier this month, when Associate Professor of Political Science Dominic Tierney and Nell Bang-Jensen ’11 guided a lively discussion on the media’s responsibilities in times of war.

The discussion followed a performance of The Body of an American, which explores the international repercussions of the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dead American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia. The image skewed the perception of the U.S. intervention in Somalia and may have dissuaded its leaders from intervening in catastrophes such as Rwanda, Tierney says.

Nell Bang-Jensen
Nell Bang-Jensen ’11 cites collaborating with Dominic Tierney and other Swarthmore community members as “a wonderful melding of worlds.”

“The play deals with important issues about the power of photographs in wartime, which resonates with my teaching and research,” says Tierney, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and an official correspondent of The Atlantic. “I was excited to participate.”

Prof Dominic Tierney
Prof. Dominic Tierney

One of the actors in the play, Harry Smith, is a friend of Tierney’s. He recommended him as someone who had researched the events in Mogadishu and could lend context to the performance. In what Bang-Jensen deems a “funny coincidence,” it was she who called Tierney to arrange the collaboration.

“I sent him the script in advance so he could get a feel for it and see the connections to his own work,” says Bang-Jensen, who works in the Wilma’s artistic department. “There are different levels on which to interpret the play: How do we come to terms with the idea that war lives inside all of us, and how can we solve these internal wars before we can solve global ones?”

The play centers on photojournalist Paul Watson, who is haunted by what he believes he heard the soldier say right as he took the prize-winning photo: “If you do this, I will own you forever.” Playwright Dan O’Brien, also obsessed with the notion of hauntings, heard Watson tell the story on the radio in 2007, and a friendship bloomed between them. Written by O’Brien and directed by Michael John Garcés, the production runs through February 1.

Tierney’s appearance followed the January 16th performance, which drew a young and socioeconomically diverse audience (thanks partly to the WynTix program that offers $10 tickets to students and theater employees). With the Charlie Hebdo attack in France fresh on everyone’s minds, the audience pondered the media’s obligation to citizens.

“It’s the constant question of how the media can give outsiders a more nuanced view of what’s happening,” says Bang-Jensen, “going beyond these images that often only tell one part of the story.”

Also lending context to the performance was an exhibit of wartime photography in the lobby. It included the work of David Swanson, an embedded correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer in Iraq in 2004 and the husband of Laila Swanson, assistant professor in set and costume design for Swarthmore’s Department of Theater.

Swarthmore’s connections to the Wilma don’t end there, however. Madeline Charne ’14 has been an intern at the theater since June, and Matt Saunders, assistant professor of design and resident set designer, has designed sets for its productions such as Age of Arousal and Angels in America.

“I feel very lucky to be a part of this wonderful melding of worlds,” says Bang-Jensen, who majored in English literature with a theater minor at Swarthmore and then traveled for a year as a Watson Fellow. “It’s so exciting to engage these fellow artists at the professional level, and for these academic conversations to carry beyond the classroom and manifest as art.”

New Spring 2015 Course on South American “Dirty Wars”

A new history course  this semester can  be counted toward a minor in Peace and Conflict Studies! The course is slated to be offered again during the fall semester 2016.

Digging Through the National Security Archive: South American “Dirty Wars” and the United States Involvement

Professor Diego Armus
History 090o
Mondays 1:15 pm – 4:00 pm in Kohlberg 230

This course offers a critical examination of 1970s Southern Cone Latin American military dictatorships focusing on the making of coups d’état; the successful imposition of neoliberal economic agendas by military-civilian alliances; daily life under state terrorism; national security doctrines; and memories of the so-called “Dirty Wars”. As a research oriented course, the second half of the semester will be devoted to a rigorous exercise of investigation focused on the relations between those Latin American dictatorships and the United States using the National Security Archive and other primary sources.

Pinochet and Kissinger

Martin Luther King Collection and Choir tomorrow

Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection & Gospel Choir performance with violinist Patrick Desrosiers

Friends Meeting House
12:45 p.m., Friday, January 23, 2015

Please join together with faculty, staff, and students for a campus-wide community collection and a special performance from the Gospel Choir and violinist Patrick Desrosiers.

Reception immediately to follow in the Whittier Room.


1969: The Revolutionary Spring of Black Students by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

1969: The Revolutionary Spring of Black Students by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi is Professor of Africana Studies at University at
Albany, SUNY

February 5, 2015
4:30-6:00 p.m. 
Scheuer Room, Kohlberg Hall
Swarthmore College (directions to campus)

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi is Professor of Africana Studies at University at Albany, SUNY.

From 1965 to 1972, Black students and their allies waged the most transformative antiracist social movement in the history of U.S. education. They organized, demanded, and protested for a relevant learning experience at more than five hundred colleges and universities in every state except Alaska. They pressed for a range of campus reforms, including an end to campus paternalism and racism, and the addition of more Black students, faculty, Black Cultural Centers, and Africana Studies courses and programs. The spring of 1969 was undoubtedly the climax semester of this social movement. From Swarthmore to Cornell, from Duke to Wisconsin, from UCLA to UC Berkeley, Black students and their allies revolutionized the course of higher education for decades to come.

Reception to follow.

This is a part of the Black History Month series of events for 2015. Please see The Black Cultural Center’s website for more information on this and other events.