Posts tagged ‘Sophie de Schaepdrijver’

Our New Issue is Headed Your Way

July August 2014The July/August 2014 issue of The Penn Stater is hitting mailboxes this week. If you’ve already received your copy, you know that the cover features a striking image of war-torn Belgium during World War I. In the cover story, “World War I Revisited,” associate professor Sophie De Schaepdrijver talks about the lessons we can still learn from the Great War. With the centennial now approaching, De Schaepdrijver’s insights are both timely—and surprising.

In another feature, titled “Critical Condition,” you’ll learn about physician-turned-filmmaker (not to mention cancer survivor) Ryan McGarry ’05. His documentary, Code Black, chronicles life in Los Angeles County Hospital’s overcrowded ER. Released in June, the film is already earning buzz on the film-festival circuit.

“Plant Life” focuses on the career of Holly Shimizu ’76, who spent 14 years as executive director of the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C.. Along with some lovely photos, the story features Shimizu’s best tips for amateur gardeners.

Other good stuff in the issue: A fun look at all the ways the university’s latest capital campaign is helping Penn Staters; a Q&A with a labor relations prof who thinks we should all put in fewer hours (really!); and a short profile of Pennsylvania’s official wine expert, Denise Gardner ’07.

Have you received the July/August issue yet? Let us know what you think. Comment below or email

Mary Murphy, associate editor





July 2, 2014 at 8:54 am 5 comments

A Beginner’s Guide to World War I


The so-called “Great War” is in the spotlight this year, as the world marks the centennial of the start of World War I. For the cover story of our July-August 2014 issue, I talked to Penn State historian Sophie De Schaepdrijver, who has spent much of her career studying the war—its origins, its effects on civilian life, and the changing attitudes people have about its role in history. (That’s the opening spread of our July-August story, above.)

I also asked De Schaeprijver what resources she’d recommend for someone interested in learning more about World War I. We shared five of her suggestions in the magazine; below is a longer, more detailed list.

1. Rites of Spring, a book by Modris Eksteins.“It’s such a great cultural history of the war and what kind of thinking made the war possible. What made people think it was worthwhile? What made them stick it out in the face of so much loss? Those guys on the front came from all walks of life—chicken farmers and teachers, conservatives and socialists, Catholics and Jews—and what is absolutely baffling is how little there was in terms of protest. There’s a saying that behind every soldier is someone holding a gun to his head, but you can’t really say that here—there’s a lot of self-mobilization, people convincing themselves that they should be there.

“Eksteins teases it out, unravels the different strands. It’s a pretty complex book, but accessible and extremely well written. It is the book that sparked my interest in World War I as a societal event, and I return to it quite often.”

2. A Son at the Front, a novel by Edith Wharton. “Probably her least well-known book. It’s written from the perspective of divorced parents whose son is in the war. What I like is that it was pretty much rejected and not seen as an important book, written by a woman, and yet it shows this dual point of view: The parents share this anguish over their son at the front, but they don’t reject the war—they feel it is worth fighting.”

3. Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany, a book by Isabel Hull. “This one is pretty academic [Hull is on the faculty at Cornell University], but I like it a lot. It talks about the German military as an organization that develops a culture of its own, and why that tells us a great deal about the violence of the first World War. It allows you to grasp why the violence could get out of hand like this without having to resort to explanations like racism, or describing World War I as merely a prologue to World War II. It’s a ‘think book.’ It brings in the notion of the army as its own organization that’s going to develop its own logic—a nice bit of organizational culture, which is interesting well beyond military history.”

The ruins of Ypres, Belgium, after the war. Image courtesy Great War Primary Document Archive:

The ruins of Ypres, Belgium, after the war. Image courtesy Great War Primary Document Archive:

4. The Regeneration Trilogy, three novels by Pat Parker. “This is fantastic, a contemporary trilogy; one of the three books won the Booker Prize in 1995. The trilogy is about British soldiers, and you see them not at the front but at the home front, being patched up and treated for posttraumatic stress. The author offers a very intelligent reflection on the damage the war does, and she goes into the soldiers’ heads to understand why they want to return to the front. She wrote war books after this, but none as good as this; these are masterpieces.”

5.  World War I Museum, Kansas City. “It’s a great collection, extremely intelligently exhibited. They revamped it a short while ago, and they have a great crew there; it’s just a great educational experience. The building is tremendous; it’s from the 1920s—it was built to be a World War I museum from the start, and the architecture is overwhelming. There’s a lavish circular room on the top floor that houses a panoramic French painting made at the end of World War I, called Panthéon de la Guerre. They made this room just for it. So visiting the museum is an aesthetic as well as educational experience.”

6. War Requiem, an oratorio by Benjamin Britten. “I think it’s brilliant. It was actually composed after World War II, but the text refers to both world wars. It includes the Latin ‘Mass for the Dead’ and poems by Wilfred Owen, who died at the end of World War I and who is for many people—including myself—the greatest poet to come out of that war. There are moments where it’s very jarring, and then there are the soothing notes of the Latin mass. It’s a masterpiece, and I would love to see many performances of it in this centennial year.”

7. A visit to Ypres, Belgium. “Its Flanders Field Museum is in a medieval building that was bombed to complete rubble in the war—as was all of Ypres [pronounced ‘EE-per’]—and rebuilt after the war. Typically after the second world war, things were rebuilt in a boxy modern way, but after World War I, people said, ‘We’re not going to use this as an opportunity to modernize; we are going to recapture what we had. We had gables and canals and cul-de-sacs before, and we’re going to have them again.’ So it’s really quite gorgeous. A stone’s throw away is the Menin Gate, where, every single evening at 8, they stop traffic and buglers sound the ‘Last Post.’ And around the city are major British cemeteries that you can visit on a bicycle or bus tour.”

8. Historial de Grande Guerre, a museum in Péronne, France. “In many ways it’s a completely different experience from the Flanders Field Museum. Péronne is a tiny town, much less lavish than Ypres, and all around it you have the battlefields of the Somme. The museum is a modern one, and it’s my favorite museum. It’s moving, it’s intelligent, and for me it is the exemplary war museum.

“It makes a couple of extremely intelligent choices—for example, the uniforms are not upright on mannequins; they’re down on the floor, spread out, and you walk around them. It shows a kind of helplessness without imposing it upon you. It doesn’t tug at the emotions; it basically asks you to take a step back and contemplate and decide for yourself what you feel. It’s a form of respect—for those who died, for those who grieved for them, and for that generation—that is very admirable.

“There’s a mystery to World War I—what made these people go on—and the more we learn, the more we know we’ll never get to the bottom of it; we can only show bits and pieces. The museum conveys that very well.”

Tina Hay, editor

July 1, 2014 at 10:47 am 4 comments

On the Autobahn with Ronnie and Sophie

Ronnie-HsiaOne of the things that sets this trip apart from other Alumni Association trips I’ve been on is the presence of two faculty hosts: Ronnie Hsia and Sophie de Schaepdrijver, both from the Penn State history department. They’re both very knowledgeable about the areas we’re visiting, and quite a few of the travelers have mentioned what a great dimension they add to the experience.

The drive from Strasbourg to Würzburg yesterday was close to four hours, but between Ronnie and Sophie—and tour manager Mark Godin—we were entertained and informed the whole way.

Since we were leaving France behind and going into Germany, where we’ll spend the rest of the trip, Mark handed out a pop quiz (more…)

July 15, 2010 at 2:06 am 2 comments

Lots of Photos from Paris


I’ve just uploaded a bunch of Paris photos, including some that I took from the top of Notre Dame Cathedral this morning. The gargoyles up there are fascinating, and the tower offers some spectacular views of the city. I also uploaded an album of some miscellaneous Paris shots that don’t fit into any other album.

You can see the latest photos—and all the photos from the trip so far—by going to our Facebook page and clicking on the Photos tab.

We met the Penn State travelers tonight at an Alumni Association-sponsored reception at the hotel. Sophie and Ronnie talked to the group a bit about their areas of expertise, and quite a few of the travelers commented on how lucky they feel to have a couple of scholars of European history and religion hosting the tour. And Sophie, whose last name is de Schaepdrijver (pronounced SHOP-driver), got some laughs when she explained that her name is pronounced somewhere between “skyscraper” and “cab driver.”

More later.…

Tina Hay, editor

NEXT: I’d Love to Join You for Dinner, But I’m Eating at the Eiffel Tower Tonight

July 10, 2010 at 3:19 pm 1 comment

Travels with Sophie


The sepulchre of French chocolatier Emile Justin Menier at Paris' Pere-Lachaise Cemetery.

The actual Alumni Association part of our trip starts later tonight, but meanwhile I’m continuing to check out Paris on my own—and yesterday I had a chance to do some exploring with Sophie de Schaepdrijver, one of the two Penn State faculty hosts for the trip.

Sophie plans to lead interested trip participants on a walk at Père-Lachaise Cemetery on Sunday, so we did a little scouting run out there yesterday afternoon. It’s an immense cemetery with many entrances, and Sophie wanted to figure out which Metro stop was closest, which entrance would be best, etc. As for me, I just love old cemeteries with impressive sculptures, and I’ve heard Père-Lachaise is one of the best. Plus, I wanted to see the famous graves: Jim Morrison, (more…)

July 10, 2010 at 2:36 am Leave a comment

Dreaming of Europe


I.M. Pei's Louvre Pyramid, in the courtyard outside the Louvre in Paris

The other day I had a chance to meet Sophie de Schaepdrijver and Ronnie Hsia, the two Penn State history/religious studies faculty members who are hosting the Alumni Association’s trip to France and Germany next month. I’m going along on that trip to keep a blog, take photos, and maybe bring back a story for the magazine. And with the husband-and-wife team of Sophie and Ronnie helming the trip, I think we’re going to have a terrific experience.

We start with a few days in Paris, and although a lot of activities are already planned for us in the city through the Alumni Association and the travel company (Collette Vacations), Sophie and Ronnie have some ideas as well.

Ronnie is planning to take interested participants on a strolling tour of medieval Paris, while Sophie has offered to take a group to the city’s famous Père Lachaise cemetery. Given that I’m a fan of old cemeteries and of taking photos of funerary art, I actually had Père Lachaise on my wish list already, so I’m excited at the thought of going there with someone who knows a lot about it.

In a letter introducing herself to the Penn State travelers, Sophie wrote: “…you are welcome to accompany me to Père Lachaise cemetery on the outskirts of Paris—a vast park-like, hilly place, most atmospheric, where many celebrities are buried (Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison) and which was the site of fierce violence during the Commune uprising of 1871.”


The theatre in tiny Oberammergau, Germany, where the Passion Play is staged every 10 years.

Which, of course, made me go to Wikipedia to read up on the Commune uprising. And that’s what’s so appealing—I can already tell that Ronnie and Sophie are going to add a very cool dimension to the trip. They’ve suggested books for the travelers to read in advance, for example. They will be doing informal lectures on our bus rides. And they both seem to know a good bit about the sometimes-controversial Oberammergau Passion Play, which we’ll see on the last day of the trip. (The residents of the German village of Oberammergau have been putting on the Passion Play every 10 years since the 1600s.)

Ronnie, in his letter to the Penn State travelers, wrote: “I have taught courses in the religious history of Europe in the period of the Renaissance and Reformation. In addition to my interest in the Protestant Reformation and Catholic reform in the 16th and 17th centuries, I have written on the relationship between Jews and Christians; therefore, I am particularly excited to be attending with you the Oberammergau Passion Play, which I have read so much about, but have never seen.”

We leave in three weeks, and I’m looking forward to sending you updates and photos from what should be an amazing trip.

Tina Hay, editor

NEXT: Passion Play Passes Muster with Both Catholics and Jews

June 16, 2010 at 3:57 pm 2 comments

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