——Dr. Sean Chadwell, professor
I enjoy making bread – it’s a process that, like the well-rounded liberal arts education, engages both mind and body, the tactile and the contemplative. It requires dedication to both chemistry and aesthetics.
I enjoy making bread – it’s a process that, like the well-rounded liberal arts education, engages both mind and body, the tactile and the contemplative. It requires dedication to both chemistry and aesthetics: on the one hand, I must work precisely to create the right conditions for the microorganisms – that yeast we cannot see – to ensure that the bread will rise before I bake it; on the other hand, I hope for the bread to taste good and to have a pleasing texture when I share it with my friends.
English professors like me can look at the ways bread has been literary and is often used as a metaphor – as I am doing here – or a symbol or just itself, as a part of the everyday lives of people. Sociologists can investigate the uses of bread in ritual and religion. Psychologists can consider the way people eat it (or don’t). Political scientists and philosophers might look at the ethics of bread, of the access a population has to food. Historians know that understanding the story of bread-making can help us more clearly to perceive the past.
The earliest bread makers learned – like scientists, through experimentation – what conditions would make a dough rise. They didn’t really understand yeast; they couldn’t see it. But they knew that if they reserved a portion of dough from a previous, successful bread, and worked some of this into the next batch of bread, that subsequent batch would also rise. Today, some breadmakers still use this technique, and they refer to this leftover portion as a ‘sourdough.’ The same sourdough, replenished now and then with fresh flour, can provide the living yeast for generations of wholesome, delicious bread.
What this means is that the sourdough bread I bake today has a connection to the bread I baked months ago. They share a lineage. They have common roots. Although they’re different, the new one could not exist without the foundations of the old one.
Maybe it’s because I enjoy bread so much that sourdough reminds me of the liberal arts in general and Xing Wei College in particular.
For me, study in the liberal arts is rooted in conversations. This is why participating in class discussions is important, but that’s only one example. It’s also about the conversations we have over lunch or walking across campus, with faculty and students pursuing different areas of study. Deeper than that, it’s about the research we do in the library, which invites us into ongoing discussions, conversations that span time and space. I see every liberal arts campus as alive – just like dough – with all kinds of dialogue. As people come and go – as students move on to other studies and careers – the echoes of all those conversations linger long enough to be taken up again and again, like those generations of yeast in a sourdough.
And the leaders at Xing Wei College have been working like artisan bakers, creating just the right conditions for a successful rise. They have drawn on the experience and expertise of faculty members in various disciplines who will unite in Shanghai to continue the conversations they started elsewhere – and to start new ones, with each other, with their students, and with the community. Xing Wei, like any great sourdough, will be another robust, living manifestation of a deep and vital lineage.
I can’t wait to begin.