Harvard Happenings - Meet the Professor Series: David Carrasco

Lastnight I went to a "Meet the Professor Series" at Harvard.  David Carrasco, a professor in the Divinity School was speaking on his research with the Cuauhtinchan No. 2 Map, from Mexico.  My knowledge of Mexico and specifically Aztec culture is extremely limited (okay non-existant).  Anyway, I found the whole thing totally fascinating.

The history of the No 2 Map of Cuauhtinchan is that it was created by the Aztecs 20 years after the Spanish landed in Central America.  Part historical narrative, part legal document and part traditional map - the 500-year-old document was closely gaurded by a small Aztec community (the Cuauhtinchan) until the 1920s, when the donated it to the Mexican Museum.  In the 1960s the map disappeared, only to resurface in a prominant Mexican families lounge room in early 2000.  David Carrasco and a team of experts have spent the last five or so years conserving and interpreting the story it tells.

The story of the map itself is fascinating.  Some academics cite its use in disputes between the Spanish and Atzec over landrights.  But it also describes the history of the Atzec people, their rich culture and knowledge of the land.  In many ways it reminded me of the traditional paintings and maps for which Australia's indigenous people are famous.  There were also parrallels to the French Bailleu tapestries and probably many other "cultural" sagas from around the world.

The discussion which followed revolved around the concepts of sacred space, land rights and the assimilation of culture.  It was a great night, and again I was reminded of how lucky I am to be at Harvard.  This seminar was free, brought an amazing array of students and professors from different backgrounds and the discussion that eminated was truly humbling.  Perhaps not the "coolest" way to spend a Monday evening, but stimulating all the same!


This Week I'm eating... SUSHI

Sushi Sushi, that now ubiquitous franchise selling dependable, decent Nori rolls is a purely Melbournian industry.  Not only that, but the phenomenon of the $2 Nori take-away roll is probably uniquely Australian too.  Who would have thought that my first food-craving from home would in fact be Japanese food?!  But this weekend I had a craving for Sushi.  (Incidently Noodle-Box, which I always thought come direct from the US via Seinfeld, doesn't exist in Boston either!)  
Anyway, my craving would not settle and so armed with a basic set of Nori ingredients I decided to cook my own.
The avacado hails from Florida, but all the other ingredients are local.  I still had some radishes left-over from last week (now looking a little tired), plus some beans and spring onions which I threw into the rice-cooker at the end to give them 'Oomph'.
I was perhaps a little greedy on the rice front and managed to split all the rolls that I made.
Even though they weren't quite as good as Sushi Sushi, and probably were slightly more expensive to make - they were still delicious and I even had some leftover for tomorrow's lunchbox!  


Health and Human Rights: An International Journal

Today I had another 'Harvard Moment'... I was lucky enough to be able to attend the re-launching of Health and Human Rights: an International Journal. This journal has been floating around academia for twenty years but had a relatively small readership and was generally lacking mojo and street-cred. With new financing and, importantly, backing from two dragons in Public Health, Dr Paul Farmer and Dr Jim Yong Kim, today it was relaunched as an open access internet and print publication.

The distinction as an open access publication is important. Currently four multinational corporations own and distribute the majority of scientific and academic papers published. Unless you are lucky enough to be a member of a hospital or university with a subscription to an online journal database accessing any academic research can be a costly exercise. For many developing nations the costs associated with subscription are simply beyond reach. Thankfully the movement toward open access journal databases is gaining momentum. The Public Library of Science (PLoS) publishes over 100 journals free of charge and making the "new and improved" Health and Human Rights Journal readily accessible is another step in the right direction.

To be honest I found the notion of preaching about free and ready access to academic journals and academia in general to a group of people who attend one of, arguably, the most exclusive and expensive universities in the world slightly ironic. But the general feeling in the room was of empowerment and momentum toward dissolving barriers to information and improving human rights around the world.

It was also an honour to hear Dr Paul Farmer speak. If anyone is still confused about "what public health is all about" and what the hell I'm doing over in the states, I urge you to read Tracy Kidder's book Mountains Beyond Mountains. It is a biography of Dr Paul Farmer and his organisation Partners in Health. Admittedly he (Paul Farmer) is a slightly fanatical genius, and I do not hope, nor want to copy his life in any way. But he is inspiring, and his life mission is what Public Health is all about - the notion of delivering first rate health care to all.


Harvard Happenings - A Public Health Moment from MA

Not much to say this week.  I am awash with the first lot of assignments.  School is officially keeping me out of mischief.  But I have been collecting interesting Public Health messages from the state of Massachusetts.  This one found on the wall outside the fire department.


Harvard Happenings

After some thought, and a small amount of consultation, I have decided to change Tuesday Travel Tips into Harvard Happenings.  The post is a work in progress, but in it I'll aim to give you a small taste of the wonderful array of seminars, meetings and events that I get exposed to everyday at the school of Public Health.  

I thought I'd start it off with a look back at last week.  2008 is a big year for the Harvard School of Public Health.  Dean Barry Bloom (left), who has lead the school for 10 years is standing down at the end of December.  Come January, our new Dean will be Julio Frenk.  Julio Frenk was relatively unknown to me prior to starting at Harvard, but he is something of a legend in america and on the public health circuit.  He served as the Minister for Health in Mexico from 2000 to 2006 where he helped to set-up and implement Oportunidades, one of the most successful
programs to target poverty, health outcomes and educational achievement concurrently.  He has also served on the WHO and is currently a senior fellow with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  Anyway, last week Julio Frenk was officially welcomed into the Harvard Public Health School community with wine, cheese and plenty of speeches.  Julio Frenk gave a wonderful inaugural speech full of optimism and wit, with a whispering of exciting things to come during his deanery.  

For my small part, I would also like to say 'welcome Julio Frenk' - I'm excited to hear more from you!


This week I'm eating...

Autumn is here, although is doesn't really feel like it today with Tropical Storm Hana causing humidity to go up to 80%. But the produce in the Farmers Markets are beginning to take on a more Autumnal feel. There's still plenty of tomatoes, this week I'm trying the cherry tomato mix (foreground).
I'll also be eating:
  • green and white beans
  • corriander
  • orange capsicum
  • what must be the very last of the nectarines
  • McIntosh and Royal Gala apples
  • French Breakfast Radishes
  • and lastly a delicious Sourdough bread
Tomorrow I'm off to a "pot-luck" brunch before our official welcome at the Harvard Faculty Club. I'm going to take a wonderful Cous Cous Salad I found on one of my favourite food blogs, Mostly Eating


Tuesday Travel Tips... Cambridge to Longwood

Having settled in Boston I'm struggling a little to come up with Tuesday Travel Tips.  I'm in the hunt for a new regular weekly post.  Any suggestions?

Anyway, this week I thought I'd wax lyrical about my route to school.  I live in Cambridge, the main hub of Harvard.  It's where most of the schools are situated, the undergrad campus is here and not surprisingly, it has quite a good buzz to it.  Unfortunately the Public Health School isn't here.  It's over in the Longwood Medical Area, a 20 minute bus ride across town.  Every morning I get the M2 Shuttle, a great free service the university offers to get people quickly and easily between Longwood and Cambridge.  Like the tube in London, people LOVE to complain about the service - "it's too slow", "it gets stuck in traffic", "the drivers are terrible".  But I love it.  I love the 40 minutes each day I get to read.  I love eves-dropping and looking at what other people are reading and I love creating stories about who they are and what they do.  Mostly I love the fact that it's someone else and not me driving in Boston!