While the Democratic National Convention was in Philadelphia this past July, much of the Party’s national-security establishment trekked westward across the Schuylkill to Penn’s campus for a panel discussion at Perry World House, the University’s brand-new—it wouldn’t even officially open until September—global policy center.
One of the speakers, Tom Donilon, former national security advisor to President Obama, took a moment to mention the welcome novelty of talking about defense issues in a space bathed in “natural light” rather than a windowless one. Someone else likened the place to a “well-lit situation room.”
The metaphor of illuminating a complex and difficult subject comes naturally to mind, and that’s certainly the University’s ambition for Perry World House. But these remarks also literally referenced the vaulting central atrium and striking architecture of the facility itself, which stands on the site of—and includes in its postmodern aesthetic—the former Kappa Alpha fraternity house on Locust Walk, which dates from 1851.
In this issue’s cover story, associate editor Trey Popp details the building’s design (ably aided by photographer Greg Benson’s elegant images); interviews William Burke-White, the inaugural director of the House; and reports on the facility’s jam-packed first weeks—in particular, the two-day conference to mark its official opening. Held September 19-20, that gathering featured leaders and experts from around the world and tackled subjects ranging from technological innovation to future US foreign policy priorities to effectively prosecuting human-rights violations.
In Law Professor Regina Austin L’73’s yearlong seminar in Visual Legal Advocacy, students are afforded the chance to both shed light on some problematic and neglected issues in the legal system and also learn the mechanics of filmmaking by creating their own documentaries. Among the subjects covered in recent docs have been compassionate release of prisoners, injustices around payment of court debts, and the dilemmas of mothers in prison.
In “Legal Zoom-In,” JoAnn Greco traces Austin’s own history and legal scholarship, how she became interested in documentaries, and the value of the genre—both making them and studying them—in humanizing legal issues for students who spend a lot of their class-time analyzing appellate cases that have been drained of much of their individuality and drama.
We’ve written about photographer Arthur Drooker C’76 before, highlighting his haunting, ghostly images of ruins in the Americas. His new book, Conventional Wisdom, drawn from visits to 10 “under the radar” conventions, is a real departure—and for me, I confess, a real eye-opener.
I never imagined, for example, that Santa Claus impersonators got together annually. Ditto furries, Bronies, and mer-folk. In “Unconventional,” we offer a selection of images from the book, alongside a Q&A with Drooker in which he talks about the genesis of the project, his interactions with some favorite subjects, and the things that all conventions have in common—and not.
Getting to see and touch original documents and artifacts provides a unique insight on past eras, and in “Hands on History” senior editor Samuel Hughes writes about a Penn family that gets to do it all the time. Founder Steven Raab C’70, his son Nathan C’00 LPS’08, and Nathan’s wife Karen Pearlman Raab C’01 run a successful business buying and selling historic letters and other objects located in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.
The Raabs shared some of their most compelling finds with Sam—the letter in which Teddy Roosevelt first used the famous speak softly/big stick quote, previously unknown audiotapes of radio transmissions from Air Force 1 as it flew President Kennedy’s body back to Washington after his assassination, and more—and explained how the history that has passed through their hands has shaped their own views.
—John Prendergast C’80