Robert J. Bliwise

Robert J. Bliwise

As editor, Bliwise has overall responsibility for editorial direction and content and for representing the magazine to its various constituencies. He also teaches a seminar in magazine journalism through Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

ARTICLES BY Robert J. Bliwise

  • November 25, 2021
    Back in a distant era, the fall of 1983, I learned that Duke would be launching a new alumni magazine and hiring a founding editor. Quite an attractive opportunity: A startup magazine. A research university. A first plunge into the exotic South.
  • Afghanistan landscape
    November 24, 2021
    FOR THE UNITED STATES, the war in Afghanistan was the most protracted war in history—longer than World War I, World War II, and Vietnam combined. Shortly after the seemingly chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces in mid-August, the magazine convened a conversation among three individuals with very different perspectives on—and experiences with—the U.S. in Afghanistan.
  • June 28, 2021
    JOHN BROWN was named vice provost for the arts last summer. A native North Carolinian, Brown came to the university in 2001 as an adjunct faculty member in the music department and went on to head Duke’s jazz program, along with his own jazz groups. “It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year, and what a year it has been,” he says. You were the faculty sponsor for John Legend over Graduation Weekend. What was it like engaging with him?
  • Trail of Tears, a painting along the highway in Golconda, Illinois
    June 28, 2021
    History may be written by the winners, but only as a first draft—a feel-good, simplistic, triumphalist view of the past. What about the history that endures? That’s all about asking tough questions, doing hard digging, and acknowledging stubborn complexities.
  • December 9, 2020
    John Aldrich, who specializes in American politics and behavior, is Pfizer-Pratt University Professor of political science, a former president of the American Political Science Association, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  The common view is that high turnout favors Democrats. With the recent election, has that assumption been forever overturned?
  • Tallman Trask sitting in Baldwin Auditorium on Duke's campus
    December 8, 2020
    When, back in 1995, Tallman Trask III was emerging as the likely choice as Duke’s executive vice president, law professor James Cox was chairing the search committee. He did what search-committee chairs typically do: He called an administrator at the University of Washington, where Trask was then working, to check him out.
  • In 1967, protesters confront federal troops in Newark
    July 22, 2020
    Protests sparked by police actions. Anxiety over (invented) outside agitators. “Lawand- order” leaders drawn into competing crises. Media accounts—Newsweek, in one case—offering assessments that to be Black in America is to assume “that America is after all a racist society.”
  • Image of the 2019 MacArthur Fellowship winners
    November 19, 2019
    Jenny Tung ’03, Ph.D. ’10, associate professor of evolutionary anthropology, is among the recipients of a 2019 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (popularly known as the “genius grant”). Her research involves understanding how social and environmental adversity affects health and survival over the lifespan of an individual. You were hooked on this field from your time in a freshman seminar, right? And that projected you into graduate school.
  • Image of children building a house of cardboard while monkeys place in box
    November 13, 2019
    Gummy bears. They reveal a sweet reality. Watch the video: A couple of three-year-olds are noisily negotiating a challenge cleverly arranged for them. They pull together on some ropes, thereby unsealing a big-box container and unleashing a flood of the candy treats. It doesn’t take much prodding by either partner to arrive at an equitable distribution; if one points out she’s gummy-deprived, the other will quickly correct the gummy imbalance.
  • August 12, 2019
    Robert J. Lefkowitz, James B. Duke Professor of medicine and recipient of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry What aspect of your current life would have most surprised your college-age self? That I became a scientist. What’s the best thing college students can do to prepare for careers that may not even now exist? Get as rounded an education as possible. And make sure you are well-versed in computer science, whatever [your] major.
  • Professor Abbas Benmanoun
    May 17, 2019
    How did you respond personally to the instantly notorious case, from earlier this semester, of a Duke faculty member seeming to challenge Chinese students around their speaking Chinese in a social space?
  • May 16, 2019
    The sweet release of spring break beckons, but the day is dreary. How dreary? Perfectly dreary. The very definition of dreariness. The ideal, ultimate expression, the Platonic Form, of dreariness.
  • Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
    May 15, 2019
    Writing in this magazine five years ago, Caroline Bruzelius, now a professor emerita of art and art history, called herself “essentially a detective for the places and spaces of the past, for the way the world as we know it was shaped.” When, earlier this spring, a fire engulfed Notre- Dame, Bruzelius found a new role— an expert source for media, ranging from NPR to Foreign Policy.
  • Professor Scott Compton
    February 11, 2019
    Chionophobia is a real thing?
  • February 8, 2019
    It really wasn’t a case of sophomore slump. His return from a DukeEngage summer in Vietnam, where, among other projects, he had taught English to rising high-schoolers, was a tough transition point for Grant Besner. He was struggling with “the many privileges of my upbringing and also of the material excess that defines so much of the American experience, particularly at an elite institution such as Duke,” says Grant, now finishing his senior year.
  • I should have worn my comfortable shoes. I should have layered myself in sunblock. I should have caffeinated myself into a state of hyper-alertness. So it goes. I was committed to sustaining myself, without pause, through a typical day at Duke. What is that? If it’s anything like this first Thursday in October, it means lots of activities to take in, lots of people to interact with, lots of scrambling to get from place to place. 7 a.m.
  • October 25, 2018
    With Hurricane Florence headed for North Carolina in mid-September, the vital parts of Duke were appropriately prepared. For Duke Dining, that meant securing 400 pounds of rice, 460 pounds of broccoli, 1,000 pounds of potatoes, and 1,200 pounds of chicken.
  • October 24, 2018
    Which starship captain would you like to serve under? Katherine Janeway, who encounters dozens of civilizations as captain of the USS Voyager. She started out as a science officer, so she has great appreciation for science. But I would not want to be stuck in the Delta Quadrant for a period of seven years. What makes Star Trek good for showcasing science?
  • October 24, 2018
    It’s a lecture hall without fancy features, except for the model of a human skeleton occupying one corner. Typically outfitted first-year students file in—backpacks, laptops, water bottles. They’re wearing white coats, which prove useful for accommodating the accessory of a clipped-on DukeCard. The white coats mark the start of the journey to become a physician; they were awarded in a formal ceremony a couple of days earlier.
  • August 6, 2018
    A friend came home to this recent surprise: a copperhead enjoying the late-day sun on her front stoop. She grabbed a hoe and chopped it into little copperhead parts. She was moved to silently apologize for violating nature’s creation. But after all, her fear-related mechanism had kicked in. That story pops out of my memory bank, creepily, every time I wander in my quasi-woodsy backyard.
  • June 13, 2018
    Enchantment, as you see it, is more than wish-fulfillment or escapism. It changes our relationship to the world, and it involves the little things we do to make the world go our way—tokens, devices, objects, words, images. But in an age of scientific rationality, aren’t we beyond enchantment?
  • June 12, 2018
    What’s your best piece of advice to newly arrived Duke first-years? Embrace the creative confusion of your time at Duke, the freedom to explore new ideas and try out the full range of possibilities before you. And more important, get some sleep! What’s your best piece of advice to freshly graduated seniors?
  • June 12, 2018
    When I’ve taught magazine journalism, my departure point has been Tom Wolfe’s essay on “The New Journalism.” It’s an argument for applying familiar literary devices—scene-setting, point of view, symbolically meaningful attributes—to the work of nonfiction.
  • April 20, 2018
    What sparked your interest in rivers?
  • April 20, 2018
    Picture the South China Sea, east of Vietnam and west of the Philippines, dotted with made-in-China products. Those would be pseudo-islands—artificial islands or pumped-up natural islands, complete with military airstrips, seaports, and bases. Shots are fired, a vessel is sunk, and sailors are lost, near the ominously labeled Fiery Cross Reef. The picture becomes unstable.
  • April 20, 2018
    Andrew Johnson and John Tyler: What could possibly link them together? Well, they both were U.S. presidents. And they both were—in the unanimous verdict of students who were scrutinizing their legacies—“horrible.” Four students had come together for a “Spring Breakthrough” class—a nontraditional take on spring break—that researched, reflected on, and ultimately ranked U.S. presidents.
  • April 17, 2018
    From a curious interplay between an imagined window and a real window, Dan Mallory ’01 conceived The Woman in the Window.
  • February 7, 2018
    How would you characterize the trajectory of elite private higher education? In the fall of 1980, Duke’s chancellor, Ken Pye, wrote a report lamenting the prospects for these elite schools; Duke and its peers would have to scale back and “concentrate our resources on what we do best.” As smart and visionary as Pye was, he, along with just about everybody else, was completely wrong. From about 1980 on, it’s been a field day for the very top private institutions.
  • February 7, 2018
    It’s hardly surprising that a place like Duke, as a research university, engages with what’s conventionally called, in these parts, the “real world’—as if there’s something surreal or unreal about the campus world. But it’s worth noting that scholars at the Fuqua School have a record of studying the workings of the real world’s most valuable company. That, of course, is Apple.
  • October 30, 2017
    In what the academy sometimes labels “the real world,” it’s been quite a calamitous season. Hurricanes. Shootings. Fires. As it happens, some Duke alumni have played key roles in covering and contextualizing the whole range of seemingly apocalyptic events.
  • June 6, 2017
    Both of you have switched research areas over your careers. What prompted the switching?
  • June 5, 2017
    In college, Vince Price’s first stage performance was as a character called The Little Man in The Madwoman of Chaillot, a French farce. And it was a near-disaster. The Little Man, as the name implies, represents all the little people, Price says. “It was a scene of Parisian capitalists dining at an outdoor café, and The Little Man runs onstage, with great excitement, throws a bag of money at them, shouts, ‘Here, take it, take all of it,’ and then runs offstage.”
  • March 6, 2017
    As Duke’s vice president for finance and treasurer, Tim Walsh oversees an array of financial and operational functions, ranging from accounting, procurement, and real estate to merchandise and licensing. How big is Duke’s budget, and how tuition-dependent is Duke?
  • March 6, 2017
    Here’s an exercise to focus the mind: Imagine a new nuclear-arms race with no end in sight—except, maybe, Armageddon. And so in late January, Jack Matlock’s personal website carried his “Open Message for Presidents Trump and Putin.” As the two leaders were preparing for a phone chat, the time was right to acknowledge that their countries should be cooperating around common problems, particularly the dangers associated with nuclear weapons.
  • December 16, 2016
    Gunther Peck, an associate professor of history and public policy, teaches nineteenth-and twentieth-century American social and cultural history, comparative immigration and labor studies, and environmental history. This past fall he taught a course called “Historicizing Whiteness.” Has whiteness historically been wrapped up with class formation?
  • December 14, 2016
    If you’re approaching Dick Brodhead to sum up his presidency—is “exit interview” really a good term?—there are a couple of things you discover. One is that he’s not comfortable reeling off his roster of presidential achievements.
  • October 21, 2016
    An autumn update from Jack Bovender ’67, M.H.A. ’69 and divinity school professor Ellen Davis, chair and vice chair, respectively, of the presidential search committee. Where has your work taken you so far?
  • June 6, 2016
    Eric Toone, vice provost and professor of chemistry and biochemistry, leads the Duke Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E) Initiative. He’s listed as an inventor on more than thirty biomedical patents and cofounded three pharmaceutical companies. From 2009 to 2012, he was a founding member of the Advanced Research Projects Agency in the U.S. Department of Energy.
  • June 1, 2016
    It’s weirdly warm on campus—late winter, late at night. Or early in the morning. The distinction is murky. So is the atmosphere. I think the fog is as thick and heavy as slow-to-pour barbecue sauce—which means I’m too tired to think up a better metaphor. The Gothic Wonderland, in its shrouded and silent state, looks like a forbidden zone.
  • March 14, 2016
    Henry Petroski, Vesic Professor of civil engineering and professor of history, is the author of nineteen books—most recently, The Road Taken: The History and Future of America’s Infrastructure. What’s the biggest surprise from your research on this book?
  • December 14, 2015
    Damon Tweedy M.D. ’00, assistant professor of psychiatry, is the author of the widely (and favorably) reviewed Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine. What were some of your early shaping experiences?
  • December 11, 2015
    Here’s a question somewhere on the spectrum between the prosaic and the profound: Is medicine an art or a science? And how many times has Gene Washington, Duke’s chancellor for health affairs since this past spring, heard a version of that question? A lot, no doubt. His answer: “It’s both. It’s definitely both.”
  • December 11, 2015
    Walk into the science lab of a newly minted Nobel laureate, and you’ll spot the expected and not-so-expected things: pipettes, flasks, syringes, centrifuges, filtration equipment, radioactive-safe refrigerators, disposable gloves, notebooks of data, the journals Nature and Science, books like Molecular Biology of the Gene and The Biology of Cancer, tubes of Elmer’s glue, and a couple of pet guppies in their tanks.
  • October 12, 2015
    The latest book by Annabel Wharton, William B. Hamilton Professor of art history, is Architectural Agents: The Delusional, Abusive, Addictive Lives of Buildings Do buildings have human qualities? Buildings are like humans in that they have bodies, they are born, they reach a certain maturity, they decay, and they die. But they always leave a mark, just like humans.
  • The Foundry provides dedicated spaces for clubs and other students groups, as well as collaborative space for other projects
    October 12, 2015
    Gone is the forbidden zone in the depths of that unloved edifice, the recently renovated, relabeled, and revived Gross Hall. The onetime mechanical room—all 7,600 square feet of it—hasn’t completely lost its pipes, tubes, and overall rough industrial look. Only now it’s filled with light—and pretty much whatever can be cooked up and spun out of its optics and electronics shops, machining tools, workbenches, rooms for teaching and meeting, and short- and long-term project spaces.
  • July 28, 2015
    Great stories have sticking power. Certain books stick with me, and I stick with them; I keep them constantly handy. One of them, still around after all these years, has a bold green-and-yellow cover with the words “The Definitive Text.” That’s James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and for me, it was definitive in revealing the surprising potential of storytelling. Portrait presented a coming-of-age tale just as I, more or less, was coming of age.
  • May 1, 2015
    THE VIEW FROM CAMERON In the future, we’ll see a merging between the virtual and the actual. Are we players in the real world? Or are we players who just act as if we’re in the real world? In Cameron Indoor Stadium for the Duke-Wisconsin game, the future arrived. The game was up there, on the giant scoreboard. But the game might as well have been down there, on the floor of Cameron, just below the concession stands with their (real-world) $8 box pizzas.
  • April 29, 2015
    Shadow a Duke admissions tour, and you’ll soon join a ragged circle on the Chapel Quad. On this St. Patrick’s Day in mid-March, the green-shirted student guide will run down a familiar list of Duke virtues: small classes, diverse majors, caring professors.
  • April 29, 2015
    You had to break barriers as one of the first female fighter pilots in the U.S. Navy. Is it easier to work in an academic setting? Engineering is still a primarily male environment. My research can be a little controversial— human interaction with technology. Some engineers aren’t crazy about it. They think the work belongs more in psychology than in engineering. So you’re interested in human psychology as well as machines?
  • February 24, 2015
    Where might you find yourself as the dean of a globally minded business school? If you’re Fuqua’s Bill Boulding, think Dubai. Back in November, he was there for the World Economic Forum and meetings with his regional advisory board. A text message from his office came through—“ We’re no. 1”—leading him to assume that Bloomberg Businessweek was about to place Fuqua at the very top of its business-school rankings. He texted back, “Could you please confirm?” Fifteen minutes went by.
  • February 24, 2015
    How did you become interested in the history of torture?As a graduate student, I worked on the history of the Inquisition in Venice. The Inquisition did not use torture frequently, but when it did put someone to torture, it recorded the entire event— including the screams. And that always haunted me, that there was this record of suffering.How long is the history of torture?
  • December 8, 2014
    This past summer, Sally Kornbluth became Duke’s provost, the university’s chief academic officer. A cell biologist, she was James B. Duke Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology and vice dean for basic science in Duke’s medical school. You’re following a fifteen year provost, Peter Lange. What kind of example did he set for you as you started in the position?
  • September 26, 2014
    December 26 marks the tenth anniversary of one of the worst natural disasters of all time—the Indian Ocean tsunami, which devastated Indonesia’s Aceh province, killing some 160,000 people. Since 2005, Elizabeth Frankenberg, a professor of public policy, has led an Indonesia-based fieldwork project that has followed a group of 32,000 people (first interviewed, pre-tsunami, in 2004).
  • September 25, 2014
    You’re an outsider who needs to operate as a n insider in a pretty confusing setting, a setting that, for a couple of years, will impose all sorts of expectations on you. Lots of obstacles for you to stumble over. Lots of rituals and routines to sort out.
  • July 18, 2014
    Here’s a slice of my personal life that will be familiar to many readers: a home-renovation project that stretched out for almost a year. Now the chaos of all that carpentry equipment has been cleared away. There are snazzy light fixtures, new floors and countertops, energy-efficient windows, built-in shelves, shiny appliances.
  • Illustrations by Bruno Mallart
    April 28, 2014
    I’ve been welcomed officially into a parallel universe. It’s called “Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach,” which embraces biology, my certifiably worst subject in college; electricity, a force I consider semi-mystical and rather scary; and quantitative thinking, which is my least familiar thinking.
  • Lemkin postwar. Arthur Leipzig
    November 14, 2013
    This is how you mend a broken world. A war-crimes tribunal presses a genocide charge, some decades later, against the leader of the Bosnian Serbs. The president of Sudan, wanted on charges of genocide in Darfur, where violence broke out in 2003, stirs embarrassment and angst with his plan to attend the United Nations General Assembly. Bangladesh sentences a former lawmaker to death for the mass murder of Hindus during the country’s 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.
  • September 17, 2013
    The Gettysburg Address: delivered at the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg, November 19, 1863. Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
  • Robert Lefkowitz [All photos by Chris Hildreth]
    November 5, 2012
    YOU’VE JUST WON THE NOBEL PRIZE. Congratulations! So what’s the first thing you do?
  • September 27, 2012
    Duke leaders credit success in philanthropy for advancing some of the university’s most innovative ideas. And that’s why they say the new Duke Forward campaign isn’t just about maintaining Duke’s progress. It’s about supporting a university that does best when it thinks big.
  • May 31, 2012
    I really want you, resolute reader, to read this entire story. Yes, that’s you. And it’s really important. So what will it take to make it happen? Maybe a personal note of appreciation? Or a Starbucks coupon? Or the guarantee that your favorite student will attend Duke tuition-free?
  • April 16, 2012
    Anxiety is in the air. Or certainly in cyberspace.
  • Signs of the times: Bus-shelter ads in Orange County, California, take on a religiously skeptical attitude. Ken Steinhardt/ZUMA Press/Corbis
    November 30, 2011
     Classic cover: an old qu
  • October 1, 2011
     Institutional Review Boards, or IRBs, are mandated by the Office for Human Research Protection of the U.S.
  • October 1, 2011
  • August 1, 2011
     Humor magazines, the cover-story subject, illustrate the timeless themes of campus life—from odd food offerings to odd curricular offerings. Sometimes they offer insights into the larger culture.
  • What might have been: an unofficial architectural rending of Nixon museum. University Archives
    June 1, 2011
  • June 1, 2011
     Thirty years ago, the campus was consumed with a planned presidential library, a project that would document (or embellish) the legacy of Richard Nixon LL.B. ’37.
  • April 1, 2011
     He was a literary luminary whose debut work drew comparisons with William Faulkner. But Reynolds Price ’55, who died in January, was animated not just by his writing but also by his more than fifty years of teaching at Duke.
  • October 1, 2010
    Biology department chair Daniel Kiehart had his first exposure to research as a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. Through sheer persistence, he “wore down” an initially reluctant lab director, he says, and got himself hired.One of the student progenitors of Duke’s Project Search, Anthony Lee ’10, was a student in Kiehart’s class and approached him about a pre-orientation lab experience for freshmen. Kiehart was instantly enthusiastic.
  • Shell game: Quigley, a curly-coated retriever, follows cues to find hidden treats. Credit: Chris Hildreth.
    January 31, 2010
    Buffy is having a good day. Just four years old, she isn't shy around strangers. She shows the energy of a wind-up toy, bumping into chairs with abandon, and the inquisitiveness of an alien dropped into a strange environment, sniffing out the scene in one end of the room and then the other. Originally from sun-speckled Hawaii, she's more at home outdoors than here in the sub-basement of Duke's Biological Sciences Building. In fact, she's an avid walker.
  • March 31, 2003
  • March 31, 2003
  • By the 1960s and 1970s, department stores were supplanted by value-oriented warehouses. Now, reflecting an urge for authenticity, malls mimic a real city without the attendant inconveniences.
    October 1, 2002
      Nordstrom makes me think of Nostradamus. Did the sixteenth-century astrologer prognosticate a consumer-service revolution? And sampling a store named Impostors makes me--well, a little uneasy about my identity. Am I only as authentic as the purchases I make?
  • August 1, 2002
    You can find William Haefeli in the pits. Or at least you can find him in the neighborhood of the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. There, as a city guidebook reports, "a large pool of smelly tar (la brea in Spanish) surrounds full-size models of mastodons struggling to free themselves from the grimy muck, a re-creation of prehistoric times, when such creatures tried to drink from the thin layer of water covering the tar in the pits, only to become entrapped."
  • June 1, 2002
  • June 1, 2002
  • March 31, 2002
  • March 31, 2002
    Entering the Harvard Square hangout known as Pinocchio's, you're confronted with the requisite menu of pizza variations, the requisite photos of sports teams, and a framed testimonial.
  • March 31, 2002
      Ben Franklin, considered the founding figure of American magazines, was concerned not just with words and ideas but also with visual impact in print. He used the latest typestyles in his Pennsylvania Gazette.
  • March 31, 2002
  • January 31, 2002
  • November 30, 2001
    In speaking of the war on terrorism, President Bush has said that we have defined our mission and our moment. Do you think these are defining or galvanizing events for your generation?
  • Illustration by Walter Stanford
    June 1, 2001
    Last semester, a longtime Duke professor had an academically unsettling experience. For a freshman seminar, he had assigned a paper on the writings of Louis Armstrong. One of the fifteen papers that came back to him didn’t seem quite right. It was “beautifully written,” he recalls. But it dwelled on the generic topic of jazz and American culture.
  • Battier battles down court.
    March 31, 2001
  • January 31, 2001
    In his fast-forward-to-the-future book The Age of Spiritual Machines, Ray Kurzweil estimates that in a century's time, an average citizen's net worth will be $149 billion. That financial projection promises quite an altered reality-endless money-making potential in an information-hungry world where human-machine interfaces make us all (humans and machines) smarter.
  • Nuclear nursery: LANL complex nestles in New Mexico's Jemez Mountains.
    January 31, 2001
    My two great loves are physics and desert country," J. Robert Oppenheimer once told a friend. "It's a pity they can't be combined."
  • March 31, 2000
    A la carte: from salads to salsa to stir-fry, from fast-food burgers to fresh-fruit smoothies, campus eateries serve up a smorgasbord Are today's catered-to students a spoiled generation of eaters? Or is it true instead that, as a French chef would never say, the more tuna noodle casserole changes, the more tuna noodle casserole remains the same? College food. It's a lot like high-school algebra--be enjoyed.


Subscribe to RSS - Robert J. Bliwise