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2003-2004 University Research Professors

by Alicia P. Gregory

Carol Baskin: Laying the Groundwork for Tropical Reforestation

Photo of Carol BaskinWhen Carol Baskin wrote a text on seed germination throughout the world's various climate zones, she was no expert on the montane, rainforests at such a high altitude that the cool temperatures give rise to a much different type of flora than that found in rainforests at lower altitudes. Tropical montane forests are found in Central and South America, Africa, southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands.

Baskin, a UK professor of biology and agronomy, and past president of the Botanical Society of America, included only 30 montane species in Seeds: Ecology, Biogeography, and Evolution of Dormancy and Germination (1998), a book she co-wrote with her husband, UK professor Jerry Baskin. Since then, she has been adding new species from the tropical montane to her list, primarily because of seed samples provided by various researchers in Hawaii.

"I now have germination data for 317 species, but this is just a drop in the bucket. There are over 2,000 species in the Pacific montane alone."

Learning more about seed germination in the tropical montane could prove important for a region threatened by logging and by local farmers, who typically cut down all the trees to create grazing land. The tropical montane has been nibbled away, and scientists recognize a need to restore it to improve erosion control, water catchment for cities below, and habitat for rare animals and plants.

"If you're going to restore a forest, you've got to know how to germinate the major species," Baskin says.

She is using money from the University Research Professorship to make her information on seed germination in the montane more complete. Baskin is currently traveling throughout the tropics, visiting colleges and agricultural stations, and seeking collaborators for her work.

Jeremy Popkin: Taking a New Turn into Autobiography

Photo of Jeremy PopkinJeremy Popkin's soon-to-be-published book, History, Historians and Autobiography, took the UK history professor in a new direction.

"Even though I've been writing and publishing for over 25 years, this is my first venture into studying autobiography," says Popkin, who used his research professorship, in part, to work for two months in France earlier this year. "The truth is, I wanted to do something different, and I enjoy reading that is as much literature as it is history." This shift of interest is particularly appropriate for a professor who has written extensively on 18th-century France, since Jean Jacques Rousseau's Confessions is considered one of the founding texts of modern autobiography.

Popkin, who has taught at UK since 1978, focused his research this year on examples of autobiography from the first half of the 19th century in France, because that is when it became common for French authors to publish autobiographies while they were still alive. His sources included declarations of candidacy for the first elections held in France after the French Revolution (1848).

"The revolution made it possible for any man to run for office," Popkin explains, "and most candidates issued statements that often were mini-autobiographies."

Up to that time, Popkin adds, it was more common for authors to leave their manuscripts to be published after their death.

"Autobiography fascinates me because it is both the most accessible form of writing—everyone has a life story to tell—and because it poses some of the most complicated theoretical problems about the relationship between authors and their texts. This is especially true in France, where the great classic of autobiographical literatures, Rousseau's Confessions, is the story of a man obsessed with telling the truth about his life, but acutely aware of the obstacles to doing so. His example has haunted French life-writing for more than 200 years."

The University of Kentucky Board of Trustees first awarded University Research Professorships in 1977. The goal is to enhance scholarly research and awareness of UK's research function by recognizing outstanding achievement by members of the university's faculty. Faculty receive professorships of $35,000 each to advance their research.

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