Dr. Carmenita Higginbotham: Art and Disney

As an Art Historian and a faculty member at the University of Virginia, Dr. Carmenita Higginbotham could cover a plethora of topics. And she does, but the one she’s most often associated with is the cultural and visual impact of Disney in American popular culture.

It is this subject that she will discuss during the Third General Session of the 2016 Honors Institute, June 20-25 at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.

Higginbotham teaches courses in both the Art History Department and in UVA’s American Studies program. Her lectures have ranged from the history of American art and popular visual culture to African American art and art film. Yet the kid in all of us can’t help but feel at least a bit nostalgic at the mere mention of Walt Disney’s name — it is this course that led to her being featured in PBS’ “American Experience” documentary on Walt Disney in 2015.

“Disneyland is the idealization of the past and the hopeful regard for the future,” she said in the film. “It is not about now. It is a complete release from all those burdens.”

Myths about Walt Disney abound, including that he was an anti-Semite. Producers of the documentary found no evidence to support this, and Higginbotham said the numerous urban legends about Disney speak to the power of the “myth of who (he) was.”

“I teach on Disney, and this comes up a lot in the classroom,” she said during a panel discussion on the documentary. “Young viewers now want the complete story. They want to understand more about this individual than they normally get, and that frequently comes up. And so there is this desire to reconcile who he was, who we think he was. It’s part of the mythos that is Walt Disney.”

Animated films and theme parks aside, Higginbotham has also made a name for herself researching early 20th century American art with an emphasis on how notions of “the city” have had an impact on representation. Her book, The Urban Scene: Race, Reginald Marsh and American Art, considers how Reginald Marsh as an American Scene artist represents African Americans during the 1930s.

Honors Institute features six dynamic keynote speakers, who will examine the Honors Study Topic, How the World Works: Global Perspectives, from their own individual views. The early registration deadline is May 13. Attendance is limited and is filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Register now.

The registration fee covers event tuition, lodging for a week and all meals except Thursday’s R&R Day. See the full schedule.

Saving Lives through Selfies

Oh, the places a selfie can take you.

2014-2015 International President Ebonee Carpenter is the self-proclaimed “Queen of Selfies.” Now a junior at the University of Mississippi, Carpenter attended the AT&T U-verse Good Vibes TV Fest college tour on her campus in the fall of 2015. Students were encouraged to take a selfie while flashing a peace sign and post it on social media with a few hashtags.

Each selfie meant $1 toward H2OpenDoors, a project of the Peninsula Sunrise Rotary Foundation in Redwood City, California, that installs water purification units in developing countries. Each selfie also automatically entered the student to go with H2OpenDoors and AT&T to install the units.

“You see these trips, and you never think you’re going to win it,” Carpenter said.

That simple selfie changed the course of her life. Carpenter was randomly selected to be the student representative from the University of Mississippi to join seven other students from universities around the country for a seven-day trip to Mexico in February.

“This was an amazing opportunity, and I was so proud to represent Ole Miss,” Carpenter said. “Before, I never really thought about access to clean water, at least not any more than the average person does. The trip was very inspirational and eye opening.

“It put a lot of things in perspective, like how much we waste in the U.S. and how much we take for granted. It definitely inspired me to do more.”

According to H2OpenDoors, more than 840,000 people worldwide die each year of a disease related to contaminated water, and almost 800 million people do not have access to clean water.

Carpenter learned that in Mexico, roughly 3,000 children die every day due to the water crisis. That number is actually down from about 6,000 per day a decade ago.

“The trip really opened my eyes to the people’s health and wellness and their access to education,” Carpenter said.

The trip began in Léon, Guanajuato, Mexico, where the students attended a two-day leadership academy with the former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox. The group then visited the Casa Alfan children’s shelter, home to about 50 kids, and brought them toys, food, supplies and other necessities.

The next stop was San Miguel to visit the site of an existing H2OpenDoors unit. H2OpenDoors utilizes a system developed by GE called SunSpring, a solar-powered microbiological water purifier with a daily capacity of 5,000 gallons. The system provides up to 200 10-liter bottles of pure, safe drinking water every day, which can be sold to area residents for a fraction of what they might otherwise pay for bottled water.

“They’re trying to build an economy with these systems,” Carpenter said.

The group then toured the two sites where the newest SunSpring systems would be installed, small villages in San Blas and Guadalajara. Local workers prep the site and install the system, adding a sense of ownership to the project. Once the SunSpring is installed, it can be up and running in about three hours.

AT&T will be taking Carpenter and her group back to Mexico in about a year to see the water filtration systems in action and to see the difference they’ve made in the local communities. In the meantime, the experience has led Carpenter to shift the focus of her studies.

“I was always a sociology major, but I always thought I’d go into some form of higher education,” she said. “This trip has pushed me into the law field, possibly international law, so I could work on legislation between the United States and other countries.”