Michael Denning '76 named new Montgomery Fellow

by Charles Chen | 8/16/19 3:05am

This Wednesday, the newest Montgomery fellow Michael Denning ’76 arrived on campus to present at the two-day “Reflections on the Afterlives of 1969” Conference. Denning is a professor of English and American studies at Yale University and will be on campus for the duration of the conference. He is the first of a group of prominent alumni the Montgomery program is bringing to campus for the College’s 250th anniversary, music professor and director of the Montgomery Fellows Program Steve Swayne said.

According to English professor Donald Pease, the conference will deal with how social movements of 1969 pertain to the modern day. Pease is one of the organizers of the conference and was also one of the nominators who submitted Denning as a potential Montgomery Fellow, he said. 

“The work that [Denning] did on the cultural front from the late 1930s to the beginnings of World War II has become a model for scholars across the planet,” Pease said in an interview with the Dartmouth.

In his nominating letter for Denning, Pease wrote that Denning has published a number of books that significantly influenced the field of American Studies. He added that Denning simultaneously constructed a “center of critical interdisciplinary innovation” in his department at Yale University. 

Denning presented Thursday morning on the writings of Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Marxist philosopher, that were highly influential to the protests and movements of the late 1960s.

“Gramsci’s work on the nature of the political party came to a tension around the world in the 1960s and 70s,” Denning said in an interview before the conference began. “Social movements on the left have generally not taken the form of political parties, and Gramsci has some quite interesting issues to raise about how we think about organizing.”

According to Denning, the conference was triggered by a rethinking of the student protests of the late sixties on campus at Dartmouth. 

“When I arrived on campus in 1972, this did not seem like the most radical campus,” Denning said. “Right now, with new forms of organizing and political figures emerging like [Alexandria Ocasio Cortez] coming out of New York and the Bernie Sanders campaign, it seems like a moment to rethink what we mean by organizing.”

Denning comes after George Yancy, the previous Montgomery Fellow, who arrived on campus in early July. 

While Yancy was on campus only about a month, Swayne said the fellows brought by the program can stay for any amount of time: “8 hours, 8 days, or 8 weeks.” Denning, for example, will only be on campus for the conference, but, according to Swayne, the program hopes to be able to secure his return for a longer period of time in the future.

According to Swayne, the list of alumni invited to return to campus under the auspices of the program includes former secretary of the treasury Hank Paulson ’68, who is scheduled to come in January, and author Louise Erdrich ’76, who is scheduled to come in May. 

“One of the charges I was given was to see how the Montgomery program could interface with prominent alumni at Dartmouth,” Swayne said.

In addition, this spring the program will welcome back former Kosovo president Atifete Jahjaga, who was in residence during the summer of 2016.

After Denning’s departure, the next Montgomery Fellows will be the married couple Christine and Frido Mann . This fall, Frido Mann is the grandson of German novelist Thomas Mann, and Christine Mann is the daughter of German physicist and Nobel laureate Werner Heisenberg. Swayne said they will arrive on campus this fall and plan to speak about democracy and the crises facing governments today.

 According to Swayne, the Montgomery program is looking to bring in more individuals in conjunction with student input. He cited the comedian Trevor Noah as an example of the kind of person that the program would consider seeking out. Another goal of the program is to increase the diversity within the group of fellows, Swayne said. 

“I’ve been here 20 years now and the student body has become increasingly diverse, and I feel that the Montgomery program needs to represent that as well,” he said. “My tenure as Montgomery fellows program director will be a success if I bring in fellows who speak to all corners of this academic community.”

After being named the interim director of the Montgomery program in December of 2018, Swayne said he became the new program director July 1st this year.