Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

Search form

Arts and Science

A hint of history for today's tech

Queen’s Human Media Lab unveils the world’s first rollable touch-screen tablet, inspired by ancient scrolls.

A Queen’s University research team has taken a page from history, rolled it up and created the MagicScroll – a rollable touch-screen tablet designed to capture the seamless flexible screen real estate of ancient scrolls in a modern-day device. Led by bendable-screen pioneer Dr. Roel Vertegaal, this new technology is set to push the boundaries of flexible device technology into brand new territory.

The device is comprised of a high-resolution, 7.5” 2K resolution flexible display that can be rolled or unrolled around a central, 3D-printed cylindrical body containing the device’s computerized inner-workings. Two rotary wheels at either end of the cylinder allow the user to scroll through information on the touch screen. When a user narrows in on an interesting piece of content that they would like to examine more deeply, the display can be unrolled and function as a tablet display. Its light weight and cylindrical body makes it much easier to hold with one hand than an iPad. When rolled up, it fits your pocket and can be used as a phone, dictation device or pointing device.

“We were inspired by the design of ancient scrolls because their form allows for a more natural, uninterrupted experience of long visual timelines,” says Dr. Vertegaal, Professor of Human-Computer Interaction and Director of the Queen’s University Human Media Lab. Another source of inspiration was the old rolodex filing systems that were used to store and browse contact cards. The MagicScroll’s scroll wheel allows for infinite scroll action for quick browsing through long lists. Unfolding the scroll is a tangible experience that gives a full screen view of the selected item. Picture browsing through your Instagram timeline, messages or LinkedIn contacts this way!”

Beyond the innovative flexible display, the prototype also features a camera that allows users to employ the rolled-up MagicScroll as a gesture-based control device – similar to that of Nintendo’s ‘Wiimote’. And the device’s rotary wheels contain robotic actuators that allow the device to physically move or spin in place in various scenarios, like when it receives a notification for instance.

“Eventually, our hope is to design the device so that it can even roll into something as small as a pen that you could carry in your shirt pocket,” says Dr. Vertegaal. “More broadly, the MagicScroll project is also allowing us to further examine notions that ‘screens don’t have to be flat’ and ‘anything can become a screen’. Whether it’s a reusable cup made of an interactive screen on which you can select your order before arriving at a coffee-filling kiosk, or a display on your clothes, we’re exploring how objects can become the apps.

Dr. Vertegaal’s Human Media Lab collaborator Juan Pablo Carrascal presented MagicScroll at MobileHCI, one of the leading international conferences on Human-Computer Interaction with mobile devices and services, in Barcelona, Spain on September 4, 2018.

Canada is a more suburban nation

New research shows more people than ever are living in the suburbs.

Using updated Canadian census data, Queen’s University urban planning professor David Gordon has determined Canada is a suburban nation and, despite the planning policies of most metropolitan areas, its population became more suburban from 2006-2016.

More than 80 per cent of the population in large metropolitan areas, including Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal, live in the suburbs. The study also shows the number of people living in metropolitan areas in Canada grew by 15 per cent, or 3.2 million people, between 2006 and 2016. That’s more than the entire population of Toronto, Canada’s largest city.

“Canada is a suburban nation,” Dr. Gordon says. “Its downtowns may be full of new condominium towers, but there is often five times as much development on the suburban edges of the cities. The good news is that some of the largest cities (Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver and Ottawa) have increased growth in more sustainable active core and transit suburbs in the centres of the metropolitan areas and some sustainable cores are emerging in Vancouver suburbs such as Richmond, Surrey and Burnaby. But the contrast in most peripheral areas is extreme. Their populations are growing far more quickly and in less sustainable automobile suburbs and exurbs. For example, more people now live off the Isle d’Montreal than on it, and in the Toronto region, far more people live in the 905 area code than the 416.”

The purpose of Dr. Gordon’s new research was to update the article Suburban Nation? Estimating the Size of Canada’s Suburban Population, published in the Journal of Architecture and Planning Research (JAPR) in 2013. The JAPR article was based upon 1996 and 2006 census data, while the new working paper updates the research using the 2016 census data that was released in late 2017.

His research for the 1996-2006 period estimated that 66 per cent of all Canadians lived in some form of suburb. This proportion rose to 67.5 per cent by 2016. In the new census data, his research team found that within Canada’s metropolitan areas, 86 per cent of the population lived in transit suburbs, auto suburbs, or exurban areas, while only 14 per cent lived in active core neighbourhoods.

“Politicians, planners, academics, and journalists focus much of their attention on inner-city issues, while ignoring suburban expansion,” Dr. Gordon says. “Partly, that’s because it’s too easy to see the growth in the inner-city. There are all those tower cranes in Toronto and Vancouver, and every single building is a political controversy; an article in the newspaper. Meanwhile, as city council argues furiously over whether to permit a new tower with a few hundred residents in the downtown, thousands of new homes replace farmland on the urban edge, and not enough attention is paid to that.”

This new data was recently presented at the Canadian Institute of Planners national conference and will inform debates on regional planning across the country.

To obtain a copy of the study, visit the Council for Canadian Urbanism website and for more details on the research program visit the Canadian Suburbs website.

Looking back in time

Lauded limnologist John Smol reflects on career and environmental change following lifetime achievement award.

Queen's professor John Smol
Queen's University professor John Smol.

Limnologists study the biological and chemical features of lakes. Queen’s University professor, John Smol, has built his career in the sub-discipline of paleolimnology, examining lakebed sediments for a glimpse into the Earth’s past. Within the sediment layers, paleolimnologists are able to track the effects of climate change, human impacts, and natural processes long before historic recordkeeping began – all of which may hold the secrets to our environmental future.

On August 20, 2018, Dr. Smol was recognized by the International Society of Limnology (SIL) with a Naumann-Thienemann Medal – the highest honor awarded for outstanding contributions to limnology – adding another layer to a storied career that has seen him win more than 60 national and international awards for scientific and teaching excellence.

“Being awarded the Naumann-Thienemann Medal is very special to me,” says Dr. Smol, who was also recently named a Fellow of the Royal Society. “I have been a member of SIL since I was 21 years old and have watched many of my heroes receive this honour in the decades since, so I am humbled to be recognized at this level among my peers.”

During the early years of his career, Dr. Smol often felt that many limnologists thought the developing sub-discipline of paleolimnology was some odd offshoot of the field, and that its sediment predictions were more akin to alchemy than proven science. Over time, however, major scientific breakthroughs saw the discipline move from a largely descriptive discipline into a quantitative and precise science, and a vital part of environmental studies.

“Acid rain was one of the first environmental problems that made headlines, and we believed we had methods that could provide policymakers with information they needed to curb it,” says Dr. Smol. “By analyzing lakebed sediments we were able to look back in time to the 1800s, before acid rain, to show how pollution had harmed inland aquatic ecosystems and that lakes acidified because of acid rain and not because they were naturally acidic.” His collaborative work on acid rain went on to influence the implementation of environmental regulations, which are now showing positive results, with lake water acidity levels returning to background conditions.

Over time, environmental issues have only become more numerous and complex.

“Early limnologists, including the medal’s namesakes Einar Naumann and August Thienemann, often focused on issues separately,” says Dr. Smol. “They would examine things like the over-fertilization (eutrophication) of lakes and rivers within its own bubble, whereas today we are forced to address multiple environmental stressors simultaneously – not least of which is climate change. We have opened Pandora’s Box of evils on our planet, and now have to deal with these issues in increasingly innovative ways.”

Currently, Dr. Smol and colleagues are examining how they can help answer questions posed by conservation biologists, like those focused on vulnerable fish and seabird populations, amongst many other applications.

“The missing information with almost every environmental problem is a careful understanding of how we got to where we are,” says Dr. Smol. “Using lake sediments as a history book, we’re helping to track how ecosystems have changed over time, and why. Ultimately, we hope to shed light on how best to deal with multiple environmental stressors, as our climate continues to change.”

Much like examining sediments from time past for clues about the future, Dr. Smol attributes much of his career successes to younger limnologists and students who have added to his work.

“The real credit for this medal goes to an amazing group of current and past students, post-doctoral fellows, and staff” says Dr. Smol. “Over 100 graduates have passed through my lab thus far, and I hope many more still will. I have benefitted greatly from their hard work and ideas, and their successes remain my proudest achievement. It convinces me daily that the future for limnology is very bright.”

Dr. Smol was presented with the Naumann-Thienemann Medal at a SIL ceremony in Nanjing, China.

Staying healthy with video games

Children with autism test new “exergaming” system that encourages fitness and friendship.

Helen Coo, Nick Graham, Dawa Samdup
Queen's professor of computing Nick Graham (centre) with Kingston Health Sciences Centre
collaborator Dawa Samdup (right), and Queen's pediatrics research assistant Helen Coo (left). (University Communications)

A group of local families is helping a Queen’s University and Kingston Health Sciences Centre research team study the effectiveness of a novel “exergaming” program – a technology that combines fitness and video gaming – to help improve physical activity and health in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Led by Dawa Samdup, a clinician-scientist with the KGH Research Institute and co-investigator Nick Graham, professor of computing at Queen’s, the study involves five children aged 9-12, playing specially-designed “exergames” using a recumbent bicycle fitted with a tablet computer and gaming controller. For 45 minutes per day, three days a week for six weeks, participants will play at the same time from their own homes, and their usage of the system will be monitored in real-time by the research team.

“We originally developed this system, and a suite of exergames called Liberi, to promote better cardiovascular fitness in children with cerebral palsy, whose motor skills may have prevented them from operating commercially available exergames,” says Dr. Graham of the EQUIS Lab in the School of Computing. “With this technology, players pedal to power an avatar, and the pedal-power necessary to propel a player’s avatar in the game is customized for each of their own physical abilities.”

Exergaming system being demonstrated by members of Dr. Graham's lab.
Members of Dr. Graham's lab, Neven
Golubovich and Adrian Schneider
demonstrate the exergaming system. (University Communications)

A sensor in the bicycle relays pedaling speed information to a computer, which also captures heart rate information via an arm-mounted monitor. The research team then assesses the children before and after exergaming using the collected data. This data will then be used to design a larger study looking at exergaming and physical fitness in children with ASD who can experience similar motor challenges to children living with cerebral palsy.

“Children with ASD face numerous barriers to engaging in physical activity,” says Dr. Samdup, of the KidsInclusive Centre for Child & Youth Development at KHSC’s Hotel Dieu site. “Many have poor motor skills, and sensory and social impairments that lead to avoidance of team-based sports or other physical activity. Food choices, medications, and low levels of physical activity put children with ASD at risk of unhealthy weight. We know that there are higher rates of overweight and obesity in this population, yet there’s a surprising lack of proven strategies for promoting exercise and fitness in children with autism.”

Children and families involved in this study will have the opportunity to make suggestions about how the games could be improved, as well as provide feedback as to how the project could be designed into a larger study, or even an innovative rehabilitation program for children with ASD that could be offered in schools, homes, and in clinics.

“These are tech-savvy kids, and these games enable them to get active while enjoying themselves,” says Dr. Samdup. “It also gives them the option of playing with others, which helps them to find buddies and build social skills with peers with similar interests. It’s a perfect fit.”

The $44,000 pilot study is being funded by the Southeastern Ontario Medical Association (SEAMO) Innovation Fund.

Promoting research partnerships

Four Queen's University researchers receive Strategic Partnership Grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

Four Queen’s University researchers have been awarded Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Strategic Partnership Grants totaling over $2 million in funding. Announced Friday by Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport, these grants promote partnership between academic researchers and industry or government organizations. Funding will go to six networks and 80 projects from across the country with the goal to enhance Canada’s economy, society, and environment within the next 10 years.

“The Strategic Partnership Grants facilitate and promote important collaborations for Queen’s researchers and their partners,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). “These collaborations are critical for the translation of basic research into the technologies, jobs, policies and services that benefit all Canadians.”

Mohammad Zulkernine (School of Computing) $535,500 – Dr. Zulkernine’s research is creating a more secure environment for connected vehicles using the Cloud. In this project, he and his research team will propose countermeasures for attacks on connected vehicles by providing access control, availability, and privacy components. This research will play a major role in improving the next generation of connected vehicles by providing useful information to drivers and vehicles, enabling them to make safer, faster, and more informed decisions. His co-investigator on the project was Hossam Hassanein.

Dr. Zulkernine’s approach will position Canada as a leader in securing connected vehicles against increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks and will train highly-qualified software engineers and network security engineers in techniques in automating modern connected vehicles.

Dr. Zulkernine is also co-applicant on another Strategic Partnership Grant on a project that promises to enable ‘Internet of Things’ systems (that connect devices such as cellphones, appliances and vehicles to the Internet and to one another) to perform more effectively and at a lower cost.

Ian Moore (Civil Engineering) $590,100 – Using new technologies developed to assist with pipeline rehabilitation, Dr. Moore and his research team are addressing knowledge gaps that exist as communities assess, rehabilitate, and replace water and sewer pipelines. The present knowledge gaps create challenges for consulting engineers advising on specific projects, and significantly magnify the 'new technology' risks perceived by city engineers and others charged with public safety.

Unique buried pipe and polymer durability test facilities will allow Dr. Moore’s industry partner and eight PhD students to undertake experimental work and analyses to study and address these challenges. The project outcomes can be incorporated into standards, practice guidelines, and specifications for use by industry partners and others. Drs. Richard Brachman and Neal Hoult worked with Dr. Moore on the project.

Kevin Mumford (Civil Engineering) $537,475 – Dr. Mumford is studying gas migration in groundwater related to the extraction of natural gas from previously inaccessible formations (shale gas). Natural gas from deeper formations can move along damaged or inadequately sealed wells and enter shallower aquifers. This gas can then dissolve into the groundwater leading to chemical and biological reactions that reduce groundwater quality. Focused research is needed to better understand the factors influencing this gas migration and dissolution to develop best practices for risk management and monitoring for potential effects on groundwater quality. 

A series of laboratory experiments will track gas flow and dissolution using high-resolution visual techniques as well as the analysis of gas and water samples. Dr. Mumford will also use numerical models to simulate the experiments and to investigate larger-scale, longer-term field scenarios to develop monitoring strategies and establish a framework for risk assessment.

John Smol (Biology) $520,000 – Dr. Smol and his research team will incorporate the use of forensic paleolimnology to determine the impact mink farming may be having on natural environments in Nova Scotia. Working with local stakeholders, Dr. Smol and his colleagues will use both established and newly-developed “fingerprinting” tools to determine the relative impacts from mink farms – nutrients, metals, and persistent organic pollutants – that may lead to algal blooms and overall deterioration of water quality, including potential loss of fish habitat and alteration of aquatic food webs.

The research will allow Dr. Smol to provide regulators and stakeholders with the critical information to determine management and potential additional mitigation policies needed to help resolve the polarized debate on the environmental impacts of mink farms. The techniques developed in this project will be readily exportable to other agricultural regions in Canada and elsewhere faced with water quality issues.

For more information on the Strategic Partnership Grants visit the website.

Breathing new life into Indigenous languages

Queen's University is working with a local Indigenous cultural organization and Indigenous leaders to help with language revitalization.

[Queen's Tyendinaga Indigenous languages Haudenosaunee]
Dakota Ireland, an Oneida representative, makes notes during one of the conference's discussion sessions. (Supplied Photo)

Queen’s and Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na Language and Culture Centre played host to a historic meeting this week as six Indigenous nations met to help plan the future of their languages.

The three-day meeting and conference was part of a collaborative project between Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na and Queen’s, which began this spring and was funded by Ontario’s Ministry of Education Indigenous Languages Fund. Establishing this meeting and bringing together the Six Nations was a key milestone in the project’s overarching goals of developing community-specific plans for language revitalization.

“It’s a momentous event and a historical moment. It is the first time in our memories that members of all six language families are in one room talking about preserving our languages,” says Kanonhsyonne (Janice Hill), Director of Indigenous Initiatives.

The representatives of the six language families included learners, academics, policy makers, administrators, and teachers. The six language families of the Haudenosaunee, also known as the Iroquois Confederacy, are the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora. The word Rotinonhsyón:ni is the Mohawk word for Haudenosaunee, while Haudenosaunee is the agreed upon Iroquois Confederacy Council term.

The agenda for the conference included discussions around how to move language beyond the classroom and language legislation, building resources such as a teacher’s association and online resources, and opportunities for group discussions.

“Queen’s is proud to be a partner on this project, which is enabling the revitalization of all of the six Rotinonhsyón:ni languages and meeting the calls to action in the national and Queen’s Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) reports,” says Gordon E. Smith, Vice-Dean (Faculty Relations) with the Faculty of Arts and Science. “We’re excited about the Rotinonhsyón:ni Language Cooperative meeting happening here at Queen’s, supporting Onkwehonwe/Rotinonhsyón:ni language family revitalization and uniting the work of these communities to share resources.”

The collaboration between Queen’s and Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na has already seen the creation of a certificate in Mohawk Language, which will be delivered in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory starting this month. Over the next two years, the project will also develop an indexed online archive of Mohawk language resources; and will research best practices for teaching, assessing, and evaluating Indigenous language learners.

“We have come to the table in the spirit of sharing,” says Callie Hill, Director of Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na. “We are sharing knowledge, experiences, and resources for language revitalization and we are encouraging and supporting each other in revitalizing our languages”.

Some next steps for Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na, the six Rotinonhsyón:ni/Haundenosaunee groups, and Queen’s include the formation of four working groups to continue this work, as well as additional conferences.

The conference was held as the world marked the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

[Queen's TTO Haudenosaunee Indigenous languages conference]
Representatives from across the Haudenosaunee nation gathered in Robert Sutherland Hall for a three-day conference centred on language revitalization. (Supplied Photo)


The Conversation: Neil Sedaka’s 1975 song revived for anti-immigrant era

Top-30 hit seems even more relevant today, as debates rage in the United States over immigration, repatriation and racism.

[Immigrants arrive in America]
A top hit in 1975, Neil Sedaka’s song “The Immigrant,” proves its continuing relevance, with the rise in xenophobia in the United States. Here people on an Atlantic liner arrive at what is probably Ellis Island, the gateway for over 12 million immigrants to the U.S. from 1892 to 1954. Library of Congress

Neil Sedaka is an American singer-songwriter who has written dozens of hit songs. Many of them he sang himself. Others are better known in cover versions by artists ranging from Elvis Presley to Ariana Grande.

Sedaka’s wholesome image and infectious cheerfulness are easy to slight and have too often belied an extraordinary career. His song “The Immigrant” was a Top 30 hit when he released it in 1975, but today it seems even more relevant, as debates rage in the United States over immigration, repatriation and racism.

[The Conversation]Recent events along the U.S.-Mexican border have revealed how easy it still is for restrictionists and xenophobes to gain the upper hand, and to enact hard-line policies that inflict misery on people drawn to the U.S. in hopes of a better life. Sedaka dedicated “The Immigrant” to John Lennon, who at the time was mired in a bitter dispute with U.S. authorities over his application for permanent residence in America. “I thought the song was beautiful,” Lennon told Sedaka after watching him perform it on TV. “Yoko and I were watching and we loved it.”

A musical talent at eight-years-old

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1939, Sedaka was only eight-years-old when he began to attend the Juilliard School of Music on a piano scholarship. By the time he was thirteen, though, his interests had shifted decisively from classical to popular music, and after teaming up with his neighbour, the 16-year-old lyricist Howie Greenfield, they found work in the fabled Brill Building on Broadway, where professional hit-makers wrote rock ‘n’ roll songs for an exploding teenage market.

Sedaka composed songs for some of the great Black female singers of the late 1950s, including LaVern Baker (“I Waited Too Long”) and Dinah Washington (“Never Again”), but he scored his biggest success with Connie Francis, for whom he and Greenfield penned the trivial “Stupid Cupid.” Their range and growth as a songwriting team, however, was evident by 1960, when they wrote the lush ballad “Where the Boys Are,” which Francis recorded for the “spring break” movie of the same title, and which many artists have since covered.

[Neil Sedaka and other stars]
Neil Sedaka, right, is seen here with, from left, Nigel Olsson, May Pang, John Lennon, Jozy. (Twitter/@NeilSedaka)

Sedaka’s career as a singer took off during these same years. Beginning in 1959, he produced a string of bubbly, doo-bee-doo-wappy hits such as “Oh! Carol,” “Calendar Girl,” and “Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen,” before achieving his first number one record with “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.” During these years, Sedaka sold 25 million records, second only to Elvis, and unlike Elvis, he wrote or co-wrote his own songs.

And then the wheels came off. The Beatles arrived, revolutionizing the music scene in America as they had already done in Britain, and immediately casting successful solo acts like Sedaka (as well as Paul Anka, Ricky Nelson, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Elvis and others) into cultural obscurity.

Sedaka continued to write and record songs, but his most notable airplay during these years came when other people sang his music, including The Monkees, The Fifth Dimension, Tom Jones and Tony Christie (“Is This The Way To Amarillo”).

By 1971, Sedaka had abandoned hope of making his comeback in the United States and moved his family to England, where he played rough working men’s clubs in the north, and tried hard to get his voice back on the radio. His luck turned when he recorded an album with the future members of 10cc (best known for their number one hit, “I’m Not In Love”), and met Elton John, who signed him to his Rocket Record Company, and re-launched him in America.

‘Sedaka’s Back’

The comeback attempt worked, and Sedaka stormed again to the pinnacles of popular success with his album Sedaka’s Back and singles like “That’s When the Music Takes Me,” “Laughter in the Rain” (his first number one since “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”), “Bad Blood” (another number one, with Elton John on backing vocals), “Solitaire” (covered by The Carpenters, Jann Arden, Sheryl Crow, Clay Aiken and many others), and “Love Will Keep Us Together” (the best-selling single of 1975, not for Sedaka, but for The Captain and Tennille).

“The Immigrant” belongs to this period. Strikingly different from the love songs and ballads that make up the bulk of Sedaka’s output, it was among the finest products of his new songwriting partnership with the lyricist Phil Cody, and it took Sedaka as close as he ever came to political controversy.

The issue of immigration was important to Sedaka and Cody. Sedaka’s parents both came from Jewish families who relocated to New York. His mother’s origins were Russian-Polish. His father’s were Turkish.

Cody’s father, meanwhile, emigrated from Sicily to New York in 1930 with dreams of becoming an opera singer, but he spent his career as a carpenter. Cody said he wrote the lyric for “The Immigrant” with his dad in mind, but it also clearly arises from painful personal experience. “I spent a lifetime being teased about being a little dark Italian kid in a white Protestant neighbourhood,” he remarked recently.

‘The Immigrant’

In “The Immigrant,” Cody and Sedaka do not go back to the beginning of international migration to America when roughly 30,000 years ago, the ancestors of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas crossed over from Asia.

Lyrics to “The Immigrant”
Harbors opened their arms to the young searching foreigner
Come to live in the light of the beacon of liberty
Plains and open skies, billboards would advertise
Was it anything like that when you arrived?
Dream boats carried the future to the heart of America
People were waiting in line for a place by the river

It was time when strangers were welcome here
Music would play
They tell me the days were sweet and clear
It was a sweeter tune, and there was so much room
That people could come from everywhere

Now he arrives with his hopes, and his heart set on miracles
Come to marry his fortune with a hand full of promises
To find they’ve closed the door, they don’t want him anymore
There isn’t any more to go around
Turning away, he remembers he once heard a legend
That spoke of a mystical, magical land called America

[Chorus x 2]

©Neil Sedaka and Phil Cody

Instead, they concentrate on the powerful allure of what for more than two centuries has been known as “the American Dream” of freedom, equality and opportunity, and the ways in which that dream — then as now — was being betrayed by intolerance and self-interest, as indeed it had been betrayed from the start by vigilante and legislative agendas that were virulently anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, anti-African, anti-Asian and anti-communist.

Cody begins the lyric with a vision of what the United States was like when his father (“the young searching foreigner”) arrived “to live in the light of…liberty.”

There were, he imagines, harbours with open doors, billboards with advertisements, “plains and open skies,” “dream boats” travelling “to the heart of America,” and people “waiting in line for a place by the river.” “Was it anything like that when you arrived?” he asks his father.

In the chorus, Cody is much more confident. Steeped in nostalgia, he asserts that, when his father settled in New York, “It was a time when strangers were welcome here.”

Sedaka’s music enhances the optimism of Cody’s words, lifting the emotional register of the song, and displaying his immense gift for the memorable melody. Above all, the chorus speaks directly to the belief that shaped the U.S. as a nation of immigrants: “people could come from everywhere.”

In the second verse, Cody makes it plain that those days of acceptance are gone. “Now,” in the 1970s, people still arrive with hearts “set on miracles,” but they are turned away, and the promises of the “magical land called America” are denied to them.

Sedaka closes the song with a return to the hope of the chorus, and a reaffirmation of the America Dream that places “The Immigrant” in the same tradition as Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus” (1883), the sonnet affixed to the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

The promises of the U.S. have always been threatened by powerful forces both within and without the country. Cody and Sedaka’s song concerns the liberal ideals of freedom and cultural plurality that drew people like Cody’s father and Sedaka’s grandfather to America, and that in the current political climate are once again under siege.

Like many great songwriters, Sedaka has fallen in and out of favour. But at his finest, he composed songs that lodge themselves firmly in the mind, and that remain moving and relevant. In “The Immigrant,” he speaks out on one of the most controversial issues in all of American history and champions a vision of the country that prizes compassion and diversity.


Robert Morrison is a professor in the Department of English Language and Literature..

This article was originally published on The Conversation, which provides news and views from the academic and research community. Queen’s University is a founding partner. Queen's researchers, faculty, and students are regular contributors.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca

Faculty Artist Series building upon success

[Isabel Quartet]
The Isabel String Quartet will perform three concerts as part of the 2018-19 Faculty Artist Series at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. (University Communications)

Hear great classical music concerts in the wonderful acoustics of the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts performed by faculty from the Dan School of Drama and Music and invited musicians.  

[Joel Quarrington]
Joel Quarrington

For the 2018-19 season, the annual Faculty Artist Series expands from four concerts to six. 

Most of the concerts are being held on Sunday afternoons at 2:30 pm and include three presentations by the Isabel String Quartet and three concerts by a variety of faculty performers. The latter concerts range from an event featuring local composers and visual artists, to a concert of two-piano music that also includes award-winning multimedia pieces, and ends a concert of French art song for baritone and piano. 

Of particular note are the first two concerts in the series. On Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018 at 7:30 pm, the Isabel Quartet is joined by double bassist, Joel Quarrington.  Quarrington, currently principal double bassist of the National Arts Centre Orchestra, is renowned for his virtuosity and expertise. In addition to playing some solo Bach on the bass, Quarrington will join the quartet in a performance of a Dvorak Quintet – a beautiful work that is not often heard in a concert setting given its unusual instrumentation.

[Matt Rogalsky]
Matt Rogalsky

The second concert on Sunday, Oct. 14 at 2:30 pm features music by Matt Rogalsky and friends. Rogalsky, one of the winners of the inaugural 2017 Kingston Mayor’s Arts Awards, is a talented and innovative composer who has been involved with many community arts groups such as the Tone Deaf Festival and the Skeleton Park Festival. Rogalsky has invited Kingston visual artists Julia Krolik and Owen Fernley to collaborate on this concert. Rounding out the program will be a new work by Queen’s Music Professor Emeritus Kristi Allik that includes video by Robert Mulder. This concert will surely be a feast for both the eyes and ears.

Single ticket prices begin at $10 for students and $20 for adults ($16 for Queen’s faculty and staff), and subscribing to any three or more concerts can generate a savings of 25 per cent. 

More information about the concerts and ticket ordering, can be found at The Isabel website, or through The Isabel Box Office between 12:30-4:30 pm, Monday to Friday at 613-533-2424

The Conversation: The erosion of American diplomacy

Donald Trump is eroding American diplomacy and what's known as soft power. Here's how that may result in a new world order.

[President Donald Trump]
President Donald Trump, seen on the South Lawn of the White House is eroding American diplomacy with his penchant for what’s known as hard power over soft power. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

At the recent Helsinki summit between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, the U.S. president used the threat of nuclear war to justify good relations with a bad regime, just as he did in Singapore.

His rhetoric included overzealous articulations about how the United States and Russia control more than 90 per cent of the world’s nuclear weapons, demonstrating his penchant for hard power capabilities.

[The Conversation]Trump has used America’s material resources to back up his threats to NAFTA, NATO, the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, textbook examples of the use of what’s known as hard power. His approach to wielding influence completely ignores soft power, which refers to the non-material assets a state can harness to gain influence, including its culture, policies and political values.

Unlike its coercive counterpart, soft power rests on a state’s diplomatic capability to shape others’ preferences and the ability to get others to want to do what you want them to do.

But if Trump believes hard power is all that matters, then how can he explain his lack of regard for Chinese-American relations? And how can we understand mounting concern for the drop in America’s soft power?

Trump’s meeting with Putin shows just how much soft power matters: It might matter enough, in fact, to reconfigure the entire power structure of the global political system.

Trump increased the 2018 U.S. defence budget to US$639 billion while in 2017, Russia decreased its budget for the first time in two decades, to US$66.3 billion. Despite its hard power disadvantage, Russia seems nonetheless to have a lot of influence over the U.S.

Does this mean that Russia has a soft power advantage over the U.S.? No. What the Helsinki summit and Trump-Putin relations shows us, more broadly, is the erosion of America’s soft power capabilities.

No longer a coherent U.S. identity

Research shows a reordering of the global soft power roster, which captures the U.S. fall from the ranks. However, we know much less about how the Trump administration is weakening U.S. soft power. One explanation comes from the nuances of the concept of soft power. In short, inconsistency erodes soft power.

The U.S. no longer projects a coherent identity to the international community, which is how its soft power has diminished. Conflict between political parties, division within civil society, and changing domestic and foreign policies have eroded the image of the U.S. as an internally and externally consistent and united country.

Trump’s openness to have Russian investigators question U.S. officials counters the indictment of Russian gun rights activist, Maria Butina, charged with conspiracy against the U.S. by the Department of Justice and FBI, for example. And Trump himself is inconsistent: He switched his position on the urgency and timeliness of North Korea’s denuclearization, from “immediately” to “no time limit.” There are many other examples of these paradoxes.

[Presidents Putin, Macron and Grabar-Kitarovic]
Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron and Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic at the World Cup in Moscow in July. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

How countries use soft power

Simply put, it’s what a state does with its own soft power and what other states do with it that matters. Having soft power means nothing if it’s not used or accepted by others. Consider soft power as a starting point, a necessary but not wholly sufficient condition for influence.

Hosting the 2018 World Cup, Russia sought to exercise its soft power on the world stage and acquire some influence in the process. But soft power is not self-determined.

By using soft power, a state can gain support through legitimacy and compliance through authority, which yields influence. But for that to happen, other states need to buy into the image that state is advancing. Based on which countries follow and are followed, a hierarchy appears.

Therefore, the U.S. loss of soft power could jeopardize its ranking and level of influence in the system. Legitimacy and authority operate based on co-optation and attraction, which links them to soft power. This is also why reliance on hard power could be even more damaging to the U.S.

China turns the tables

Lately, China has been quietly employing its soft power, with the prospect of new trade relations with the EU as just one example. Soft power connotes a subtler and gentler way of influencing other countries, which China is displaying. More relevantly, China is showing more internal and external consistency in those areas that foster soft power.

This reinforces the argument I explore in my research about how “winning friends” can influence others and shift the power structure internationally.

Scholars and pundits feel China will need to overcome a number of economic, environmental, political and social obstacles before it can surpass the U.S. as the world’s superpower.

But for now, the burden may rest on the U.S. to overcome its own set of obstacles to defend and keep its position in the world order.

Sara Greco is a doctoral candidate of political studies at Queen’s University, an R.S. McLaughlin Graduate Fellow, and a Student Fellow at the Centre for International and Defence Policy. 


This article was originally published on The Conversation, which provides news and views from the academic and research community. Queen’s University is a founding partner. Queen's researchers, faculty, and students are regular contributors.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca

Leading, including, and transforming

Twelve students spent the weekend in training to prepare for fall orientation. 

[Queen's AMS Ramna Safeer Myriam-Morenike Djossou]
Myriam-Morenike Djossou (Artsci’18) and Ramna Safeer (Artsci'18) are among those involved in delivering some key inclusivity training to student Orientation leaders this fall. (University Communications)

A dozen Queen’s students are now ready to train 1,300 of their peers on the effective ways to create an inclusive environment during orientation.

These 12 students were selected and trained as ‘peer facilitators’, a new role created to help improve the experience of this year’s orientation.

In this role, they will be responsible for delivering a 90-minute workshop to orientation leaders in August called Leading, Including and Transforming (LIT). The training was jointly developed by the Division of Student Affairs and the Equity and Human Rights Office.

Enhancing student leadership training for orientation was a recommendation of the Undergraduate Orientation Review Working Group – and that review of Orientation Week stemmed from a recommendation of the Principal’s Implementation Committee on Racism, Diversity, and Inclusion (PICRDI).

“This initiative will help us strengthen the student transition experience by creating a common understanding of what a respectful and welcoming and accessible Orientation program would look like for a diversity of students. It will help to foster, for all members of the incoming class, a sense of belonging at Queen’s,” says Corinna Fitzgerald, Assistant Dean, Student Life and Learning. "We are proud of the inclusive living and learning environment here at Queen’s, and we are committed to continuous improvement through initiatives such as this one.”

The agenda for the two-day training session included learning the presentation, practicing the presentation, a session on presentation skills, and a session for facilitators on self-care delivered by the Cultural Counsellor. Having students serve as facilitators was a deliberate choice, according to organizers.

Coordinating the weekend session was Ramna Safeer (Artsci’18), Student Life Assistant with Student Affairs and past Social Issues Commissioner for the Alma Mater Society.

“I thought it was a great opportunity for student leaders to learn tangible skills for dealing with difficult conversations in contexts that are specific to them,” she says. “With my own experience, I am really passionate about the fact that all students are leaders in some capacity, which means every student should feel like they are agents in making their environments more inclusive and accessible. I feel honoured to be a part of an exciting new initiative that furthers the conversations about accessible, hands-on equity training that we're having right now.”

Myriam-Morenike Djossou (Artsci’18), one of the facilitators, believes delivering this training will help Orientation leaders understand the opportunity they have to help build an environment at Queen’s that is welcoming for everyone.

“Even though Queen’s is a big institution, and sometimes it can be hard to see how each of us, as individuals, have the ability to influence what happens on campus, there are in fact many ways through which we can shape the Queen’s experience and culture,” she says. “By reflecting and thinking critically on the activities we engage in, and what we witness, by knowing how to safely intervene when it is necessary, and by fostering inclusiveness in our daily lives, we have that ability to make a difference. It may not always be on a large scale, but that may make an important difference for one student, and that is already a win.”

The 1,300 orientation leaders will be trained on Thursday, Aug. 30 just ahead of Orientation Week.


Subscribe to RSS - Arts and Science