- Big Questions
Since its founding in 1925, VQR has enjoyed a storied history at the University of Virginia that includes its evolution into one of the most important literary quarterlies in the country and, more recently, its transformation into one of the boldest magazines in American publishing. This summer marks a new phase, one that extends this legacy as part of the new Center for Media and Citizenship, a project of the Department of Media Studies at UVA. The Center was created to ask the question, “What do citizens need to engage the world in a rapidly changing media environment?” Toward that end, the Center produces media—radio, television, and now this magazine—in an effort to bridge the gap between the university and the larger public. In his statement on the transition, Siva Vaidhyanathan, the Center’s director, noted that VQR’s editorial mission aligns perfectly with the Center’s own purpose, stressing that “VQR will not alter its voice simply because its home has changed.” Rather, the Center will help “reinforce the magazine’s tradition of connecting committed readers to exciting work, with the added resources of more energy, outreach, promotion, and harmony with the university’s larger mission.”
VQR and the staff of the Center are grateful for the support and careful attention shown to us by President Teresa A. Sullivan, Provost Thomas C. Katsouleas, Interim Vice President for Research Phillip Parrish, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Ian Baucom, Associate Dean for the Social Sciences Leonard Schoppa, and Media Studies Department Chair Hector Amaya during this transition.
Engaging big questions is part of the DNA of this magazine, and when considering the animating idea of the Center—to explore the nexus of media and citizenship—it seems fitting that the summer issue poses questions that, while seemingly whimsical, are no less fundamental. Namely, how can we better understand ourselves through the animals around us? The question is a layered one, invested with themes of stewardship, responsibility, imagination, devotion, even citizenship.
And while 224 pages on the subject is just the shallows of a much deeper conversation, the range of content—from a report on antipoaching efforts in the Central African Republic to another on the public health quandaries raised by the infamous Aedes aegypti mosquito in the US and abroad; from an essay on Mozart’s pet starling to a portfolio that reimagines the art and artifice of natural history—suggests the complexity of our relationship with animals.
The questions are also about influence. How do parakeets, seemingly inconsequential against the urban lightshow of Tokyo, inspire a photographic case study? What’s lost when a frog smaller than a quarter disappears from the face of the Earth? What does the chronic behavior of elephants in captivity tell us about the deteriorating effects of keeping them? Can a city ever replace the habitat it erased? What’s our problem with bugs? Is it ludicrous to argue that conservation also applies to the stars?
VQR has long been committed to asking big questions through unexpected angles, motivated by principles of literary excellence and passionate curiosity. And the questions keep coming. As the ways in which we address them evolve, as part of new partnerships and a changing intellectual landscape, the goal—to engage the world and explore our role in it—will remain a steadfast one.
– VQR [End Page 11]