By RikkiLynn Shields, Asst. Editor
Asking Dr. Mark Pottinger, the founder of the Visual and Preforming Arts Department here at Manhattan College, where he’s from is a challenging question. Although his family is Jamaican, he has lived in many different places in the United States, and even England.
Pottinger grew up in upstate New York with his mother, father and two older brothers. Living across from a quarry with a farm right in his backyard, his childhood was full of tree house excursions and many other outdoor actives. However, during his childhood, Pottinger and his family moved around to many different suburbs, giving him the opportunity to call a variety of places home. From New York to North Dakota, to Minnesota and even Missouri, he ended up at Washington University in St. Louis where he received is bachelor’s degree.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree, Pottinger moved to England to study at the University of Leeds, where he eventually earned his graduate degree. In 1999, Pottinger began teaching part time at Manhattan College, while completing his dissertation for his PhD, which he then received in musicology. Afterwards, he became an assistant professor, and quickly moved up to an associate professor. After years of traveling, schooling and teaching, Pottinger has had the honor of reviving the Berlin Prize.
The Berlin Prize is a part of the American Academy in Berlin, Germany. The academy was started by Richard Holbrooke, the ambassador to Germany under Bill Clinton’s presidency. Modeled after the American Academy in Rome, the American Academy in Berlin is an intellectual and research center, bringing American scholars to Germany. The award is a fellowship given to 23 scholars, providing them with residency in Berlin for an entire semester.
“They take care of all of your responsibilities for research. They introduce you to the head of the libraries that you need to go to for archives, they provide you with all of the ID’s you need to access the research libraries, they create introductions for you to meet scholars nearby and have conversation and/or collaboration. Not only do they translate for you, they also give you many opportunities to meet the German people,” Pottinger said. “You take part in interviews on the radio, and also give a lecture at the academy, where they invite the press and also many German intellectuals.”
Pottinger found out he was one of the 23 scholars awarded with the fellowship when he got a call from Germany one morning, 20 minutes before teaching a class. “I was blown away,” Pottinger said. “Yes, it’s internationally recognized, but beyond that it’s about the recognition of your work. I’m the only musicologist here on campus, so it’s hard for me to do my research here with the students. Of course, I engage music with the students as much as possible, however I really can’t go too far. So after finding other ways to engage my work, including study abroad and conferences, it’s a great feeling that people are seeing what I’m doing.”
Pottinger also discussed dinners that he will be attending at the American Academy during his fellowship in Berlin. “They are famous for their dinners, where they have highly catered meals with folks from the academy, and also intellectuals from the United States and elsewhere in Europe. At these meals, you gather and simply have conversation. It may seem intimidating meeting many people from other places in different fields, but that’s the point: to bring calibration between a scientist and a musician, between an artist and a psychologist, between an engineer and a social scientists, or politician,” he said. “Through this exchange, perhaps we can find new ways of living together, new ways of engaging together. It is a place to create possibilities for sustainability of community, ideas, life, and democracy. From my understanding, that’s the heart of the American Academy.”
While in Berlin, Pottinger will be looking at the phenomenon of sound, and how it relates to the human experience. “I started off my career in physics, before I got involved in music. For me, I’ve always been fascinated by how sound defines an environment, but also how an environment helps to establish a place for sound. A yin and yang, if you will, between the realities of the receiver of the sound and the producer of the sound,” Pottinger said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how I experience this new environment.”
For Pottinger, this isn’t the first time he will be traveling to Germany. “When I was about 19, I studied in Germany for eight weeks during my sophomore-junior year of college, and another eight weeks between my junior-senior years, doing research on a 19th century French composer as an Andrew W. Mellon fellow,” he said. “This allowed me to be introduced to the German culture at an early age, and helped me while studying German in college as well. I’m looking forward to engaging and enjoying a culture through language.”
“The neat thing for me, is that I didn’t have a clear sense of who I was or who I wanted to be in undergrad. I was frustrated by so many issues in my life, and I was unsure what I was going to do and who I was going to be, and I wasn’t doing well at that particular time in my physics classes,” Pottinger said. “Then, this Mellon Foundation award came about and I was able to travel to Germany doing this music research. I sort of found myself in Germany. I always looked to other people to get a sense of who I was, but while I was in Germany I found who I was an intellectual. I found who I was as a person. Being alone studying and traveling in Germany was a challenge, but I found myself in that frustration.”
Along with the research he will be conducting in Germany, Pottinger is also looking forward to exploring, traveling and attending many concerts, including four Opera’s that he has already purchased his tickets too. The semester long fellowship will be a great time for Pottinger to focus on the studies he is most passionate about, while also living in a new environment.
“When you’re living your life looking at others to define who you are, you go to a place where you basically do not exist, or be. So you’re forced to look at yourself and embrace who you are, because you’re the only one who can. No one else will. So as a point of survival, I was able to embrace who I was. That created a sense of passion to explore the world and ideas. I found myself in research. I found myself in music. I found myself in traveling,” Pottinger said. “Through that, I was able to find a sense of self image that has sustained me to this point, to get me the Berlin Prize. For me, returning back to Berlin is connecting with my sense of self. Traveling isn’t just an opportunity to see a foreign place, it is also a mirror of the things that you have, things that hold you back, because you are viewing things from what you know. When you see something new, it doesn’t say much about that, it says more about yourself. So in a lot of ways, traveling is a process of discovery of the things that define you, and how you see the word.”