Dr. Madison U. Sowell (Alumnus 1976)

Provost, Southern Virginia University

Recollections of the Sommerhochschule 1976

I learned about the Sommerhochschule while a graduate student at Harvard, where I received my master’s degree in 1976 (just before leaving for Strobl) and my doctorate in 1979, both in romance languages and literatures.  Mastering German, at least at a reading level, allowed me to take a Goethe course back at Harvard from the famous literary scholar Henry Hatfield, who invariably commented on my Austrian accent.  The time spent on the campus on the Wolfgangsee made for a simultaneously idyllic and intense summer.  The classroom experience was complemented by swims in the lake, hikes in the mountains, a memorable visit to a spa, and attendance at the Salzburg Festival, where I witnessed Jedermann (performed in the Domplatz) and Mozart’s Idomeneo (conducted by the great Herbert von Karajan in the Festspielhaus).   I played the piano to accompany a flautist in a student concert, and I enjoyed art history lectures on the side.   My German language teacher had been a POW (Prisoner of War) interned in a camp in Arkansas (USA), where my family owned cotton farms.  He and I knew my native state from very different perspectives.

I also enjoyed forming friendships with students from around the globe, from Turkey to England to Mexico to Austria to the United States.  I remember Arno Riedl, one of the Austrian student assistants, for his many kindnesses and have often wondered what path he pursued.  As for me, I became a professor of Italian and comparative literature at Brigham Young University (1979-2009), where over a thirty-year career I was at different times the Scheuber and Veinz Professor of Languages, a department chair, associate dean of undergraduate education, and the honors program director .  For the past six years I have served as the provost (chief academic officer) at Southern Virginia University.  This year I published, along with my wife and two colleagues, my seventh book-length publication, Icônes du Ballet Romantique: Marie Taglioni et Sa Famille (Rome, Gremese, 2016).  Most of my publications, however, have dealt with the Italian epic tradition from Dante to Tasso.  I am married to Debra H. Sowell, a dance historian, and we are the parents of two daughters and have three grandchildren.  I now live in Lexington, Virginia, far removed from Strobl, but that little village in the Salzkammergut region will always retain a special place in my heart.


Strobl Alumnus 1976

Madison U. Sowell (2016)

Madison U. Sowell (2016)