Webb, Jane Carter

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WEBB, Jane Carter


Born in San Francisco, CA; married George Randolph Webb (a professor and administrator); children: Lewis, George Randolph, Charlotte Chandler, Wade. Ethnicity: "White." Education: Attended Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon University); Tulane University, B.A., 1963, M.A., 1965, Ph.D. (English), 1970. Politics: Independent. Religion: Presbyterian. Hobbies and other interests: Community service, public policy, local and oral history.


Office—c/o Department of Physics, Computer Science, and Engineering, Christopher Newport University, 1 University Pl., Newport News, VA 23606. E-mail—[email protected].


Tulane University, New Orleans, LA, instructor, 1968-71, lecturer in English and humanities, 1971-73, founder and codirector of program on science, technology, and man, 1970-73; College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA, assistant professor of humanities at Christopher Newport College, 1973-75, assistant professor of physics, 1975-82, codirector of Center for Science and Ethics, 1974-90; Christopher Newport University, Newport News, VA, associate professor of physics, 1982-2003, professor emeritus, 2003—. Audubon Park Commission, New Orleans, member, 1969-72; Pan American Center for Earth and Environmental Studies, member of board of control, 1983-88, vice chair, 1986-87, chair, 1987-88; Virginia Living Museum, member of board of directors, 1986-87; Virginia Marine Resources Commission, member, 1988-96; Virginia Institute of Marine Science, member of council, 1997-2000. Newport News Arts Commission, member, 1997—, vice chair, 2000—; Peninsula Fine Arts Center, member of board of trustees, 2003—. United Campus Ministries, vice chair, 1984-85; New Horizons, member of advisory committee, 1994—. Christopher Newport Sailing Foundation, member of board of directors, 1985—.


American Association of Physics Teachers, National Association for Science, Technology, and Society, Society for the History of Technology, Virginia Academy of Science (president of astronomy, mathematics, and physics section, 1998), Omicron Delta Kappa (charter member of Christopher Newport University chapter).


(With David Little and G. R. Webb) The Man and the Alligator: Ethical Decision-making, 1974.

(With Alexander C. Brown) The Bay: It Makes Us Who We Are, 1979.

Masters of the Bay: Stories of the Virginia Pilots, 1983.

(With G. R. Webb) The Best on the Bay: Fifty Years of Racing, 1984.

(With G. R. Webb) The Christmas Tugboat: A Story of the Chesapeake Bay, 1983.

(Editor-in-chief and contributor) Voices of the College: A History of Christopher Newport College, 1987.

Newport News, Arcadia Publishing (Charleston, SC), 2003.

Contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals, including Arizona Quarterly, Nautical Quarterly, Engineering Education, and Tulane Studies in English.


Jane Carter Webb told CA: "I write in two very different areas. I write articles and papers that are both a consequence and a requirement of my profession. I also was a regular book reviewer for the Hampton Roads Daily Press for a number of years, and I did that because I love to read and I like writing about good (and sometimes not-so-good) authors. My taste in books is very wide-ranging. Two of the books I reviewed and recommended highly were Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, which I consider a marvelous piece of literature, and Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, a fascinating study of the reasons human societies developed differently in different places.

"I have written non-academic books and poems because I want to. I come from a writing and storytelling family. The Best on the Bay: Fifty Years of Racing contains both poetry and prose. The Christmas Tugboat: A Story of the Chesapeake Bay is based on a true adventure, and my husband and I wrote it for our children.

"My professional writing is influenced by what I am doing at the time. There have been times when I encountered subjects in my teaching of physics and engineering that would have made wonderful novels or biographies. My workload and the demands of my personal life have made following up on my discoveries about Oliver Heaviside or Abraham Darby impossible.

"Perhaps you recall that in the musical, Cats, Grizabella goes to the Heaviside Layer when she dies. I knew nothing about Heaviside until his name appeared on a list that the Salem Press sent to solicit authors, and because of Cats I thought it would be fun to work on Heaviside. As a result, I discovered that there is an urban myth on the Internet that holds Heaviside was actually responsible for the electromagnetic theory and the famous Maxwell's Equations. At the time I wrote the piece, John Hardie and I had not yet determined the origin or validity of these claims. We have now, and they are bunk. Maxwell is the original genius. But Heaviside was both a clever man and a tragic figure.

"There is no particular influence on my work. My work is very different stylistically depending on the audience, so what influences me is what I am trying to do: communicate technical or historical information, or present a literary work that has its own merit. Sometimes my work is the result of an experience I have had or am going through. The Best on the Bay was written as my father-in-law was dying terribly of cancer. I saw the book as a tribute to him and a means of conveying what lay behind some of the mundane events that came to take on symbolic meaning to me during those awful months. On the surface, however, it is just a celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of a sailboat, the Hampton One Design.

"Even though I have worked in two very different areas, I actually approach both the same way. I collect information from the world around me, I think a lot about it and try to see how to approach the material, I organize it in a formal way, and then I bang it out on the computer. I always share what I am doing with my husband, and lately with our daughter, who has a doctorate in the history of science. Normally, there is not a tremendous amount of revision, since the organization process tends to be quite thorough.

"Inspiration for my non-academic work is something I have done or seen that appears to me to have meaning beyond the surface. For example, The Bay: It Makes Us Who We Are is about a vanishing culture, that of the watermen. Both their freedom from the constraints that bind the rest of us and the beauty of their continual engagement with the natural world appealed to me greatly. I could see them as a metaphor for all groups that watch their world slipping out of their grasp.

"When I was a little girl, I wondered if the Romans knew they were living in their own decline and fall. Watching the watermen, I think that a few Romans knew—but most of them did not."

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Webb, Jane Carter

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