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These are strange times we’re living in.

This week marks the beginning of the stretch run for the spring 2020 semester. After spring break it’d normally be a bustling time for the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, but concern over the coronavirus has brought our three campus communities, along with much of the world, to a stand-still.

In this era of social distancing and safer-at-home directives, most of us have a lot more free time and are probably looking for recommendations on what to read, watch or listen to. With that in mind, we reached out to UW Oshkosh educators for suggestions on what to check out while we wait for health risks to retreat.

Here are 13 ideas from members of the UWO faculty and staff to help keep you—and your mind—engaged.

The Overstory: A Novel, Richard Powers

This is a long book–but really worth reading. It won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It is a beautifully written story of people and the ways they intersect with each other and with the natural world. The story that Powers tells connects with many of the issues and ideas that students encounter in environmental studies classrooms, like cutting-edge research in environmental science, key ideas in the environmental humanities and more.

—Jim Feldman, environmental studies and history professor

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, Robin Wall Kimmerer

This is a beautiful book, where the author mixes the wisdom of her indigenous knowledge with the insights of science in an effort to help us think about how to have a more respectful and mutually supportive relationship with the natural world.

—Jim Feldman, environmental studies and history professor

Billionaire Democracy: The Hijacking of the American Political System, George R. Tyler (book)

In Billionaire Democracy, economist George R. Tyler lays out the fundamental problems plaguing our democracy. He explains how the American democratic system is rigged and how it has eroded the middle class, providing an unflinching and honest comparison of the U.S. government to peer democracies abroad. He also breaks down where we fall short and how other rich democracies avoid the income bias created by the overwhelming role of money in U.S. politics. Finally, Tyler outlines practical campaign finance reforms we can adopt when we finally focus on improving the political responsiveness of our government.

—Josh Carey, assistant teaching and learning professor

The 13th (documentary)

In this thought-provoking Netflix documentary, scholars, activists and politicians analyze the criminalization of African Americans and the U.S. prison boom.

—Josh Carey, assistant teaching and learning professor

Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns (documentary)

It’s excellent in most ways and offers a great evolutionary perspective on both jazz music and American culture through the 20th century. It’s 10 parts and totals about 19 hours, and is a riveting combination of early film clips, live performances, interviews, TV/movie excerpts and lots of important and historical photos. This is must-see viewing for any serious fan of jazz music or for anyone who loves music and is curious about its intrinsic connection to our broader culture.

—Marty Robinson, music professor

Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-By-Numbers is the New Way To Be Smart, Ian Ayres (book)

Ian Ayres details how data-driven decisions and big data will determine everything for us, from medical care to the best vintage of wine. SuperCrunchers is really the new way of thinking for decision-making. This explains exactly how business intelligence came to be and the infinite applications of data collection.

—Michael Winkler, associate business-economics lecturer on the UWO Fond du Lac campus

Spotlight (film)

This Academy Award-winning film dramatizes the story of editor Marty Baron and the Boston Globe team as they uncover truths behind sexual abuse scandals within the Roman Catholic Church. For any students interested in journalism or reporting, this story serves as a reminder of the power of investigative journalism still has on society.

—Kimberly Kelling, assistant advertising professor

Planet Money (podcast)

The economy explained. Imagine you could call up a friend and say, “Meet me at the bar and tell me what’s going on with the economy.” Now imagine that’s actually a fun evening.

—Jason Woldt, assistant supply chain management professor

The Indicator (podcast)

A little show about big ideas. From the people who make Planet Money, The Indicator helps you make sense of what’s happening today. It’s a quick hit of insight into work, business, the economy and everything else.

—Jason Woldt, assistant supply chain management professor

The Profit (TV show)

This CNBC show is a bit more lighthearted. It profiles the stories of struggling entrepreneurs and host Marcus Lemonis implements business principles to improve the bottom line.

—Jason Woldt, assistant supply chain management professor

Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War, Tony Horwitz

Horwitz, a journalist, follows his childhood fascination with the Civil War by traveling across America. He visits battlefields, interviews southerners and even suits up with battle reenactors to find out the disconnect between the war and its memory. It’s a really great way to learn some history and see how the meaning of the war still causes divisions in the present. If you want to know why people are still fighting about Confederate statues, this book is a good place to start. Additionally, Horwitz’s writing is gripping. You travel with him and see through his eyes many layers of a complicated subject.

—Michelle Kuhl, associate history professor

Making North America (documentary)

Making North America is three-part series from PBS about the geology of North America and how it came together to form the continent we know today. It tells the story of how mountain ranges formed, what forms of life were dominant at that time and how the continent has changed over vast stretches of geological time. It’s a great compliment to any geology class and a great intro for people thinking of studying geology. This can be accessed for free through the campus library streaming services.

—Beth Johnson, assistant geography-geology professor on the UWO Fox Cities campus

Rough Translation (podcast)

This NPR podcast explores how issues we’re all familiar with are experienced in different parts of the world and perceived through different cultural lenses. It’s fun to listen to and encourages us to think about the world in new ways.

—Erin DeMuynck, assistant geography professor on the UWO Fox Cities campus

America to Me (documentary)

The 2018 documentary series follows high school students in Oak Park, Illinois over the course of a year. The series is especially interested in issues related to interpersonal, social and educational issues related to social divides. Oak Park and River Park Forest High School are considered elite and progressive, but the opportunities they offer are not equally available to all students. The series offers an incredible window into the experiences of teenagers (and their parents), but it also showcases the devotion of educators. The 10-episode series offers a lot to think about in terms of race and education, but it’s also impossible to avoid getting emotionally invested.

—Caryn Murphy, radio/TV/film professor

Have ideas on what students and others in the UWO community should be reading, watching or listening to? We’re open to suggestions. Email ideas to

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