Fall 2016

Thursday Lecture Series

Between ‘Deadly Doses’ & ‘Miraculous Cures’: Reassessing Poisons and Antidotes in the Atlantic World

  • Souleymane Bachir Diagne, Professor of French , Columbia University
  • Benjamin Breen, Lecturer in History, Columbia University

This talk examines the role of poisons and antidotes in slave societies throughout the Atlantic world. It will compare accounts of poisons, curses, and remedies used by Africans and indigenous Americans in regions including Virginia, Angola, and Guiana, questioning how European fears of tropical poisoning shaped colonization and the construction of natural knowledge in the seventeenth and eighteenth century Atlantic basin. The goal is to better integrate the history of poisons and antidotes within both the history of slavery and within the history of the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

Helping Hands: New Perspectives on Prostheses in Early Modern Europe

  • Heidi Hausse, Lecturer in History, Columbia University

There are few objects that illustrate so well the intersections of medicine, technology, and culture as artificial hands crafted in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  Made of metal, wood, leather, and paint, these artifacts suggest the creative and elaborate ways men and women in early modern Europe used to cope with bodily loss. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

For Purity and Profit: Choreographing the Modern Self

  • Whitney Laemmli, Lecturer in History, Columbia University

In 1928, the German choreographer Rudolf Laban announced what he believed to be an explosive development in the history of dance: the creation of an inscription system that could “objectively” record human movement on paper. The technique, known as “Labanotation,” relied upon byzantine combinations of lines, tick marks, and boxes, but—despite its difficulty—was adopted both within dance and far beyond it throughout the twentieth century. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

From Slavery to the Penitentiary: Police Power, Slave- Emancipation, and Liberal Freedom

  • Max Mishler, Lecturer in the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, Columbia University

The United States is currently home to 5 percent of the world’s people and 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately represented among America’s vast unfree population, with more black men under some form of carceral control (prison, parole, probation) than were enslaved in 1850. The systematic confinement and surveillance of people of African descent in the twenty-first century has led some scholars and activists to posit that contemporary mass incarceration is slavery, or, at the very least, an afterlife of slavery. In this telling, the carceral landscape of Mississippi cotton plantations and the antebellum slave patrol haunt contemporary super-max prisons and police departments empowered to detain, arrest, harass, and execute black bodies. This tragic narrative of American history points to enduring connections among police power, white supremacy, and black captivity. Yet, police power has also been indispensable to black liberation in the United States. The nineteenth-century abolition of slavery, post-Civil War Reconstruction (however brief), and the modern Civil Rights movement were all made possible by a vast expansion of the federal government’s police power. This talk explores the Janus-faced nature of police power in American history through the prism of nineteenth-century New York, where the gradual abolition of slavery coincided with the birth of the modern penitentiary. Well before the U.S. Civil War and the modern Civil Rights movement, New York’s state government deployed its police power to abolish chattel slavery and to build an expansive state prison system. Gradual emancipation liberated black New Yorkers from the yoke of chattel bondage, but structural racism rendered free people of African descent increasingly vulnerable to incarceration in penitentiaries that epitomized the carceral logic of liberal free-labor ideology.   >>

Thursday Lecture Series

Jane Austen and the Secret of Free Indirect Style

  • Arden Hegele, Lecturer in English, Columbia University

Frances Ferguson has called free indirect style, or the intimate third-person representation of a character's words and thoughts, "the novel's one and only formal contribution to literature." In English letters, the invention of free indirect style is normally attributed to Jane Austen. And yet, the interdisciplinary turn of our moment asks us to reconsider literary form through the lens of cross-cultural exchange with the sciences. This talk turns to Enlightenment psychiatry to reveal free indirect style's pre-novelistic roots in the Bedlam casebook. Ultimately, I hope to offer not just a new history of the novel's most distinctive formal device, but also a new reading of the surprising ramifications of free indirect style's psychiatric heritage in two Romantic novels: Mary Wollstonecraft's Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman (1798), and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813). >>

Thursday Lecture Series

Operatic Fantasies in Early Nineteenth-Century Psychiatry

  • Carmel Raz, Lecturer in Music, Columbia University

In a celebrated essay on insanity from 1816, renowned French psychiatrist Étienne Esquirol reported on his experience of accompanying patients to the opera: “I once accompanied a young convalescent to a Comic Opera. He everywhere saw his wife conversing with men. Another, after the space of a quarter of an hour, felt the heat in his head increasing—and says, let us go out, or I shall relapse. A young lady, being at the Opera, and seeing the actors armed with sabres, believed that they were going to assail her.”  Esquirol’s account of the dangers of the opera on the mentally ill foreshadows subsequent debates around the pathological effects of the music of Giacomo Meyerbeer, Richard Wagner, and others.  These discourses played out within psychiatry as well, where the presence of musical and theatrical entertainment in insane asylums became both increasingly prominent and contested. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

The Invisible Palace: Politics of Abstraction and the Aesthetics of a Catholic Technocracy

  • María González Pendás, Lecturer in Art History, Columbia University

A pristine and hovering marble cube punctuated by a few deep openings, the Civil Government Building (b.1956-64) in Tarragona, Spain, stands as the “tour de force of poetic abstraction” of Spanish modern architecture. The elegant transition from polished stone to glass in the façade, the opaque articulation of public bureaucracy and private housing in the program, and the rigorous solution of its every detail have made the building a canonical representative of a period so-far characterized by its “silence,” that is, by the distancing of architects and their designs from ideological agendas and political symbolism in lieu of masterful abstraction. Yet the building was erected at the peak of Francisco Franco’s regime (1939-1975) and for purposes of housing the policing infrastructure of the dictatorship. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

American Poverty, American Freedom

  • Christopher Florio, Lecturer in History, Columbia University

This talk investigates a subject that was of critical importance during the era of the American Civil War: material aid for the formerly-enslaved black poor.  Beginning soon after the Civil War’s outbreak in 1861 and continuing through the war’s end in 1865, American military officials and, especially, a range of American and British activists strove not only to extract labor from but also to provide assistance to African-American freedpeople. >>