Fall 2017

Thursday Lecture Series are open to Columbia faculty, students, and guests. Special Events are open to the public, unless otherwise noted.

Thursday Lecture Series

The Authority of Adam Smith’s Impartial Spectator

  • Lauren Kopajtic, Lecturer in Philosophy, Columbia University
  • Bernard E.  Harcourt, Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law and Director, Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought, Columbia University

It has been claimed that Adam Smith, like David Hume, has a “reflective endorsement” account of morality. On such a view, our moral faculties and notions are justified insofar as they pass reflective scrutiny. But Smith’s moral philosophy, unlike Hume’s, is also peppered with references to God, to divine law, and to our being “set up” in a specific way so as to best attain what is good and useful for us. This language suggests that there is another strategy available for accounting for the normativity of morality, one that would align Smith with more traditional teleological accounts of human nature and theological accounts of morality: >>

Thursday Lecture Series

Romantic Postmortems and Elegiac Afterlives

  • Arden Hegele, Lecturer in English, Columbia University
  • Shamus Khan, Professor, Department of Sociology, Columbia University

In English letters, the elegy is considered one of the most elevated poetic forms, with a literary history dating back to classical Greece. And yet, the interdisciplinary turn of our moment asks us to reconsider the conventions of elegy through the lens of cross-cultural exchange with medicine. This talk turns to Romantic-era developments in postmortem procedures to reveal their influence on poetic memorials from the 19th century, as autopsy reports gave readers privileged and intimate access into the interiors of the physical bodies of those they mourned. Ultimately, I hope to offer not just a new history of poetry’s most distinguished form, but also a new reading of the surprising ramifications of the history of medicine on Romanticism’s most important memorial poem: Percy Bysshe Shelley’s elegy for Keats, Adonais (1821). >>

Thursday Lecture Series

Kinaesthetic Communities: The Body, the Archive, and Multicultural America

  • Whitney Laemmli, Lecturer in History, Columbia University
  • Julie Crawford, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University

In 1965, the American folklorist Alan Lomax set out on a mission: to view, code, catalogue, and preserve the totality of the world’s dance traditions. Believing that dance carried otherwise inaccessible information about social structures, work practices, and the history of human migration, Lomax and his collaborators gathered more than 250,000 feet of raw film footage and analyzed it using a new system of movement analysis. Lomax’s aims, however, went beyond the merely scientific.  >>

Thursday Lecture Series

The Empty Pavilion: Abstractions of Islam and Cold War Politics of Spirit

  • María González Pendás, Lecturer in Art History, Columbia University
  • Josef Sorett, Associate Professor of Religion and African-American Studies , Columbia University

Fought over technologies of mass destruction and space conquest, cultural diplomacy and geopolitical divides, the Cold War was also a conflict over religion, and more specifically a conflict where the “godless communism” of the East was set against the new rubric of nations “under God” in the West. The religious front was particularly apt for the Franquista regime then ruling over Spain, a regime looking to regain some of the political and economic legitimacy lost to its fascist pedigree. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

“The Most Extreme and Single Remedy”: Amputation Debates in Early Modern Germany

  • Heidi Hausse, Lecturer in History, Columbia University
  • Gareth Williams, Violin Family Professor of Classics, Columbia University

This lecture explores the heated debates within surgeons’ technical instructions for performing amputation procedures in sixteenth and seventeenth-century Germany.  In contrast to the Middle Ages, early modern surgeons systematically recorded experimental amputation techniques and trained others to perform them.  The new techniques practiced alongside traditional methods point to influences from inside and outside of Germany, including France, Italy, and the newly formed Dutch Republic.  By the seventeenth century, surgeons learned multiple ways to perform amputations.  The growing multiplicity of methods generated passionate disputes among authors.  These debates show the rising challenge to Galenic medicine and surgeons’ changing attitudes towards technology.  At the root of this fight were competing visions of the body: was it a material entity to be preserved at all costs, or a machine to be reshaped at the surgeon’s discretion? >>

Thursday Lecture Series

World in a Can: Spy Satellites and Military Preparedness, 1946–1986

  • Matthew Hersch, Visiting ACLS Fellow (2017-2018), Columbia University
  • Whitney Laemmli, Lecturer in History, Columbia University

Histories of the Cold War have connected America’s first spy satellites to the increasing inability of the United States to monitor the Soviet ballistic missile program during the late-1950s.  The technology of reconnaissance satellites, though, predates both the rockets necessary to loft them into orbit and the missiles the satellites later detected.  Advocates of spy satellites never viewed the technology simply as a solution to any single “intelligence gap,” but as a novel intelligence resource that would do what no previous technology could: photograph whole nations during peacetime.  Intended only as an “interim” technology until better platforms were invented, the first film-return spy satellites became a permanent fixture of national defense and helped define the parameters of the Nuclear Age. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

(Re)Making Political Subjects: Interrogating Gender Quotas and Women’s Representation in Angola

  • Selina Makana, IRWGS Postdoctoral Fellow (2017-2020), Columbia University
  • Joelle M. Abi-Rached, Lecturer in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (MESAAS), Columbia University

This talk examines how women in post-war Angola participate and are represented in electoral politics. Starting from the premise that the very idea of democratic politics is gendered, I argue that examining electoral politics, in particular the organization of political parties, campaigns and elections financing, from feminist and sociological perspectives can help explain the (limited) participation of women in national politics. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

Storytelling in Rikers

Sahar Ullah, Heyman Center Public Humanities Fellow (2016 - 2017), has been working with Columbia University's Rikers Education Initiative to design and facilitate a series of storytelling workshops for young women at the Rose M Singer Center at Rikers Island over the last academic year. Ullah will reflect on her experience teaching and learning from the students about different aspects of storytelling including visual narration, character development, and the role of community as producers and audience. The talk is an open invitation to engage with questions about the role of art for justice in education.  >>

Thursday Lecture Series

The Problem of Slavery—and Poverty—in Western Culture

  • Christopher Florio, Lecturer in History, Columbia University
  • Jennifer Wenzel, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature and Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies, Columbia University

Slavery and poverty are monumental problems, but they are generally assumed to be separate problems.  This talk will suggest that we might better understand both problems by breaking down the divide between their histories.  Beginning in the era of classical antiquity, we will survey the extent to which the conditions of poverty and slavery have intermingled across the centuries.  In particular, we will examine how slavery long functioned as a regime for managing the problem of poverty in the western world, unpacking case studies ranging from the practice of debt bondage in ancient Rome to proposals for enslaving beggars in early modern England.  At last we will turn to the late eighteenth century in order to consider the Anglo-American age of slave emancipation anew: to trace how poverty’s central yet ambiguous place in debates over emancipation was the outcome of an imaginative revolution we have only begun to explore. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

Listening and Attention in Late Eighteenth-Century Scotland

  • Carmel Raz, Lecturer in Music, Columbia University
  • Patricia Kitcher, Roberta and William Campbell Professor of the Humanities, Columbia University

In his essay Of the Nature of that Imitation which Takes Place in What Are Called the Imitative Arts (1777 / 1795), Adam Smith famously described instrumental music as engaging a specific mental faculty: “by the sweetness of its sounds it awakens agreeably, and calls upon the attention [and] by their connection and affinity it naturally detains that attention.” According to Smith, this task could “occupy, and as it were fill up, completely the whole capacity of the mind, so as to leave no part of its attention vacant for thinking of any thing else.” Many scholars have regarded Smith’s approach to attention and instrumental music as articulating an early aesthetic of absolute music (e.g. Seidel 2003; Bonds 2014). This talk suggests that, when viewed within the context of eighteenth-century music theory, Smith’s comments also reflect a contemporaneous Scottish fascination with the role of attention in structuring auditory perception. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

The Birth of Psychiatry in the Middle East: Power, Knowledge, and the Banality of Good and Evil

  • Joelle M. Abi-Rached, Lecturer in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (MESAAS), Columbia University
  • Kavita Sivaramakrishnan, Associate Professor, Sociomedical Sciences, Columbia University

Rather than framing the birth of modern psychiatric thinking and practice in the modern Middle East as either a sign of modernity or a dispositif (in the Foucauldian sense) in the proselytizing and civilizing missions of the fin-de-siècle, I argue instead that it should be situated within the power struggles of the late nineteenth century between diverse actors (local and global). I show how knowledge became politicized, and “zones of influence” (which included universities, medical schools, and hospitals) were created, developed, and sustained, from the humanitarian interventions of 1860s in the Ottoman Levant to the Cold War a century later. Drawing on missionary writings and diplomatic correspondences, I hope to show how medicine more broadly speaking played a prominent role in this long competition over epistemic influence in the region between various players.  >>