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Speaker series includes large lectures, small seminars
April 23, 2014Tweet
A speaker series with a twist, sponsored by the Material and Visual Worlds Transdisciplinary Area of Excellence, has already brought three scholars to campus this semester, with two more to come. The series serves two purposes, said Tom McDonough, associate professor of art history and chair of the Material and Visual Worlds TAE.
The first purpose is helping the TAE itself clarify where the most cutting-edge work is being done, said McDonough. “All of the five invited speakers are at the cutting-edge of scholarship or creative practice in their fields. This is a way for faculty to do their homework and catch up as a group on where really significant work is being done and gives us common ground for our future discussions.”
The speakers range from a classical archaeologist who is rethinking the nature of that work in light of philosophical concerns with the nature of objects and things around us to a Lebanese-American artist of international stature who is using digital technologies to rethink the recent history of this incredibly contested part of the world.
The series includes:
• Michael Shanks, professor of classics at Stanford University: “Modeling Antiquity: Escaping the Constraints of Historiography”
• Daphne A. Brooks, professor of English and African American studies at Princeton University; “(Liner) Notes for the Revolution: Black Feminist Phonographies from Zora Neale Hurston to Janelle Monae”
• Timothy Ingold, professor of anthropology at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland: “Lines and the Weather”
• Walid Raad, associate professor of art at The Cooper Union: “Walkthrough”
• W. J. T. Mitchell, the Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor of English, art history and visual arts at the University of Chicago: “Seeing Madness: Insanity, Media, and Visual Culture”
The Material and Visual Worlds TAE is also focused on mentoring graduate students, and has established a joint faculty-graduate student working group with about 15 to 20 graduate students from a broad range of Harpur College Departments, so the second purpose of the speaker series is more pedagogical, said McDonough. “We didn’t want to simply bring in scholars of international renown to give big glossy presentations in a large lecture hall.
“The day after speakers come in for the large lecture, we hold a smaller, seminar-type luncheon for which the speaker has circulated a work in progress, distributed two weeks in advance. We have two hours of discussion with this prominent person around a work they’re still thinking about.”
This model, though not unique to Binghamton, is particularly productive, said McDonough. “It offers us a chance to explore issues they [the speakers] are exploring,” he said. “What does their work look like before it’s definitive, when it is still a bit of a mess and the issues are still unresolved? We can see that thinking in progress and it gives our faculty a chance to interact very intimately.”
McDonough said the series is inspiring. “From the first meeting, an atmosphere was set that was distinct from the graduate classroom, where so often students are concerned about saying the right thing. There’s an open exchange of ideas and productive debate. The kind of open questioning we’ve fostered has been very successful and our guests have been impressed by it.”
The speakers are top scholars from around the nation, said McDonough, and coupled with the extraordinary model Binghamton faculty already demonstrate for graduate students, this greater variety is “valuable for young scholars deciding who they’re going to be for the rest of their professional lives … it shows that research and innovation really is a trial-and-error process. The seminar room and lecture hall can be more like laboratories where you can discard what doesn’t work and learn from the process of mistakes.”
The point of the seminar is not a one-way conversation, McDonough added. It’s discussion about work that isn’t yet settled or in a definitive version and the graduate students are being challenged by people from institutions from outside their own fields of competency.
“We’re very much trying to establish a dialogue, and the longer we do this, the more our own intellectual, methodological and research priorities are set, the more intense those discussions will become. No doubt we’ll continue to have a very distinctive intellectual profile that will inspire our guests.”
The TAE sees this as a continuing project and a central commitment, said McDonough. The composition of the working group will shift with new students each year, and the faculty involvement will shift as well, but will continually look for input from colleges for future speakers.
The final two speakers of the semester are Walid Raad, associate professor of art at The Cooper Union on Thursday, April 24, and W. J. T. Mitchell, the
Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor of English, Art History and Visual Arts at the University of Chicago on Thursday, May 8.
Find more information online at http://www.binghamton.edu/tae/material-and-visual-worlds/speakers.html