Dean of the Faculty

President's Initiative Fund - Projects Approved, Spring 2004

Culture and Politics

Catherine Ciepiela (Russian)
Thomas Dumm (Political Science)
Deborah Gewertz (Anthropology)
Heidi Gilpin (German)
Ronald Lembo (Sociology)
Marisa Parham (English)
Andrew Parker (English)
Austin Sarat (Political Science / LJST)
Martha Umphrey (LJST)

In this project we seek to bring together humanists with social scientists, ethnographically informed cultural analysis with critical social thought, to illuminate, at both national and transnational levels, kinds of political, social, and aesthetic formations that exceed the perspective of any single existing academic department. We plan to develop courses that connect the traditional objects of the humanities and social sciences in new ways, focusing on the symbolic life of the social and political but also helping to rethink what the symbolic has come to mean in today’s world.

Our project takes "culture" as its object – by which we mean texts, objects, images, discourses, media, performances, practices, events, institutions – with full knowledge that culture is, as Raymond Williams put it, "one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language." If no term today is as ubiquitous as culture in the discourses of the humanities and social sciences, there is also no term as contentious. Within the academy over the past decade, culture has undergone a hyperbolic expansion in the humanities even while undergoing critical reassessment in anthropology. These trends notwithstanding, we think both humanists and social scientists can profit from sustained dialogue with one another as it becomes more and more difficult today to disentangle the "aesthetic" from the "social" and the Western from the non-Western.

Our project will examine the constitution and enactment of cultural processes and their political implications. It will examine the place of culture not only in the historical lives of nations but in sub-national and trans-national terms as well. We intend to think together about the cultural dimensions of globalization, a subject we think immensely important though one that has to date eluded at Amherst systematic curricular expression. In addition, our attention is drawn to the role of institutions seeking to shore up static notions of culture in response to national, sub-national, and transnational forces and to the mechanisms of circulation, of meaning-production and consumption that both support and dissolve those static understandings. We will use inquiry into those processes to illuminate cultural production in texts, discourses, representations, images, and other human activities.

East Asian Cross-Cultural Studies

Patrick Caddeau (ALC)
Samuel Morse (Fine Arts / ALC)
Paola Zamperini (ALC)

In recent years we have been working to expand our department’s curriculum to introduce Amherst College students not only to the literary and artistic monuments of East Asian civilization, but also to make them aware of the unique tensions that have arisen in East Asian culture in response to the forces of modernization and globalization during the past one hundred and fifty years. We propose to invite writers, filmmakers, photographers, artists and cultural critics whose work deals with the clash of tradition and modernity in East Asia to the Amherst College campus to give workshops for our students and to share their ideas with the larger college community. These artists, active in the fields we study and teach, will complement the academic approaches to contemporary East Asian culture we employ in our courses. Through this proposal we seek to bring students in the courses we teach and co-teach into active contact with artists, writers and critics from East Asia and the diaspora on a regular basis. We are confident that such an initiative will have a positive impact on the cultural and intellectual life of the College far beyond our classrooms.

Environmental History of Latin America

Rick López ( History)

Environmental history has taken off in exciting new directions that engage innovative questions and that reach across fields. Simple lamentations about the felling of trees has given way to larger questions that connect environmental history with social, political, and economic issues, and that offer possibilities for crafting policies for sustainable development. Issues we will address during the semester include: What unexpected links exist between environmental problems (such as environmental degradation, desertification, soil salination, species extinction, biotic invasions, deforestation, and animal grazing) and human problems (such as declining subsistence, income inequality, scientific racism, regional underdevelopment, incomplete capitalist transitions, social marginalization, and political violence)? Taking environmental history seriously forces us to revise our understanding of social changes, the rise and fall of civilizations, and contemporary problems of political instability. It also raises the question as to whether environment history should stand alone, or whether it should be fully integrated into (and revise) our understand of major political, social, economic, and cultural turning points in history. Looking to the present and the future, and putting current environmental debates into cross-disciplinary historical context enables us to ask: What models of environmental activism have worked in Latin America over the years, and which have not? Why? When have they backfired? Can a firm understanding of environmental history, an understanding that reaches across disciplinary boundaries, guide us in our current efforts to develop a sustainable approach to the environment – an approach that can protect the land and fauna, but also bring justice and self-determination to the people who live on that land, while at the same time balancing the interests of the state and of investors?

Environmental Science and Environmental Studies

Jack Cheney (Geology)
Ethan Clotfelter (Biology)
Peter Crowley (Geology)
Jan Dizard (Sociology / American Studies)
Whitey Hagadorn (Geology)
Tekla Harms (Geology)
Anna M. Martini (Geology)

Environmental issues are not only keystones of daily media coverage, but are topics for which Amherst College students have significant intellectual and emotional attachment. Unfortunately, informed insight into environmental issues is rarely achieved, largely because they are so interdisciplinary in nature — being grounded in disparate academic disciplines. Yet all Amherst students will, knowingly or unknowingly, impact environmental issues through their scientific, economic, or political behavior. Given these considerations, should Amherst College students have an organized curricular opportunity to investigate environmental issues in depth, so that they may become better-informed citizens and future stewards of the planet?

Environmental inquiry typically encompasses two realms of scholarship: Environmental Science and Environmental Studies. The broad intellectual landscape that spans both of these realms needs to be considered when evaluating environmental education at Amherst College. We invite participation by all interested Amherst faculty in the following program through which we will assess how best to bring environmental inquiry to Amherst.

By a series of workshops held through the academic year 2004-05, we will explore the possibility of environmental inquiry at Amherst, and if applicable, develop an informed plan for framing such inquiry. We will focus on: i) characterizing the nature of Environmental Science and Environmental Studies interest among Amherst students; ii) identifying and involving Amherst faculty who have significant interest in shaping an Environmental Science and Environmental Studies-related curricular framework; iii) characterizing the curricular contribution these faculty envision making and/or that they perceive is needed; iv) evaluating the rigor of Environmental Science and Environmental Studies inquiry needed and the role of original independent research and theses within such inquiry; and v) identifying the most effective framework to shape Environmental Science and Environmental Studies at Amherst College (e.g., via majors, certificates, or programs).

Environmental Science and Environmental Studies programs have existed for decades at many liberal arts colleges and universities. We propose to bring directors of four to eight of these programs to Amherst to participate in one-day workshops focusing on the structure, strengths, and weaknesses of their program. From these workshops we hope to: i) quantify historical enrollments in such programs as well as enrollment histories for programs impacted by the development of Environmental Science and Environmental Studies programs; ii) assess the post-graduate impact of such programs on students; iii) explore how Environmental Science and Environmental Studies programs are situated in the overall curriculum; iv) consider administrative structures for Environmental Science and Environmental Studies programs (e.g., within departments or interdepartmentally); v) explore the pedagogical structure of Environmental Science and Environmental Studies majors versus concentrations within traditional majors; and vi) assess the need for any new personnel to erect a viable and rigorous Environmental Science and Environmental Studies program at Amherst.

Global Sound Project

Robert Bezucha (History)
Jamal Elias (Religion / ALC)
Craig Harwood (Music)
Jenny Kallick (Music)
Michael Kaspar (Frost Library)
Theodore C. Levin (Dartmouth College)
Eric Sawyer (Music)
David Schneider (Music)
Lew Spratlan (Music)

The Global Sound Project is intended to support members of the music department, collaborating closely with colleagues at Amherst and sister institutions, in developing an approach to the teaching of music understood in the context of global and cultural studies. As Simon Frith has recently noted: "Patterns of music use provide a better map of social life than viewing or reading habits. Music just matters more than any other medium . . . It is because music is now used to mark a private territory that it can also “invade” it; it is because music has become so deeply implicated in people’s personas that it can be misused; and it because music is now so widely employed as an emotional tool that its misuse is genuinely upsetting." We believe that concentrating on the changing conditions of creation, reception, transmission, and ownership that surround global sound will open up a variety of perspectives that pertain directly to a wider understanding of globalization and the experience of daily life.

Human Rights: History, Theory, and Practice

Amrita Basi (Political Science / WAGS)
Martha Saxton (History / WAGS)

This course is intended to give students a sense of the challenges and satisfactions involved in the actual practice of human rights work as well as a critical sense of how the discourses calling it forth developed and continue to evolve. We intend to provide specific historical and cultural context to selected areas in which human rights abuses have occurred, and to explore how differing traditions facilitate and inhibit types of activism within these areas. The course will be divided into four main parts. The semester will begin by exploring the historical growth of human rights discourse in Europe and the United States, culminating in the emergence of the post-World War II Universal Declaration. We will then turn to the proliferation of these discourses that has occurred since the 1970s, including the growing importance of non-governmental organizations, many of them internationally based, the use of human rights discourse to address a wide range of issues by a wide range of groups, and expanding meanings of human rights. The third part of the course will explore criticisms to human rights discourses, particularly the charge that for all their claims to universalism, these discourses reflect the values of European Enlightenment traditions which are inimical to conceptions of rights and justice that are grounded in local culture and sometimes religion. Finally, we will move to the most immediate part of the course in which rights workers will discuss their own experiences, abroad and in the U.S. as well, and reflect on the nature of their work and its relation to formal human rights discourse.

Science in Law/Law in Science

Anthony Bishop (Chemistry)
Jan Dizard (Sociology / American Studies)
Austin Sarat (Political Science / LJST)
Martha Umphrey (LJST)

Examining the intersections of law and science provides a particularly fruitful focus for curricular development because liberal legality and modern science share a commitment to certain forms of participation and accountability. That is, both law and science derive their normative and epistemological legitimacy from their publicly known and accessible processes. Yet, despite their purportedly open and available procedures, both are experienced in popular culture as arcane, impenetrable, and often uninterpretable. Finally, the ascendance of both law and science has been achieved in competition against other modes (e.g. religion) of interpreting nature, human relations, and society.

Although law and science share several characteristics, the connections between them generally have been examined in relatively narrow ways. In the scholarly literature describing the intersections of science and law, most research adopts a "law first" perspective by examining the role of science when it enters legal arenas and settings. This perspective assumes the institutional autonomy of law and inquires about the ways it acquires and uses knowledge of the natural world. It overlooks the ways in which legality penetrates and constitutes extra-legal settings, such as laboratories and other arenas of scientific investigation. Our project will expand inquiry by bringing together analysis of the life of science in law and the penetration of science by law, of the ways knowledge practices in law are shaped by science and the knowledge practices in the sciences are /shaped by law.

Suicide in China: Interdisciplinary Conference

Paola Zamperini (ALC)
Paul Ropp (Clark University)
Janet Theiss (University of Utah)
Harriet Zurndorfer (University of Leiden)

This conference will span across a series of disciplines that go from anthropology to history, from sociology to literary studies, from mental health to gender studies, and will involve about twenty scholars from all over the world, working on East, South and South-east Asia, Europe, and the United States. In this sense, this conference will help bring the Asian languages and Civilizations Department of Amherst College on the map of current debates in East Asian studies in an interdisciplinary fashion, a result that will benefit the college and our students quite significantly. Not only it will be the first interdisciplinary conference on suicide in China, it will also be the first occasion on which experts and academics meet to talk about this very important but very neglected issue.

The Urban Imagination

Ronald C. Rosbottom (French / European Studies)

I proposed to devise a year-long seminar as a model for future courses that would use the techniques and knowledge of the liberal arts and science disciplines to study the urban imagination.

The urban imagination is the nexus of complex phenomena that include the built environment, the human body and mind in that environment, and the texts that have helped to create cities throughout history. By means of public seminars, visiting scholars, and interdisciplinary cooperation, we hope to create a permanent intellectual presence at Amherst that would be dedicated to the continuing study of the world city, its past, present and future.