President's Initiative Fund - Projects Approved, Spring 2005

American Founding

Search Committee
Hadley Arkes (Political Science)
Uday Mehta (Political Science)
Rebecca Sinos (Classics)
Norton Starr (Mathematics)
William Taubman (Political Science)
Ronald Tiersky (Political Science)
Frank Westhoff (Economics)

As Abraham Lincoln understood, the American republic began, not with the Constitution, but with that “proposition,” as he called it, “all men are created equal.” That anchoring moral truth was contained in the Declaration of Independence, which has standing as the first document in our laws. As the Founders understood, that proposition provided the moral ground for the claim that the only legitimate governments over human beings “deriv[ed] their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The Declaration began then with certain rights, grounded in human nature; rights that promised to be the same in all places where that nature remained the same. But in our own day, that “truth” of the Declaration has been called into question on several grounds. Some deny that there is any such fixed “nature” of human beings, a nature that can provide the ground then for “human rights” that hold, as rights, in all places and “culture.” And certain strands of modern “skepticism” deny the existence of moral truths that hold their truth in all places. Through lectures, meetings, and courses, we would seek to recover the principles and teachings of the Founders and Lincoln, and to measure them against the most serious skeptical challenges, of their day and ours.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a grant to Amherst to support exceptionally promising scholars for two years of half-time teaching (one course each semester) and half-time research. As part of this program, the College will appoint a postdoctoral fellow as a visiting assistant professor for the academic years 2005-2007 in the American Founding. The courses in this interdisciplinary program will be expected to draw on the antecedents of the American regime, tracing back to the classics and the biblical tradition. The main concern would be the principles of natural right, as they were woven into the American Founding. The Mellon Fellow will be invited to participate in the Colloquium on the American Founding.

Education and Social Justice

Elizabeth Aries
Barry O’Connell,
Rhonda Cobham-Sander
Patricia O’Hara
David Cox
Rose Olver
Rusty McIntyre
Karen Sánchez-Eppler
Hilary Moss
Wako Tawa

The questions about educational justice that are central to national debates over citizenship and opportunity have a particular salience within institutions of higher learning. Liberal arts colleges have a responsibility to take a leadership role in analyzing and imagining the future of public education in the United States. The advantage of the liberal arts lies in their capacity to sustain interdisciplinary inquiry that can situate present problems in American education within broader historical, political, and socioeconomic contexts. Amherst College has a long history of preparing its students for careers in teaching and for leadership roles in shaping educational policy. Yet, at the present moment, we do far less than we could to create spaces in our curriculum to discuss what American education could and should be. This project in Education and Social Justice is designed to facilitate a larger conversation among faculty members interested in issues of education. By bringing together this intellectual community, we hope to support the research and pedagogical practices of our colleagues, strengthen the visibility of education as a subject of analysis in our curriculum, and expand the number of course offerings focusing on aspects of education. We also plan to use funds from the President’s Initiative to support an interdisciplinary faculty seminar in which to reflect upon how we, as a liberal arts community, can most productively use our scholarship and teaching to respond to issues of social inequity in American education.

Environmental Science and Environmental Studies: New Realms of Inquiry at Amherst

Ethan Clotfelter (Biology) Rick López (History)
David Cox (Mathematics) Anna Martini (Geology)
David Delaney (Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought) Karena McKinney (Chemistry)
Amy Demorest (Psychology) Jill Miller (Biology)
Jan Dizard (Sociology/American Studies) Joseph Moore (Philosophy)
Whitey Hagadorn (Geology) Jessica Reyes (Economics)
Tekla Harms (Geology John Servos (History)
Robert Hilborn (Physics) Ethan Temeles (Biology)

Over the course of this past fall semester and through the first half of the spring semester (2004-2005), faculty members who are interested in establishing environmental science/ environmental studies (ES/ES) in the curriculum met and first set about collecting information about what other liberal arts colleges were doing with respect to ES/ES. Independent of what our peers were doing, however, we felt that it was important that Amherst offer courses that are articulated, one with another, and that address what is arguably one of the most pressing issues facing our nation and, indeed, the nations of the entire world. To help us in our deliberations, we invited several people who have been instrumental in establishing and teaching in environmental studies programs at institutions comparable to Amherst. These visitors, to a person, urged us to focus on environmental studies. Students interested in environmental science can generally satisfy themselves within existing science department offerings. By contrast, environmental studies cannot exist without special nurturing.

We have agreed to concentrate on developing an environmental studies program. Though many compelling reasons were put forward, the most compelling were two: 1) environmental problems are neither scientific problems nor social/cultural problems; they are unavoidably both. Science pursued independent of and uninformed by the cultural, political, and economic forces that shape our choices, however much it may qualify as “good science,” will not solve the problems we face. By the same token, well-intentioned but scientifically uninformed policies, more often than not make things worse. 2) This being so, it struck us that an interdisciplinary Environmental Studies program that brings science, social science, and the humanities together in creative tension and collaboration, epitomizes the liberal arts ideal and is the best way to prepare our students for the choices they will confront, as citizens, policy-makers, educators, and business persons.

Film and Video Arts

Jack Cameron (English)
Patrick Caddeau (Asian Languages and Civilizations)
Jane Taubman (Russian)
Christian Rogowski (German)
Helen von Schmidt (English)

The Dean’s Advisory Committee on Film and Video Arts seeks to transform our research and teaching from its current status as a largely ad hoc, individual interest in film and video to a more active engagement with the study of the moving image that can both transcend and inform multiple disciplines. We see the study of film and video contributing to a more sophisticated awareness of the moving image within our own culture and in the global cultures we work with in our research and teaching. This is a crucial moment in film and video studies at Amherst, particularly with the new Five-College major in film studies. We propose to invite three guests to campus who can present models of programs for the study of film and video at institutions similar to Amherst. These speakers will help focus the discussion among interested AC faculty and raise important questions. Guests will come from various disciplines, and both Amherst and Five-College colleagues will be invited to attend.

Global Sound

Robert Bezucha (History)
Jamal Elias (Religion/Asian Languages and Civilizations)
Craig Harwood (Music)
Jenny Kallick (Music)
Michael Kasper (Frost Library)
Theodore Levin (Dartmouth College)
Eric Sawyer (Music)

The Global Sound Project is dedicated to developing curricular strategies for the teaching of music in the context of global and cultural studies. In considering the changing conditions of creation, reception, transmission, and ownership that surround global sound, we are particularly interested in addressing two central issues of our time: the globalization of society and the development of new technologies. As articulated by Steven Feld (“A Sweet Lullaby for World Music” in Globalization, Duke University Press, 2001), a quartet of “music globalization commonplaces” are our central considerations, that is music’s deep connection to social identities has been distinctly intensified by globalization. Our era is increasingly dominated by fantasies and realizations of sonic virtuality. Not only does contemporary technology make all musical worlds actually or potentially transportable and hearable in all others, but this transportability is something fewer and fewer people take in any way to be remarkable.

It has only taken one hundred years for sound recording technologies to amplify sonic exchange to a point that overwhelms prior and contiguous histories of travel, migration, contact, colonization, diaspora, and dispersal. Musical globalization is experienced and narrated as equally celebratory and contentious because everyone can hear equally omnipresent signs of augmented and diminished musical diversity.

Our mission includes the development of residencies and workshops that demonstrate these considerations in action and reveal new approaches to creativity, performance practice, and music pedagogy that spring from them. Thus far, we have sponsored a series of multifaceted on-campus events that provide opportunities for us to consult with leaders in the area of global sound and to engage the wider circle of students and faculty who are drawn to the objectives of the global sound initiative. Our efforts to formulate well-focused curricular initiatives have been greatly enhanced by the events on campus and the feedback that we subsequently received. Following the Jewish Music Conference on October 3 (co-sponsored by the Russian Center and Department of Music) and the hip-hop dance party and workshop on October 21 and 22 (sponsored by the Global Sound Project and the Department of Music), members of our group received important feedback from students and faculty within the Five Colleges, including numerous requests that we follow up with specific curricular offerings and performance-related activities. We look forward to the Pokrovsky Ensemble residency (April 18 to 23) and the variety of events and conversations that this occasion will afford to our entire community. Please see our Web site for further details about .

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a grant to Amherst to support exceptionally promising scholars for two years of half-time teaching (one course each semester) and half-time research. We are currently seeking a Mellon postdoctoral fellow for 2005-07. We expect that the energy and interests of this individual will be crucial to the curricular development of global sound. Our fellow will offer two courses each year that engage global and cultural studies and will contribute to the development of campus-wide artistic initiatives. In particular, planning for a hip-hop theater piece is under way and, subject to the input of our new fellow, we expect this event to take place in 2006-07. Visit for a detailed job description.

Science in Law/Law in Science

Anthony Bishop (Chemistry)
Jan Dizard (American Studies/Sociology)
Catherine McGoech (Computer Science)
Austin Sarat (Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought/Political Science)
John Servos (History)
Martha Umphrey (Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought)

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.

During 2005-06 we will host a series of seminars and a conference. These events are designed to bring to the campus leading scholars from various disciplines and representing different perspectives for the purpose of engaging in intensive discussions with us on key concepts and controversies in the study of law and science. We want to learn from them the variety of ways that inquiry in this area has been, is being, conducted, while at the same time using them as sounding boards for the themes and issues we highlighted as crucial to our own thinking in this area. Each of our guests will lead a discussion of a piece of writing that they find important in organizing their thinking about the complex intersections of the law and science. The seminars and conference will be open to the entire campus.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a grant to Amherst to support exceptionally promising scholars for two years of half-time teaching (one course each semester) and half-time research. In the fall of 2005, we will be recruiting a post-doctoral fellow to come to the College starting in 2006-2007 to teach courses and engage in curricular development work. Together we will explore, among other things, the ways knowledge practices in law are shaped by science and the ways knowledge practices in the sciences are shaped by law. In addition, we are interested in how scientific institutions incorporate, respond to, and resist the external constraints imposed by law. Examples of courses that might be taught include: DNA: Scientific Revolution and Its Legal Impact; The Science of Forensics; Evidentiary Processes in Law and Science; Intellectual Property, Biotechnology, and Society; and Privacy and Property in the Internet Age.

The Urban Imagination

Carleen Basler Margaret Hunt
Ute Brandes Laure Katsaros
Carol Clark Rick López
Nicola Courtright Samuel Morse
Francis Couvares Christian Rogowski
Deborah Gewertz Ronald Rosbottom
Heidi Gilpin  

The Urban Imagination Group was able, with the PIF allocation it received, to make several definite moves toward incorporating the study of the city more regularly into the College’s curriculum. Professors Courtright, Hunt, and Rosbottom developed a prototype for a course on “Cityscapes: The Early Modern European City,” which made extensive use of Web-based images, and which was offered as a seminar to Amherst Today participants in November. Our Group also arranged for three faculty/student seminars and public lectures from prominent experts on city planning: Rem Koolhaas, Uwe Brandes, and Andrew Garvin (the latter as part of the American Studies Department’s course “The City: New York”). Professor Rosbottom developed a new seminar, “Cityscapes: The European City” (European Studies 50), which will be offered in fall 2006. With the use of a student research assistant, we have explored other curricula and programs in higher education, in the search for models of what Amherst might do. We also plan a flyer that lists all city-oriented courses taught each year at Amherst (of which, next year, there may be as many as seven). The American Studies Department, seeing the interest that our initiative has raised among students, will offer again next year a course on the city, but this time on Los Angeles. Finally, we plan symposia on the global metropolis, on the place of urban studies on a liberal arts campus, and on how students can benefit from working away from campus, in cities themselves.