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Professor Ted Melillo

Going to Hawaii to Learn About Nantucket

With a prestigious New Directions fellowship, a history professor will study the Hawaiian language—and then use that skill to research myriad connections between Massachusetts and the Pacific Ocean.

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Manual for Survival: a Chernobyl guide to the future

Kate Brown

Thursday, December 6
4 p.m.
Kirkpatrick Hall (Science Center room A011)

Governments and journalists tell us that though Chernobyl was “the worst nuclear disaster in history,” a reassuringly small number of people died (44), and nature recovered. Yet, drawing on a decade of fine-grained archival research and interviews in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus, this talk uncovers a much more disturbing story—one in which radioactive isotypes caused hundreds of thousands of casualties. Scores of Soviet scientists, bureaucrats, and civilians documented stunning increases in cases of birth defects, child mortality, cancers, and a multitude of prosaic diseases, which they linked to Chernobyl. Worried that this evidence would blow the lid on the effects of massive radiation release from weapons testing during the Cold War, international scientists and diplomats tried to bury or discredit it. A haunting revelation of how political exigencies shape responses to disaster, Manual for Survival makes clear the irreversible impact on every living thing not just from Chernobyl, but from eight decades of radiation from nuclear energy and weaponry.

Kate Brown is a Professor of History at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She is the author of A Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland (Harvard 2004); Plutopia: Nuclear Families in Atomic Cities and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters (Oxford, 2013); Dispatches from Dystopia: Histories of Places Not Yet Forgotten (Chicago, 2015); and Manual of Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future (Norton, 2019). Her work has received numerous prizes and awards, including from the American Society for Environmental History, the Organization of American Historians, and the American Historical Association. In 2016, she received the prestigious Carnegie Foundation Fellowship. 

Global Rise of Nativism and Illiberalism

Tuesday, November 27
4:30-6:30 p.m.
Frost Library, 210


  • Tamir Bar-On, Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education
  • Chip Berlet, Boston
  • Dwaipayan Sen, Amherst College
  • Maria Sidorkina, Amherst College


  • Andreas Önnerfors, University of Gothenburg, Sweden/STINT-fellow at Amherst College

In the contemporary political pathology, two phenomena appear currently intertwined, exclusionary nativist beliefs and electoral preferences for illiberal styles of politics. Do we witness a global return to a longing for closed ethnic communities and authoritarian rulers, promising security in an age of perceived systematic crises? Whereas the rapid rise of the populist radical right in Europe as much as in the US is an evident starting point, the aim of the panel is also to open up the conversation to a larger outlook. How can we explain these global reactions upon geopolitical developments as much as the globalization of uncertainty? These issues will be addressed by the four panelists followed by a discussion in plenum.

Dr. Tamir Bar-On is one of world’s leading experts on the French and European New Right. He is a professor in the School of Social Sciences and Government, Tecnológico de Monterrey in Queretaro, Mexico.

Chip Berlet is a Boston-based American investigative journalist, research analyst, photojournalist, scholar and activist, specializing in the study of extreme right-wing movements in the US and the dissemination of conspiracy theories.

Dr. Dwaipayan Sen is an expert on the history of caste policy and postcolonial democratization in India. He is an Assistant Professor of Asian Languages and Civilizations and History at Amherst College.

Dr. Maria Alexandrovna Sidorkina is a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Humanistic Inquiry at Amherst College. Her research concerns illiberal publics and politics in post-socialist space, linguistic anthropology and digital sociability.

Dr. Andreas Önnerfors is Associate Professor in Intellectual History at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, currently specializing in contemporary European New Right populist rhetoric.

How Fermi Became Fermi

David N. Schwartz

Monday, February 5
4:30 p.m.
Paino Lecture Hall, Beneski

Enrico Fermi was one of the most significant figures of 20th century physics, with major contributions across a wide range of sub-disciplines. He was also a central figure in the Manhattan Project, and led the team that created the first controlled, sustained nuclear chain reaction at the University of Chicago in December 1942. How did Fermi become Fermi? Drawing on research undertaken in preparation for his new biography of Fermi, “The Last Man Who Knew Everything: The Life and Times of
Enrico Fermi, Father of the Nuclear Age” (Basic Books), David N. Schwartz will discuss the development of Fermi as a physicist; the role of nature, nurture, and historical circumstance in his career; and the characteristics behind both his strengths and his weaknesses. Are great physicists born, do they make themselves, or do others make them? How does the accident of one’s birth influence a career like Fermi’s? What was it that enabled Fermi to continue to contribute to the field well beyond the age when many great physicists are content to rest on their previous achievements?

David N. Schwartz holds a B.A. from Stanford University and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has worked at the US Department of State, the Brookings Institution, and Goldman Sachs in both London and New York. He has published widely on US strategic nuclear weapons policy, NATO, and foreign policy. He lives in New York with his wife Susan. His father, Melvin Schwartz, shared the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of the muon neutrino.

  David N. Schwartz

The "Dialectic of Enlightenment"

Steven E. Aschheim

Tuesday, January 30
6:00 p.m.
Pruyne Lecture Hall, Fayerweather

Intellectual and cultural historian Steven E. Aschheim (Hebrew University, Jerusalem) is the author of Brothers and Strangers: The East European Jew in German and German Jewish Consciousness, 1800-1923 (1982), The Nietzsche Legacy in Germany 1890-1990 (1993), Culture and Catastrophe: German and Jewish Confrontations With National Socialism and Other Crises (1996), In Times of Crisis: Essays on European Culture, Germans, and Jews (2000), Scholem, Arendt, Klemperer: Intimate Chronicles in Turbulent Times (2001), Beyond the Border: The German-Jewish Legacy Abroad (2007), and At the Edges of Liberalism: Junctions of European, German, and Jewish History (2012).

In his lecture, The Dialectic of Enlightenment Revisited, Aschheim will critically interrogate Adorno and Horkheimer's 1944 much admired "Dialectic of Enlightenment", addressing its contextual and ideological origins, its philosophical biases and theoretical assumptions, and the nature of its emphases and omissions as the work sought to grasp the barbarism of the time. He will also highlight a rather overlooked publication detail which ideally should have given the authors pause to somewhat revise their provocative views and positions, but in practice did not.

The Dialectic of Enlightenment - Steven E. Aschheim

15th Annual Hugh Hawkins Lecture: Craig Steven Wilder

“The Approaching Past: Legacies of Slavery and Conquest on Campus”

Craig Steven Wilder, Barton L Weller Professor of History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Craig Steven Wilder
Barton L Weller Professor of History
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Thursday, October 5

4:30 p.m.
Paino Lecture Hall
107 Beneski

Professor Wilder will be speaking to contemporary efforts of colleges and universities to confront historical relationships to slavery and colonialism. His most recent book is the award-winning Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013). He is also the author A Covenant with Color: Race and Social Power in Brooklyn (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000/2001) and In the Company of Black Men: The African Influence on African American Culture in New York City (New York: New York University Press, 2001/2004). His talk will examine how we arrived at this moment and how to address the challenges that remain. (MIT’s full profile).

The annual Hugh Hawkins Lecture honors Hugh D. Hawkins. Professor Hawkins was the Anson D. Moore Professor of History and American Studies upon his retirement from the faculty in 2000 after forty-three years of teaching at Amherst.  He was a distinguished scholar of American higher education, the American South, and of cultural and intellectual history.  In 1976 he was the principal architect of the first-year introduction to Liberal Studies curriculum and he helped build both the History and American Studies departments. 

This lecture is free and open to the public.

Event Flyer: 

Last Updated:
18 Sept 2017 TLR

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