Catastrophic Volcanism at Shoshone Falls, Idaho: Existential Issues through the Lens of Geology


Tekla Harms
Professor of Geology

April 24, 2012

The earth is dynamic: mountains are built and eroded away, life evolves, and oceans rise and recede. Nineteenth-century geologists hotly debated the fundamental nature of such earth processes, asking if spatially and temporally immense transformations were built of innumerable small steps accumulating over the expanse of geologic time, or if they had been virtually instantaneous and cataclysmic, unlike anything humans have witnessed. While most adhered to the former “uniformitarian” paradigm, Clarence King, geologist and leading intellect of his day, concluded a “catastrophist’s” model of the earth—and the very nature of creation—through his observations of the geology of Shoshone Falls in the 1860s.

Often called the “Niagara of the West,” Shoshone Falls provides the best vantage point of the Columbia Flood Basalts, a 3.5-kilometer-thick layer of volcanic rock that covers about half the state of Washington and adjacent parts of Oregon and Idaho. This volume of lava would cover the US to a depth of 12 meters—and most of it accumulated in only 1.5 million years, about 15 million years ago.

Listen to the audio or view the audio slideshow as Professor Harms explores the following questions:
•    What do we know today about the origin of the Shoshone Falls and the Columbia Flood Basalts?  
•    What does that knowledge tell us about the way our earth works?  
•    How can we best understand the human context on such an earth?

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Resilience of the U.S. Economic Recovery Points to Optimism for the Future


Brian A. Bethune
Visiting Assistant Professor of Economics

May 24, 2012

The U.S. economy has bounced back from the most serious and disruptive recession in modern post World War II economic history - indeed, the recovery will mark a third anniversary in July 2012. What have been the key features of this recovery? What has been working, what has not been working? Beyond that, however, there are major questions with respect to the strength and sustainability of the recovery. Fiscal consolidation and restraints on government spending remain a significant factor, and will continue to be a factor for the foreseeable future. Uncertainty about the direction of federal tax, spending and regulatory policies is creating uncertainty in the business sector. And yet, the health of the business sector is critical for the recovery. Beyond that, we are seeing a number of structural changes in the economy, particularly in the employment market, and an increasing gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots." There appears to be a major leadership "vacuum" in terms of confronting these deeper structural issues, as the various estates in the economy focus primarily on their narrow self-interests.   

Brian Bethune is a visiting professor of economics and the former chief financial economist for North America and chief economist for Canada at HIS Global Insight. A frequent commentator on economic issues in the media, Bethune received his masters in economics from McMaster University and his doctorate in international economics from the Graduate Institute at University of Geneva.

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Comparative Presidencies: Gorbachev, Putin, Obama

taubmanWilliam Taubman
Bertrand Snell Professor of Political Science Emeritus

September 19, 2012

In comparing the presidencies, Prof. Taubman focuses on the role that each president'spersonality plays (or doesn't play) in determining his policies.

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Black Soldiers, Sexuality and the Civil Rights Movement


Khary Polk
Robert E. Keiter 1957 Postdoctoral Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of Black Studies

November 9, 2012

Was the racial integration of the U.S. military an outcome of the civil rights movement, or was it often the other way around? While black soldiers were still dealing with the prejudice of the U.S. military, seeing the world outside U.S. boundaries changed their sense of what was possible, says Khary Polk, the Robert E. Keiter 1957 Postdoctoral Fellow and visiting assistant professor of black studies.  They returned home to fight for improved rights for both civilians and soldiers. Amherst graduates were among those who spearheaded this change: lawyer Charles Hamilton Houston '15 served in World War I and went on to mentor African-American jurists--such as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall--who would join him in laying the legal groundwork for the 1954 Supreme Court decision that banned racial segregation in public schools. William H. Hastie '25 was instrumental in advocating for African-American soldiers in World War II. Polk, a self-described "military brat" who lived abroad for much of his childhood, is writing a book on the topic.

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Incarceration, Voting and Human Rights


Martha Saxton
Professor of History and Women's and Gender Studies and Elizabeth W. Bruss Reader

October 26, 2012

The Human Rights Declaration says that “Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.”  Unlike many nations, most of the United States deprive incarcerated men and women of the right to vote, not only when they are serving their time, but also when they are released—sometimes for many years thereafter. This not only violates the human rights of the incarcerated, but also skews state and national elections. Martha Saxton, professor of history and women's and gender studies and Elizabeth W. Bruss Reader, will discuss some of the variety of ways states disenfranchise imprisoned citizens and what the implications are for our political process.

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Contemplative Pedagogy and the Transformation of Education

barbezatDaniel P. Barbezat
Professor of Economics

January 23, 2013

Colleges and universities face many great challenges. Increasing costs, a lack of vision and mission, student behavior and rapidly changing educational technologies bring into question the current and future state of post-secondary education. What can we do to face these pressing issues? The use of critical, first-person approaches (introspection, thought experiments, etc.) to teaching can address these problems, providing new ground for students to explore what means most deeply to them while better understanding the material of their courses. In this lecture, Prof. Barbezat describes and explains the use of these practices in his economics courses.

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Memory: Why you're always right and they're always wrong

matthew schulkindMatthew Schulkind
Associate Professor of Psychology

March 22, 2013

If memory worked like a video camera and provided a faithful record of our past experiences, we would never disagree with our friends and family about important events from our pasts. But memory does not work that way, and contrary to what you might think, we might be better off for it. In this talk, he’ll describe how cognitive psychologists think memory works and why we should be glad to accept the imperfections inherent in the system.

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Is the Death Penalty Dying?

Austin SaratAustin Sarat
William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science

November 19, 2009



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