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Klopsteg Lectures

All lectures are free open to the public, thanks to the generosity of The Klopsteg fund.  Unless otherwise noted, they will be held in University Hall, Hagstrum Room 201, on Mondays 4:30-6:00pm. 

Program Director: Paul Ramírez 


Schedule for 2023-24

Fall Quarter

October 9 - Viktoria Tkaczyk, Musicology and Media Studies - Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

"Waxen Knowledge: A Material Resource History"

From the eighteenth to early twentieth century, scientific collections were filled with numerous carefully crafted specimens, models, moulages, and phonograph cylinders made of wax. In this lecture, I will explore how these diverse objects formed part of a transdisciplinary strategy to study and conserve the diversity of human, animal, and plant life. The focus will be on the various substances used to produce this wealth of scientific wax objects and their embedding in a globalized system of natural resource exploitation. I will examine the scientific agendas driving this development and trace the local knowledge systems, historical labor conditions, infrastructures, and delivery systems that have enabled the steady and massive supply of vegetable, mineral, and petroleum wax from around the globe—highlighting the environmental damage caused by massive wax production and its impact on local communities, whose endangered cultures have partly been captured in wax.

October 23 - Xiaochang Li, Communication - Stanford University

"Speech Recognition from the Body to the Black Box"

Starting in the 1970s, researchers at IBM spearheaded efforts to reorient the field of automatic speech recognition from study of human perception, reasoning, and expertise towards a startling new mandate: “There’s no data like more data.” This talk examines the history of automatic speech recognition research and its "statistical turn," which refashioned speech recognition from a project of replicating the embodied faculties of language and communication to one of sorting data. These efforts marked a comprehensive transformation in speech and language modeling and subsequently fueled the widespread adoption of data-intensive machine learning techniques that have since come to define present-day artificial intelligence. The history of automatic speech recognition thus offers a crucial glimpse into how we became "data-driven": how words became data, how data became imperative, and how the challenges of speech and language shaped the very foundations of algorithmic culture.

November 13 - Myles Jackson, History of Science - Institute for Advanced Study

"Engineering Fidelity: German Radio, the Trautonimum and Early Electronic Music"

When we turn on a radio today in order to listen to performance of a cellist, with a minimal amount of musical knowledge, we can recognize the instrument. It turns out that such fidelity was not always true of radio. How then did it come about? This lecture answers that question and thereby offers an early history of German radio. Musical instrument broadcasting and the transmission of operatic voices provided scientists and engineers with challenging research problems well beyond the traditional research agendas their disciplines supplied.

The research on timbre fidelity precipitated the invention of the trautonium, an important electronic musical instrument which was invented in Berlin in 1930, by the physicist and engineer Friedrich Trautwein. The trautonium could famously imitate the timbres of numerous acoustical instruments as well as generate novel, modern timbres and sounds for many musical genres. Invented in the Weimar Republic, it thrived in Nazi Germany and the Federal Republic of Germany. A later version of the trautonium, the mixture trautonium invented by Sala after the war, famously caught the attention of Alfred Hitchcock, who commissioned Sala to provide the sounds of birds squawking and flapping their wings in the thriller “The Birds” of 1963. In short, this talk deals with the relationship between science, technology, and music that generated the creation of new concepts of aesthetics, new musical genres, and the discipline of electroacoustics.

Winter Quarter

February 5 - Benjamin Lindquist, History and Science in Human Culture - Northwestern University

“Mechanizing Minds and Mouths in Postwar America”

February 19 - Shireen Hamza, History and Science in Human Culture - Northwestern University

"Islam, Medicine and Masculinity across the Indian Ocean World: Ulema as Public Health Agents?"

February 26 - Gerardo Con Diaz, Science and Technology - University of California-Davis

"Monkeys, Artificial Intelligence, and Personhood in U.S. Copyright Law"

March 4 - Moya Bailey, Communication - Northwestern University

"Transforming Misogynoir in Medicine"

Spring Quarter

April 8 - Mara Mills, Media, Culture, and Communication - New York University

"Fading: Radio, Illness, and Ralph Hartley's 'Information'"

April 15 - Michael Rossi, History - University of Chicago

"Bad Language: Rogue Linguistics and Experimental Policing in Postwar America"

April 22 - Jennifer A. Petersen, Communication - University of Southern California, Annenberg

"From Voice to Information: A Media History of Speech in the Law"

May 6 - Harun Küçük, History and Sociology of Science - University of Pennsylvania

"Arnold Thackray's 'Science: Has Its Present Past a Future?' Revisited"