Lectures will be held virtually via Zoom on Mondays 4:30-6:00pm CST.
Program Director: Professor Ken Alder (History)
Schedule for 2020-21
October 26 - Etienne Benson - University of Pennsylvania, History and Sociology of Science
Historians of science have recently begun to show how the environmental movement that emerged in the 1960s depended on the articulation of a new object of research and concern: “the environment,” conceived as singular, global, threatened, and knowable only through certain highly specialized forms of expertise. This is not the only way that the concept of environment has been understood or mobilized for social ends, however. This talk describes some of the alternative environments and environmentalisms that preceded “the” environment and “the” environmentalism with which we are most familiar, and suggests that these past forms may point the way toward more just and effective environmentalisms for the present and future.
November 2 - Sokhieng Au - Univeristy of Iowa, Global Health Studies
In my fifteen years of working professionally as both a humanistic scholar of medicine and a public health analyst, I have often confronted the challenge of how to do both tasks well—and simultaneously. In theory, the two approaches would seem to have much synergistic potential to improve the health and wellbeing of the most vulnerable populations in this world, but in practice they remain largely irrelevant to each other. And yet, the grass always seems browner on the other side of that disciplinary divide. In our discussion/conversation, I will trace my unconventional career trajectory between the university and the humanitarian aid community in the U.S., Belgium, Guadeloupe, Cambodia, and now Iowa…, and offer some personal reflections on boundary work, bridge building, and the rather cumbersome idea of "operationalizing" academic theory.
November 16 - Victoria Pitts-Taylor - Wesleyan University, Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Scientific, clinical and popular understandings of gender non-conforming bodies and subjects often make explicit and implicit temporal claims about their timeliness and untimeliness. In this talk, I address the temporal framing of gender dysphoria in a recent highly controversial study about transgender-identified youth. I situate my discussion in trans, queer, and disability scholarship on temporality in order to show how this case resonates with broader efforts to manage and control gender variance and transition through normalizing constructions of time and timing. In a range of social and political contexts, the “when” of gender is invoked to pose the question of “if” identities and embodied experiences are true, authentic, and worthy of recognition and support.
January 25 - Sarah Carson - Northwestern University, History, Science in Human Culture
This talk explores several twentieth-century works whose Indian authors aspired to revive the “ancient” science of jyotiṣa śāstra (Sanskrit astral science) for the purposes of weather prediction. The slokas and verses presented in these heterogenous compilations provide evidence for the importance of short- and long-term forecasting in vernacular idioms, where prediction could apply equally to future times or distant locations of desired objects and effects. The talk highlights two periods of intensive interest in studying vernacular and early Indian weather knowledges: the first during the horrific famines of the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century, and the second in the first optimistic decades of national independence (the 1950s and 1960s). Specifically, it will discuss the varied ways in which modern commentators folded together earthly and astrological weather knowledges in their scientific visions, as well as the competing pulls of regionalism and nationalism evident in their publication projects.
February 15 - Sugata Ray - University of California-Berkeley, South and Southeastern Asian Art
For the most part, scholarship on garden histories and plant cultures in early modern and colonial South Asia has focused on Mughal gardens, gardens established by colonial botanists, and the visual representations of plants. As such, imperial and colonial interventions in managing and ordering the natural environment has been seen as a form of far-reaching environmental governance. Contra this overdetermined statist emphasis, my talk focuses on non-imperial gardening practices that produced a very different idea of nature in the age of global botany. In specific, the talk focuses on eighteenth-century artisanal practices centered on the jasmine flower in the pilgrimage center of Braj in north India, where the god Krishna is believed to have spent his youth. We will see how a topophilic theology of venerating natural phenomena, alongside new techniques of gardening, engendered a specific imagination of the environment as an inclusive habitus of inventive play where sentient plants and humans could share a contingent correlation of equivalence. Emerging in a period marked by deforestation and a sweeping alteration of the region’s agrolandscape, the “small” story of artisanal practices surrounding the jasmine flower will then allow us to explore ideations of the environment that are now all but obscure.
March 1 - Naveeda Khan - Johns Hopkins University, Anthropology
The concept of the "household" is a peculiar one in the history of anthropological theory. Where it arises in the ethnographic record, it resists clear definitions and boundaries; it is neither inward facing, nor fully entrenched within the market economy; the roost of reciprocity nor enthralled of calculative logics. As Jane Guyer puts, it never made clear what the concept was meant to show. Within dominant historiography, this indeterminacy led to it falling out of favor in the 1990s. But more recently, growing concerns over economic inequality, housing justice and the precarity of labor, have once against animated this heuristic. Focusing on the lives of households in a riverine context in Bangladesh, this paper explores how this concept may have found its moment of elucidation. I argue that the household provides an important vantage on an unanticipated region of human life - the simultaneous creep and tumult of climate change within the social, on climate's weirdness.Back to top