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Director’s Note, Spring 2023

Published February 15, 2023

Dear colleagues,


Frazer Ward speaking and demonstrating with his hands in front of a class

As a long-time devotee of the Kahn Institute, I was pleased to step into the position as interim Director after Alex Keller moved into her role as interim Dean of the College at short notice. For me, the Kahn is one of the places on campus where our aspirations for the liberal arts are most fully met, and it’s good to be back in person, with project fellows in the same room at the same time. Given the hostility toward education and expertise that we see in the political realm these days, the ways in which Kahn projects foster intellectual community across disciplines represent important commitments not only to the liberal arts but also to academic solidarity.

Otherwise, on the staffing front, we are happy to welcome Lauren Anderson as our new Publicity/Communications & Project Manager, who has already begun to revamp our visual imaging and communications (their tweet about Elisa Loncon’s visit had 29,500 hits!). They encourage you to follow the Kahn on your preferred social channel(s)—LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Common Grounds: Toward (Re)Thinking Global Indigeneity around the Wiphala flag

There are exciting projects to report on and look forward to. Health and Medicine, Culture and Society: Crossroads in a Liberal Arts Education, organized by Suzanne Gottschang (Anthropology), and Kathleen Pierce (Art), ran throughout last semester, developing on work that Suzanne and Kathleen and a cohort of Smith and Five College faculty had begun in three prior short-term Kahns. The Kahn will host further discussions about the relations between science and the humanities in workshops later this semester. Our year-long project, Common Grounds: Toward (Re)Thinking Global Indigeneity, organized by Christen Mucher (American Studies), and Javier Puente (Latin American and Latino/a Studies), kicked the semester off with a spectacular presentation by Dr. Elisa Loncon Antileo, Mapuche scholar and activist, and former president of the Chilean Constitutional Convention, who gave a first-hand account of the work of the convention, and offered a richly intersectional account of indigenous struggles as they engage with capitalism, pro- and anti-democratic forces, feminism and patriarchy.

There are two short-term projects coming up this semester. What is Academic Freedom? Fundamental Debates and Reconsiderations on February 27 and March 6, organized by Justin Cammy (Jewish Studies) and the Committee on Academic Freedom (Shannon Audley, Nicholas Howe, Mehammed Mack), will consider a topic that seems ever more important (see Hamline University’s recent crisis, and, well, Florida…). In connection, invited guests Michael Bérubé and Jennifer Ruth will give a public lecture on March 6 on their book, It’s Not Free Speech: Race, Democracy, and the Future of Academic Freedom at 4:30 p.m. in Seelye 201. The seminar will also be joined by our UMass colleague, Daniel Gordon, author of What is Academic Freedom? A Century of Debate, 1915-Present.

Introducing the botanical humanities, Lily Carone (Botanic Garden), and Colin Hoag (Anthropology), are organizing Vegetal Forms: Knowing Time and Place through Plants Friday-Saturday, April 7-8, where fellows will consider what we might learn about time and place by paying close attention to plant form, and stage a conversation about the role of noticing and description in the sciences and humanities. There will be a public event on April 7 featuring presentations by the Smith College Museum of Art’s visiting artist, Abdessamad El Montassir, whose work unearths buried histories of North Africa, often looking at plants, place, and trauma, and Elaine Gan (Science and Society at Wesleyan), a scholar-artist engaged with relations among species, machines, and landscapes.

Tony Hatch


Continuing in the rich intellectual terrain at the intersection of the sciences, social sciences and humanities, this semester’s Neilson Professor, Anthony Ryan “Tony” Hatch, begins his series of lectures on February 28 at 5 p.m. in the Klingenstein Browsing Room with “Intersectionality. Coproduction. Translation. Three Keywords for Cultural Studies of Health.” I know Tony is looking forward to opportunities to meeting faculty members to discuss the issues he is bringing to the table, and as head of the Science in Society Program at Wesleyan, relations among disciplines more generally. A call will also come out soon for nominations for a Neilson professor for fall of 2024; let me know if you are considering a nomination and have questions about the process.

Next year, our year-long project, co-organized by Loretta Ross, Study of Women and Gender, and Andrea Stone, English, is (Re)Visioning Human Rights, Democracy and the Liberal Arts. In the US, human rights education lags behind many other countries, and given struggles between authoritarianism and democracy playing out globally and within the US, this project is a timely and exciting opportunity to think through the possible relations between liberal arts education, human rights, and democracy. The group will also consider the possibilities for establishing human rights programming at Smith. Applications for student fellows are due Tuesday, February 21, so if you know students for whom you think this is the right opportunity, please direct them to the Kahn Institute website.

I’d love to hear from faculty members with ideas for short-term projects for next year, and short and long-term projects for 2024-25 and thereafter. And just to float one possibility, does anyone want to get a group of faculty together to think about the potential ramifications of AI (which seem to run from the utopian to the dystopian)?

Finally, keep an eye out for a Kahn Porch Party when the weather gets warmer. It’s the Kahn’s 25th anniversary—cause to celebrate!


Frazer Ward