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Past Short-Term Projects

What Is Academic Freedom? Fundamental Debates and Reconsiderations

Short-Term Project, February 27 & March 6, 2023

The topic of academic freedom is frequently in the news and is the subject of countless op-eds. But what have been the fundamental and recurrent issues since the American Association of University Professors issued its famous “General Declaration of the Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure” in 1915?

How can we comprehend academic freedom analytically rather than polemically? This mini-Kahn project does not aim to defend any particular definition of academic freedom. Instead, we seek to raise the level of conceptualization of major controversies and issues by drawing on history, law and philosophy in a manner that will be intriguing and relevant for professors across the disciplines.

Vegetal Forms: Knowing Time and Place Through Plants

"Vegetal Forms" with graphic purple leaf, gold sunburst in the center
 April 7-8, 2023
Plants come in a multitude of forms, as can be seen in the exotic flora at Lyman Conservatory and in the Massachusetts landscapes that surround it. These forms are both aesthetically arresting and informative. The venation of leaves, the color of flowers, the shape of pollen grains, the structure of fruits, the strength of the stem—plant morphology discloses clues about plants’ evolutionary relationships across time and their strategies for survival in place, but also insights into the human condition. Understanding this bewildering diversity of non-human forms has demanded a botanical imagination that cuts across the arts, sciences, architecture, medicine, horticulture and more, all of which leverage basic observation and description.

Excavating the Image, Part II: Isaac Julien's Lessons of the Hour (short-term, April 2022)

This is the second part of a two-part Ex/Im project focusing on Isaac Julien's Lessons of the Hour. Lessons of the Hour is inspired by episodes in the life of freedom fighter Frederick Douglass (1818–1895). The film depicts Douglass as one of the most powerful voices and visionaries of the 19th century – from his demands to abolish chattel slavery to his aesthetic theory on photography – and demonstrates how his trenchant analyses continue to resonate. The acquisition and exhibition of Lessons of the Hour by the SCMA is timely. Smith’s Year on Democracies campus-wide focus in 2021-22 is powerfully animated by this piece. Julien’s focus on the key women in Douglass’s life, transatlantic exchange, the environment, and the history and theory of photography make this work ideal for courses in many departments and for this in-depth examination.

Democratizing Health II (March 3-4, 2022)

Democratizing Health II continues the conversations initiated in fall 2021, in Democratizing Health I, to imagine possibilities for future programming, resources, and curriculum development. Our starting point for these discussions was work in the medical humanities that calls attention to histories and presents of racism and racialization in medicine and science, including the ways these processes intersect with gender, sexuality, ability, and class. Our focus on democratizing health encompassed health inequities in its many forms and considers broader political frames, from the local to the global. We invite participants from STEM and the humanities/humanistic social sciences to join in a conversation where we focus on results-oriented outcomes. Our hope is to extend the reach of this project to include more scholars with related interests as we consider potential outcomes and directions.

Is There a Latinx Vote? (short-term, February 2022)

In 2020 the U.S. Presidential election offered voters an openly authoritarian option for the nation, calling into question the meaning and promise of democracy in the United States. Election polls unveiled the uncanny support of some Latinx communities for this authoritarian option. Some contemporary observers have posed this support as a shift in the preferences of the “Latinx vote” and Latinx communities at large. A major (mis)understanding of the political identities of Latinx voters, often cast through hagiographic myths and monolithic views of progressive labor and social conservativism, sat at the core of this widespread appraisal. One question that remains in place: is there a Latinx vote? Continuing the institutional efforts of the Year on Democracies at Smith College, the Kahn Liberal Arts Institute invites Smith and Five College faculty members to join a seminar focused on Benjamin Francis-Fallon’s The Rise of the Latino Vote: A History. In this Kahn seminar we seek to  interrogate the existence, nature, identity, and motivations of the “Latinx vote.”

Democratizing Health I (short-term, October 2021)

Democratizing Health I aims to build on the work of the spring 2021 short-term project, Racialized Medicine, Past and Present, to imagine possibilities for future programming, resources, and curriculum development. Racialized Medicine, Past and Present centered the COVID-19 pandemic as a jumping off point for thinking critically about how racism, racialization, and xenophobia have found footholds in public health crises and responses of the past, and how these processes have also made their way, via structural racism and other systems of power, into many of the ways we continue to describe and respond to these crises. In Democratizing Health I, we will leverage our work from the spring session to develop next steps to support research and teaching about medicine and public health across and between disciplines. 

Excavating the Image, Part I: Isaac Julien's Lessons of the Hour (short-term, June 2021)

In December 2021, SCMA will open an exhibition of Isaac Julien’s Lessons of the Hour in its New Media Gallery. Julien is one of the most important artists working in time-based media (film and video) today. Lessons of the Hour is a deeply researched single-channel video installation that dramatizes episodes from the life and writings of Frederick Douglass (1818-1895). Julien’s focus on the key women in Douglass’s life, transatlantic exchange, the environment, and the history and theory of photography make this work ideal for courses in many departments. This first part will focus on discussing the work and different ways in which it could be incorporated into interterm and/or spring 2022 courses and programming.


Racialized Medicine, Past and Present: Teaching and Research in the Spaces Between STEM and the Humanities (short-term, June 2021)

Racism, racialization, and xenophobia have found footholds in public health crises and responses of the past, and these processes have also made their way, via structural racism and other systems of power, into many of the ways we continue to describe and respond to these crises.  This moment seems like an opportune one, as we navigate this new terrain, to consider the spaces between science/public health and the humanities that can offer opportunities to expand how we see, interpret, and draw conclusions about our respective fields, particularly as we think about the intersection of race and medicine between past and present. We invite participants from STEM and the humanities/humanistic social sciences to join in a two-part conversation where we focus on how representations manifest long-standing assumptions and erase others.

Thinking Post-Nationally, Teaching Transnationally (short-term, May, 2021)

As a self-described “global college,” Smith promises its students a transnational experience. While students across divisions and disciplines tap into discourses that increasingly appear to transcend national boundaries, the study of foreign languages and cultures in particular – often paired with study abroad – has long positioned itself as the prime opportunity for students to gain a transnational perspective. Just as cultures and languages do not exist in isolated silos, the study of those cultures and languages should not either, and neither should that study be isolated from other aspects of the liberal arts curriculum.  

Is Inclusivity in My Classroom the Same as in Yours? (short-term, May, 2021)

Imagine the way our students move through many different classrooms with different expectations for, invitations to, contours of, and language about inclusivity. In some classrooms, the material itself may provide avenues into inclusionary practices; in other classrooms, inclusion may be embedded more in the practice than in the matter. Sometimes inclusive pedagogy converges form and content, sometimes inclusivity recognizes content in “parallel play” with form. We hope to have conversations with colleagues who are curious about these different models, not just because we have something to learn from them as teachers, but also, we believe, because the more each of us understands a fuller map of inclusion methods across the curriculum, the better each of us will be in helping our students transition from one room to another.

Curriculum: Protest and Process (short-term, spring 2021)

Some forms of protest, such as the anonymous calling-out of faculty members on social media, have been a matter of concern. While as faculty we support our students’ activism, we would like to explore the terms of engagement when our own work is its object.

The Notorious RCG: Race, Class and Gender in STEM (short-term, spring 2021)

This short-term Kahn seeks to identify the obstacles and impediments that stand in the way of students and colleagues from traditionally underrepresented groups who have chosen careers in STEM.

Data, Knowledge, Pedagogy: The Age of Machine Learning (short-term project Dec. 7-8, 2018)

December 7-8, 2018

The advent of the Digital Age (or the "Information Age") has thrown scholars across a variety of academic disciplines—especially those relying on textual and experiential evidence—into an existenial crisis. This short-term Kahn project seeks to engage scholars across all three divisions in an exploration of what this growing emphasis on machine learning means for scholarship, pedagogy, and knowledge production more broadly.

Drones: Politics, Pedagogy, Power, Play (short-term project, Sept. 28-29, 2018)

September 28-29, 2018

This short-term project seeks to understand drones in a broader context with scholars who can prime our discussion through a comparative analysis of emerging technologies. Who owns the right of transit less than 400 feet above the ground?

Social Ecology: Rethinking the Interdependence of Individuals, Communities and the Environment (short-term project Feb. 2020)

February 21-22, 2020

Social Ecology, which originates with the theories of radical ecologist Murray Bookchin, considers the political organization of societies in relation to the natural world. Bookchin’s theories are most aptly expressed by his dictum: “the domination of nature by man stems from the domination of human by human.”

Climate Inherits Us All (short-term project, Fall 2019)

October 17, November 15-16, 2019

What inherits us. What we leave to others. How we accept (or refuse) that which is bequeathed. These themes—and their implications—anchor this short-term Kahn project.

Creativity and the Creature: Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ at 200 (November 2-3, 2018)

A Kahn Institute Symposium

A 200th anniversary celebration of one of literary history’s most enduring and generative novels, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, published anonymously by 20-year-old Mary Shelley (1797–1851) on January 1, 1818.

Antisemitism (short-term project, 2018-19)

The purpose of this short-term Kahn project is to discuss antisemitism in its historical and contemporary dimensions. The very word antisemitism was coined in Germany in 1879 to denote an ideology that considered the integration of European Jews in rapidly changing nation-states highly problematic.

Pen to Palm Leaf (short-term project, 2018-19)

In 2018–19, we are excited to welcome a series of visitors focused on Buddhism and contemporary literature, titled Putting Pen to Palm Leaf: Buddhism and Contemporary Literature. This series brings four eminent writers whose work explores or is inflected by themes deriving from Buddhism to Smith and the Five Colleges for one- to two-week visits to share their ideas and practice with our students, faculty and the wider community.