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Kahn Projects

Faculty conversing with each other.

Long- and short-term projects are the focus of the Kahn Institute. Kahn projects invite up to 20 Smith and Five College faculty members, as well as Smith students and staff, to explore, discuss and debate as a group topics of broad interest to a multidisciplinary crosscut of scholars. Kahn projects are typically co-organized by two Smith faculty members. Project organizers receive course releases, stipends and other compensation.

Current & Upcoming Projects at the Kahn

(Re)visioning Human Rights, Democracy and the Liberal Arts

Long-Term Project, 2023-24

Illustration of three figures painting the human rights logo. One is on a ladder, one in a wheelchair and one standing
The time is right to bring robust human rights education to the Five College Consortium. The battle between democracy and authoritarianism is a defining issue of our time, playing out globally and within the United States. Given the strong correlation between democracy as a form of government and the protection and realization of human rights, human rights institutions, laws, standards, movements—and education—play a vital role in this landscape, where an array of actors are needed to claim and safeguard rights and address the sovereignty, legal, institutional, and humanitarian issues at play. We envision a project that serves as an unbounded space for developing new research, teaching and practice models at the intersection of liberal arts education, human rights, and the future of democracies. The project will offer a generative space to identify avenues of inquiry and research questions, and to explore, collaborate and experiment across and between disciplines.

Developing, Deploying, and Managing Technology for Community: Engineering Informed by Human Values


This one-time seminar will be led by Jun Sawada, Chairman of the Board of Nippon Telephone and Telegraph (NTT, the world’s largest telecommunications firm) during his visit to Smith College. He is concerned with the failure to date of new telecommunications and information technologies to reduce inequality and to build community, and is interested in new, communitarian philosophical foundations for thinking about the development, deployment, and management of technologies, a topic he would like to discuss with the Smith college faculty.

Vegetal Forms: Knowing Place and Time Through Plants


"Vegetal Forms" with graphic purple leaf, gold sunburst in the center

Plants come in a multitude of forms, and 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—plant morphology discloses clues about plants’ evolutionary relationships across time and their strategies for survival in place. They can also disclose insights into the human condition, inciting the botanical imagination across the arts, sciences, architecture, medicine, horticulture, and more. With an interdisciplinary spirit and an emphasis on noticing and description, this Kahn project asks what we might learn about our times and places from paying close attention to plant form.

Possible Futures: AI and Human Experience


Possible Futures: AI and Human Experience
The proliferation of AI is tied to an unprecedented reshaping of the human experience throughout society—from politics, commerce, law, and education to healthcare and beyond. Interpersonal relationships and our very self-understanding are implicated, too. Today, polarizing views of AI’s contributions to this reshaping abound. At the utopian end of the spectrum, an increasing number of people welcome the prospect of its liberating humanity from restrictions heretofore seen as built into the existence of our species. Meanwhile, those with a more dystopian view worry that AI’s proliferation could subvert human agency and render humans obsolete. This Kahn project aims to move the discourse around AI beyond this unhelpful polarization.

Propose a Kahn Project

Long-Term Projects

Long-term projects are built around broad topics that are investigated in depth throughout an entire academic year. Long-term project fellows meet once a week at the Kahn Institute for two hours of discourse and/or other activities, and always share a meal, provided by the Kahn, either before or following their weekly colloquium. Long-term projects also include public lectures by a range of experts in fields related to the project topics, as well as field trips, film screenings and other activities.

Short-Term Projects

Short-term projects provide new contexts for Smith and Five College faculty to explore topics of common intellectual concern that bear on their own research and may serve as seeds for future long-term projects. Short-term project formats are flexible, but typically take place within an abbreviated timeframe. Short-term projects often include public events, panels or forums, film screenings, workshops, field trips and other activities over the course of two to three days, a weekend, or a series of daylong symposia.

Proposal Steps

1. Contact the Kahn director to suggest your project idea as early as possible, even if it’s at a preliminary stage.
2. Schedule a meeting with the Kahn director and staff to brainstorm and develop your idea, discuss parameters, identify potential participants or constituencies, and project a timeframe.
3. Draft a one-page narrative description of your project to articulate the central questions, problems and themes to be explored and analyzed; generate interest in participation; and indicate disciplines, departments or programs whose faculty may be interested in applying for project fellowships.