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Kahn Projects

Group of people at a conference table, listening to Javier Puente introduce Patricia Alvarez Astacio

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

Common Grounds: Toward (Re)Thinking Global Indigeneity

Common Grounds: Toward (Re)Thinking Global Indigeneity around the Wiphala flag
Around the world indigenous peoples and their histories face questions of marginalization, climate change and global hegemony while maintaining their histories and distinct sovereignties. We are called to consider the forces of colonization, settler colonialism, and racial capitalism across North America, the western hemisphere, and the globe. Common Grounds seeks scholars working on topics that address the indigenous question "within" urgent issues such as: seal-level rise, femicide, agricultural sciences, territorial sovereignties, the digital world, public health, climate justice, border-crossing, the Anthropocene, global trade, and internationalism, among others. 

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.

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

Long-Term Project, 2023-24

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.

Health and Medicine, Culture and Society: Crossroads in a Liberal Arts Education

Semester-long Project, Fall 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has rendered longstanding footholds of racism, racialization, and xenephobia in public health and medicine hypervisible. Early news articles on cases in the United States disproportionately featured images of Asian and Asian-American people. Poorly planned and communicated travel bans stoked xenophobia. And former President Trump's perpetual framing of the virus as connected to China amplified racism and violence against Asians and Asian-Americans. This semester-long project recognizes our current moment as an opportune one, especially as we navigate new terrain in the college classroom as the pandemic continues to unfold, to examine past and present ways that systems of power manifest in uneven ground upon which people must attend to their health and negotiate medical systems.

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.