Scholars Lecture Series 2009-2010

Irving H. Jurow Lecture Hall,
Room 101A Silver Center for Arts and Science,
100 Washington Square East
All Lectures are scheduled from 5 to 6 p.m.

The Scholars Lecture Series, initiated in spring 1994, is designed to encourage and promote the exchange of ideas among our most distinguished guest lecturers, University faculty, and students in the Scholars Program. The lecture series further enhances the intellectual experience, cultural awareness, and social consciousness of exceptional students in the College of Arts and Science.


Dusty Plantations to the Glistening White House: Letters from Black America

Pamela Newkirk, Professor of Journalism
This lecture will explore the rich array of letters written by African Americans from all walks of life over the past three centuries, from the slavery era to the historic election of President Obama.


How to Get Rich Without Knowing How: The Paradox of Development Economics

William Easterly, Professor of Economics 
Development economists have had a long series of failures in attempts to raise growth and promote rapid development. Yet economic development in the past half century happened anyway. This lecture discusses how some of the basic principles of economics help us understand this paradox and provide useful guidance on how to achieve economic development.


Painting in the Shadow of the Guillotine
Elizabeth Mansfield, Associate Professor of Art History
As the sans-culottes took to the streets during the French Revolution, artists likewise sought to influence the political situation in the wake of July 14, 1789. Painters like Jacques-Louis David and Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun are famous for expressing their political allegiances in artworks produced during the Revolution. But the Jacobin David and the royalist émigré Vigée-Lebrun mark only the extremes of political sympathies. Most artists - like most French citizens - held views somewhere between these two poles. This lecture will look at the Revolutionary art of François-André Vincent, who challenged David’s authority over visual culture during the Terror.


Claude Desplan, Professor of Biology

Vision represents our most sophisticated sensory system and a large portion of the human brain is dedicated to processing visual information. In fact, vision is immensely important for organisms throughout the animal kingdom, and visual systems have evolved to deal with unique types of light stimuli; for example, birds must deal with fast moving stimuli, bees rely on light-dependent positional cues for navigation, and cave fish, which live in complete darkness, have dispensed with eyes altogether. This lecture will discuss how evolution has shaped the retinas of animals to optimize the detection and interpretation of the light stimuli present in their environments. It will also explain why the study of the superficially simple visual system of the fruit fly might offer insights into the basic principles of human vision.


Arlene Davila, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis

NYU Press offers up this provocative introduction to Professor Davila’s most recent  work: “Illegal immigrant, tax burden, job stealer. Patriot, family oriented, hard worker, model consumer. Ever since Latinos became the largest minority in the U.S. they have been caught between these wildly contrasting characterizations leaving us to wonder: Are Latinos friend or foe?”  Professor Davila will discuss her latest book, Latino Spin, which, in the words of NYU Press, “cuts through the spin about Latinos’ supposed values, political attitudes, and impact on U.S. national identity to ask what these caricatures suggest about Latinos’ shifting place in the popular and political imaginary.”


Michael D. Ward, Professor of Chemistry 

Several diseases - gout, osteoarthritis, kidney stones - are due to crystals that form abnormally in the body. Kidney stones, for example, arebiomineralized crystal aggregates, most commonly containing calcium oxalate monohydrate (COM) microcrystals as the primary constituent as well as other compounds, such as the amino acid cystine. This lecture will describe efforts to understand the formation of kidney stones at the molecular level, using atomic force microscopy, and how such studies may lead to new approaches for prevention.


The “Nightmare of Haiti”: Radical Antislavery and its Suppression in the Caribbean

Sibylle Fischer, Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese
In 1804, after more than a decade of brutal battles with colonial armies, the insurgent African slaves of Saint Domingue declared independence from France. Under the name of Haiti, the first black state in the Americas realized a complete reversal of established hierarchies: the territory's European name had been obliterated, slaves had become masters, and the term “liberty” had come to mean “racial equality”. The Age of Revolution had found its most radical articulation not in the United States, not in France, but in the Caribbean. This lecture will show how the responses to these events in the slaveholding Caribbean led not only to a denial of this key event in the history of the revolutionary age, but also to the creation of “Haiti” as recurring nightmare in the Western imagination.  


John Michael Archer, Professor of English

William Shakespeare was neither a MAC nor a PC. But he was familiar with the keyboard, and, more importantly, with the principles behind the keyboard. In this illustrated lecture, Professor Archer will read a few sonnets by Shakespeare in light of the Renaissance printing house, musical instruments, and the role of repetition in poetic language. His lecture will provoke key questions concerning technology and its relation to poetry. Can technology be reduced to machinery? Do technological principles take precedence over technical objects? Is poetic language technological in principle because it is a form of making or creation, or is it opposed to technology? Can Shakespeare help us decide if there is a choice here, and to decide what choice to make as we think about technology and creativity in our own time?


Nurture, Not Nature: Why Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals Become Liberal Democrats and Engaged Citizens
Patrick J. Egan, Assistant Professor of Politics

Why do lesbians, gays and bisexuals (LGBs) tend to affiliate with the Democratic Party and hold distinctively liberal views on a wide range of issues - including issues that have nothing to do with gay rights?  Using survey data with nationally representative samples of LGBs, I find that this happens for two reasons: selection (LGBs are more likely to be brought up in environments associated with liberal views later in life) and conversion (the life event of adopting a gay identity is accompanied by the acquisition of a cohesive set of liberal beliefs).  These processes lead LGBs to become liberal Democrats well before they have much contact with other gay people or gain exposure to politics.  They also result in LGBs participating in politics at higher rates than heterosexuals and being more interested and engaged in public affairs.


Why Aren’t We on the Same Wavelength?: Understanding Interactions between White and Ethnic Minority College Students

Tessa West, Assistant Professor of Psychology
As the U.S. becomes increasingly ethnically and racially diverse, interpersonal interactions between whites and minorities have become more commonplace. Unfortunately, however, such interactions can be awkward and anxiety provoking, cognitively taxing, and physiologically threatening. This lecture will discuss two studies that explore the dynamics of interracial interactions, taking into account the perspectives of whites and minorities. The first study demonstrates the fragility of interracial interactions between newly acquainted white and minority college students, and the second study focuses on what factors predict friendship formation among mixed-race new college roommates.

Abstractionist Aesthetics
and Social Critique in African-American Culture
Phillip Brian Harper, Professor of English and Social and Cultural Analysis

It is widely assumed that a primary function of African-American expressive culture is to comment critically on prevailing racial-political arrangements, and that the best way of doing this is to depict African Americans' collective experiences in as realistic a manner as possible. This lecture, which capsulizes the argument of a just-completed book project, by contrast proposes that modes of aesthetic abstractionism - as distinct from realism - can actually be very effective in registering racial-political critique; and it further posits that literature - as distinct from either music or the visual arts - comprises the art form in which abstractionism can have the strongest critical impact in the current historical moment.


Creating an American Home: from company towns to suburban landscape, 1900-1960
Maria Montoya, Associate Professor of History   

The image that one conjures when thinking about a “Company Town” is usually a stereotypical one.  Shabby houses with minimal electricity and no running water, an over-priced company store where only company scrip is accepted, and makeshift communities with no infrastructure for women and children are the hallmark traits that typify our image of company towns.  From Pullman, just south of Chicago, to Ford’s Dearborn and Inkster in Michigan to Rockefeller’s Ludlow, Colorado, the history of how workers have lived and worked in these closed communities has been a story shaped by social control, moral uplift, and violence.  From the latter part of the nineteenth century through the post World War II era, there have been many different iterations of the company town.  Some of them had the makings of Dickensian novels while others were designed to be “Workingmen’s Paradise.” This lecture provides a brief overview of the history of company towns in the United States and focuses primarily on some of the largest ones in the American West during the first half of the twentieth century.  We will explore why both workers and capitalists so frequently accepted this model of housing and community building, at least until World War II. 


Karen Adolph, Professor of Psychology

Our most basic motor skills (e.g., looking, reaching, crawling, walking) and our most complex ones (e.g., swinging arm over arm along monkey bars) do not simply appear as the result of maturation. Motor skills are learned over months (or years) of practice. This lecture uses video and graphic illustrations to report recent findings on what infants and children learn as they acquire new motor skills and the surprising mechanisms that underlie the learning process.


Karen Adolph is Professor of Psychology and Neural Science at New York University. She received a B.A. in fine art and psychology from Sarah Lawrence College and a Ph.D. in experimental/developmental psychology from Emory University. She completed a postdoc at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Her first faculty position was at Carnegie Mellon University. She has received a James McKeen Cattell Sabbatical Award, the Robert L. Fantz Memorial Award from the American Psychological Foundation, the Boyd McCandless Award from the American Psychological Association, the Young Investigator Award from the International Society for Infant Studies, FIRST and MERIT awards from the National Institutes of Health, and is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science. Her research is supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health. Her work is inspired by a developmental systems approach and her research interests include learning and development in the context of infant motor skill acquisition. Adolph is author of Learning in the Development of Infant Locomotion and a chapter on motor development in the Handbook of Child Psychology.

John Michael Archer is Professor of English at New York University. He received his M.A. from the University of Toronto and his Ph.D. from Princeton University. He is the author of Sovereignty and Intelligence: Spying and Court Culture in the English Renaissance; Old Worlds, a book about early-modern geographical and travel writing in English; and Citizen Shakespeare: Freemen and Aliens in the Language of the Plays. Before coming to NYU in 2004 he taught at Columbia University, the University of British Columbia, and the University of New Hampshire.

Arlene Davila, Professor of Anthropology and of Social and Cultural Analysis, is a cultural anthropologist interested in urban and ethnic studies, the political economy of culture and media, and consumption studies. Her work focuses on the relationship between cultural identity and the national and global commodification of culture. She explores issues of race and ethnicity, nationalism, consumption, and cultural politics, particularly through analysis of Puerto Rican and U.S. Latino/a culture. She is author of Latino Spin: Public Image and the Whitewashing of Race; Sponsored Identities: Cultural Politics in Puerto Rico; Latinos Inc: Marketing and the Making of a People; and Barrio Dreams: Puerto Ricans, Latinos and the Neoliberal City.  She received her Ph.D. from CUNY, her M.A. from NYU, and her B.A. from Tufts University.

Claude Desplan was trained at the Ecole Normale Superieure in St. Cloud, France.  He completed his Ph.D. in Paris at the INSERM on calcium regulation before moving to the University of California at San Francisco. At UCSF he initiated his studies of the homeodomain and demonstrated that this conserved signature of many developmental genes was a DNA binding motif. In 1987, he joined the Faculty of Rockefeller University and was a Howard Hughes investigator.  He pursued structural studies of the homeodomain and initiated his work on the evolution of axis formation in insects. In 1997, he began his investigation of color vision in Drosophila that occupies most of his current laboratory.  He moved to New York University as a professor in 1999. His team has described the molecular mechanisms of patterning of the fly retina that underlie color vision. He is now studying the processing of color vision and the functional anatomy of the medulla part of the optic lobe.  In parallel, his lab developed the wasp Nasonia as a model system to compare early developmental events in the embryo (Evo-Devo). He contributed extensively to the understanding of how insect embryos pattern their antero-posterior axis through the utilization of many of the same genes that are used in Drosophila.

William Easterly is Professor of Economics at New York University, where he holds a joint appointment with Africa House and serves as Co-Director of NYU's Development Research Institute. He is editor of Aid Watch blog, Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and Co-Editor of the Journal of Development Economics. He is the author of The White Man’s Burden: How the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good and The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics.  He has also authored 59 articles and co-edited three other books. He received his Ph.D. in Economics at MIT and spent sixteen years as a Research Economist at the World Bank. He is on the board of the anti-malaria philanthropic organization, Nets for Life. Foreign Policy magazine named him one of the world’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals in 2008. His areas of expertise are the determinants of long-run economic growth, the political economy of development, and the effectiveness of foreign aid. He has worked in most areas of the developing world, most heavily in Africa, Latin America, and Russia. He is an associate editor of the American economic journals Macroeconomics, the Journal of Comparative Economics and the Journal of Economic Growth.

Patrick J. Egan is Assistant Professor of Politics and Public Policy at New York University, where he specializes in public opinion, political institutions, and their relationship in the context of American politics.  He is co-editor of the volume Public Opinion and Constitutional Controversy, which was published by Oxford University Press in 2008.  Egan served as an Assistant Deputy Mayor of Policy and Planning for the City of Philadelphia under former Mayor Edward Rendell. He was a visiting scholar at Princeton University's Center for the Study of Democratic Politics in 2006-07.  He holds a Ph.D. in political science from UC Berkeley, an M.P.A. from Princeton University, and a B.A. from Swarthmore College.

Sibylle Fischer is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Spanish and Portuguese, Comparative Literature, and Africana Studies. She earned her Ph.D. from Columbia University. She has also taught at Duke and Princeton. Dr. Fischer's work is situated at the intersections of literature, history, political philosophy, and aesthetics. She has written numerous articles on Caribbean, Brazilian, and Spanish American literature from the colonial period to the 20th century. The focus of her most recent research has been the Spanish and French Caribbean and the Black Atlantic in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Dr. Fischer is the author of Modernity Disavowed: Haiti and the Cultures of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, which received the Frantz Fanon Prize of the Caribbean Philosophical Association, Gordon Lewis Award of the Caribbean Studies Association, and the book awards from the Latin American Studies Association and the Modern Language Association. She is also the editor of a new translation of one of Cuba's best-known novels, Cirilo Villaverde's Cecilia Valdés o La Loma del Angel.

Phillip Brian Harper is Erich Maria Remarque Professor of Literature in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis (SCA) and the Department of English.  The founding Chair of SCA (2005-2007) and currently Chair of the English Department, he has been an NYU faculty member since 1995, and before that was on the faculties of Brandeis University and Harvard University.  Professor Harper specializes in modern and contemporary U.S. literary and cultural studies, African-American literature and culture, and gender and sexuality studies, and he is the author of the books, Framing the Margins: The Social Logic of Postmodern Culture; Are We Not Men? Masculine Anxiety and the Problem of African-American Identity; and Private Affairs: Critical Ventures in the Culture of Social Relations.

Elizabeth Mansfield is Associate Professor of Art History at New York University. She joins NYU after spending a year at the National Humanities Center, where she completed a book manuscript on the French artist François-André Vincent (1746-1816). Previous publications include Too Beautiful to Picture: Zeuxis, Myth, and Mimesis and the edited volumes Making Art History and Art History and Its Institutions. She teaches courses on European art since 1700.

Maria E. Montoya is an Associate Professor of History at New York University.  She was previously an Associate Professor of History and American Culture at the University of Michigan, where she also directed the Latina/o Studies Program.  Prior to that she taught at the University of Colorado.  She holds her BA, MA, and Ph.D degrees from Yale University and she also completed Master’s work at the University of New Mexico.  She is the author of Translating Property: The Maxwell Land Grant and the Conflict Over Land in the American West, 1840 – 1900, as well as numerous articles that have appeared in the Journal of Women’s History, the Western Historical Quarterly, and the New Mexico Historical Review.  Presently she is working on a book about John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and Josephine Roche and their struggle to control the western coal market and their workers during the 1920s. She is also writing a U.S. History textbook for Houghton Mifflin/Cengage. She has sat on the Editorial Board of the Western Historical Quarterly and currently serves on the Editorial Boards of the American Quarterly and the Pacific Historical Review.

Pamela Newkirk is Professor of Journalism and the author of Within the Veil: Black Journalists, White Media, which was awarded the National Press Club Award for Media Criticism. She is editor of A Love No Less: More Than Two Centuries of African American Love Letters and Letters From Black America. Prior to joining the faculty, she worked as a daily journalist at four different news organizations, including New York Newsday, where, in 1990, she was among the reporting team awarded a Pulitzer Prize for spot news. Her primary areas of interest are race in the news media and African American art and culture. Her articles have been published in a wide range of publications including The New York Times, The Nation, The Washington Post and ARTnews.

Michael D. Ward is Silver Professor of Chemistry and Chair of the Department of Chemistry at New York University.  He received his B.S. in Chemistry from the William Paterson College of New Jersey and his Ph.D. at Princeton University. He was a Welch postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas, Austin. He joined the research staff at Standard Oil of Ohio in Cleveland and later became a member of the research staff at the Dupont Central Research and Development Laboratories in Wilmington, Delaware. Ward joined the faculty of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at the University of Minnesota, where he held a joint appointment in the Department of Chemistry. He was named a Distinguished McKnight University Professor in 1999, and served as Director of the University of Minnesota Materials Research Science and Engineering Center. He recently moved to New York University, where he is developing the newly established Molecular Design Institute within the Department of Chemistry and is the Director of the new NSF-supported NYU Materials Research Science and Engineering Center. Ward has served as an Editor for the ACS journal Chemistry of Materials since 1998. His research interests include organic solid-state chemistry, crystal engineering, functional organic materials, crystallization, polymorphism, the role of biominerals in biomedicine and disease, organic epitaxy, atomic force microscopy, and electrochemistry.

Tessa West is a newly appointed Assistant Professor of Psychology at New York University.  Her research focuses on understanding the nature and dynamics of social perception. Nearly all of her work examines basic processes in person perception at the level of the dyad and group, addressing both theoretical and methodological issues in the study of interpersonal and intergroup relations. One line of research examines how the processes of social perception operate in same- and cross-group interactions, with a specific focus on relations between whites and racial and ethnic minorities. She uses a multi-method approach to studying dyadic- and group-level interactions. Other lines of research include examining the processes of person perception in romantic relationships, familial relationships, and friendships in general. She earned her Ph.D. in Social Psychology at the University of Connecticut and her B.A. in Psychology at the University of California at Santa Barbara.