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Spring 2016 CURRENTS

Monday, March 7

Philosophical Anarchism and Political Obligation: Kantian Questions

Michael Nance, Assistant Professor, Philosophy

Immanuel Kant’s ethical and legal philosophy provides historical inspiration for two quite divergent accounts of political obligation: philosophical anarchism, which denies that there is any general duty to obey the law or subordinate one’s will to the state; and non-voluntarism, which holds that individuals have a duty to consent to the political authority of the state, from which it follows that there is a general duty to obey the state’s authority. My talk briefly sketches the Kantian arguments for these two contrasting accounts of political obligation and poses several questions about their merits.


Using Digital Tools to Measure Transnationalism: Developing Typologies and Methodologies for Cross-cultural Comparisons of Television Formats

Edward Larkey, Modern Languages, Linguistics and Intercultural Communication

I will present a summary of a typology and comparative methodology developed in a research group comprised of faculty, graduate and undergraduate students working with various television series. I will explain examples of the development and deployment of concepts such as “transposed” and “transmutated” narratives used in this methodology, and demonstrate the use of computer software to derive these concepts, which are also applicable to cinematic analyses.


Wednesday, April 20

From Paid Wailing to Protestant Tears: The Transformation of Chinese Grief

Ruth E. Toulson, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Department of Humanistic Studies, MICA

In the span of a generation, the way that Chinese people grieve has been entirely transformed. Professional mourners–who dressed in costumes of sack-cloth, wailed into microphones and beat their heads against the casket–have been replaced by discrete tears. Chinese Buddhists now “cry like Protestants.” In this presentation, based on ten years of ethnographic fieldwork in funeral parlors in Singapore, I will explore what prompted this revolution in how people grieve. The material opens wider questions: how malleable are intense emotions: grieving, longing, forgetting, love?


Racial Violence and Vaudevillians of Color: The Makings of a Black Theater Circuit

Michelle Scott, Associate Professor, History

This discussion is an excerpt of the first chapter of my work in progress on the Theater Owner’s Booking Association (TOBA), a 1920s black theater chain. TOBA became the training ground for artists such as blues singer Ma Rainey, dancers the Nicholas Brothers, and comedian Moms Mabley between 1920 and 1931. I examine how the lack of physical safety for black traveling shows in segregated America in the 1900s and 1910s was an impetus for creating the black vaudeville circuit.


Wednesday, April 27

The American Civilization Institute:  Toward a New History of Civic Engagement

Denise Meringolo, Associate Professor, History and Dresher Center Residential Fellow

The American Civilization Institute founded in 1964 in Morristown, NJ, engaged students, faculty, and staff from Morristown high school and from Fairleigh Dickinson University in a multi-year project to preserve and interpret a historic structure. Gene Weltfish –one of the project’s founders– began her work in Morristown just as the school district was actively fighting against an effort to establish segregated school districts. Weltfish’s work at the Institute serves as an example to suggest that strategies of civic engagement and concern for social justice have shaped efforts to preserve and interpret historic places and to educate students in the realm of public culture.


Monday, May 2

Building an Augmented-Reality Reading Machine: A Documentary

Craig Saper, Professor, Language, Literacy, and Culture and Dresher Center Residential Fellow

In the spring of 2016, an international group of scientists, experimental artists and designers, humanities scholars, and reading researchers started to build a reading machine using augmented-reality technologies. This documentary program follows the The Avant-Gardes and Speculative Technologies (AGAST) Project group as they adapt, translate, and update what Bob Brown called, in 1929, readies for his reading machine.