Every Monday at noon, Conversations About Our Scholarly Lives provides Macalester faculty with an opportunity to learn about our colleagues’ scholarly work while joining together for lunch and informal conversation. Presenters have 20 minutes to discuss their research in progress, the excitement and challenges of doing research at a small liberal arts college, or their fully formed research products. The rest of the hour will be spent discussing the issues raised in the presentation. Bring your curiosity, collegiality, and your questions; we provide the lunch (no RSVP necessary), 12:00-1:00 in room 309 in the Library.

January 22 – Serdar Yalcin (Art and Art History)           
“Selves Carved in Stone: Identity and Patronage in Ancient Near Eastern Seals”
What do material objects tell us about the person to whom they once belonged?  Yalcin  poses this question in the context of the Ancient Near East.  He has analyzed a corpus of personal seals owned by individuals who are differentiated by gender, profession and other forms of social affiliations.  Made of precious imported stones and carved with detailed designs and pictorial images, cylinder seals are one of the most distinctive art forms created in ancient Mesopotamia.  This talk introduces Professor Yalcin’s scholarship and his unique approach–analyzing these intricate objects from the perspective of identity, an issue that modern scholarship has rarely addressed.

January 29 – Matt Burgess (English)
Teaching in Prisons”
Burgess, will discuss the pedagogical challenges and delights of teaching incarcerated students through the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop.

February 5 – Andrew Latham (Political Science)
“Sovereignty and Intellectual History”
This study traces the history of the supposedly modern idea of “sovereignty” back to the long thirteenth century.  In so doing it makes the case for a new approach to intellectual history – one that combines a modified version of the contextualism of the Cambridge School with a longue dureé approach to the history of ideas.

February 12 – Jacqueline Schiappa (Mellon Post-Doc)
“Reviewing Writing, Rethinking Race: The Rhetorical Dynamics of Composition’s Practical Life”
While conducting research for his dissertation, a colleague (Dr. Edward Hahn) attended every class session of Dr. Schiappa’s Developmental Writing course for TRIO students.  In conjunction, he facilitated focus groups with the students about their experiences in the course.  As a result, Schiappa and Hahn co-authored an article investigating how a classroom’s mundane, everyday activities interact with students’ race-related beliefs.  The authors argue that seemingly neutral activities, such as comparing grades and reading each other’s work, play a powerful role in the social processes that persuade students to reaffirm or rethink race-related beliefs, such as the insidious belief that whiteness signifies intelligence and non-whiteness signifies a lack thereof.  Through the story of one focal student’s experience with reviewing her peers’ and her own writing, the authors shed light on how seemingly non-rhetorical practices constitute the college writing classroom’s implicit pedagogy of race.

February 19 – Wessam el Meligi (Classics)
“Calligraphy and Graphic Novels vs. “Gods” and the “United Nations”: Art, Politics and Religion in Teaching Arabic at Macalester”
TAFL (Teaching Arabic as a Foreign Language) has fairly joined second language acquisition in American academia.  With recent refugee crises and controversies over immigration policies, Arabic studies is gaining momentum in both teaching and research.  American universities are slowly beginning to acknowledge the need for more faculty, students, and research in Arabic studies (there are only two continuing Arabic programs in the Twin Cities: U of M and Macalester); however, the current American academic scene for Arabic studies still seems largely shaped by two stereotypical images of Arab culture dictated by American interests in current affairs: politics and religion.  The first words used in the major textbook, titled Al-Kitaab (The Book), are “God” and “The United Nations.”  Are there other ways to incorporate students’ justified interest in Arabic politics and religious studies, due to the demands of the job market, while addressing the much deeper and more varied cultural aspects of Arabic language instruction?  Professor El Meligi’s talk will illustrate how Arabic classes at Macalester attempt to reveal these other cultural aspects of the Arabic langauge by using creative and artistic projects, such as calligraphy, song, and graphic novels.

February 26 – Joan Ostrove (Psychology)          
“Faculty’s Classroom Responses to A Death on Campus”
Today’s program will provide the faculty with an opportunity to discuss a set of vexing questions in a conversational format: What should we do in our classes, if anything, to acknowledge the death of a current Macalester student?  Is it best to say nothing and teach our classes as normal?  Are we comforting students or adding to their suffering if we draw attention to such tragedies?  Do the conditions under which a student has died change our answers?  What do scholars and scholarship in our fields say about such issues?  Professor Joan Ostrove has agreed to kick off this important faculty conversation with a few remarks, but the program is meant for you to share your thoughts, experiences, and questions.  We hope you can join us.

March 5 – Ann Minnick (Academic Programs and Advising), Ted Rueff (Director of Counseling), Kelly Stone (Chaplain), and Emma Kipley-Ogman (Associate Chaplain for Jewish Life)            
“Continuing The Conversation:  Should Faculty Acknowledge (in the Classroom) the Death of a Macalester Student?”
Owing to widespread and intense interest in the subject, the Serie Center will continue its discussion of whether (and in what ways) faculty should use their classroom time to acknowledge the pain and confusion students likely feel when one of their classmates has died.  Are we comforting students or adding to their suffering if we draw attention to such tragedies?  Is it best to say nothing and teach our classes as normal?  Do the conditions under which a student died change our answers?  What should we do with our own sadness, confusion and discomfort?  What do Macalester students and Student Affairs professionals say about such issues?  We have invited four Student Affairs colleagues to join our open format conversation and share their perspectives along with faculty members.  Please join us for this conversation, which we hope, will prompt faculty to continue sharing their thoughts and feelings about taking action in the classroom in light of a student’s recent death.

March 19 – Adrienne Christiansen (Serie Center)
“Becoming Curiouser and Curiouser: Getting to Know One Another’s Scholarly Work”
Each year, Macalester College provides faculty members with numerous opportunities to collaborate with one another through co-teaching, undertaking joint research projects, data sharing/visualization arrangements, digital humanities projects etc.  It is difficult to take advantage of these resources if we don’t know one another or what we actually do in our classrooms, labs, or archives.  Today’s program is meant to address this challenge by giving you a chance to tell about your scholarly work to a handful of people you don’t already know and to hear about theirs.  We hope you will join us for this special CASL session in which we will all be engaged in small group conversation about our scholarly lives.  Bring your appetite and your curiosity about your colleagues’ work.

March 26 – Megan Reilly (Theatre and Dance)           
“Technological Hauntings: Performing in Mixed Reality”
What is mixed reality performance?  How does one group of artists use augmented reality to help tell a story within the framework of live theatre?  This talk looks at the mixed reality production “Transmission,” performed last August at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  I will discuss what designing for such a project entailed and our team’s process for mounting it in Scotland, as well as look at a couple of other projects pushing this genre of performance forward.

April 2 – Shilad Sen (Math, Statistics and Computer Science)
“Teaching Computers to Understand Wikipedia”
Like us, computers rely on Wikipedia to understand the world. I will discuss the surprising way computers represent common-sense knowledge from Wikipedia and take you on a tour of two research projects where computers apply this common-sense knowledge: 1) Cartograph, a system that produces interactive maps that visualize non-spatial data and 2) recommender systems that power Target.com.

April 9 – Summer Hills-Bonczyk (Art and Art History)
“Taking Down the Wall”
Last fall I presented a performance art piece that aimed to address the idea of division. For this piece, I constructed an 18’ wall out of wet clay that was torn down by three women.  For this talk, I will discuss the ways in which I use the medium of performance art to confront the following question: how do we creatively dismantle division among people?  What would such a process even look like?  How can art play a role in this process?  I will invite attendees to consider how this may be relevant in our lives and even here on campus.  Documentary photographs, video and sound from the performance, and a discussion of my ideation and research process will be shared.

April 16 – Getiria Onsongo (Math, Statistics and Computer Science)
“Computational Techniques in Genetic Testing & Food Security”
The completion of the human genome project and recent advancements in sequencing technology made routine genetic testing possible.  To be clinically feasible, the cost of performing these tests must be sufficiently low to make economic sense.  I will discuss how I used computational techniques to reduce the cost of genetic tests.  Another arena where computational technique is helpful is in food security, defined by reliable access to affordable nutritious food, through enabling data driven plant breeding.

April 23 – Chris Wells (Serie Center)
“Becoming Curiouser and Curiouser: Getting to Know One Another’s Scholarly Work, Part 2”
Do you sometimes feel stuck in a departmental silo?  Are you interested in knowing more about the work of your colleague on the other side of campus?  Please join us for a special CASL program designed to give you a chance to tell others about your scholarly work, and to hear about the work of a handful of others who you don’t already know.  Bring your appetite, and your curiosity about your colleagues’ work, to a session devoted to small group conversations about our scholarly lives.