Faculty Lectures and Lunches Details


Lectures are at 4:15PM, in the McCabe Library Atrium, except for the Feb. 13th lecture, which will be in Scheuer Room, Kohlberg Hall.

September 12

Alex Baugh, Assistant Professor of Biology
“Do endocrine syndromes underlie behavioral syndromes? Decomposing notoriously variable traits in a wild songbird.”

Why is there so much variation in how animals respond to challenges? Why do individuals often vary dramatically in hormone profiles? Are these two observations linked? Here I will describe a set of studies aimed at understanding the stability and inter-relatedness of hormonal and behavioral traits using a wild European songbird. We will explore the dynamics of the endocrine stress axis and how it relates to risk-taking, exploration and boldness. In doing so, we will free ourselves of the "tyranny of the golden mean" and instead take a deep dive into the interesting biology hidden inside the error bars.

October 10

Christopher Fraga, Assistant Professor of Anthropology
“Becoming Contemporary: Art Lessons from Mexico City”

Art theorists have struggled to conceptualize the category of "contemporary art."  Some have gone so far as to suggest that it is merely a convenient catch-all label for what ultimately amounts to a disconnected set of wildly heterogeneous artistic practices.  In such a view, contemporary art has ceased to be guided by any reigning paradigms, and art criticism has reached a theoretical standstill.  In this talk, I will chart a course out of this apparent impasse by examining it through the lens of a critical anthropology of art.  Drawing on over three years of ethnographic fieldwork in the Mexico City art world, I will identify and elaborate on the key concepts that can help us to extricate ourselves from the theoretical predicament posed by contemporary art.  In so doing, I will also be making the case for why contemporary art has important lessons to offer the discipline of sociocultural anthropology.

November 21

Rick Valelly, Professor of Political Science
"The Cold War Construction of A Heterosexual State in America."

Why and how did members of Congress, Presidents, and bureaucrats decide to condition military and administrative service on sexual orientation -- and why and how were they actually able to do that between 1945 and 1953?  This discussion shows that these questions have fairly surprising answers -- one them being that societal pressure for a heterosexual state was not in fact a major determinant, contrary to what many have argued.  This is part of my ongoing book project, Uncle Sam's Closet:  LGBT Enfranchisement and the American State.

December 12

Nanci Buiza, Assistant Professor of Spanish
“Writing from the Wound: Literature and Disenchantment in Postwar Central America”

Professor Buiza will examine how contemporary Central American writers have made literary art out of a heritage of violence, trauma, and
social disaffection.

Torn by decades of civil war and political terror, and more recently by the depredations of neoliberalism and urban violence, Central America has been unkind to the artistic enterprise. And yet despite the adversity, its writers have in recent years managed to put Central America on the literary map. They have made a virtue of their situation by submitting their disillusionments, traumas, and dislocations to the discipline of art and have produced works of high literary achievement.

Of special interest in this presentation is the way in which these writers contend with the senseless modernity that radically remade Central American society after the era of civil wars had come to an end in the 1990s. The “culture of peace” as a code of conduct promoted by market-oriented postwar reconstruction projects; the unresolved wartime traumas that have devastated the social fabric; the disenchantment that took root after the dreams for social utopia had been dashed by the failed revolutions and by the forces of neoliberalism—all these features of the postwar experience are central concerns of these writers, but they also pose problems for what it means to make art. How contemporary Central American literature registers and resists these problems is the focus of this presentation.

February 13

Krista Thomason, Assistant Professor of Philosophy
“Child Soldiers and Moral Responsibility.”

It is common to think that child soldiers cannot be morally responsible for the violence they commit: not only are they underage, they typically are forced to join paramilitary units, they suffer psychological and physical abuse, and they participate in combat only under threat of harm or death. Yet when we examine the first-person accounts of former child soldiers, we find that they see themselves as responsible for their actions. It is tempting to think that their feelings are simply misguided or a result of their trauma. I argue instead that child soldiers, like adult ex-combat soldiers, suffer moral injury and their feelings of responsibility are part of the process of redrawing the boundaries of their moral selves.

March 20

Cat Norris, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience
“The Good and Bad of Ambivalence: How Mixed Feelings Can Promote Change and Distract Attention, and What We Can Do About It.”

Ambivalence, the experience of mixed good and bad feelings, can both be an unpleasant, conflicted state and a catalyst for changing behavior. I will talk about a series of studies that we have conducted to understand these seemingly contradictory findings. Using both behavioral and event-related brain potential (ERP) measures, we have found that eliciting ambivalence in the laboratory negatively impacts performance on a series of subsequent cognitive tasks; and that simply allowing individuals to report their mixed feelings can alleviate these reductions in performance. In addition, individuals can regulate their ambivalence when instructed to do so, suggesting an additional route by which the detrimental effects of ambivalence may be allayed. Currently, we are exploring the effects of individual differences on the experience of ambivalence, as well as translating this research to health-related fields. Ultimately, we hope that examining the factors that contribute to the experience and control of ambivalence may shed light on how best to encourage healthy behaviors.

April 10

Kevin Webb, Assistant Professor of Computer Science
“Outsourcing Complexity to the Cloud”

Cloud computing offers solutions to complex problems by outsourcing computing resources, or in some cases the complexity itself, to an unseen location.  Already, many public cloud providers promise infinite resources to anyone willing to pay, and such providers are constantly adding new features in an attempt to entice new customers.
In this talk, I'll describe how cloud resources can be applied to two interesting problems.  First, I'll present MRAnneal, a framework that simplifies the implementation of parallel simulated annealing algorithms for non-expert users. Then, I'll introduce STOIC, a service model for booting and streaming an operating system from public cloud infrastructure.  Both projects are collaborations with Swarthmore College CS undergraduate students.

May 1

Amy Cheng Vollmer, Professor of Biology
"A Tale of Two Projects: Breathing life back into microbiology research!"

Two independent lines of research in the microbiology lab had stagnated during a three year period. My sabbatical leave, I had hope to resurrect one of them, but both seem to be revived. The first is a continuation of studies of an intriguing protein that is linked to stress survival in bacteria, as well as plants and some invertebrates.  The second is an extension of a collaboration with Sara Hiebert Burch's lab, examining the gut microbiome of hummingbirds.