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Susan Gillespie speaks at the alumni gathering of December 11th 2016 (Credit: Tamar Maare)

Susan Gillespie speaks at the alumni gathering of December 11th, 2016 (Credit: Tamar Maare)

My past experience with the college reunions of friends and relatives included marching bands, brightly-colored seersucker, and the revival of retro kegger culture. The Bard College Berlin alumni event, which took place this past December 11th of 2016, was tame in comparison, infused with the muted but eccentric quality of BCB itself. Student art from the Open Studios event still decorated the walls of the Factory. Former students greeted each other with inside jokes and embraces; professors and faculty also filled the small room. A pile of black, mid-length coats were stacked in the waiting room in classic BCB fashion (some things, like style choices, apparently don’t change after graduation).

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Passing through, passing through.

Sometimes happy, sometimes blue,

glad that I ran into you.

Tell the people that you saw me

passing through.

–– D. Blakeslee, 1948.

 

One year ago I was finishing a blog article about the 2015 graduation. I had just come back from my time abroad and was glad about the chance to reflect a bit on travelling, on departures, on community and hospitality. Constant leaving and returning is built into the core of the BCB community. If, as a student, you spend your third year abroad, you will see the students of every other generation for only one year, and each year new people find their way to the college from all walks of life and some leave to follow different roads. It is in that sense a very dynamic community and I was wondering then, in my article, whether hospitality could perhaps be the name of the principle that connects us here, in this place where everyone is host and guest at the same time.

Recently I found a song which expresses some of those thoughts and feelings much better than I did then and then I can do now. Having just graduated, I would like to share it with you here by way of farewell.

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Anges Heller

Anges Heller

On April 26 the students and faculty of ECLA had the privilege of welcoming Agnes Heller, one of the greatest living European intellectuals. Heller has become an outspoken critic of the political changes occurring in her native Hungary, where she now lives after many years teaching at the New School for Social Research in New York.

Born into a Jewish family in Budapest in 1929, Professor Heller experienced the death of her father and of many childhood friends in the Holocaust. The attempt to confront the genocide—the problem of human evil, and the nature of the social determinants that unleash it—lies, she says, at the centre of her work.

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Catherine Toal

Translating Terror – Catherine Toal

In 1966, Romania’s dictator Nicolae Ceausescu issued the 770 Decree, and with it an entire generation came into being; a generation subsumed under the derisory name of “The Decree Generation”. The general prohibition of abortion, along with the lack of availability of contraception, represented an extension of state power into the intimate realm of the body, systematically enforcing the subordination of women to a single primary function: the bearing of children.

Children born in the years from 1972 to the late 1980s were used to hearing as early as kindergarten that Ceausescu was their father: “in many cases, this is in a macabre sense true,” concludes the Nobel Laureate Herta Mueller in the essay “Tod oder Knast oder Kinder,” first written for the Berlin Tageszeitung newspaper in 1988, which Catherine Toal translated for discussion in one of the Annual Conference seminars.

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Guest Lecture James McAllister On Beauty in the Sciences

James McAllister

On Thursday, November 5th, James W. McAllister, associate professor in Philosophy at the University of Leiden and author of Beauty & Revolution in Science, gave a spirited lecture on the unusual topic of the relationship between beauty and truth in science. Dr. McAllister’s lecture tied into the core course for PY students on Objectivity. In addition to the assembled project year students and instructor Bruno Macaes, Co-Dean Peter Hajnal and faculty member Catherine Toal were also present.

Dr. McAllister sketched out a brief but elegant argument with the provocative starting point: “Is beauty a sign of truth in science?” Dr. McAllister quickly moved to define his terms, dividing the consideration of beauty in science into two broad categories; projectivism and objectivism.  As the names suggest, the objectivist position maintains that beauty is an objective and measurable property of theories, while the projectivist position suggests that the aesthetic value of a theory is the result of projection onto theories by the relevant scientific community that considers them.  McAllister took a projectivist position, defining beauty as in motion and evolving over time. Radical, paradigm shifting theories are usually regarded as ugly, and as they build a track-record of empirical success, they begin to be perceived as more beautiful.

On Dr. McAllister’s account, the most pressing issue from the perspective of utility concerns the question: “Is beauty linked to the truth, validity, adequacy, or effectiveness of theories?”

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In May 2007, ECLA held its annual conference on the theme of ‘social entrepreneurship’. Social Entrepreneurship is a term used to describe financially self-sustaining initiatives that attempt to fill an unmet social need. The event was a great success, producing a number of viable student projects, winning a UNESCO award for education in sustainable development, and attracting interest in the possibility of publishing the proceedings. In order to build on the discussions which took place, faculty coordinators Catherine Toal and Rafael Ziegler organized a social entrepreneurship elective for autumn term, 2007. The elective is partly based on contributions to a collection of essays they are editing which developed from the annual conference, entitled Social Entrepreneurship: Survival and Solidarity in a Globalized World.

In contrast to existing studies in this field, which are generally management-oriented in focus, the book is targeted at a liberal arts audience, and accordingly seeks to bring alternative voices and perspectives to the topic. The methods and assumptions of the social entrepreneur are considered together with the merits of his or her non-specialized skills, which are transferable to both the business and the social spheres. The book also addresses the significance of social entrepreneurship in an increasingly globalized society. Issues considered includethe flexibilization of work and changes in the possibility of civic engagement.

The current course on social entrepreneurship at ECLA has a double function: it introduces to liberal arts students the possibility not only of integrating employment in the business world and active social engagement, but also of being the kind of scholar who can work across different fields. The syllabus is connected with the formational process of the book, as the second half of the course is reserved for the book’s contributors to present their papers in class. Students comment on these papers and participate in a forum that is intended to shape the editorial process.

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ECLA Berlin Annual Conference Dinner 2007Do you have an issue or concern that you would like to address? Do you think our community is able to make a change? Do you have a plan? These questions were posed during the Annual Conference introductory dinner on Thursday, March 8th.

The Annual Conference is a forum of inquiry into current affairs that takes place during the last trimester at ECLA. This year’s topic for the Annual Conference is Social Entrepreneurship – a term that captures a unique approach to economic and social problems, an approach that cuts across sectors and disciplines. It is about applying practical, innovative and sustainable solutions which benefit society in general, but with an emphasis on those who are marginalized and poor. Thus, it’s primary goal is focused on social change. Broadly speaking, the Annual Conference is an event which proves the relevance of liberal arts in the context of current global issues.

Rafael Ziegler and Catherine Toal are the coordinators of the project with the assistance of the student body. Pranab Singh (Nepal), a Project Year student, proposed the topic of social entrepreneurship for Annual Conference 2007 earlier this year, and receiving sufficient interest among the students, the suggestion was approved.

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