College makes plans for TEDxWilliamsCollege Event

Professor Joe Cruz speaking on the mind/body problem at the TEDx event on Jan. 25. Photo credit: Suzanne Silitch (Arts Communications).
Professor Joe Cruz speaking on the mind/body problem at the TEDx event on Jan. 25. Photo credit: Suzanne Silitch (Arts Communications).

The College has scheduled its first TEDxWilliamsCollege event for Jan. 25, as a continuation of Williams Thinking, a series of innovative lectures given by professors at the College since 2011.

Modeled after the Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) lecture series, Williams Thinking shares ideas and research of the College faculty. These short talks aim to explore ideas that matter in today’s world – from storytelling to sound perception to molecular fossils – in a way that is accessible and appealing to audience members of all ages and backgrounds.

This year, TED granted the College a license to hold an official TEDx event. TEDx events are independently organized TED events but feature TED Talks videos and live presenters delivering lectures in the TED talk style. TED requires TEDx events include a certain number of official TED videos, so the College will show the video “TEDxWomen: Julia Easterlin” during the second section of the event.

Amy Levine '14 prepares to give her talk on hipster culture and its inherent irony at the TEDx event. Photo credit: Suzanne Silitch (Arts Communications).
Amy Levine ’14 prepares to give her talk on hipster culture and its inherent irony at the TEDx event. Photo credit: Suzanne Silitch (Arts Communications).

“The TEDx label will allow our videos to reach a much wider audience and better share these ideas than we could with the Williams Thinking program,” Suzanne Silitch, associate director of communications for the arts, said. “Videos of the event will be featured on the TEDx website and will be available to anyone.”

TEDxWilliamsCollege will take place at from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the ’62 Center on Jan. 25. The event will be broken up into three 80-minute segments with the presentations in each section roughly fitting into the College’s three academic divisions: Division I, Languages and the Arts; Division II, Social Studies; and Division III, Science and Mathematics. A committee of faculty and students selected six professors and three students to present at the College’s TEDx event. Each lecture is loosely based on tutorials offered at the College and will be informed by the speakers’ independent research.

All of the speakers from the first TEDxWilliamsCollege event at the '62 Center on Jan 25. Photo credit: Suzanne Silitch (Arts Communications).
All of the speakers from the first TEDxWilliamsCollege event at the ’62 Center on Jan 25. Photo credit: Suzanne Silitch (Arts Communications).

Lectures during the first section of the event are “Major Decisions: Bringing the Self into the Classroom,” by Kate Flanagan ’14; “#dangerousbodies #blackwomen #scifi,” by Rhon Manigault-Bryant, assistant professor of Africana studies; and “Why There is No Mind/Body Problem,” by Joe Cruz ’91, professor of philosophy. “I will claim that the traditional mind/body problem in philosophy and in popular thought is not real,” Cruz said, regarding his talk. “I will claim that our best evidence is that we understand each other’s sensations, consciousness and emotions directly through having the same biological natures.”

The TEDx talks in the second section are “As It Turns Out, You’ve Probably Heard of It,” by Amy Levine ’14; “Shakespeare, Marlowe, and their Jews,” by John Kleiner, professor of English; and “Pop orientalism: Tin Pan Alley to Taiwan Today,” by W. Anthony Sheppard, chair of the music department.

Sheppard’s talk relates closely to his research on music and exoticism. “My focus is on how music has been used in American popular culture to represent Asia and Asian Americans. I’ll offer examples illustrating my claim that Orientalist representation is fully present in contemporary popular culture” Sheppard said. “My talk is based on research I have carried out for over a decade in preparation for a book I am completing titled Extreme Exoticism: Japan in the American Musical Imagination. It is also directly related to an article I just published  entitled ‘Global Exoticism and Modernity.’”

The third portion of these lectures will include “The Curious Epidemiology of Transmissible Cancer among Tasmanian Devils,” by Lois Banta, associate professor of biology; “Magical Thinking,” by Won-Jun Kuk ‘14; “Exploding Stars, Colliding Galaxies, and You,” by Karen Kwitter, chair of the astronomy department; and the video “John Lloyd: An animated tour of the invisible.”  

The TEDx talks at the event are designed to reach a general audience despite their inventive subject matter. Sheppard, for example, avoided any technical music terms. Kleiner will only assume the audience’s familiarity with the Jewish character Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.

While the TEDx talks involve complex hypotheses and varied methodologies to explore the topic, the goal of the event is to connect the audience to the speakers’ ideas. “[The] target audience is absolutely someone with no background in philosophy or cognitive neuroscience. If philosophy can’t be made understandable to a general audience, it’s probably wrong,” Cruz said. “The main ideas behind my talk are not esoteric; if it is innovative, it is because not many people think of things the way that I will argue for.”

TED limits the audience at TEDx events to 100 people. Roughly half the audience will be composed of Williams students with the remainder of the seats will be filled by professors, community members and alumni, randomly selected by the Office of Communications.

“The purpose of TEDxWilliams College is to share the ideas and research of College students and faculty with a broad audience, so the Office of Communications made sure to create a diverse audience. The talks will be available online as videos shortly after the event once the College finishes producing them,” Silitch said.

If the event is a success and TED renews the College’s license for a second term, the Office of Communications will likely hold another TEDxWilliams College event again next year.