Research, News, and Kudos
from the Office of the Dean
MIT School of Humanities,
Arts, and Social Sciences
HASTS doctoral student Tom Schilling is conducting an anthropological study of geology, forestry and First Nations-led mapping and modeling in rural British Columbia. Maps, he has found, are more than representations of the land as it is: they are visions for its future. Photocredit: Allegra Boverman
For 20 years, MIT economist Robert Townsend has explored the links between household finances and economic growth in rural Thailand. His new book, Chronicles from the Field, based on one of the most extensive datasets in the developing world, provides a template for policies that can help alleviate poverty.
Part of the "Common Threads" video, produced for MIT's 150th anniversary celebration, this three-minute clip traces the rise of the humanities, arts, sciences, and social science disciplines at MIT.
Watch for the appearance of Winston Churchill!
"The supposed line between the 'natural' and the 'social' is of crucial importance for theories of justice: the 'natural' is not as fixed as we might think, and the 'social' can be much more fixed than we imagined. Some differences between us must be respected, and others should be overcome—but which are which?"
Q&A with MIT Philosopher Sally Haslanger
In his new book, Ebony and Ivy, historian Craig Steven Wilder, Head of MIT History, documents the manifold connections between universities and the slave economy in colonial America. Kirkus writes, "A groundbreaking history that will contribute to a reappraisal of some deep-rooted founding myths."
NPR Interview | NYT article
“Robert Solow is one of the most widely respected economists of the past 60 years,” the White House said of the MIT economist, who received the Nobel Prize in economics in 1987.
Consistently ranked among the top ten philosophy departments in the nation, MIT Philosophy recently also drew attention for extraordinary success in placing its PhD graduates in tenure-track positions nationwide. What's the secret? (Image courtesy of MIT150 and Sputnick Animation)
Story + Photographs
The 2015 funding cycle will support MIT research on patient/doctor decision models; language technology for distance learning; U.S. class inequality; political violence; non-profit housing; electronic music archives; gender and history; identity and power; and new music and theater works.
Portfolio of the award-winning research projects
How important is it for MIT students to become fluent in new languages as they expand their horizons and prepare to serve the world? Amanda von Goetz's story is a good example: mastering Russian has proved to be a transformative experience in her life—not just once, but several times over.
"A sea change is underway in how people learn about science. One of our goals is to ensure that MIT remains on the vanguard of public science education.” — Thomas Levenson, Director MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing (Image: Little Sun project)
"Every few months for twelve years, I have visited a Massachusetts prison to teach creative writing to a group of locked-up men.... It is not my job to unravel the skein of their guilt, to judge or absolve. I am here as a witness. I am here in the name of story and its power to transform."
— from "Visible Men," essay by Helen Elaine Lee, MIT Professor of Writing
Essay: NYT Book Review
Profile: Helen Elaine Lee
The work going on in digital humanities and new media is one expression of the innovation that characterizes the Humanities more broadly. Using computational tools and methods, humanities scholars are opening new lines of research and discovery, revitalizing the study of objects from the past, and asking questions never before possible.
Gallery: Digital Humanities at MIT
"Meeting great challenges requires technical and scientific creativity, and an understanding of the world’s complexities—political, cultural, and economic. MIT's HASS disciplines empower young students, thinkers, and citizens to help them create innovations and lives that are rich in meaning and wisdom."
— Deborah K. Fitzgerald,
Kenan Sahin Dean
Mission | TOUR de SHASS
Alumnus, former faculty member, and current Visiting Professor, Jean Tirole has been awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in economic sciences for his work on the behavior and regulation of powerful firms.
Developed by HyperStudio, the new online tool improves on traditional techniques for entering marginalia and side notes in books — enabling readers to annotate texts across media, to share comments with others, and to enhance them with links, images, video, and audio.
Associate Professor of Anthropology Manduhai Buyandelger has been awarded the Levitan Prize in the Humanities, a $25,000 research grant that will support her in-depth ethnographic study of parliamentary elections in Mongolia, with specific emphasis on the experience of female candidates. (Photograph: Buyandelger riding in the Mongolian steppe.)
In a new book, MIT historian Rosalind Williams asks big questions about progress and the lived human experience. “There is a deep belief in progress of science and technologies," she says, "but there is also an anxiety that comes from that belief. This book explores that paradox. A subtext of the book is to take art seriously. That’s the first place to go to figure out what’s going on in the world!”
"One must have a mind of winter to regard the frost and the boughs of the pine trees crusted with snow...."
Jay Keyser, Professor of Linguistics Emeritus, thinks "The Snow Man," by Wallace Stevens, is the finest short poem in the English language.
Poem + Commentary on NPR
"Today, unprecedented numbers of incoming students—80 percent—arrive at MIT with deep experience in the arts, especially in music. In that context, the arts have never been more integral to the life of MIT nor more deserving of our focus and attention."
— Rafael Reif, President of MIT
"Innovators particularly need different frames of mind in crisis moments, when one doesn't know how to go forward. Sometimes these frames of mind are philosophical, sometimes they are moral, religious, or ethical." — Loren Graham, MIT Professor Emeritus of the History of Science, foremost Western scholar on Russian science and techology
Today we frequently switch from one text to another browsing news, blogs, email, workplace documents and more. A book by MIT professor Arthur Bahr reveals that this is hardly a new practice: in the 14th century, for instance, readers browsed manuscripts composed of very diverse texts.
Story | Profile
In Keeril Makan's most recent Introduction to Composition class, students were asked to design a musical instrument. Some made flutes, chimes, and homemade drums. Sergheyev, Lopez, and Liu decided to make musical textures from nuclear radiation — gamma sonification.
"This course focuses on big questions. You will learn how to ask them and how to answer them," says MIT Philosopher Caspar Hare, who has created the first introductory philosophy MOOC offered by an American university. "In a very concrete sense," he adds, "analytic philosophy teaches you life skills—because most of the problems we face in life do not have an instruction manual.”
MIT Associate Professor of French Studies Bruno Perreau explores how adoption issues in France reveal deeply-held views about gender, parenthood, and "Frenchness."
Christine Walley has won the CLR James Award for Best Book, awarded by the Working-Class Studies Association, for Exit Zero: Family and Class in Postindustrial Chicago (University of Chicago Press, 2013). Exit Zero explores the effects of de-industrialization on Chicago workers and their families.
Any analysis of exit polling reveals a welter of numbers whose meaning remains slightly elusive. Now, a new paper co-written by Assistant Professor Teppei Yamamoto suggests a way to assess the relative impact of several factors at once, using a method known as “conjoint analysis." (Photocredit: Stuart Darsch)
Sociologist T.L. Taylor studies the subcultures of online gaming and online e-sports.
Resolving public health crises requires astute politcal leadership and an informed public as well as the best medical science. In their inaugural event, "Examining Ebola,” the MIT Global Health and Medical Humanities Initiative, led by anthropologist Erica James, presented an interdiciplinary discussion about the Ebola epidemic, bringing political, economic, social, and cultural experts together to help fight the disease.
In Making in America, Suzanne Berger, Starbuck Professor of Poltical Science, describes ways to strengthen American manufacturing, including public-private collaborations, new government-initiated manufacturing innovation institutes, and industry-community college projects.
In his "Introduction to Anthropology" class, Jones earned a perfect 7.0 teaching rating on his student evaluations—a nearly unheard of score for a lecture course. The committee also praised Jones for combining lecture and discussion with practice-based activities that give students hands-on experience in ethnographic research—embodying the MIT spirit of mens et manus.
Full Story + Photos
"J-PAL fits in perfectly with MIT’s mission and values — to make the world a better place through service to humanity. Everyone gathered here is concerned with questions of deep moral importance — and that is how to relieve human poverty and the suffering it creates."
— MIT President L. Rafael Reif, speaking at the J-PAL@10 anniversary event
Story + Photographs
Videos of the anniversary event
MIT researchers say the balance of evidence suggests human language is a grafting of two communication forms found elsewhere in the animal kingdom: the elaborate songs of birds, and information-bearing expression seen in various other animals. “It’s this adventitious combination that triggered human language,” says Shigeru Miyagawa, MIT Professor of Linguistics, and co-author of a paper in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
"'All societies periodically have to do soul-searching,' says Melissa Nobles, the Arthur and Ruth Sloan Professor of Political Science, and Head of MIT Political Science. In her research, Nobles has developed a deep understanding of how different nations go about the process of self-examination, confront histories of injustice, and attempt to right the wrongs of the past."
Story | Video | Webpage
MIT historian Emma Teng's new book Eurasian studies cross-cultural Asian-American families since the 19th century.
Studying History at MIT
(Photograph: Mae Watkins Franking and her children; courtesy of the Franking family)
"The climate change crisis is no longer primarily a scientific problem. At this stage, it is a communications issue...The future of our species depends on better policies in energy and climate issues — and that progress requires an informed public.”
"While water is often perceived to be the source of future wars, rethinking water agreements—and the costs to desalinate seawater— could lead to more cooperation between nations." (Image: wave analysis, Anastasia Azure, Art+Science Synergy project)
Can science describe everything there is to know about the world? Do humans have free will? What is it for a sentence to be "true"? Dig into these and other questions at Wi-Phi — an online, interactive toolkit for building a better mind.
Story + Wi-Phi
MIT economist Arnaud Costinot studies international trade — and is looking again at David Ricardo's Theory of Comparative Advantage as a way to better understand trade between developed and less-developed economies.
Typically, researchers interested in visual artifacts have had to travel far and wide, digging through library basements and museum archives to examine posters, drawings, paintings, and prints. MIT's spectacular "Visualizing Cultures" brings historical images to light online, along with interpretative commentary.
(Image: detail, Imperial Family Portrait, Meiji Emperor series, 1868-1912)
MIT Associate Professor of Literature Sandy Alexandre studies the literary record to shed light on the history of violence against blacks in the U.S. In her first book, Alexandre explores the multiple meanings of "property," showing through examination of visual and textual narratives how and why the notion of property, in the context of America's history of violence against blacks, needs to extend beyond ownership in land.
Story at MIT News
Profile at MIT News
Years after a groundless report linked vaccines to autism, grievous consequences of the fallacy are still being felt in undervaccinated communities. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has released a report — co-authored by Seth Mnookin, MIT assistant professor of science writing — proposing research to help restore trust in vaccines.
Report: Public Trust in Vaccines
Why MIT considers the humanites, arts, and social sciences essential — both for educating great scientists, engineers, thinkers, and citizens, and for sustaining the Institute's capacity for innovation.
Op-Ed by Dean Deborah Fitzgerald
The finest music by MIT’s Music faculty and student-musicians is available at The Listening Room—an online collection that showcases the Institute’s remarkable passion for music. The site presents recordings in four categories—Classical, Jazz, World, and Faculty Opus. Image: MIT President L. Rafael Reif
The Listening Room
Video at MIT News