Taste of MIT SHASS | Lightning Talks 2021

A survey of the intriguing research projects being done by MIT faculty in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. Eight faculty will have exactly five minutes to try to convey what makes their research compelling. Will they make it? Reception in breakout rooms to follow for Q&A, discussion on classes, and undergraduate research opportunities.

Campus Preview Weekend

April 16, 2021


Master of Ceremonies


William Broadhead, Associate Professor
MIT History

Will Broadhead is an Associate Professor of History and a Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellow. His research focuses on the history of ancient Italy from the 4th to the 1st centuries BCE, with a particular interest in relations between the Romans and the various Italian peoples subject to them. At MIT since 2004, Prof. Broadhead teaches the history of ancient Greece and Rome, especially the fall of the Roman Republic and space and society in the cities of Athens and Rome. He is the director of the joint History-Concourse IAP in Ancient Greece and IAP in Ancient and Medieval Italy programs.

Page at MIT History

2021 Speakers


William Deringer, Associate Professor
Program in Science, Technology, and Society
“Discounting: A History of the Modern Future (in One Calculation)”

What is the future worth to us today? This talk explores the history of how one calculation, “exponential discounting,” has come to determine the price we place on the future—from financial markets and boardrooms, to government agencies and courtrooms, to the fate of the climate itself.

William Deringer studies the history of the techniques and technologies that have come to organize our economic, financial, and political worlds, from the 17th century to the present. He is the author of Calculated Values: Finance, Politics, and the Quantitative Age (Harvard University Press, 2018). He is currently at work on the history of “exponential discounting” calculations and how they are used to put a price on the future.

Page at MIT STS

Erik Lin-Greenberg, Assistant Professor 
Department of Political Science

​Title: "Game of Drones: Using experimental wargames to study international relations"

What effect do emerging technologies — like drones and cyber warfare — have on international conflict? Studying these new systems is challenging because information about their use and effects is often hidden from public view. Wargames (simulations of crises), however, provide a unique opportunity to explore how these systems affect international stability.


Erik Lin-Greenberg is an assistant professor of political science at MIT, where he is a member of the MIT Security Studies Program. His research examines how emerging military technology affects conflict dynamics and the use of force. He holds a PhD from Columbia University and an SM and SB from MIT. Before entering academia, Erik was an officer in the United States Air Force, and he continues to serve on the Joint Staff as a member of the Air Force Reserve (www.eriklg.com) ​

Page at MIT Political Science

Dave Donaldson, Professor
MIT Economics
"Economists Who Stop Traffic"

Economics is the study of who gets what — from education to health, from dictatorship to democracy, from pollution to congestion — and whether society could find better ways to resolve scarcity. I will discuss the waste caused by traffic jams in India and one MIT student’s randomized trial that tried to do something about it.

Donaldson grew up in Canada, studied in the UK — a first degree in physics, then a PhD in economics — and then joined MIT in 2009. His hobbies include cycling, drinking Clover coffee, and sitting in traffic while driving my kids somewhere. 

Page at MIT Economics

Sara Brown, Assistant Professor
MIT Music and Theater Arts
"Scene shift: Designing stages for a Remote Audience"

As the world shut down in the spring of 2020, theater artists had to adapt quickly. I will share examples of designs that have been adapted for remote audiences.

Originally from Minneapolis, MN, Sara Brown is a Boston based set design for theater, opera, and dance. Her designs have been seen at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Next Wave Festival, The Festival d'automne in Paris and The American Repertory Theater in Cambridge. 

Page at MIT MTA

Laura Finch, Assistant Professor

MIT Literature
Title: "The Necessity of Science Fiction"

Far from being a genre of escapism that is detached from the present moment, contemporary Science Fiction tackles our current social injustices in order to invite us to imagine our collective futures differently.

Laura Finch is an Assistant Professor in the Literature Section. She researches and teaches 21st century Literatures in English.

Page at MIT Literature

Christopher Capozzola, Professor of History

Representing MIT Women and Gender Studies
Title: "The Selective Service Act Is Probably Unconstitutional … But Whom Does It Discriminate Against?"

The U.S. Supreme Court may soon hear a challenge to the Selective Service Act, which requires all men (and permits only men) in the United States to register upon their 18th birthday. How can Women’s and Gender Studies help us understand what’s at stake in this case?

Christopher Capozzola is a Professor of History and has lectured on the history of conscription and conscientious objection at the U.S. Supreme Court. He teaches 21H.320/WGS.161J: Gender and Law in U.S. History.

Page at MIT History

MIT Women and Gender Studies

Tristan Brown, Assistant Professor
MIT History

Title: "The Classic of Changes and Binary Code: Insights from Chinese History"

Binary code, a system of representing any information with just two symbols, was invented more than 300 years ago by the German philosopher, G.W.F. Leibniz. But when he first announced his theory to Europe, he credited the invention to ancient China! The Classic of Changes, or I Ching (Yijing) inspired one of the pioneers of mechanical calculators -- and an early episode in the history of modern computing. What was the I Ching, and why was it considered "the first among the classics" in ancient China? 


Tristan G. Brown is a social and cultural historian of late imperial and modern China. His research focuses on the ways in which law, science, environment, and religion interacted in China from the seventeenth to early twentieth centuries. His talk today was inspired from a conversation with students enrolled in 21H.151: Pre-Modern China.

Page at MIT History

Graham Jones, Professor
MIT Anthropology

Title: "Magic, Science, and Religion: Why Believe Anything?"

With so much groundbreaking research happening right here, it’s a very exciting time to study science and technology at MIT. At the same time, the spread of mis- and dis-information online threaten public trust in science like never before. How can anthropology help explain why people believe what they do?


Graham M. Jones (Ph.D., NYU) is an anthropologist who studies the cultural dimensions of knowledge and belief. He has published two monographs on magic, Trade of the Tricks (California, 2011) and Magic’s Reason (Chicago, 2017), and numerous articles about the language of social media.

Page at MIT Anthropology