Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Michael Ignatieff, former leader of the Canadian Liberal Party, urges a return to civility and compromise in politics

During the annual Stanford Humanities Center Presidential Lecture, Michael Ignatieff, the former leader of the Canadian Liberal Party, underscored how the acrimonious nature of partisan politics is causing voters to walk away from democracy.

By Corrie Goldman

Michael Ignatieff has a unique perspective on politics. As a scholar of history, he has studied political theory and written about international affairs. As the former leader of the Canadian Liberal Party, he has firsthand experience in the political realm.

Speaking recently to an audience at the Stanford Humanities Center, Ignatieff described a "crisis of representation" that he sees emerging from the increasingly divided political culture of both the United States and Canada.

One of the few political intellectuals to have led a political party, Ignatieff drew on personal knowledge as he outlined in his talk, part of the Presidential Lecture series, how partisanship is tearing politics apart by turning adversaries into enemies.

Partisanship, long a fundamental of politics, Ignatieff said, has veered from its original purpose and created parties that no longer represent the "real choices" that voters face. The emphasis on division rather than agreement is alienating voters. "For most voters," Ignatieff said, "partisanship is what's wrong with politics."

Ignatieff, who recently joined the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, is known for his prolific work as a writer, scholar and journalist. A historian and public intellectual, he has penned nearly 20 books and has been a frequent contributor to the New York Times and New York Review of Books.

Citing America's fourth president, James Madison, who warned of the danger to democracy from "political parties serving their own interests rather than the people's," Ignatieff told the audience that a "healthy distrust of politicians" has deteriorated into "active loathing."

This outright loathing, Ignatieff asserted, is directly responsible for a disengaged citizenry. Since 1960, he said, voter participation rates have declined in nearly all advanced democracies. In the 2008 Canadian election, only one in five eligible 18-year-olds voted.

"When you ask young people why they don't [vote], they tell you: It makes no difference anyway – they [the politicians] are all liars," Ignatieff said.

Moral realism and civilized debate

Voters, Ignatieff pointed out, are partially to blame for the crisis of representation. "There is a type of disillusioned voter, especially young ones, who have expectations of honesty, clarity and principle that no person, let alone a politician, can attain," he said.

Calling politics "a morally questionable profession," Ignatieff said that leaders must often make tough calls about ambiguous situations, where the truth is complex and information may be scarce.

"Leadership means deciding in uncertainty and being willing to live with the consequences however they play out," Ignatieff said.

Citizens will continue to be let down if they demand complete transparency. "We need to be moral realists about democracy," Ignatieff said.

Compounding the lack of voter trust is the gridlock and outright animosity between parties. "Partisanship divides an already divided society, turns adversaries into enemies," he said.

The democratic process has been transformed from one of mutual respect and productive debate to an environment where politicians are restricted by the viewpoints of their party.

When political partisanship rules, "you are always preaching to the converted, never reaching across to the other side," Ignatieff said. "When persuasion loses its pivotal role, debate becomes ritualized and pointless. Nothing lowers a citizen's estimate of democracy more than the sight of two politicians hurling abuse at each other."

Rather than identify with parties they distrust, voters are abandoning party affiliation in droves. Up to a third of American voters now register as independents, which Ignatieff said signals that the parties "neither represent their interests nor their reality."

Compromise for the good

As Ignatieff outlined, voter disdain is warranted. Together, waning legislative democracy and heightened partisanship threaten democracy's key role, which is to "enable opponents to compromise for the good of the nation."

Harking back to the era of Madison, Ignatieff noted, "Members from opposing parties would often dine or drink together when sessions ran late, and these rituals reinforced the civility inside the chamber."

Ignatieff compared today's economic climate to that of Germany in the 1920s – "a society plagued by economic crisis, among a battered population looking for someone to blame. "

Modern western democracy has not slipped that far, but Ignatieff said it was worth remembering that in a democracy not unlike our own, "fascism took the fatal step from a politics of adversaries into a politics of enemies."

The goal of Leninist politics, Ignatieff added, was "not to defeat opponents but to obliterate them as the 'class enemy.'"

Voters today would be better served if politicians focused their adversarial energies toward those "who actively threaten the liberty of other peoples and our own," he said.

"Toward those within our borders, however heatedly we may disagree, we should work from a simple persuasive but saving assumption: In the house of democracy there are no enemies," he said.

Although the animosity of partisanship appears to be an entrenched aspect of party politics, Ignatieff said that democracy gives people the ability to initiate change, which he called "the very promise of democracy itself."

A video of Ignatieff's talk, "On Partisanship: Enemies and Adversaries in Politics," is available on the Stanford YouTube Channel.

Administered by the Stanford Humanities Center, the Presidential Lecture series is sponsored by the Office of the President to "bring the most distinguished scholars, artists and critics of our time to the Stanford University campus."

For more information about Ignatieff's work and career, visit the Stanford University Libraries Presidential Lecture site, which includes excerpts from Ignatieff's writings.

For more news about the humanities at Stanford, visit the Human Experience.

The story was originally published by the Stanford News Service on October 29, 2012.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Levinthal Hall Renovation Complete

This summer, Levinthal Hall was renovated, primarily to install a new, quieter air conditioning system. Audience members will now be able to hear speakers much more clearly. In addition, new lights were installed, including a set of spotlights at the front of the room. The other audio-visual equipment was updated and includes a brand new set of speakers. Visitors to the Center and event organizers alike should be very pleased with these upgrades.

2011-12 Fellows Make Class Gift to International Visitors Program

Thank You to 2011-12 Fellows!

Each of the 2011-12 fellows contributed to a class gift that has become the seed fund to endow the International Visitors Program at the Humanities Center. As many of you know, this Program was piloted four years ago and brings high-profile scholars from around the world to campus for one-month residencies. We are so grateful for the support and appreciate that every fellow participated in this group gift. Learn more about the International Visitors Program.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Undergraduate Fellowship Research Assistants Bring Benefits and Surprises

By Michael Marconi

On May 22, an audience assembled at the Stanford Humanities Center for a “Tuesday Talk.” Internal and external fellows, international visitors, graduate students and Center staff crowded the Board Room. This was no ordinary “Tuesday Talk;” it was the annual Undergraduate Research Symposium, in which five students reported on the research they had conducted during the year.

These five students, each paired with one of the Center’s fellows, spent the year researching a single topic related to their and their fellows’ common interests. For undergraduates, this provided an opportunity to experience the intellectual life of the humanities early in their academic careers. For fellows, it was a chance to work with Stanford students and receive helpful research assistance.

For historian David Gilmartin, an external fellow from North Carolina State University, it became much more. Gilmartin worked with Albert Pak, a junior double majoring in Philosophy and Political Science, examining voting laws in India and Pakistan. “It was quite interesting because, in a certain sense, he worked as a research assistant, but in another sense, he really just worked as somebody who provided me with an opportunity to try out ideas with somebody who comes from a very different disciplinary background than I do,” Gilmartin said.

For his part, Pak was also influenced by the exchange. “Working on this project forced me to think about my work inter-disciplinarily. This experience will shape my ongoing research for my honors thesis, which is on personal autonomy, but in the realm of addiction [not on South Asian politics]. I hope this will enable me to give a more balanced perspective.”

During the year, Gilmartin asked Pak to look at works on the idea of the voter as an autonomous being in election laws and consider philosophical arguments about the nature of autonomy in political science in order to gain a new perspective on his historical research of voting laws in India and Pakistan.

“We met every week and we had discussions about different authors, mostly coming from disciplines that I wasn’t directly familiar with, mostly philosophy,” Gilmartin said. “And that provided a great opportunity. He would read things and suggest things and prepare outlines and then we would just meet once a week and talk about it. And that was really valuable for me and I hope it was valuable for him as well.”

Other 2011-12 undergraduate fellows were Laura Groenedaal, who worked with historian Kristen Harinh, helping to investigate a side question in Haring’s research concerning a prehistory of text messaging, specifically regarding pager usage. Stephen Hilfer, a senior majoring in English, partnered with Leah DeVun looking at transgender and intersex rights. Kyle Lee-Crossett, a junior majoring in English and Archeology, assisted Paula Findlen in mapping Galileo’s correspondence between 1588-1616. Freshman Cody Leff worked with Margaret Cohen in researching the life of underwater painter Zarh Pritchard.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fellows Updates Fall 2012

These are updates you have submitted. The list of new book publications will be included in our Annual Report, coming this November. If you have any exciting news to share, please email!


GIORGIO RIELLO was promoted to a professorship in Global History and Culture at Warwick University.


MUNKH-ERDENE LKHAMSUREN will be a member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, for 2012-2013.


MIRIAM LEONARD was appointed to Full Professor at University College London in October 2011. Her title is Professor of Greek Literature and its Reception.


CHRISTINE GUTH published two articles: “The Local and the Global: Hokusai’s Great Wave in Contemporary Product Design,” Design Issues vol. 28/2 (Spring 2012): 16-35 and“Hokusai’s Great Waves in Nineteenth-century Japanese Visual Culture,” The Art Bulletin Vol. XCIII/1 (Dec. 2011): 468-85.


STEVEN YAO'S monograph, Foreign Accents: Chinese American Verse from Exclusion to Postethnicity (Oxford 2010), has been selected by the Association for Asian American Studies for its 2010 Book Award in Literary Studies.


KAROL BERGER has received the 2011 Glarean Prize, Swiss Musicological Society and has been the 2011-12 EURIAS Senior Fellow at the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen in Vienna.

AMELIA GLASER was promoted to the level of Associate Professor of Russian and Comparative Literature at UCSD, with tenure.


TAKASHI FUJITANI was runner-up for the John Hope Franklin Prize (best book in American Studies) for his book Race for Empire: Japanese as Koreans and Koreans as Japanese During WWII.


BYRNA GOODMAN will be a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study for 2012-2013.


book, Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas, won 2010 American Ethnological Society Senior Book Prize and  2010 Gregory Bateson Book Prize, Society for Cultural Anthropology, American Anthropological Association.  

LAWRENCE JACKSON'S second book, The Indignant Generation, won the 2012 Creative Scholarship Award from the College Language Association, the 2012 Award for Non-Fiction from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, the 2011 American Publishers Award for Professional and Scholarly Excellence, Literature, the 2011 William Sanders Scarborough Prize of the Modern Language Association, and was a Finalist for the 2011 Hurston-Wright Award. His book My Father's Name was featured on NPR.


JANN PASLER won the Deems Taylor Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers of Music for her book Composing the Citizen: Music as Public Utility in Third Republic France (UC Press, 2009).


MICHAEL BRATMAN was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


SCOTT JOHNSON was named 2011 Robert L. Spaeth Teacher of Distinction at St. John's University.  He is also completing a 3 year term as Chair of the joint department of political science at the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University in St. Joseph and Collegeville MN.


ROBERT SCHAPIRO was appointed Dean of Emory Law School.


HAMILTON CRAVENS has retired from Iowa State University and now lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, one of the truly civilized cities in North America. He continues his scholarship on science in modern American culture and is a research specialist in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine Program at the University of Minnesota.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Call for Nominations for FSI-Humanities Center International Visitors 2013-14

Nomination Deadline: November 12, 2012

The Stanford Humanities Center and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) intend to offer up to four short-term residencies to international scholars in academic year 2013-2014. Residencies will be approximately four weeks. Depending on the availability of funds, longer visits of up to eight weeks may be possible.

This will be the fifth year of the program; view the list of 2012-13 visiting scholars.

The purpose of the residencies is to bring next generation leading scholars into the intellectual life of Stanford, targeting those scholars who would be of particular interest to departments and other units on campus and who fit within the respective missions of the Humanities Center and FSI.

International scholars in residence will be given shared-office space at the Humanities Center and be invited to weekday lunches with the Humanities Center fellows. They will also participate in a research group at one of the FSI centers. They will receive a stipend of $2,000 per week for the duration of their visit plus a housing and cost of living allowance of up to $3,000. The Humanities Center and FSI will cover travel expenses (economy class) for one round trip from their place of origin.

Stanford departments, programs, research centers, and institutes are each eligible to nominate one candidate for consideration for a residency in 2013-2014.

Details on the nomination process are below. Nominating units are asked to commit to hosting at least one activity with the candidate, should the nomination be successful. Examples of such activities include: student workshops, faculty discussion sessions, departmental lectures, participation in departmental colloquia, etc. Note that these visitors may not offer courses for credit.

Selections will be made by a committee convened by the Humanities Center and FSI. Especially appropriate are candidates who are finishing a project and are in a position to share the results with colleagues on campus.

Eligibility and Nomination Process

Stanford University departments, programs, and research centers are each eligible to nominate one candidate through their chair or director. Preference will be given to departments, programs, and research centers that have not recently hosted an FSI/Humanities Center visitor.

Nominations should include:

  • Brief rationale for nomination, including a précis of the candidate’s profile and an explanation of how the candidate would fit with the respective missions of the Humanities Center and FSI and engage collegially with the intellectual communities of the institutes (approx. 500 words: see and for more information about the two institutes). 
  • A commitment from the nominating unit to host at least one activity with the candidate if she or he is selected, along with a brief proposal for a possible activity (one to two sentences). 
  • Indication from one of FSI’s research centers or programs that the candidate would be of interest to their community. (For the list of FSI’s research centers, and programs, see 
  • Candidate’s CV. Candidates will normally be scholars affiliated with a non- U.S. university or research institution. Candidates must be non-U.S. nationals working abroad. Candidates are expected to be able to function in an English-speaking academic context, although at the department’s discretion, their departmental activity may be conducted in another language.

Nominations must be submitted by November 12, 2012 to Patricia Blessing at:

Questions: Please direct all questions to Patricia Blessing, Executive Officer for International Visitors Program, Stanford Humanities Center.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Humanities Center Funds 16 Workshops for 2012-13

The Humanities Center is pleased to announce that it will fund 16 Theodore and Frances Geballe Workshop Research Workshops for 2012-13. Of the 16 workshops, 8 are new for this year.

The workshops cover a broad range of topics, including Equality of Educational Opportunity, Cognition & Language, and Visualizing Complexity and Uncertainty, which focuses on the digital humanities. Chosen by an interdisciplinary Stanford faculty committee, the workshops aim to bring together faculty members and graduate students in cross-disciplinary dialogue. Many workshop meetings are open to the public and will be posted on the calendar as soon as information is available.

Cities Unbound
The 21st century is undoubtedly the urban century, when the majority of human beings will, for the first time in history, live and work within cities. This workshop looks at the challenge that non-Western urban areas pose to our understanding of institutional, economic and cultural dynamics in cities. It seeks to redefine contemporary humanistic theory by examining these new urban landscapes.

Cognition & Language
Language plays a central role in the coordinated activity that forms our culture and is crucial to much of the abstract thought necessary in science and the arts. But how does language work? How does it interact with the other cognitive processes that shape the human experience? This workshop provides a platform for diverse approaches to the study of the same central question among linguists, philosophers, psychologists, anthropologists, and computer scientists.

Equality of Educational Opportunity
Over 90% of Americans believe that equality of opportunity is absolutely essential as an American ideal. But while this ideal is widely adhered to, its very meaning is deeply contested. The core goal of this workshop is to refine our understanding of the relationship between ideals of equality—especially equality of opportunity—and the public provision of education.

Ethics and Politics, Ancient and Modern
Marta Sutton Weeks Research Workshop
Scholars involved in the study of ancient ethical and political philosophy come together with those working on contemporary political theory in this workshop. Using both empirical political science and historical methods, the group considers, among other topics, the relationship between arguments about justice and systems of law, as well as authority, legitimacy, and obedience in the development of government.

Ethnic Minorities, Religious Communities, Rights, and Democracy in the Modern Middle East and Central Asia
Linda Randall Meier Research Workshop
The conceptual focal point of this workshop is the minoritization of religious and ethnic communities and the uneven trajectory of their rights in both more and less democratic states of the 20th- and 21st-century Middle East and Central Asia. The group encourages comparative and transnational research among the different cultural and political zones of the region, as well between the region and its close neighbors with important structural similarities, like the Mughal Empire, British India, and modern south Asia.

French Culture
The French Culture workshop brings together participants from a wide range of disciplines to examine questions relevant to French culture and society from the modern period (1650 to the present). Topics of discussion include political and intellectual history, imperialism and colonialism, nationalism and national identity, immigration and minorities, gender, and francophonie.

Graphic Narrative Project
Humanities Center Fellows Research Workshop
From centuries-old Japanese woodblock prints and political cartoons to manga, superhero serials, comics journalism and webcomics—pictures and words have been brought together by visionary artists who saw the potential to tell stories of human civilization in ways not possible via text or image alone. The Graphic Narrative Project looks at the many manifestations of this medium.

Interdisciplinary Approaches to Consciousness
The subjective characters of our sensations—colors, tastes, pain—are immediately apparent to us. However, explaining consciousness has proved to be exquisitely difficult for both neuroscientists and philosophers. This workshop will tackle the nature of conscious experience in three case studies: the problem of qualia, consciousness and literature, and zombies in philosophy, literature, film and/or science.

Interdisciplinary Working Group in Critical Theory
The Interdisciplinary Working Group in Critical Theory will draw together faculty and graduate students from across the humanities and qualitative social sciences to address current theoretical debates by reading and discussing texts that both define and disrupt disciplinary thinking. Each quarter will have a thematic focus: network theory in autumn, visual literacy in winter, humanist empiricisms in spring.

Language, Information, and Techné
This workshop explores the diverse technological and technical conditions of mediation that bring language into being. How can we bring language back in to information technology? How do different devices and modes of inscription bring out different social forms? The goal is to build new vocabularies to reclaim language’s originary materiality and technicity, as well as its cultural and historical specificity.

Recombinations: Art, Medicine, Bioscience
This workshop brings together faculty and students interested in exploring the interstices of the arts, medicine, humanities, and bioscience. Participants come from a diversity of fields, including medical anthropology, classics, English, music, drama, philosophy, and psychology to develop connections, courses, and further programs in an interdisciplinary mode. The Stanford Arts Initiative is a co-sponsor.

Representing Time in Historiography, Ancient and Modern
This workshop will explore ancient Greek and Roman conceptions of time and the ways that these informed early modern and Enlightenment historiography and chronography. The focus will be the rhetoric (both verbal and nonverbal) by which historians engaged time in writing and visual art, simultaneously representing it and allowing it to be understood in distinct ways.

Science and Technology in the Postcolonial World
In studies ranging from micro-level laboratory ethnographies to analyses of the shifting geopolitics of science, from histories of science in early modern colonialism to theoretical approaches to technology today, this workshop will be a venue for scholars to discuss broad comparative questions that seek to understand the history and culture of science in terms of global power relationships.

Spatial Legacies: Urbanism, Movement, and Identity
Blokker Research Workshop
By focusing on a variety of geographic and historical dimensions, the workshop introduces archaeology and its unique perspective on materiality, landscape, and environment into wider discussion. Topics are global and range from the origins of cities in ancient China to the material culture of colonial exchange to the politics of revitalizing Los Angeles’ historic center.

Theoretical Perspectives of the Middle Ages
Gathering scholars from different disciplines and area studies, this workshop looks at various representations and theories of the global medieval past, and seeks to define their current relevance. In its discussions of such topics as crusade literature, phenomenology and the digitalization of archives, or revisiting the Annales School's interdisciplinarism, the group advances new research methods that, rather than preserve old paradigms of disciplines, envision novel ways of doing medieval studies from a practical and theoretical perspective.

Visualizing Complexity and Uncertainty: Exploring Humanistic Approaches to Graphic Representation
This workshop brings together humanists engaged in visualization projects with experts from the fields of geography, cartography, communication design, the visual arts, and computer science to look at visual techniques as scholarly method. Using specific projects as case studies, the workshop will look for ways to convey the complexity and nuance of humanistic modes of inquiry.