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Welcome back!

Welcome back! Orientations are over. Classes have begun. Wherever in the world this finds, you are sure to find a friend or classmate or colleague from NYU close by. We look forward to sharing more stories from NYU’s global sites and programs. 

NYU Berlin Hosts Lecture by Mary Nolan

On 1 June, 2o18, NYU Berlin is hosting a lecture by NYU Professor of History Mary Nolan. Professor Nolan’s research interests include: Europe and America in the Twentieth Century, Cold War, history of Human Rights, Global economy in twentieth century, Modern German history; European women’s history. Her talk entitled, Still the American Century? End of the European Project?, will reflect upon the political crises unfolding on both sides of the Atlantic.

 

NYU Sydney Environmental History Instructor on Ants in Australia

This post comes to us from NYU Sydney Instructor Adam Gall, who teaches Australian Environmental History. 

We tend to see ants as objects of benign curiosity or perhaps annoying interlopers in our gardens or kitchens, but when the Argentine ant appeared in Australian cities and suburbs in the mid-twentieth century it was already understood as a significant pest species. These unassuming little brown ants were emerging at the time as a global problem, infesting people’s home in large numbers in Mediterranean Europe and the southern United States, and generating a great deal of attention among scientists and policymakers. They likely arrived in Australia via the global shipping networks that connected this country with the rest of the world, though their exact date of arrival remains uncertain. As they traveled to new places, they went through a population bottleneck. Instead of being surrounded by diverse, rival colonies of the same species (as they had been in their home range in northern Argentina), Argentine ants in Australia were part of one group and able to cooperate against native species and compete with them for food resources. Their arrival prompted an enormous effort to control their numbers and, in Sydney at least, to eradicate the ants entirely using pesticides.

In a new chapter, “On the ant frontier”, written for a forthcoming edited collection, Animals Count, I narrate the history of these creatures in Sydney. The focus of my research has been on records left by the Argentine Ant Eradication Committee, the government organ which oversaw the eradication initiative in New South Wales. These files are held in the State Archives in western Sydney, at a compound situated on the rural fringes of the metropolitan area. They contain all sorts of documents, including weekly reports from field officers, invoices for equipment, letters from members of the public, articles and pamphlets, as well as plans for publicity campaigns. At the forefront of the work were entomologists, the insect scientists who developed techniques for identifying and spraying Argentine ant nests, and their reports and expert contributions have been fascinating to dig into, too.

The fact that the ants were domestic pests put the campaign on a collision course with suburban middle-class people and their growing awareness of the environmental effects of organochlorine pesticides. Already in the 1960s there were household pets affected by chlordane spray, and people complained about this to the Committee and sought compensation. There are even stories of citizens standing in front of the spraying carts or refusing access to their land because they recognised–against the official positions of government and chemical companies–that these were dangerous poisons. This is all part of a global history, too: around the world, more and more citizens and activists tried to prevent the use of organochlorine pesticides, partly because of the influence of Rachel Carson’s powerful writing in The Silent Spring. There pesticides were used because they were seen as more environmentally friendly than other chemicals, and the eradication campaign was undertaken to protect people’s sense of everyday wellbeing and household amenity. Eventually, citizens and their representatives in the northern suburbs of Sydney–particularly in leafy Lane Cove–challenged the right of the ant unit to spray. In 1985 the campaign was formally ended by the state government, though the ants themselves are still seen as a huge threat to biodiversity in many places around the world.

I found this journey through the archives very interesting as a historical researcher, because it had a defamiliarising effect on the spaces of my everyday life. I grew up in this city in the 1980s and 1990s and had never heard about Argentine ants before beginning this work. I found that whenever I mentioned my topic to people I met, they would say things like ‘Oh, I remember the TV ads!’ and talk about the Trapper Tom character, and about collecting samples to send in to their local councils as kids. There is a whole submerged history of ordinary people–particularly those who were children in Sydney during the 1960s and 1970s–being really invested in the campaign against the ants through popular media.

As new campaigns begin against other species, such as fire ants in Queensland, it is fascinating to see patterns repeating. History prompts us to ask difficult questions about the decisions we are making now. While it is happening, we feel with great urgency the threat of insects infesting our homes or suburban spaces. But we should also recognise that there is usually much more going on, from the effects of changes to land use to the potential risks of whatever substances we use to control pest species.

Health and Human Rights Conference at NYU Florence – Conversation with CGPH Dean Healton

In this second post, Dr. Cheryl Healton, Dean of the College of Global Public Health and Professor of Public Health Policy and Management, talks with us about the third annual Health and Human Rights Conference at NYU Florence. In addition to her management responsibilities, Dr. Healton is responsible for building the College of Global Public Health’s academic, service, and research programs, which focus on domestic and international health with an emphasis on prevention, systems intervention, and innovation in public health practice. We are thrilled to share her perspective and insights on this important topic.

1. Can you tell us what the vision is for this conference and why it is important?

When I first joined NYU, I was excited by the various efforts going on university -wide in the area of human rights. I knew the Global Institute of Public Health, as we were called then, needed to become active in this area. Three key events happened that made it possible. First, and most important, I was approached by HealthRight International about forming an alliance. After much negotiation and the help of former EVP Robert Berne and the NYU legal office we signed a Memorandum of Agreement with them to collaborate on curriculum, research, and practice. We provided a physical home for them and we now employ the Executive Director, Dr. Peter Navario, who is an inspiring leader. Second, I met Joanna Pozen, referred to me by John Sexton our former President, who is an expert in health and human rights and was uniquely qualified to help us build this area. She also is an expert on women’s health and human rights, a subject near and dear to my heart. Finally, I got to now Ellyn Toscano, site director at NYU Florence who also has a keen passion for human rights and is deeply connected with human rights activists and political leaders in Italy. We were delighted to have her join our faculty too. 

The vision was simple – Could we catalyze more effective activity in the health and human rights arena by bringing together academics, NGOs, activists, government officials and students? Could we design a world class curriculum? Could we stimulate research efforts to better track and assist in meeting the needs of the large and growing numbers of refugees, displaced persons and migrants? Could we learn from each other and gain insights that none of us could achieve within our own silos? 

There are now more people without a home or homeland since the end of World War II. Many are dying in transit, many are dying in the camps meant to protect them, and and many are suffering from the sequelae of trauma. A handful of European countries play a key role in what the course of history will be in this crisis. The growing wave of fear toward immigrants and refugees is ominous and fits with the swing to the right happening in many locations around the world. Unless rational voices join in a chorus, a desperately bad situation will grow worse still.

2. I understand that this is the third annual event. Will it continue?

We just completed the third annual event and we hope to continue this effort and grow it into an annual global event attached to an appropriate international meeting. I have suggested that a global organization dedicated to health and human rights be formed to expand and accelerate momentum toward improvement in the health of those adversely affected by the wave of global dislocation occurring and also to take up the important cause of working with human rights colleagues to end this global crisis. Our current working title is The Society for Health and Human Rights.

3. Why was the event hosted in Florence? Are there any special strengths that NYU’s global presence brings to these sorts of conversations?

The Florence site is ideal for many reason but most especially due to the leadership at the site and the key role Italy has played in the refugee crisis. it is one of three countries receiving the bulk of refugees fleeing their own continent, the others are Greece and Turkey. Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Nate Bertelsen who is co-appointed at the CGPH but principally with the medical school, our second meeting brought together leaders from these countries as well. At that meeting we were delighted to be addressed by the Mayor of Florence who has been especially active in the refugee crisis.

4. Were there any noteworthy points of discussion or outcomes this year?

The meeting was packed with terrific presenters and lively discussion. I was moved by the many efforts going on in other countries to address the crisis and in countries turning away refugees in large numbers. I was impressed by the efforts of academics, NYU Prague in particular, to document the rapid change in public opinion about migrants apparently precipitated by the relentless xenophobia of politicians fanning nationalistic flames. Sadly, some speakers pointed out that these politicians are emulating politicians here in the US. The efforts in Tuscany, Turkey, and elsewhere were also showcased. These countries too are burdened by changing political winds. 

5. Is there anything else the NYU community should know about this dialogue?

It is urgent for leaders, include those in academia, to work to deescalate the anti-immigrant sentiments that are rising globally. Only through dialogue and understanding can we counteract the many nefarious efforts presently underway to exaggerate the risk of immigration and downplay the advantages. Dislocation due to war, economic deprivation, as well as those fleeing from the risk of genocide are as widespread as ever in history and we must, as a world community and civil society, find solutions together. The formation of rational policies and approaches can benefit greatly from sound research and constructive dialogue. 

NYU Prague Music Professors Patricia Goodson and Michal Rataj Release New CDs

Three CDs that were initiated and coordinated by NYU Prague professor and pianist Patricia Goodson were recently released; they all also include her solo performances.

Macbeth and Other Orchestral Works by Geraldine Mucha  was released by Arco Diva in November, and commemorates the centenary of Scottish composer Geraldine Mucha’s birth.  Mucha – married to the son of the Art Nouveau artist Alphones Mucha – moved to Prague after WWII with her husband. As well as composing in Prague, she did much to protect her father-in-law’s supposed “bourgeois” work and legacy under the oppressive Communist regime.  Patricia Goodson became friends with Geraldine Mucha (who lived to be 95) at the end of her life and has continued to promote her work after her death. This pieces on this album were performed by Patricia with the the Hradec Králové Philharmonic and Irena Troupová. MusicWeb International writes that   “American pianist Patricia Goodson plays commendably in both the concerto and the variations; she is a strong reason for the success of this disc, as is the contribution of the Hradec Králové Philharmonic Orchestra under their astute director Andreas Sebastian Weiser in a well-engineered recording.”

Later this year, the same label will release a CD of Geraldine Mucha’s  chamber music which will include solo performances by Patricia.

Patricia also organized a CD devoted to chamber works by New Zealand composer Dame Gillian Karawe Whitehead (released in March by the New Zealand label Rattle Records), which jumped to number 2 on the New Zealand classical charts shortly after its release.  It features the Stamic Quartet, oboist Vilém Veverka and Patricia on the piano; there will be a launch at the New Zealand Embassy in September. The pieces were performed in Berlin and Prague before they were recorded at Studio HAMU. Whitehead is one of the most acclaimed composers from the Australia/New Zealand region; in 2008 she was given the title of Dame for her contributions to music in New Zealand.   

To listen to some pieces from the albums, please go to http://www.patriciagoodson.com

NYU Prague professor Michal Rataj also has a new CD, Sentenceless-Sentence, which was released in January, 2018.  It consists of electro-acoustic pieces composed during 2013 – 2017 and consists of a rich variety of sound palettes and emotional worlds.  They range from acousmatic music through mixed forms towards text-sound performance. On April 11 Michal presented the album and his work to our students at a public concert at NYU Prague.  You can here it on: https://michalrataj.bandcamp.com/album/sentenceless-sentence

Several of Rataj’s compositions will be performed this spring.  On April 28, The Long Sentence, will be performed at UC Santa Cruz, featuring the San Francisco based award-winning Del Sol Quartet and Ben Leeds Carson on piano.  On May 5-7, Temporis-concerto will have its US premiere performed by the Santa Rosa Symphony, conducted by Bruno Ferrandis.  Czechs can hear his music on May 25 at a concert called Škrábanice / Scribbles in Nachod as part of the Czech Museum Nights.

Michal Rataj is a composer, performer, sound designer whose work consists mainly of electro-acoustic and chamber/orchestral instrumental music.  His work has been performed throughout Europe and in the USA, and he has composed soundtracks to numerous documentary and feature films and TV series.  Later this year viewers can hear his music in two Czech films- Jan Palach (by Eva Kantourkova and Robert Sedlacek) and Pivnica/The Cellar directed by Igor Voloshin. 

NYU Abu Dhabi Professor Sophia Kalantzakos Discusses the Art of Conversation on Climate

The first humans began to walk the Earth only 300,000 years ago, yet we have impacted it in such a way that today we have entered a new era that scientists have aptly named the Anthropocene. In this epoch, humans are recognized as the main drivers of ecological change.

“If we accept that humanity is the strongest and most transformative force on Earth, we also must take responsibility for the repercussions of our actions,” said Global Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Public Policy Sophia Kalantzakos, who leads the Arts and Humanities Environmental Research Initiative (eARThumanities) at NYU Abu Dhabi.

It’s not that people don’t believe human activity affects climate. We understand it intellectually, Kalantzakos said, but additional data demonstrating this fact won’t necessarily encourage people to behave in a way that is more ecologically conscious. This is where the arts and humanities can add to the conversation.

“The arts and humanities have always created stories of the future that help us understand or process it better,” she said.

“We can’t do one thing and not another”

And though addressing climate change is an enormous challenge that will require transformations in policy at the global and local levels, it’s a challenge that should be addressed holistically.

“We tend to have checklists of things we need to do, like increase the use of renewable energy, or conserve water,” she said. “But we simply can’t do one thing and not another. The eARThumanities initiative is saying that there is a wider story out there and we must connect the dots.”

The eARThumanities showcases the contributions the arts and humanities bring to the global conversation about the environment, bringing in their own unique lens to the challenges of the Anthropocene, ranging from climate action theater, a studio art class that focuses on wood and trees in relation to the rise and fall of civilizations, and discourses on extinction.

“From this vantage point at this institution, we’re able to have a much more complete conversation,” she added. “It’s not American centric; it’s not Eurocentric. And it creates exceptional opportunities to understand why different perspectives matter.”

 

This post comes to us from NYU Abu Dhabi, the original can be found here.

Impacting Aerospace History – NYU Shanghai Professor Alexander Geppert Named Aerospace History Chair at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Professor Alexander Geppert, a leading historian of Europe, has recently been named the Charles A. Lindbergh Chair in Aerospace History at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC for the year 2019–20, a distinguished award that will facilitate his research on the history of outer space and twentieth-century astroculture.

Named after the legendary American aviator Charles A. Lindbergh (1902–74), the Chair offers senior scholars with prominent publication records a competitive 12-month fellowship that encourages their book projects in aerospace history, supported by a maximum of US$100,000 towards living expenses.  

Alexander Geppert is the first European and third non-US citizen to win the prestigious award since its inauguration in 1978. For the year 2019–20, while immersed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, he will be working on a new book project that analyzes global perspectives on outer space.

Shortly after the announcement, The NYU Shanghai Gazette talked to Professor Geppert about the impact the award will have on his current research and The Global Space Age, one of the courses he will teach at NYU Shanghai in the upcoming fall semester before heading to Washington DC next year.

What does this award mean to you on both an academic and personal level?

With more than 7 million visitors per year, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC is one of the most visited museums in the world. What fewer people know is that it is also a fantastic research institution that comprises three departments: Aeronautics, Earth and Planetary Sciences, and Space History, which will be my “home” there. Its circa 30 curators are not only responsible for organizing top-notch exhibitions but are also deeply engaged in historical research and, in fact, among the world’s leading experts in their fields.

I spent an extremely productive year there in 2014–15 before joining NYU, and I am much looking forward to returning to such a stimulating environment five years later. The Lindbergh Chair is the most advanced fellowship they offer. I am truly excited to take it on, as I love that place as much as I love my research–even if I will certainly miss colleagues, students and friends in Shanghai, New York and Berlin.

Can you describe what your research plans are during your fellowship year at Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum?

By the time I arrive in DC, I hope to have finished the book that I am currently working on, The Future in the Stars: Time and Transcendence in the European Space Age, 1942–1972, and I plan to start with my next project during that year. Tentatively entitled Planetizing Earth: Outer Space and the Making of a Global Age, 1972–1990, it will take the study of outer space to a global level.

Most historical scholarship has focused on the first spacefaring nations, the former USSR, the USA and, to a lesser extent, Europe. But what explains the appeal of astroculture in places such as Congo, China, Egypt, French Guiana and Sri Lanka? At the same time I will be investigating a historical process that I call “planetization,” a term I borrow from French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

In particular after the end of the “classical” Space Age in the early 1970s, outer space has become a technological precondition of present-day globalism—just think of all the communication satellites and invisible infrastructures on which we all depend so much in our globally interconnected lives.

What do you hope students will gain from your upcoming course “The Global Space Age”? How might they understand space exploration or competition in a current context?

I hope that students will learn that outer space has its own history, and that examining this history is necessary to understand what is going on both here on earth and “out there.” While outer space, extraterrestrial life, and global astroculture might at first seem obscure and peripheral, if not entirely exotic topics, we will consider the central role space and spaceflight have played over the course of the twentieth century, both in science and in fiction, and in particular, seen in the second so-called Space Race in Asia of today.

We will cover a broad range of themes, from science fiction, literature and alleged UFO encounters to the history of science, technopolitics and warfare. We will also watch historical space movies, visit Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s Qián Xúesēn Museum and meet with experts from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. All my classes are very work- and reading-intense, but I also make sure that we have a lot of fun—serious fun!

 

This post comes to us from NYU Shanghai, you can find the original here.

NYU Sydney Biology Instructor Sean Blamires Discusses His Research Featured in Documentary Film

This post comes to us from NYU Sydney biology instructor Sean Blamires. He also took the photographs. His research was the focus of the film Sixteen Legs.

 

Hickmania troglodytes spider

On Sunday, March 18, the documentary movie Sixteen Legs premiered in Sydney. Earlier in March, New York University students got rare behind the scenes glances at the making of the documentary and a chance to meet the director, Niall Doran.

The movie is an interlinking journey across the Tasmania culminating in rare footage of giant cave spider mating behaviours and is well worth a look. The novelty of the film is its intertwining themes that combine tourism, education, art, natural history, science fiction and fantasy. While an impressive compendium of celebrities, comedians, and scientists appear in the film, the star is unquestionably the cave spider itself, Hickmania troglodytes.

With a leg-span of up to 18 centimetres, Hickmania troglodytes is an intriguing animal on many levels. It has an evolutionary history dating over 100 million years, as such it has outlived the dinosaurs. It has a lifespan of over ten years, which is rare among spiders. Being a troglophile it spends its life in caves but can survive outside if it needs to. H. troglodytes belongs to the Family Austrochilidae. H. troglodytes is found only in Tasmania, while all other extant members reside in Chile. The Austrochilidae is of particular interest to Arachnologists because they are thought to represent the nexus between modern ‘true’, web building, spiders (the ‘Araneomorphs’) and more ancient non-web builders (the ‘Mygalomorphs’). Add to all of this H. troglodytes has a slow but deliberated, complex, and measured copulation behaviour, involving males tapping female’s heads, kinked forelegs, spider bondage, contortionism, and even cannibalism, all over the course of several hours.

A web in a cave under torch light. This distinctly shows the cribellate silks as they appear blue in this light

While this animal’s sexual exploits are undoubtedly impressive, my interest is in its massive horizontal sheet web and the types of silk it uses to construct it. My collaborators (including Niall Doran) and I have examined the main structural silks in H. troglodytes web and found that larger, older, spiders use tougher silks. We presume this is because the web needs to support the larger spider’s mass or that the webs of larger spiders catch bigger prey.

To capture insects in their webs modern spiders can make their capture threads sticky by using a type of silken (aggregate) glue, while more ancient spiders, such as H. troglodytes, secrete bundles of fine silk threads called cribellate silk to entangle prey. Interestingly, cribellar silk is thought lose its adhesion in humid environments. However, the cave environments where H. troglodytes builds their webs often have humidities exceeding 95%. We are therefore investigating how their cribellate silks can withstand moisture and whether water might even enhance their silk’s stickiness.

There are other projects on this spider and in Tasmanian caves in the pipeline, which we are keen pursue. We plan to one day take New York University students on our expeditions.

Reference:

Piorkowski, D., Blamires, S.J., Doran, N., Liao, C.P., Wu, C.L. & Tso, I.M. 2018. Ontogenetic shift towards stronger, tougher silk in a web building cave spider. Journal of Zoology. 304: 81-89.

NYU Madrid Professors and Filmmakers Premiere New Documentary

NYU Madrid Professors and Emmy-winning filmmakers Robert Bahar and Almudena Carracedo have just premiered their new documentary film, The Silence of Others at the 68th edition of the Berlinale. The film has won two prestigious awards: the Berlinale Panorama Documentary Audience Award and the Berlinale Peace Film Prize. 

The film, The Silence of Others, reveals the epic struggle of victims of Spain’s 40-year dictatorship under General Franco, who continue to seek justice to this day. Filmed over six years, the film follows victims and survivors as they organize the groundbreaking “Argentine Lawsuit” and fight a state-imposed amnesia of crimes against humanity, in a country still divided four decades into democracy.