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Skidmore College

Metamorphosis: Skidmore's inaugural Humanistic Inquiry Symposium

March 30, 2018

More than 100 faculty, staff, students, Skidmore retirees and community members attended Skidmore's inaugural Humanistic Inquiry Symposium, "Metamorphosis," held March 23–24, 2018, at the Tang Teaching Museum.

Michael Arnush, professor of classics, and Barbara Black, professor of English, co-founded the symposium and are working with faculty to develop an ongoing forum at Skidmore for humanistic inquiry. The mission is to pursue and share the intellectual work of the Skidmore community and to allow faculty to connect across departments and disciplines.

The inaugural event featured keynote speaker Martin Puchner, the Byron and Anita Wien Professor of Drama and of English and Comparative Literature at Harvard University and founding director of the university's Mellon School of Theater and Performance Research.

Puchner's presentation, "Storytelling from the Tablet to the Internet," was a synopsis of his recently published book, The Written World, which explores his interests in the intersection of literature, history and geography, and describes the transformational history of literature and the written word from the invention of writing to the Internet.

A variety of Skidmore faculty performances followed Puchner's keynote: Joel Brown, distinguished artist-in-residence in music, and Brett Grigsby, lecturer in music, performed Edward Flower's arrangements of Barbara Allen and The Cherry Tree Carol; April Bernard, professor of English, performed a brief poetry reading of "Elizabethan Ghosts"; Robert ParkeHarrison and Shana ParkeHarrison exhibited "Constructed Realities" photographs; Will Bond, senior artist-in-residence in theater, performed Ovid Metamorphoses 10: Pygmalion; and Debra Fernandez, professor of dance, and Emily Gunter '19 presented Hybrid, choreographed by Fernandez. Eliza Kent, professor of religious studies, and Gordon Thompson, professor of music, also presented, followed by a reception and book signing by Puchner.

Throughout the day on Saturday, faculty presentations further explored the concept of metamorphosis and transformation through a variety of themes including the future of humans and nonhumans, evolution and mutation, engaging with and departing from conceptions of the self, the future of the planet, new media, changes in network culture, new technologies, identities and intersectionalities, stories of shape-shifting, journeys, global warming, hybridization, innovation, migrations and changing populations, adaptations of myth, the transformation of the mundane, growth and aging, life transitions and the evolution of the liberal arts.

Saturday's presentations highlighted the scholarship and research of Dan Curley, classics; Sarah Goodwin, English; Ryan Overbey, religious studies; Bina Gogineni, English; Crystal Dea Moore, social work; Sara Lagalwar, neuroscience; Ian Berry and Rachel Seligman, Tang Museum; Heather Hurst, anthropology; Edwin Román-Ramirez, anthropology; Jeff Segrave, health and human physiological sciences; Catherine White Berheide, sociology; and Joseph Cermatori, English.

To a capacity crowd on Saturday morning at the Tang Museum, Crystal Dea Moore, professor of social work and interim dean of the faculty and vice president for academic affairs, said, "I'm so pleased to spend time with all of you today. We don't often have an opportunity to celebrate our own work and passions. Thank you, Michael [Arnush] and Barbara [Black], for the selfless gift you have provided by coordinating this opportunity."

Moore's moving presentation, titled "The Presence of Absence," explored the pain of absence due to death, addiction, mental illness and abduction. "Pain times resistance equals suffering. The more we push away from the pain, the more we are likely to suffer," Moore said.

"Our key goals of this event were to showcase the work of Skidmore's humanists, to share our work with one another, and to build a sense of intellectual and creative community around a topic of consequence, selected by the faculty," Black said.

Did the event serve to achieve the goals set by co-founders Black and Arnush?

"More than we could have imagined," said Arnush. "We brought together a sizeable community of faculty, staff, students and retirees to interrogate and celebrate the meaning of humanism against the backdrop of metamorphosis. We heard from faculty across many departments and created a synergistic symphony of scholarship and artistic creativity. We brought a scholarly conference back to our campus, and a conference that welcomed all of us."

Puchner was impressed with Skidmore's inaugural event. "Two things particularly struck me," he said. "The first was the combination of art-making and scholarship. The symposium was a perfect model because it turned out that the poetry readings and performances had as much to say about the topic of metamorphosis as the scholarly contribution. Perhaps the fact that the symposium took place in a museum helped (and the tour of the museum contributed as well). So the curation of the event was really great.

"Second, I was struck by the enthusiasm of the participants, the eagerness with which they encounter each other's work. The symposium really provided an opportunity for colleagues who might only meet at committee meetings to exchange work."

In closing remarks on Saturday evening, Puchner took time to reflect on pedagogy and teaching as a number of faculty participants shared their educational experiences, their training and thoughts about their own teachers, and reflected upon their intellectual and artistic formation.

The second day of the symposium coincidentally took place on the same day of the national March for Our Lives movement, in which students across the United States marched against gun violence.

Puchner concluded the symposium with a reflection on today's generation of students and the active role they are taking in their education and lives. Another fitting, and timely, example of metamorphosis: A generation of brave students navigating a new, ever-changing world.

For more information about humanistic inquiry at Skidmore, please visit To view a recording of the event, visit

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