This fall has seen an increase in the number of academic research symposiums hosted at Bowdoin. While past years have featured one or two symposiums, this semester alone there have been three, with a fourth scheduled for next week.

The recent increase in symposiums, which are sponsored in part by the Office of the Dean for Academic Affairs, happened by chance. Some were scheduled for this fall, while others had been postponed from last semester.

“We just happen to have a very rich year this year with four symposia in one semester,” said Interim Dean for Academic Affairs Jennifer Scanlon. “It’s really really wonderful, but it’s not any great increase.”
Scanlon said that the abnormal number this fall would not affect funding for future research symposiums.

This year’s symposiums have been Strange Career of Jim Crow North and West, Across the Divide: Intermediality and American Art, and Religion Before Religion.

The upcoming “Rendering Haitians of Dominican Descent Stateless,” aims to educate the Bowdoin community about the citizenship crisis of Haitian descendants living in the Dominican Republic through a broad scope of lectures from historians, anthropologists and poets. Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Diaz will give the Kenneth V. Santagata Memorial lecture on November 3 to kick off the two-day event.

The symposium organizers hope that the broad scope of lectures will enlighten the Bowdoin community on the citizenship crisis regarding the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
The nations, which share the island of Hispaniola, have historically had tense relationship. In 2013, a Dominican court ruling rescinded the citizenship of roughly 200,000 Dominican residents of Haitian descendant. Dominican residents who lack formal papers or who appear to be of Haitian descent based on skin color have faced deportations.

“We’re hoping that the theme of the conference will link to a number of courses around campus,” said Roger Howell, Jr. Professor of History Allen Wells, one of the symposium’s organizers. “Chiefly, it’s about educating people that there’s a real problem.”

More broadly, symposiums generally serve as small conferences for Bowdoin professors to present their research alongside colleagues from other academic institutions and their lectures typically pertain to a specific theme.

“This is a much smaller and more intimate setting [than a national conference]. [Professors] can dive more deeply into a smaller topic of interest, and then they get to select a number of people who will come and talk about their work,” said Scanlon.

Assistant Professor of Religion Todd Berzon, who helped organize the October 14 symposium “Religion Before ‘Religion,” said that while some students attend the lectures, he believes that events like these are geared more toward faculty than students.

“They are not overtly directed at the student body... Students are free to go and participate, but it’s usually a more technical sort of conversation,” Berzon said.

Nonetheless, Berzon said that symposiums can be a good experience for students. His “Judaism in the Age of Empires” class attended a lecture during the religion symposium and students learned not only about topics in religion, but also about formal academic scholarship.

“I was pummeled with questions [after my lecture], which is great for students to see, for us to engage, for us to answer difficult questions, for us to say things like ‘I don’t know, that’s a really good question, I hadn’t thought about that,’” said Berzon.

Symposiums have generally been well-received by the Bowdoin community, and the College will continue to host them in the future—although probably not four in one semester.

“These symposia are one measure of the deep intellectual engagement of our faculty. It’s something that we do particularly well,” said Scanlon. “It’s just one of the many nice components of work for our faculty.”