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1999-2000 Seminar: Beginnings and Endings

As we approach the "end" of the twentieth century as well as the dawn of a "new" millennium, it seems appropriate to focus attention on beginnings and endings. Exploring the ontology, existential meaning, and social and cultural politics of such "turning points" [even like the arbitrary one of the millennium] [will be] at the heart of the 1999-2000 seminar.

Discussions of beginnings and endings are on the current agenda of many disciplines. While astrophysicists try to grapple with the old cosmological question of when the universe began and paleoanthropologists probe the origins of the human race, bioethicists and philosophers debate when life begins and ends. In the meantime, social gerontologists and developmental psychologists are trying to identify the turning points that mark the end of childhood or the onset of old age, both of which are central to ongoing public debates around issues ranging from criminal responsibility to retirement policy.

The study of beginnings and endings is just as central to the humanities, where traditional notions of temporal closure have been called into question over the last few decades by scholars of narrative working on poetry, prose, drama, and film. Meanwhile, historians are drawing on such narratological sensitiv[i]ty when they reconsider periodization in their fields or try to do epistemological justice to women, indigenous peoples, and ethnic minorities.

Similarly, within the social sciences, there is a growing interest in the particular temporalities which groups (families, professions, social movements, ethnic groups, nations) use to construct their collective identities. Where a group decides to locate its beginnings expresses the very essence of its being.
These beginnings and endings are forever contested and, as such, politically significant.

We intend to explore beginnings and endings on various scales of human experience. While the topic has obvious relevance at the level of the individual life-course, it is equally relevant to the study of groups up to the level of humanity itself. We would also expect to explore these issues in a variety of different contexts, ranging from philosophical discussions of death to cosmological discussions of the Big Bang. Changing temporal frames have important consequences for understandings of space as well, thereby adding yet another dimension to this project.

Whether in the context of film narratives, individuals' biographies, or grand evolutionary schemes, we need to address languages, metaphors, and discourses of origins and endings that keep flowing across and sometimes disrupting disciplinary boundaries. Because we believe that interdisciplinary conversation can enrich us all, we invite applications from all the [disciplines] within the arts and sciences.

Directors
John Gillis (History) and Eviatar Zerubavel (Sociology)

Faculty Fellows
Myron J. Aronoff (Political Science and Anthropology)
Jozsef Borocz (Sociology)
Ann Baynes Coiro (English)
Paul Gordon Schalow (East Asian Languages and Cultures)
Carol J. Singley (English)
Michael Warner (English)
Dorothy Yinn (History)
Benjamin D. Zablocki (Sociology)

Graduate Fellows
Finis E. Dunaway (History)
Jennifer S. Milligan (History)
Erin Anne Murphy (English)
Ruth Simpson (Sociology)

Associate Fellows
Janice A. Brockley (History)
Sarah Dubow (History)
David S. Gutterman (Political Science)
Richard Arthur Serrano (French)

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