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Research in the Arts and Sciences

CAS Interdisciplinary Research Talks

Faculty members across all CAS divisions have expressed the desire for more opportunities for interdisciplinary dialogue and potential collaborations. In response, CAS is organizing a series of monthly Interdisciplinary Research Talks (IR Talks) for the current academic year.

CAS IR Talks will be 35-40 minutes in length, followed by a Q&A. We have asked faculty members to speak to a general audience of faculty from across the College.

The talks scheduled for 2020-21:

Wednesday, October 14, 2020, 3:30-5:00

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Erin Beck, Associate Professor of Political Science
“Insiders’ Accounts of Guatemala’s Specialized Violence Against Women Courts”

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Abstract: A decade into their country’s “post-conflict” period, Guatemalans continued to face overlapping forms of violence and insecurity. Guatemalan women in particular faced gender-based violence. In a country with a population smaller than that of New York State, between six and seven hundred women were being killed annually, producing the third highest femicide rate globally. Yet officials remained uninterested in combating such blatant violations of women’s human rights, only investigating thirty percent of women’s murders and making arrests in just three percent of cases. Abusive men learned they could violate women’s rights without consequence, and women learned they could not turn to the state for help. The passage of the 2008 Law against Femicide and Other Forms of Violence against Women (2008 Law) represented a potential break with the past. It criminalized various forms of VAW and mandated the creation of specialized courts, which combined victim-centered approaches with adversarial criminal trials. This talk provides an overview of the structure and functioning of these courts, reviews data on their effects, and explores how specialized judges see the courts, the problem of violence against women, and their own roles in addressing that violence.
Erin Beck is Associate Professor of Political Science, with expertise in the areas of Latin American politics, international development, gender and development, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), microfinance, violence against women, and access to justice for indigenous women, with country expertise in Guatemala. Her current research explores gendered violence and access to justice among indigenous Guatemalan women and draws on interviews, focus groups, analysis of legal case files and courtroom observations in Guatemala’s specialized Femicide and Violence against Women Courts.
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Thursday, February 4, 2021, 3:30-5:00

Maria Fernanda Escallón, Assistant Professor, Anthropology
“Cultural Heritage Declarations and the Trap of Exclusion”

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Abstract: To what extent has formal recognition of Afro-descendants’ “cultural heritage” further marginalized Black communities in Colombia? In 2005 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared the cultural practices of the Afro-Colombian people of San Basilio de Palenque––known as Palenqueros––as “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” Though in principle the declaration elevated the culture and history of all Palenqueros, in practice, many experienced the heritage declaration as a form of exclusion—from power, from social networks, from frameworks of expertise, from opportunity, and from systems of authority. In this talk, I examine a group of Palenqueras working as fruit vendors on the streets of Cartagena. These women felt exploited by and excluded from the heritage recognition process, which popularized their image as an icon of heritage tourism, without providing any tangible financial benefit. I examine the disconnect that exists between Palenqueras’ public image and their lived experience in order to trace how the heritage declaration became both an opportunity for and an obstacle to their socio-economic mobility. Rather than promote equity and inclusion, my findings reveal how heritage allowed gendered and racialized histories of dispossession to become sanitized stories of cultural difference.
Maria Fernanda Escallón is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology with an interested in cultural heritage, race, diversity politics, ethnicity, and inequality in Latin America. Her work examines the consequences of cultural heritage declarations and draws attention to the political and economic marginalization of minority groups that occurs as a result of recognition. Her current book project, based on multi-sited ethnographic research in Colombia, examines the consequences of cultural public policy on marginalized communities and minority groups. Specifically, her research traces how the declaration of cultural practices of Afro-Latino communities as “heritage of humanity” may further marginalize already vulnerable community members and leave structural racial inequities intact.
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Wednesday, March 3, 2021, 3:30-5:00

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Brendan Bohannan, Professor, Environmental Studies and Biology
“Interdisciplinary explorations of the microbial world”

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Abstract: When most of us think of “microbes” we think of disease.  But the invisible world of microorganisms positively influences all of us in myriad ways, from directly contributing to our health to performing crucial environmental functions that sustain all of life.  Given the incredible importance and extraordinary complexity of the microbial world, it is especially ripe for interdisciplinary exploration. In my research group we have been fortunate to team with scholars ranging from architects and engineers to social scientists and philosophers to ask questions about  microorganisms, in environments as different as the Amazon rainforest and the inside of the human body.  I will describe examples of this work and use these examples to illustrate both the challenges and the opportunities provided by interdisciplinary scholarship.
Brendan Bohannan is a Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology and the James F. and Shirley K. Rippey Chair in Liberal Arts and Sciences. His research focuses on understanding the causes and consequences of microbial biodiversity. For the past 12 years his group has increasingly focused on the microbes associated with “hosts” (i.e. humans and other animals). He is especially interested in how the movement of microbes between hosts interacts with host factors (such as genetics and physiology) to determine the types of microbes that reside in an individual host. He is also interested in how important functions such as digestion or immune system stimulation emerge from the complexity of host-microbe interactions.
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Thursday, April 29, 3:30-5:00

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Michael Allan, Associate Professor, Comparative Literature
“Sovereign Images? Envisioning Statecraft in Early Cinema”
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Abstract: In July 1896, the Lumière Brothers’ film company commissioned Alexandre Promio to travel the world with the newly invented cinematograph. Many of his short films are renowned for their depiction of everyday scenes—streets of Cairo, the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem, or parks in London. And yet, a number of others depict heads of state—monarchs, presidents, and prime ministers in Algeria, England, Sweden, and Tunisia. Often seen as a global repertoire of early cinema, how might these early films consolidate fantasies of sovereign state power? At issue is not only their role in the visual imagination of statecraft, but their participation in a globalized media network trafficking images across the world. What is the role of a foreign camera operator in the service of national sovereignty? Who commands the image of the head of state? What does it mean to see the sovereign cinematically? Looking anew at these early films reveals the critical possibilities connecting aesthetics and politics, global media and nation states—with the emergence of world cinema.
Sovereign ImageMichael Allan is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Oregon, where he is also program faculty in Cinema Studies, Arabic, and Middle East Studies. He is the author of In the Shadow of World Literature: Sites of Reading in Colonial Egypt (Princeton 2016, Co-Winner of the MLA Prize for a First Book), and is the editor of Comparative Literature. His research has been supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (2017-2018), and he has been a EUME Fellow at the Forum for Transregional Studies in Berlin (2011-12), a member of the Society of Fellows at Columbia University in New York City (2008-9), and a fellow at the Townsend Center for the Humanities at the University of California, Berkeley (2006-7). He served as the site director for CLS Tangier in Morocco (2016-2017) and as a Presidential Intern at the Institute for Gender and Women’s Studies at the American University of Cairo in Egypt (2000-1).
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Thursday, May 20, 3:30-5:00

ThanhNguyenView recorded talk

Thanh Nguyen, Assistant Professor of Computer and Information Science
“Decision-focused Learning in an Adversarial Environment and Applications to Wildlife Protection”

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Abstract: Real-world societal problems in the areas of conservation, public safety and security, and cybersecurity are often characterized by uncertainties. These problems typically can be modeled as a multi-agent system in which agents with conflicting goals and limited knowledge interact with each other. For example, in wildlife protection, poachers set up traps to illegally catch animals while rangers patrol the conservation areas to prevent poaching. Often, each agent is uncertain about its opponents’ capabilities, objectives, and other underlying characteristics. Through past interactions, agents can collect observation data to reduce these uncertainties and learn an effective action plan. However, opponent agents can manipulate the collected data by changing their behavior to mislead the other agents, influencing the learning process for their own benefit. For example, poachers can intentionally create fake poaching hot spots by laying out many more snares there, leading rangers to put more effort and resources to patrol those “hot-spot” areas while leaving other areas vulnerable to poaching. In this talk, I will present our work on developing new AI models and algorithms to tackle these decision-focused learning problems, with the ultimate goal of generating an effective action planning solution for defenders (e.g., conservation agencies).
Thanh Nguyen is an Assistant Professor in the Computer and Information Science department at the University of Oregon (UO). Prior to UO, she was a postdoc at the University of Michigan and earned her PhD in Computer Science from the University of Southern California. Thanh’s work in the field of Artificial Intelligence is motivated by real-world societal problems, particularly in the areas of Public Safety and Security, Cybersecurity, and Sustainability. She brings together techniques from multi-agent systems, machine learning, and optimization to solve problems in those areas, with the focus on studying deception in security, and decision-focused adversarial learning. Thanh’s work has been recognized by multiple rewards, including the IAAI-16 Deployed Application Award, and the AAMAS-16 Runner-up of the Best Innovative Application Paper Award. Her work in wildlife protection, in particular, has contributed to build PAWS, a well-known AI application for wildlife security, which has been deployed in multiple national parks around the world.
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CAS Research Reputation

The research activity—and reputation—of faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences is the basis for the UO’s status as a Carnegie Research I institution and a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU). In the past five years alone, faculty accolades in the College of Arts and Sciences have included:

  • One faculty member elected President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Four faculty elected to the National Academy of Sciences
  • Five faculty elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • Two faculty named Guggenheim Fellows
  • Ten faculty elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Six Fulbright scholars

All tenured-related faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences, across the Humanities, Social Sciences and Natural Sciences are required to be engaged in an active research program and make original contributions to their respective fields of knowledge. Many are involved in collaborations in one of the two dozen research institutes and centers affiliated with the College of Arts and Sciences.