Panel links humanities and democracy
By Katie Gonzalez
Published on Friday, October 10, 2008
Humanities and politics merged at the Cultures of Democracy conference held in the Haldeman Center Thursday. The event focused on the role that humanities and arts play in the implementation and execution of democracy. Specifically, speakers discussed how nationalism stems from cultural ties and affects political systems.
"It's very important to plug the humanities into a broader political-socio connection," conference organizer Annabel MartÃn, a Spanish professor at the College, said in an interview with The Dartmouth. "The arts can contribute to our quality of life in a political sense."
The one-day symposium featured two keynote speakers -- former UNESCO ambassador and novelist Jose Maria Ridao and Juan Aranzadi, professor of anthropology at the National University of Distance Learning in Madrid, Spain -- who have studied the effect that culture has on politics and nationalism.
"This is something that we need to think about, if nationalism is compatible with democracy," Aranzadi said at the conference.
Panelists included art history professor Adrian Randolph, professor of government and Latin American, Latino and Caribbean studies Lisa Baldez and Dickey Fellow Paddy Woodworth.
"The stuff you read, the music you listen to, in some way reflects the political system and affects the political system you live in," Woodworth, a Dublin native, said in an interview with The Dartmouth.
The conference was open to the public and attracted both students and teachers.
"The definition of democracy, the definition of realism, the definition of culture that they're presenting is just fascinating," Atesede Makonnen '12, a student who attended the conference, said.
The nine-hour symposium featured introductory remarks delivered by MartÃn and a speech on cultural identity and social responsibility by Woodworth. Ridao and Aranzadi gave separate lectures, each followed by a question-and-answer session.
"One of the things we can do to help with problems of cultural identity is to realize that we can all have multiple cultures," Woodworth said.
Aranzadi also spoke about social obligations and responsibilities.
"Do not feel responsible for a community that you have never chosen," Aranzadi said. "This is not a virtue; this is a vice. The only society you are responsible for is the society you choose freely."
Woodworth said he sought to encourage debate and discussion during the conference, and dispel any misconceptions that students are simply "empty vessels." Randolph added that the conference addressed issues that are relevant to the current international political climate.
"This conference addresses important and topical issues," Randolph said in an e-mail to The Dartmouth. "Are there 'cultures' of democracy? And if they exist, what are their histories, failings, virtues? As we enter the last weeks of a presidential campaign in the United States, these questions are particularly relevant."
MartÃn spent two years planning the Cultures of Democracy conference, in order to "give a platform for the humanities to talk about politics," she said.
Cultures of Democracy was cosponsored by the Leslie Center for the Humanities, Dickey Center for International Understanding, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center, the Office of the Provost and the dean of the Faculty.