A copy of the annual report of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study recently found it's way to my desk. (The ways of the world are mysterious, aren't they?). For those of you who've never been to Boston, Radcliffe used to be the women's part of Harvard; since 1999 it is a semi-autonomous part of Harvard dedicated to advanced studies. All in all, an important place as such places go. And the annual report is an important document, because it's used for fundraising and such. Chrome pages, lots of color, lots of grand words.
Some of the research described sounded pretty impressive to me: "Tissue engineering to reverse the damage of heart disease", for example, or the "biocomplexity of infectious diseases such as cholera". Sounds like some people are hard at work making the human condition more bearable.
Some projects, however, left me slightly uneasy. There was a group of historians who spent a year together with the purpose of exploring "the promise and perils of biography as a mode for understanding the past". I'm an historian, and can see why biography could or could not be useful: If done well, it is; if not, then not.
One guest lecturer "made the case for a major shift in international resource allocation toward spending on development, education and health care. 29,000 children die daily from preventable causes; how many jumbo jets would terrorists have to crash in a day to kill that many people?" At the annual gender conference, subjects such as history, politics and ecology were explored through the prism of food. At one event, a group "attempted to use insights from Native [American] history to reconceptualize the existing framework for approaching history".
If there were seminars on, say, the French Revolution, or the Greek and Roman classics, or theology, or Shakespeare, I missed the mention of them.
In the meantime, you might want to visit Michael Totten's website. Michael is currently reporting from Fallujah, but on his way there he read us sections of Staff Sergeant David Bellavia, House to House, about the fighting in Fallujah a couple of years ago. Michael is a centrist, and voted Democratic last year. Still, if you can find any overlap between the things he's thinking about, and the things the folks at Radcliffe are thinking about, feel free to tell me what it is.