Modernity lecture series begins with 'Oil and Modernity'


NORTH ADAMS, MASS - Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) will hold the first in a year-long series of special events that focus on the theme, "Is Modernity Sustainable?" in observance of the sesquicentennial of 1859, a year that saw an array of landmark events that influenced the modernization of global society.

One of those events -- the first oil commercial wells were dug in Titusville, Pa. -- serves as the basis for a presentation and a panel discussion on "Oil and Modernity" by Williams College History Professor Karen Merrill.

Her talk is on Jan. 21, at 3 p.m. in Murdock Hall conference room 218. It is free and open to the public

Merrill's presentation will be followed by a panel and audience discussion on
"Alternative Energy, Oil, and Modernity" with Merrill, Nancy Nylen of the Center for Environmental Technology, J. Craig Robertson of Heliocentrix, Chris Derby-Kilfoyle '76 of Berkshire Photovoltaic Systems, and MCLA Environmental Studies Director Elena Traister.

One hundred fifty years ago, the world witnessed in a single year the publication of "Darwin's Origin of the Species," the first commercial production of oil in Pennsylvania, a portent of the Civil War in John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, the publication of Karl Marx's first volume analyzing capitalism, digging began on the Suez Canal, and Karl Graf changed biblical criticism by proposing a new theory of biblical authorship.

According to MCLA English/communications professor David Langston, who chairs the organizing committee, dozens of additional incidents and personages with powerful long-term influence on modern society also were underway in that year.

"For example, Louis Aggassiz was halfway through publishing his influential 'Natural History of the United States,' George Eliot published her pioneering first novel, 'Adam Bede,' the British Empire was being re-structured following the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, Billy the Kid was born, Charles Sanders Peirce launched his philosophical career, Horace Bushnell, a leading spokesman for religious liberalism, retired, and the first-ever intercollegiate baseball game was played -- between Williams and Amherst," Langston said.

The series will consist of lectures, scholarly colloquia, panel discussions and even athletic contests that will evaluate the implications of modernity for contemporary society.

The next event in the series - a presentation and discussion of Darwin's "Origin of Species" and the development of modern science - will take place on Feb. 4, at 3 p.m. in Murdock Hall room 218. The presentation will be by MCLA professor William Montgomery, of the interdisciplinary studies program.

For more information, contact Langston, 413-662-5371, or via e-mail at