2019–2020 Annual Report
FROM 2019–20 INTERIM DIRECTOR TIMOTHY BEWES
As I began my year at the Cogut Institute, I naturally presumed that the only interruption to define my term would be the relatively harmless one of the appointment itself. But alas, 2019-2020 will be remembered as the year in which our events were upended by the COVID-19 pandemic and our courses and seminars migrated online. Even as it imposed itself on our conversations, however, the lockdown brought home the relevance of the humanities for understanding our historical situation. In April, three weeks after the fellows’ seminar moved to Zoom, Daniel Hirschman, Assistant Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow, addressed the seminar on the way in which, since the 1990s, cost-benefit economic models have come to determine climate change policy in Washington. Climate change, said Hirschman, has been transformed from an ecological problem into “one of many competing economic problems.” As became apparent during the session, cost-benefit models have also determined the disastrous national response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the economic impact of the pandemic took precedence over its status as a public health crisis.
A week later, Adi Ophir, Visiting Professor in the Humanities and Middle East Studies, spoke about the “shared” nature of the earth and world. For Ophir, the fact of our shared environment is a rebuke to the cost-benefit model, the effect of which is to destroy any sense of a shared world. Ophir’s presentation brought into focus the degree to which the coronavirus pandemic — the first truly global event — announces the definite appearance of a “finite” world, the sharedness of which can no longer be ignored. Read more.
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