Thomas A. Langford Lectures

Tribute luncheon series gives rising faculty an interdisciplinary forum

Duke University has taken another step in its interdisciplinary efforts by establishing the annual Thomas Langford Lectureship series, giving new and recently promoted faculty a chance to address their colleagues from different disciplines over four luncheons. The series was initiated by Provost Peter Lange as a tribute to Thomas Langford, a former Duke provost, dean and Divinity School faculty member. Langford died from a heart attack last February. Langford's widow, Ann Marie said, "My husband began Divinity School at Duke University in 1951, and until his death, the university was an integral part of his life. That he will be remembered in years to come by this lectureship is gratifying to our family, and we thank Provost Lange for establishing it." The program's goal, Lange said, is to support and honor intellectual life at Duke. He intends to accomplish two things with the new program: "I thought it was very important to highlight the quality of the faculty that we're bringing to the campus and in some cases, promoting. I also thought it was a fitting memorial to Tommy Langford and his qualities of mentorship, leadership and intellectual engagement as a faculty member and an administrator." The program also provides opportunities for faculty to engage in interdisciplinary exchange. This year's speakers are all recently promoted faculty members: Charles Piot, department of cultural anthropology and African and African-American Studies Program (Oct. 26). Piot is an anthropologist whose specialty is West Africa. In a recent interview, he said, "My work focuses on the way in which the remote is tied in with the national and the global." His new book, Remotely Global: Village Modernity in West Africa (University of Chicago Press, 1999), investigates the Kabre people of northern Togo. In it, Piot argues, the Kabre have been exposed to outside influences for the past three centuries, as a result of slave trading, colonial interventions and post-colonial migrations. According to Piot, the Kabre are fairly cosmopolitan, facing today, for instance, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund's global economic policies. Blanche Capel, Cell and Molecular Biology Program (Nov. 8). A developmental biologist, Capel researches the SRY gene. The single gene is located on the Y chromosome, which is specific to males, and controls sex determination in the developing mammalian embryo. The gene, expressed in the gonad, leads to the organization of cells into a male testes. If the gene fails to be expressed, an ovary forms, and a female develops. "The gene is able to throw the switch between male and female," Capel said. "This is an excellent model of how genes control the development of organs." Paul Aspinwall, department of mathematics (March 7). A physicist and mathematician who specializes in superstring theory, Aspinwall researches the geometry of short distances. Superstring theory, he said, "hopes to explain the fundamental theory of everything - time, space, matter. Our current understanding of modern physics appears to force us to revise our notions of geometry." Malachi Hacohen, department of history (April 19). Hacohen researches the history of liberalism and cosmopolitanism, and the dilemmas of Jewish identity in central Europe. He is the author of a new biography, Karl Popper - The Formative Years, 1902-1945: Politics and Philosophy in Interwar Vienna (Cambridge University Press, 2000). For his lecture, he intends to focus on how the engagement of Jewish intellectuals with Enlightenment traditions illuminates problems of multiculturalism. Said Cathy Davidson, vice provost for interdisciplinary studies: "The provost's new lecture-and-lunch series not only pays tribute to one of our most cherished colleagues, but also cherishes and honors the intellectual life at Duke. It is a wonderful way to celebrate scholarship in its fullest interdisciplinary capacities."


Written by Linda Haac.