Articles from the Institute Letter
Additional articles from new and past issues of the Institute Letter will continue to be posted over time and as they become available.
By Deva Woodly
I was in my final year of graduate school, writing a dissertation on the place of persuasion in the success of contemporary American social movements, when the nearly two-year-long campaign for the American president who would succeed George W. Bush began. As a student of politics, it was impossible not to be transfixed by the epic discursive battle being waged, first in the hard- fought democratic primary between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and finally during the general election campaign in which, Obama, having won against his formidable Democratic rival, entered a political contest with veteran politician John McCain. For the American public, this contest was the most closely followed election in decades. A Gallup poll taken in June 2008, early summer, when political attention is usually at its nadir, found that nearly two-thirds of Americans described the 2008 campaign as “exciting.” By September, Gallup found that a record 87 percent, almost nine in ten Americans, reported that they were following national politics closely. The astonished poll takers wrote, in the summary of their results, “This significantly exceeds anything Gallup has measured since it began asking this question in 1995.”*
Following the discovery in July of a Higgs-like boson—an effort that took more than fifty years of experimental work and more than 10,000 scientists and engineers working on the Large Hadron Collider—Juan Maldacena and Nima Arkani-Hamed, two Professors in the School of Natural Sciences, gave separate public lectures on the symmetry and simplicity of the laws of physics, and why the discovery of the Higgs was inevitable.
Peter Higgs, who predicted the existence of the particle, gave one of his first seminars on the topic at the Institute in 1966, at the invitation of Freeman Dyson. “The discovery attests to the enormous importance of fundamental, deep ideas, the substantial length of time these ideas can take to come to fruition, and the enormous impact they have on the world,” said Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director and Leon Levy Professor.
In their lectures “The Symmetry and Simplicity of the Laws of Nature and the Higgs Boson” and “The Inevitability of Physical Laws: Why the Higgs Has to Exist,” Maldacena and Arkani-Hamed described the theoretical ideas that were developed in the 1960s and 70s, leading to our current understanding of the Standard Model of particle physics and the recent discovery of the Higgs-like boson. Arkani-Hamed framed the hunt for the Higgs as a detective story with an inevitable ending. Maldacena compared our understanding of nature to the fairytale Beauty and the Beast.
“What we know already is incredibly rigid. The laws are very rigid within the structure we have, and they are very fragile to monkeying with the structure,” said Arkani-Hamed. “Often in physics and mathematics, people will talk about beauty. Things that are beautiful, ideas that are beautiful, theoretical structures that are beautiful, have this feeling of inevitability, and this flip side of rigidity and fragility about them.”
By Freeman Dyson
John Brockman, founder and proprietor of the Edge website, asks a question every New Year and invites the public to answer it. THE EDGE QUESTION 2012 was, “What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful
explanation?” He got 150 answers that are published in a book, This Explains Everything (Harper Collins, 2013). Here is my contribution.
The situation that I am trying to explain is the existence side by side of two apparently incompatible pictures of the universe. One is the classical picture of our world as a collection of things and facts that we can see and feel, dominated by universal gravitation. The other is the quantum picture of atoms and radiation that behave in an unpredictable fashion, dominated by probabilities and uncertainties. Both pictures appear to be true, but the relationship between them is a mystery.
The orthodox view among physicists is that we must find a unified theory that includes both pictures as special cases. The unified theory must include a quantum theory of gravitation, so that particles called gravitons must exist, combining the properties of gravitation with quantum uncertainties.
By Angelos Chaniotis
The study of cinematic representations of ancient history is one of the most rapidly rising fields of classical scholarship. As an important part of the modern reception of classical antiquity, movies inspired by Greek and Roman myth and history are discussed in academic courses, conferences, textbooks, handbooks, and doctoral theses. Such discussions involve more than a quest for mistakes—a sometimes quite entertaining enterprise. They confront classicists and ancient historians with profound questions concerning their profession: What part does the remote past play in our lives? How do modern treatments of the past reflect contemporary questions and anxieties? How is memory of the past continually constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed?
My father worked in the movie industry in the 1950s and 60s as a producer and leaseholder of one of Greece’s largest movie theaters. This may have been the impetus for me to become a cinephile. However, my fascination with the representation of history on the big screen is part of my interest in how memory is shaped. Many Members of the School of Historical Studies, past and present, share this interest. Adele Reinhartz (Member, 2011–12) is the author of Scripture on the Silver Screen (Westminster John Knox Press, 2003) and Jesus of Hollywood (Oxford University Press, 2007); among current Members, the archaeologist Yannis Hamilakis studies the place of the past in modern Mediterranean societies and their media; the ancient historian Nathanael Andrade incorporates movies into undergraduate teaching; and the historian of Latin America Jeff Gould directs historical documentaries.
By Uta Nitschke-Joseph
In June 2012, an early work by Erwin Panofsky (1892–1968) was found in an armored cabinet in the basement of the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte in Munich. The study, “Die Gestaltungsprincipien Michelangelos, Besonders in ihrem Verhältnis zu denen Raffaels” (“Michelangelo’s Principles of Style, Especially in Relation to Those of Raphael”), fills a gap within the extensive list of publications of one of the most eminent art historians of the twentieth century.
Many knew about it, many looked for it, but no one was able to find it. Assumed lost in the bombing of Hamburg during World War II, Panofsky’s manuscript on Michelangelo, written at the end of the second decade of the twentieth century, had become a legend, a mystery that, as the years went by, was less and less likely to be solved. Not even the correct title had been preserved. All that was known was that during the late spring of 1920, Panofsky’s study had been accepted as his Habilitation thesis by the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Hamburg, and after the required additional examination, Panofsky had received the venia legendi. Then the manuscript vanished, until now, when it reappeared in the most unlikely place, a safe in the basement of what used to be the administration building of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party in Munich. What had happened? This account attempts to reconstruct the history of the manuscript based on information gathered from publications like the Erwin Panofsky Korrespondenz 1910–1968 (ed. Dieter Wuttke, 5 vols. [Wiesbaden, 2001–11]), Horst Bredekamp’s article “Ex nihilo: Panofsky’s Habilitation” (in Erwin Panofsky: Beiträge des Symposions Hamburg 1992, ed. Bruno Reudenbach [Berlin, 1994], 31–51), and recent newspaper articles as well as critical details provided by Gerda Panofsky, Erwin’s second wife and widow, and Stephan Klingen from the Zentralinstitut.