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Moments of Change

2009-10: "Dare to Know!" The Late Eighteenth Century (1776-1801)

The Institute for the Arts and Humanities is pleased to present the third annual Moments of Change multidisciplinary program. Following the remarkable success of “The Early Seventeenth Century and the Roots of Modernity, ca. 1600-1625” (in 2007-08) and of “‘Astonish Me!’ The Turn of the Twentieth Century, 1889-1914” (in 2008-09), this academic year focuses on the period between 1776 and 1801.

“Dare to Know!” is an apt title for the 2009-10 program. Originally used by Horace in the 1st century BCE, the exhortation was adopted by Immanuel Kant in his seminal essay An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?(Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?), published in 1784. The phrase came to encapsulate the spirit of the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on reason, knowledge, and individual liberty. As historian Peter Gay explains, “the men of the Enlightenment united on a vastly ambitious program, a program of secularism, humanity, cosmopolitanism, and freedom, above all, freedom in its many forms – freedom from arbitrary power, freedom of speech, freedom of trade, freedom to realize one’s talents, freedom of aesthetic response, freedom, in a word, of moral man to make his own way in the world.” (Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Paganism, 1995, p. 3). Among the many legacies of that period were the American, French, and Haitian revolutions, all of which advanced the then-radical idea that individuals had rights.

The call – “dare to know!” – is as relevant today as it was in the world of Kant, Franklin, and Jefferson. In many ways it captures the spirit of Moments of Change, a program that is aimed at challenging us to view the past and to understand the present through a multidimensional and multidisciplinary prism. This is especially important on college campuses and communities of learning, fertile grounds for debate and for the exploration of ideas.

As the director of a center deeply committed to intellectual exchange and to bridging disciplinary divides, it is deeply rewarding to witness the enthusiasm for Moments of Change among students, faculty, and community members. Again this year, many units have joined the Institute as Moments of Change partners and co-sponsors, creating a synergy that is rarely found on college campuses elsewhere.

As always, I invite you to attend the many events that are part of this year’s program – lectures, roundtable discussions, symposia, salon evenings, concerts, exhibitions. “Dare to know,” dare to broaden your intellectual horizons!

Marica S. Tacconi, Ph.D.
Director, Institute for the Arts and Humanities (2005-10)
Professor of Musicology

2008-09: "Astonish Me!" The Turn of the 20th Century (1889-1914)

One night in 1912, while crossing the Place de la Concorde in Paris after a performance by the Ballets Russes, its director Sergei Diaghilev challenged the young French poet Jean Cocteau, “Astonish me!”  Five years later, astonish he did, as the ballet Parade was premiered at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.  As typical of works performed by the Ballets Russes, Parade was a collaborative project, with scenario by Cocteau, music by Erik Satie, a “surrealist” curtain and “cubist” costumes by Pablo Picasso, choreography by Leonide Massine, and program notes by Guillaume Apollinaire.  Parade was “astonishing” in a number of ways, as the work included electroshock, a comet, an earthquake, and a number of Futurist-inspired “noise-making” instruments, such as a foghorn, a lottery wheel, and a typewriter.  As had been the case with the shocking premiere of The Rite of Spring in 1913, the first-night audience responded with an uproar, most booing and hissing.

Diaghilev’s challenge to Cocteau perfectly encapsulates the artistic and cultural climate at the turn of the 20th century, a time that witnesses an explosion of experimentation and innovation in the arts and sciences.  It was a period of remarkable change, a time of heated discussion and groundbreaking ideas marked by the pervasive desire to “make it new,” to break away from convention and tradition.

Following the success of the inaugural Moments of Change initiative, dedicated in 2007-08 to the early 17th century, the Second Annual Moments of Change explores the twenty-five-year period at the turn of the 20th century, from the highly influential World Fair in Paris in 1889 to the outbreak of World War One in 1914.  This year’s multidisciplinary initiative includes over forty events: interdisciplinary roundtables and symposia, a series of four salon evenings, lectures, exhibitions, performances, the second annual Josephine Berry Weiss interdisciplinary humanities seminar, and even a halftime show at a football game!

The 2008-09 initiative is, more than ever, a collaborative effort.  Over a dozen Penn State units have joined the Institute in supporting Moments of Change as partners and co-sponsors, and faculty and students from across the arts and humanities (and beyond) have provided their input and will share their expertise to make this year’s program exciting and far-reaching.  As the director of a center deeply committed to the exchange of ideas across the disciplines, it is particularly rewarding to witness the synergy that the Institute’s Moments of Change promotes.  Praised by local residents as “the type of program that embodies what a university should be all about,” Moments of Change brings together faculty and students from across multiple departments and colleges, while also extending its reach to the non-academic community.

I invite you to attend the many events, to gain new perspectives, to consider fresh viewpoints, to be stirred by the sights and the sounds of a moment of change that still impacts our lives today:  let yourself be “astonished”!

Marica S. Tacconi, Ph.D.
Director (2005-10)
Institute for the Arts and Humanities

2007-08: The Early 17th Century and the Roots of Modernity (ca. 1600-1625)

Four-hundred years ago, in 1607, Shakespeare's Hamlet was performed for the first time outside of England on a British East India Company ship off the coast of Sierra Leone. Meanwhile, in Italy, Monteverdi's L'Orfeo received its premiere in Mantua, heralding the birth of opera. Five years later, in 1612, Artemisia Gentileschi unveiled her painting of Judith Slaying Holofernes to astounded gasps at the realism of her work and the violence of her subject.

This period also teemed with scientific breakthroughs, including Galileo's first use of the telescope, Kepler's new understanding of the cosmos and planetary action, and Bacon's theorizing of empiricism, all of which laid the foundations for our modern scientific and technological world. At the same time, accomplishments in other parts of the world crowned a long process of development. For example, architect Mehmed Agha's design of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul (also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, constructed between 1609 and 1617) marked the culmination of more than 200 years of the classical period of Mosque development. Geographical and political maps would also be changed forever, as the shores of Virginia received its first English settlers (1607), the French colonized Quebec (1608), and Pilgrims and Wampanoags celebrated the "first Thanksgiving" in Plymouth (1621).