Q & A with Professor Ben-Shai on his Spring 2016 Course!


The Hurford Center is offering several amazing classes next semester, one of which will be Professor Roy Ben-Shai’s “Between Being and the Gods: Heidegger and the Art of Thinking.” We asked him some questions about the course and would like to share them with the tri-co community!

Who was Heidegger and why is he important to the study of philosophy and thought?
Martin Heidegger was a German philosopher, born in 1889 and died in 1976. He is notorious for having been a member of the Nazi party (after the war he was suspended from teaching for a few years because of this), and for having had extramarital affairs, the most famous of which is with Hannah Arendt who was his student (she was 17 and he was 33).
Heidegger is also widely considered, along with Ludwig Wittgenstein, as the most influential, some would say “towering”, philosopher of the 20th century. He is certainly one of the most important philosophers in the continental tradition: his influence on phenomenology*, French Existentialism, deconstruction, and post-structuralism is definitive. Studying his work is therefore quintessential for anyone with interest in 20th century philosophy in Europe.
Besides this historical centrality, Heidegger is remarkable for his capacity to incite original thought. The list of his students includes some of the finest minds of the century, including Levinas, Leo Strauss, Arendt, Marcuse, Derrida, and Agamben. Most indicative is how different these philosophers are from one another and from their teacher. To put it simply: studying Heidegger makes one a better thinker, and that’s a gift.

*Professor Ben-Shai’s definition of “phenomenology”: The easiest way I can think of defining it is as a philosophical method that centers on lived-experience. To give “a phenomenological account” of something is to describe how it is or appears in experience. For example, a phenomenology of illness or disability describes these conditions from the perspective of the one who experiences or undergoes them – what it is like to be ill or disabled – rather than from a medical or sociological perspective.

Why is your course “Between Being and the Gods: Heidegger and the Art of Thinking” a useful or necessary addition to the Haverford community?
So far, I was fortunate to have truly wonderful students in very small and intimate classes. It is my impression that Haverford students – at least the ones I’ve had – are extraordinarily motivated, thoughtful, and engaged. This is the kind of environment in which we can get the most out of Heidegger, and in which his teaching has the most to offer.

What will be the structure of the class?
There will be a lot of discussion, and student presentations. Not too much reading (quantitatively speaking), since the reading is very dense and requires much thought and unpacking. The course is divided straightforwardly: we are reading seven essays, spending about two weeks with each. All essays are in a book called Basic Writings, which we will all buy. I expect the class to be small, and this is conducive both to discussion and to reflection. It’s very important for me to create an environment in which everyone feels comfortable to speak, and not to speak.

How does the course fit into the Peace, Justice, and Human Rights curriculum? (In other words, how can the study of thought help a Haverford Student comprehend or think about human rights?)
In a way, this course fits everywhere: if you are a thoughtful person, or aspire to be one, then you are interested in learning how to think. While Heidegger himself was neither a humanist nor a political thinker, he was greatly influential on thinkers who were (e.g., Arendt, Levinas, Sartre, de Beauvoir, Luce Irigaray, Agamben). Specifically, his work influenced critiques of the concept of “human rights”, since he makes us question the meaning and import of the term “human”. Yet Heidegger can also criticized from a perspective committed to the advancement of human rights, which can also be a useful exercise.

What are you most excited about for the course?
I am very excited about this course (unfortunately, my last course at Haverford), mainly because Heidegger marked my own entry into philosophy. I took a seminar on Heidegger in my senior year of college (Tel-Aviv University in Israel), and following it (in fact, in the process of writing my paper for this course), I made up my mind to dedicate my life to the study and teaching of philosophy. Who knows? Maybe the same thing can happen to one or more of the students in this class as well, in which case, I’d be very happy to be part of it! (now, whether falling in love with philosophy is a good thing or not is already a different question…)

Check out www.haverford.edu/hcah/center/courses for more information on our spring courses.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A New Video and A New Exhibit

For all those who didn’t get a chance to see “The Past is A Foreign Country” at the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, and for those who did see it and would like to revisit it – you’re in luck! Check out this new video featuring the work of Tuttle Creative Resident François-Xavier Gbré:

Though we’re sad to see this exhibit close, we are very excited about the show opening in one week! Curated by Paul M. Farber, a Postdoctoral Writing Fellow here at Haverford, “The Wall in Our Heads: American Artists and the Berlin Wall” opens on October 23rd. The evening starts with a blockbuster conversation between Michael Kimmelman, architecture critic at the New York Times, and Paul M. Farber at 4:30 in Sharpless Auditorium. Don’t miss it! 

Screen Shot 2015-10-17 at 5.14.37 PM

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Monument Lab Returns to Philadelphia

This Thursday – tomorrow!! – Monument Lab, a project headed by Associate Professor Paul Farber and partially sponsored by HCAH, returns! In this iteration, Monument Lab is part of Design Philadelphia downtown. In its own words, Monument Lab asks, “Through a series of art installations, public events, and community-sourced maps, the project asks a central guiding question: What is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia?” This isn’t the first time DeCentered has covered Monument Lab – a number of students, including Aaliyah Allen ’18, worked on the project over the summer. Haverford’s involvement doesn’t end there: Hilary Brashear ’13 produced this video, which captures the presence of Monument Lab this past summer.

The opening event is happening TOMORROW at the Philadelphia Center for Architecture, a few minutes walk from Jefferson station. Find out all the relevant details at the facebook event here. The opening is free and open to the public!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New Post-Bac Fellow!

Christine Dickerson is the new Post-Baccalaureate Fellow with the Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities. She attended Bryn Mawr College, majoring in the History of Art with an emphasis in film theory and production. As a working filmmaker, Christine strives to think critically about the mediums she engages; she blends photography, found footage, and interviews in a mode that welcomes experimentation. With the Hurford Center, Christine hopes to collaborate with students, faculty, and artists to help further the interdisciplinary engagements with the arts on campus. She brings with her a deep commitment to making space for critical practices as well as a cultivated familiarity with the three Colleges.

Stop by Stokes 108A to chat!


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Friends of Mauerpark

Last year, when I was studying abroad in Berlin, I was living with a host family ten minutes by foot from Mauerpark. I had heard that Sundays at Mauerpark were a fun time — with a flea market, karaoke, street musicians – but I didn’t make it there until a few weeks after I arrived in Berlin. On my first Sunday at Mauerpark, I knew right away that this was a special place; it was a living monument, a site, I noted in a blog post I wrote after my first visit, “that’s somehow both relaxing and totally breathing with life and energy”; there was an immediate sense of community at this former border zone dividing East and West. I tried to make it back to Mauerpark as many Sundays as I could that semester, and it also became a spot to meet up with friends on others day, too. The acute sense one gets there of both historical significance and present common spacemade it my favorite place in Berlin, and one of my favorite places on earth.

Imagine my surprise and excitement, then, when I saw an announcement on one of the Dining Center screens for an internship opportunity to work at and on behalf of Mauerpark. I pursued the internship, got it, and, on June 11, headed to Berlin to spend the summer with Freunde des Mauerparks (Friends of Mauerpark).

Friends of Mauerpark works to preserve Mauerpark as a communal space and to push for toward the expansion (or completion, depending on who you ask) of the park. It is made up of about 8 volunteer members, all of whom live in the neighborhood around Mauerpark.

Most of my duties with Friends of Mauerpark fell in one of two categories.

1) Info stand: At the famous Mauerpark Sundays, our group puts up a small pavilion where we answer visitors’ questions. While we can help with simple inquiries (Where is the toilet? When does Karaoke start?), we’re mostly there to talk about larger issues. On the one hand, the history of the site. On the other, the present and future political situation: particularly the Berlin government’s current plans to build 700 hundreds just to the north of Mauerpark, on a space that could have otherwise been used as an expansion site. The group is not entirely against residential development, but sees this plan as too massive and disruptive.

2) WebsiteThe group’s Website is filling few different roles. It’s the Friends of Mauerpark Website, but is also the primary Website of Mauerpark itself. Thus, it is both outward- and inward-looking. We had many discussions about what should stay in and what should come out; what’s up-to-date and what needs to be rewritten; how detailed to be; and so on. After that (or really, back and forth), I translated everything that wasn’t yet in English (which is to say, most of it) into English. I also had smaller projects and responsibilities: one week, I helped conceptualize and propose a communal, artistic repurposing of an unused building on the site; another, I built and filled a raised flowerbed to beautify the area around our storage unit at the park. Finally, I attended meetings: one with a Berlin politician and two with the Berlin Water Works; one community workshop with other Mauerpark-related groups; and of course Friends of Mauerpark’s monthly meeting.

I came to the park this summer hoping that it would provide a space to continue thinking about the historical issues that I was drawn to during my time as a History major at Haverford. And it has. But also gave me an incredible opportunity to engage with the very practical matters of local organization that go unnoticed to visitors—and went unnoticed to me as a visitor last year: real estate law and local zoning policy; questions of joining and leaving coalitions; infrastructural development (the city plans to build a sewer underneath the park starting in 2017); and much more.

I’m also working on another project, not for Friends of Mauerpark, but directly related. Today, the path of the Berlin Wall is now a 100-mile walkable and bikeable trail. There’s also Over the last few weeks, in 3- to 15-mile increments, I’ve been walking the Wall in order to write an article on what the death strip is, and does, today. The city of Berlin released an app to go along with the Wall, and I’m using the app as an entrance into understanding how the Wall is understood. It’s an exploration not only of the Wall’s remains as well as of digital and physical engagement with history. It’s also been a remarkable way to see corners and niches of Berlin — and the surrounding state of Brandenburg – that otherwise go unnoticed. Yesterday, after 100 miles (about 200,000 steps), I finished where I started: Checkpoint Charlie. And today, I left Berlin.

I’d like to once again thank the CPGC, the Humanities Center, Professor Farber, and of course Freunde des Mauerparks. Have a great year, Haverford!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Theatrics at a City Council Meeting

Recently, I added a post to the forum which detailed the new cultural asset map which was being developed to help plan a new cultural district in Chester PA. Since then, a few events have occurred which have helped circulate information about the map and its contents to community residents. The culmination of project concluded in late July, with a presentation in front of city council occurring near the end of my internship with the Pennsylvania Humanities Council.

The start of the city council meeting started like any other. A roll call and overview of the itinerary began proceedings, but this time members of the public and media had packed the meeting room full. When the council meeting had ended, the mayor and city representatives relinquished their chairs and up came the community ensemble who had prepared a short skit. For some in the audience, it was their first time hearing details about the online map of the region’s cultural assets and the arts and theater based community gatherings which had led to its data collection. For others, it represented a project towards which they had made contributions over the past 18 months.

Drummer performing with the Ensemble

Drummer performing with the Ensemble

Don Newton led the way for the ensemble as they performed their 20 minute skit in front of the audience. At the end of the performance, members of the city council and ensemble together shared details about their involvement with the project while answering questions from the audience. Soon, audience members all had their smartphones in hand, scrolling through the cultural asset map.

The online map, of course, is just one step of the way to help revitalize the downtown Chester Cultural Corridor (C3), a region feature many arts and culture initiatives stretching down Avenue of the States from City Hall to Widener. While much of the city’s downtown areas remain boarded up, the corridor is an area which has begun to spring back to life, with the establishment of numerous art galleries, music cafe’s, and other cultural venues.

- Kevin Jin ’17



Posted in Humanities Internship, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Making a Timeline of Colonial Valley Zapotec Documents

As I wrote about about in July, I work as an RA on the Ticha Project (an online text database for Colonial Valley Zapotec) with Professor Brook Lillehaugen.  Most of my RA work is directly with the documents: photographing the documents (in Mexico), organizing the photographs, transcribing and analyzing the text, and copying metadata.  But lately I’ve been working on something quite different, with less linguistics and more HTML: a timeline!

To do this, I’m currently using TimelineJS, which creates a timeline using data Google Spreadsheet.  The work flow goes like this:

Screenshot of a Google Spreadsheet

Make timeline items in a Google Spreadsheet.

Screenshot of TimelineJS webpage

Import the spreadsheet to the TimelineJS generator.

Screenshot of timeline made with TimelineJS

Make a timeline hosted at KnightLab







However, while you can embed this timeline into a personal website, you can’t edit what it looks like.  To do that, you have to download the source files for TimelineJS and make a local version.  Today I got the local version working, although I haven’t had a chance to make any changes to the styling.  Here’s the new workflow:

Screenshot of a Google Spreadsheet

Make timeline items in a Google Spreadsheet.

Screenshot of a terminal at work.

Configure TImelineJS locally, and add the timeline to the website using Jekyll.

Screenshot of a timeline on the Ticha site.

Enjoy your personally crafted timeline!







The middle step is now a lot more intense, but I’m having a great time improving my skills in a  terminal (that’s what the green and black thing is called).  Look forward to a timeline of Colonial Valley Zapotec documents going live on the Ticha site soon!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Light, Phoenix-like from the past

This gallery contains 1 photo.

Thanks to the generosity of Haverford’s Hurford Center, I have been pursuing independent research for my upcoming thesis project at the Library of Congress in Washington DC. The archive is massive, but I have to the best of my abilities … Continue reading

More Galleries | Leave a comment

Circles and Cotton along a flowing river

You can think of the Mississippi Delta in circles. Circles of communities center around a landing on the River, a cotton gin, or a saw mill. Jewish communities center on cemeteries or synagogues. The question is, how do these circles of communities intersect, interact, and affect one another?

As I read many books (I still have many more to read and re-read), I was struck by Elliott Ashkenazi’s book “The Business of Jews in Louisiana.” While describing the buisness life of Jews in 19th century Louisiana, he emphacizes the way in which Jews fit well into the rigid class system, functioning as cotton factors and merchants. I thought about the way in which Jews, being so intimately involved in the cotton trade, really the foundation of the Southern economy, would have to become intimately involved in Southern life. Their fellow coreligionists in the North, on the other hand, would not experience this integration, in large part to the the North’s diversified economic structure.

I am not by any means saying that the cotton trade was the cause for assimilation. I don’t have enough evidence to make that claim. However, in the upcoming months, I hope to argue that the cotton trade played not only a significant, but an exceptional role in the integration of Jews not only into the economic fabric Southern society, but also into the cultural and social aspects that made Jewish Americans into loyal Jewish Southerners.

Posted in Humanities Internship | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Quakers, Haverford, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

One of my favorite parts about writing stories for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s website PhilaPlace.org is learning about the history of places I pass almost every time I am in Philly. In my last post I talked about the Wanamaker family that owned the Macy’s building, but recently I wrote about a site that hits a little closer to home.

This past week I wrote a story about the Arch Street Friends Meeting House (which you can read here: www.philaplace.org/story/1629/). On Monday I was able to do my research for this story at Haverford, where I spent most of the day in special collections reading. It was really cool to be able to explore the library more than I do when I am writing papers for my classes. I also knew very little about Haverford’s Quaker history before writing this story. Every thing I knew came from brief discussions with the Quakers on campus and the Quaker style meetings held throughout the year. If you had told me there were different groups within the Society of Friends I’m not sure I would have believed you.

The Society of Friends was nicknamed the Quakers because of the way they supposedly quake during prayer meetings. Since I had already been to the Quaker Meeting House at Haverford I knew to expect a simple plain room with benches facing the center, but I had no clue that Quakers did not believe in hierarchies. Thus there are no tiers and the members all face the center. This way there is no group that is in a position of power. At the same time there are members of the Society, both men and women, who were recognized as gifted speakers and sat on their own bench. When the Arch Street Friends Meeting House was built the Black members were also designated their own bench. Once everyone arrived the participants would sit in silence until someone felt moved to speak.

Philadelphia’s connection with Quakers goes back to the beginning. William Penn, who founded Pennsylvania, was a Quaker. He made sure he bought the land from the natives even though the land was already given to him by the King of England. He also made sure that the natives could still use the same paths and meeting places that they had previously used, even if someone had a house on that property. The Quakers went on the create many organizations that aided all types of people. The Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery was started by Quakers, and in the 1830s, they created the Institute for Colored Youth.

The Quakers also founded many schools, including Haverford and Swarthmore. On June 18, 1830 there was a meeting to discuss the creation of a college for orthodox boys. This school turned into Haverford College, which was opened in 1833. The Hicksites, a fraction that separated in 1827 due to Protestant evangelical influence, responded by building Swarthmore College. The Quakers went on to create more schools for boys and girls in and around Philadelphia.

It is really cool to know a little bit more about the history of the Quakers and the school I go to. Overall, I have really enjoyed learning about Philadelphia’s past this summer at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Claire Michel ’18 

Posted in Humanities Internship | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment