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The Oakley Center

The Oakley Center was established in 1985 to support research across the humanities and social sciences, with a special emphasis on interdisciplinary work. Since that time, it has come to play a vital role in the scholarly life of Williams College. The Center provides a meeting place where faculty and administrative staff can pursue their intellectual and research interests. It sponsors many events and programs throughout the year, some exclusively for faculty and staff and others for the entire campus and the wider public.

Programs especially for faculty include fellowships, colloquia with distinguished visiting scholars and Center-supported faculty research and reading groups. Each semester, about eight faculty Fellows are in residence and participate in a weekly research seminar. Through the Ruchman Fellowship program, two Williams seniors participate in the Fellows' seminar as well. Through the Clark-Oakley Fellowship, offered in conjunction with the Research and Academic Program of the Clark Art Institute, the Center also provides an office and funding for one scholar, from outside the College, who will take part in the programs of both institutions. The Center's public events include occasional conferences and the annual Richmond, Weiss, and Davis Lectures.

We invite you to join us for these Spring 2016 events:


Tuesday, April 12 at 7:00 pm, Griffin Hall #3


Udo Schuklenk (Professor of Philosophy and Ontario Research Chair in Bioethics, Queen’s University, Canada) delivers the annual Weiss Lecture on Medicine and Medical Ethics

International medical humanitarian aid organizations pondered during the 2015 Ebola outbreak the question of whether they should offer experimental medical interventions to patients in their emergency medical centers. Udo Schuklenk spent a couple of weeks in Liberia and Sierra Leone during the outbreak trying to develop an ethics framework that could provide the normative guidance underpinning such a course of action.  In his Weiss Lecture address he will discuss ethical reasons for why the provision of experimental medical interventions would have been a defensible course of action. A number of countervailing arguments, which were eventually eliminated as feasible options, will be explored. Schuklenk argues that the lessons we should take away from this outbreak have also important practical implications for how we deal with the same issue affecting catastrophically ill patients in the Global North.

*This event is free and open to the public


Friday, April 15 at 4:15 pm, Oakley Center


A conversation with Aamir Mufti (Professor of Comparative Literature, UCLA)

The idea of world literature has garnered much attention recently as a discipline that promises to move humanistic study beyond postcolonial theory and antiquated paradigms of "national" literary traditions. In Forget English! Aamir Mufti scrutinizes the claims made on behalf of world literature by its advocates. The notion of a borderless, egalitarian global literature has obvious appeal, he notes, but behind it lurks the continuing dominance of English as a literary language and a cultural system of international reach.

World literature has always been a border regime, an implicit set of regulations governing the mobility of various national and local literatures across the world. Mufti explores how English historically achieved its literary preeminence, and he deepens our understanding of how the hegemony of English affects non-European languages-- particularly those of India and South Asia-- as vessels of literary expression. At the center of the very possibility of world literature is the dominance of English, as both a literary vernacular and the undisputed language of global capitalism.

Aamir R. Mufti was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan, and is currently Professor of Comparative Literature and Director of the Seminar in Global Critical Humanities at the University of California, Los Angeles. He studied literature at Columbia under the supervision of Edward Said and also trained in Anthropology at Columbia and the London School of Economics. He is the author of Enlightenment
in the Colony: The Jewish Question and the Crisis of Postcolonial Culture (Princeton, 2007) and Forget English: Orientalism and World
Literature (Harvard, 2016) and many articles. He is co-editor of Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation and Postcolonial Perspectives (U. Minnesota Press).  

*By RSVP only*


Thursday, May 5 at 4:15 pm, Oakley Center


A conversation with Alice Goffman (Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Forty years in, the War on Drugs has done almost nothing to prevent drugs from being sold or used, but it has nonetheless created a little-known surveillance state in America’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Arrest quotas and high-tech surveillance techniques criminalize entire blocks, and transform the very associations that should stabilize young lives—family, relationships, jobs—into liabilities, as the police use such relationships to track down suspects, demand information, and threaten consequences.

Alice Goffman spent six years living in one such neighborhood in Philadelphia, and her close observations and often harrowing stories reveal the pernicious effects of this pervasive policing. Goffman introduces us to an unforgettable cast of young African American men who are caught up in this web of warrants and surveillance—some of them small-time drug dealers, others just ordinary guys dealing with limited choices. All find the web of presumed criminality, built as it is on the very associations and friendships that make up a life, nearly impossible to escape. We watch as the pleasures of summer-evening stoop-sitting are shattered by the arrival of a carful of cops looking to serve a warrant; we watch—and can’t help but be shocked—as teenagers teach their younger siblings and cousins how to run from the police (and, crucially, to keep away from friends and family so they can stay hidden); and we see, over and over, the relentless toll that the presumption of criminality takes on families—and futures.

While not denying the problems of the drug trade, and the violence that often accompanies it, through her gripping accounts of daily life in the forgotten neighborhoods of America's cities, Goffman makes it impossible for us to ignore the very real human costs of our failed response—the blighting of entire neighborhoods, and the needless sacrifice of whole generations.

*By RSVP only*

Oakley Center News

Senior Oakley Center Fellow and Williams College President Emeritus John Chandler was recently featured in an article in Newsweek Magazine: "Inside the Colleges that Killed Frats for Good."

The Chronical of Higher Education featured an article on the work of Daniel Everett (Dean of Bentley College and professor of anthropology and linguistics) who delievered the annual Richmond Lecture on March 13, 2012.

Siddartha Mukherjee, (Columbia and CU/NYU Presbyterian Hospital), who gave the annual Andrew B. Weiss, MD, Lecture on Medicine and Medical Ethics in 2010, has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.

Barbara J. King of the College of William and Mary blogs about a recent Oakley Center symposium, "After Humanism," here. Information about the symposium (September 23-24, 2010), as well as conference pictures, can be found here.

Former Clark-Oakley Humanities Fellow Jonathan Katz, now head of a new visual studies program at SUNY-Buffalo, speaks out about the controversy sparked by a high-profile exhibition that he curated at the National Portrait Gallery: "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture." The exhibition received a positive review in the Washington Post.

Link to Oakley Center past events, 2006-2013