Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Augusto Lecture in Ethiopia Stresses Ties among Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, and Humanities

February 12, 2011

Last month in Ethiopia, Watson Fellow Geri Augusto gave a talk recommending two important steps be taken by scholars and reflective practitioners grappling with the relationship between the sciences and the humanities in an intensely globalizing world. “The first is to construct comparative local histories of science, to think about how to do new globally-oriented histories of science, and to attend more carefully to how the sciences have shaped our understandings of what it means to be human. The second is to contemplate more deeply how the arts may confront us with perceptual knowledge, at once both scientific and creative, symbolic and realist, cultural and political,” Augusto said, in a lecture titled “The Sciences and the Humanities in Conversation: Constructing Coeval Histories of Science in Africa and Brazil.”

Augusto’s talk was part of the second in a series of “Conversations on the Humanities” launched at Addis Ababa University by Professor Binyam Sisay, the university’s new dean of the faculty of humanities, and Professor Semeneh Ayalew, of AAU’s Institute of Ethiopian Studies. Sisay and Ayalew are both alums of the Brown International Advanced Research Institutes (BIARI) and its Critical Global Humanities Institute, which is now co-led by Augusto, Anthony Bogues, professor of Africana studies and political science, and Erik Ehn, head of playwriting and professor of theatre arts and performance studies. Following a first “Conversation on the Humanities” featuring Ethiopian perspectives, this leg of the AAU's series focused on global perspectives.

The public event drew an audience of 470, and a separate workshop on the dilemmas of teaching the sciences, science policy, and indigenous knowledge systems alongside one another in the academy was later held with some 30 young AAU faculty members and post-grad students in the humanities, sciences, and gender studies.

In Ethiopia and around the world, “only by braiding together the sciences and the humanities can we get a fuller, more intellectually satisfying understanding of many of the concerns which animate both,” Augusto said in her talk, which AAU plans to publish as part of an edited volume of the entire series in the coming months.