Category Archives: Lectures and Panels

Martyrdom and Sacrifice in Ancient Worlds


Thursday, September 18, 4 p.m., Lincoln Campus Center, Rm. 917

DANIEL BOYARIN, Hermann P. and Sophia Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture, Departments of Near Eastern Studies and Rhetoric, University of California at Berkeley; author, Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism
CARLIN BARTON, Professor of History, UMass Amherst; author, Roman Honor: The Fire in the Bones


Please read featured respondent Michael Shapiro’s comments on this panel. Please share your comments as well by clicking the comment button below.

“Martyrdom and Sacrifice in Ancient Worlds was a spirited joint-paper delivered by Daniel Boyarin, a professor of Talmudic Culture at the University of California at Berkeley, and Carlin Barton, a professor of Ancient History at UMass Amherst. Centering their discussion on the mass suicide of Jewish rebels at Masada while under siege by Roman troops in the first century, Drs. Boyarin and Barton described how the story was interpreted in ancient Jewish and Roman cultures respectively. They did not focus on the suicide, however, as many historians have done, but on the massacre/sacrifice of the women and children by the Jewish men before they killed themselves. The question they posed was why did Josephus, the Roman historian responsible for telling the story of Masada, portray the murder of these women and children as noble? The professors argued that Josephus’s Roman and Jewish audiences would have agreed that the acts were noble, but for very different reasons.” Read More

Michael Shapiro is a Ph.D. candidate in History at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

                      C Barton and D Boyarin


Sustainability: Measuring the Impact of Climate Change on Future Generations

Co-sponsored by The Environmental Institute, University of Massachusetts Amherst

3_sustainabilityimageumass.jpgWednesday, September 24, 4 p.m., The Commons, 2nd floor, Studio Arts Building

CYNTHIA E. ROSENWEIG, Senior Research Scientist, Columbia University and NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
JAMES K. BOYCE, Professor of Economics; Director, Program on Development, Peace-building and the Environment, Political Economy Research Institute, UMass Amherst
DAVID GLASSBERG, Professor of History, UMass Amherst

UPDATE: Read Respondent Michael Shapiro’s comments on the event:  “Cynthia E. Rosenzweig, a biophysical scientist working on global climate change, opened her talk at the Feinberg Family Series panel, Sustainability: Measuring the Impact of Climate Change on Future Generations, by stating, “Anthropological warming is ‘unequivocal.”  Luckily for me, she explained what she meant.  Climate change is happening now and it is affecting people all over the world.  James K. Boyce, a professor of economics, began his presentation by asking three questions about climate change: Who benefits from the economic activities that cause the problem? Who bears the cost? And why can the “winners” impose these costs on the “losers”?  Rosenzweig and Boyce are both scientists, and their presentations focused on the science and economics of climate change, but they both stressed that morality needs to be interjected into discussions of the issue.  Decisions about how to mitigate and adapt to climate change go the heart of the question, what is the value of human life?…”  Read More

Michael Shapiro is a Ph.D. candidate in History at the University of Massachusetts Amherst


What Price Immortality? From Indulgences to Cryogenics – The Cost of Eternal Life

4_mercury-offering-the-cup-of-immortality-to-psyche-raphael-214648.jpgThursday, October 2, 4 p.m., Herter Hall 601

JENNIFER HEUER, Assistant Professor of History, UMass Amherst
BRIAN OGILVIE, Associate Professor of History, UMass Amherst
ANNA TAYLOR, Assistant Professor of History, UMass Amherst
MELISSA MUELLER, Assistant Professor of Classics, UMass Amherst


(Left to Right) Jennifer Heuer, Brian Ogilvie, Anna Taylor, and Melissa Mueller

How do you pay for eternal life? Men and women have long sought the means that would allow them to acquire immortality, from heroic deeds to religious indulgences, or from the sorcerers’ stones to frozen heads. But how people in the past thought about the price of immortality is often very different from what we might expect in the twentieth-century. Drawing particularly on stories of ancient Greece, the medieval undead, and Renaissance alchemists, we will look at some of the ways people have imagined eternal life and will look at some of the ways people have imagined eternal life and its costs — both for those who obtain immortality and for those who help pay for its acquisition, whether willingly or unwillingly.


UPDATE: Read commentator Michael Shapiro’s analysis of this very well attended and lively discussion! “The bulk of the Feinberg Family Lecture Series panels and films consider the value of life on earth. How much should a family be paid when a breadwinner dies? When is it worth sacrificing one’s life? How much are slaves worth and what emotional prices do the decedents of slaves and slave traders pay? How much are societies willing to pay to keep the effects of global warming from killing millions of people around the world? These are important and provocative questions. On Thursday, October 2, three UMass historians and Melissa Mueller from the Classics department asked a different question, “What Price Immortality?” They examined the prices people have paid to get to heaven; what sacrifices people have made to be written about and discussed generations after their deaths; and what lengths people have gone to to prolong life on earth…” READ MORE

Michael Shapiro is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History.



Unnatural Selection: Eugenics, Race, and Ideas of Biological Value

5_eugenics.jpgWednesday, October 15, 7:30 p.m., The Commons, 2nd floor, Studio Arts Building

RICHARD LEWONTIN, Alexander Agassiz Research Professor, Harvard University
DIANE PAUL, Associate of Zoology, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University
LAURA LOVETT, Associate Professor of History, UMass Amherst

This panel will consider attempts by eugenicists in this country and elsewhere to place value on biological or supposed biological differences.  Early twentieth-century programs to sterilize the “unfit” in this country are now the subjects of official apologies in several states.  Yet the spread of genetic testing, new reproductive technologies,  and inexpensive DNA sequencing threatens to allow a resurgence of “selective” reproduction in many countries. This panel would address the history of eugenics, its intersections with scientific racism, and its possible resurgence today with the Human Genome Projects.

UPDATE: Read Michael Shapiro’s comments on the recent packed-house event!  “Richard Lewontin, a Harvard biologist and geneticist, ended his presentation by saying, “Buyer beware.”  As the final speaker in the Feinberg Family Distinguished Lecture Series panel “Unnatural Selection: Eugenics, Race, and Ideas of Biological Value,” he was arguing that people have been led to believe that genes determine our traits, and that simply is not true.  He conceded that genes do influence some traits, but cautioned that there are many other factors, like environment and randomness, to consider.  Keeping with the theme of the panel, he was arguing that genetics is the eugenics of today.  To this day, many people believe that our bloodlines make us who we are and eugenics was the “scientization” of that idea in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and genetics is the “scientization” of that idea today. But science tends to simplify complex phenomena in sometimes dangerous ways.  Fortunately, for those at the panel, eugenics had already been explained.  For that we had the first two presenters.”  READ MORE

Michael Shapiro is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History.


What is She Worth? How (or How Not) to Value a Woman’s Life

6_eugenics_motherchild.jpg Wednesday, October 22, 7:30 p,m., The Commons, 2nd floor, Studio Arts Building
NANCY FOLBRE, Professor of Economics, UMass Amherst; author, Valuing Children: Rethinking the Economics of the Family

How Much are You Worth? How (or How Not) to Value a Human Life.

From Professor Folbre: “This presentation will recount a history of efforts to estimate the value of human lives, ranging from early nineteenth century economic debates through the development of wrongful death suits and life insurance to the Feinberg Commission ‘s decisions regarding public compensation for the families of victims of 9/11. Gender differences play a surprisingly consistent role over this period.  Reluctance to value unpaid family work and lower projected lifetime earnings for most women typically lead to lower levels of compensation for the death of women compared to men. Exploration of this particular valuation issue illustrates the gender bias deeply embedded in conventional economic accounting frameworks.”

Read Michael Shapiro’s comments on Prof. Folbre’s very well attended and stimulating discussion: “Nancy Folbre, a University of Massachusetts professor of economics, identifies herself as a feminist economist who recommends that societies assign a monetary value to unpaid work.  In her lecture, “What is She Worth? How (or How Not) to Value a Woman’s Life,” she described how Kenneth Feinberg’s 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund was unable to fairly compensate some victims’ families because it based its calculations on expected earnings over an expected lifetime. Congress mandated a formula used by courts to determine accidental death settlements that stated that each family received at least $250,000 for emotional pain and suffering, $50,000 for each dependent (which was offset by life insurance payouts), and a percentage of expected earnings.  The families of women ended up receiving an average of 63% less than the families of men.”  READ MORE

Democratization at $130 per barrel: The Value of Human and Political Rights in Post-Soviet Azerbaijan

7_bulisova_azerbaijan.jpgWednesday, October 29, 4 p.m., Herter Hall 601

AUDREY ALTSTADT, Professor of History, UMass Amherst

From Professor Altstadt: “Post-Soviet, oil-rich Azerbaijan borders Iran and Russia. The recently completed export pipeline, the BTC, was funded by a consortium of Western oil companies with the support of their home governments to draw Azerbaijan away from Russia and closer to Turkey and the West. Despite increased ties to Western states and laws that nominally protect human rights and foster democracy, Azerbaijan’s corruption and democratization ratings remain poor. This talk will examine the struggle for democratization and protection of human rights in the context of regional politics and high oil demand.”

Read Michael Shapiro’s comments on the recent talk: “Valuing human life is not just about life and death, but also about quality of life.  What is freedom worth?  Are wealthy nations more democratic than poorer nations?  What role does oil play in the equation? Audrey Altstadt, a professor of history at the University Massachusetts, tried to answer some of these questions in her lecture “Democratization at $70 per barrel: The Value of Human and Political Rights in Post-Soviet Azerbaijan.”  The lecture was originally titled “Democratization at $130 per barrel,” but she decided to change its name because oil prices had dropped.  She stressed, however, that shifts in oil prices will have little impact on the political situation in Azerbaijan because it is run by an elected dictator named Ilham Aliyev who has the machinery in place to suppress dissent.”  READ MORE

Injury: New Perspectives on American Ideas of Suffering and Compensation

8_actuarialtable.gifWednesday, November 5, 4 p.m., Herter Hall 601

JENNIFER HAMILTON, Assistant Professor of Legal Studies, Hampshire College
DANIEL GORDON, Professor of History, UMass Amherst
GARY GARRISON, Ph.D. candidate, History Department, UMass Amherst

From Professor Gordon: “Sometimes we refer to personal injury lawyers as “ambulance chasers” as if this is not a serious field.  But in personal injury law, the most serious issues concerning the value of human life are at the forefront.  How much does it take to compensate for the loss of a limb?  How do we put a dollar sign on the cost of a death?

As Kenneth R. Feinberg shows in his book “What Is Life Worth,” the issues are profound and agonizing.  This panel will examine American conceptions of value in a historical and other social scientific contexts.  What kinds of changes have taken place in our compensation system over time?  How does our current system of compensation for injury compare to other nations?  The speakers will offer both a legal primer for beginners and some in-depth analysis.  Discussion will follow the presentations.”

Read Margo Shea’s comments on the recent panel discussion: “On Wednesday, November 5, 2008, the Feinberg Series continued with a panel entitled “Injury: New Perspectives on American Ideas of Suffering and Compensation.” Hosted by UMass History Department faculty member and BDIC interim director Dan Gordon, the panel included Gary Garrison, a doctoral student in history as well as part-time professor and attorney, and Jennifer Hamilton, a cultural anthropologist and professor in the Legal Studies department at Hampshire College.

Gordon opened the discussion by defining the field of tort – or personal injury – law within the broader realm of questions explored by the Feinberg series. He offered thoughtful comments on the ethical dilemmas Feinberg faced after 9/11 when he opted to offer differential disbursements for the injured and for families of those who died, basing financial rewards on earning histories and projections of earning.  If the notion that “what life is worth is a practical issue,” Gordon suggested that our legal system offers interesting insights into the value we place on individual lives and well-being.”  READ MORE

Mexican Days of the Dead: From the Aztec City of Sacrifice to Chicano/a Murals

9_day_ofthe_dead.gifWednesday, November 12, 4 p.m., Lincoln Campus Center, Rm. 917

DAVID CARRASCO, Neil L. Rudenstine Professor of the Study of Latin America, Harvard Divinity School; author, City of Sacrifice: The Aztec Empire and the Role of Violence in Civilization

Drawing on twenty years of research in the excavations and archives associated with the sites of Teotihuacan and Mexico-Tenochtitlan, Professor Carrasco’s work explores ritual violence and sacred space; his work makes special emphasis on the religious dimensions of Latino experience: mestizaje, the myth of Aztlan, transculturation, and La Virgen de Guadalupe.

Read Michael King’s comments on the recent event:”The process of valuing human life manifests itself in many different forms while varying significantly across cultures. At a recent Feinberg Lecture Series event, David Carrasco, a professor at Harvard Divinity School, delivered a presentation regarding the valuation of life in Mexico. Speaking to a packed room in the Campus Center with more than 100 attendees, the lecture focused on how human life and death are ritualized in Mexican culture. Using case studies of specific aspects of Mexican culture, Professor Carrasco gave the audience insight into how one culture values human life through its respect, reverence and actions toward the dead.” READ MORE

Michael King is a BA candidate at the University of Massachusetts.

Forty Acres and a Mule in the 21st Century

10_williamdarity.jpgMonday, November 17, 4 p.m., The Commons, 2nd floor,
Studio Arts Building

Co-sponsored by the W. E. B. Du Bois Department of
Afro-American Studies, UMass Amherst

WILLIAM DARITY JR., Arts & Sciences Professor of Public Policy Studies, Professor of African and African-American Studies and Economics, Duke University

Read Michael King’s comments on the William Darity talk: “Long has the United States collectively scoffed at the idea of financial compensation as a form of reparation for slavery. But Professor William Darity, Jr., a professor of African-American Studies and Economics at Duke University, believes that reparations should take a different form. In his recent Feinberg Series lecture “Forty Acres and a Mule in the 21st century,” Darity argued that the federal government has the obligation to issue a formal apology for slavery and make a legitimate effort to mitigate its long-term consequences.”  Read More!

Portraits on the Other Shore: The International ‘Reminders’ Photojournalism Project

11_bulisova_iraqirefugee.jpgCo-sponsored by The Lively Arts program, Fine Arts Center, and the Department of Music and Dance, UMass Amherst
Wednesday, April 8, 7:30 p.m., 601 Herter Hall
GABRIELA BULISOVA, George Mason University and Corcoran College of Art and Design
SAYA NAMIKAWA, Translator for the Reminders Project A panel discussion on the power of photography to shape the value placed on the human lives in global politics. For more on the Reminders project, see

The 2008-09 Feinberg Family Distinguished Lecture Series will present Portraits on the Other Shore:The International ‘Reminders’ Photojournalism Project, a lecture and panel discussion led Professor Mary Wilson, Modern Middle East historian, UMass Amherst, and Gabriela Bulisova, originally from Czechoslovakia, a documentary photographer for the International Reminders Project of the “Guests” in Syria—Iraqi refugees who have fled the war and sectarian violence and relocated to Damascus.  Bulisova teaches photography and photojournalism at the George Mason University in Virginia and the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, DC.

From the Reminders Project website:

The reminders (something or someone to make one remember) project was inaugurated in 2000 as a website and series of photo exhibitions. Reminders is a name that refers simultaneously to the photographer, the subject and the people who see it.  By simply reading a paper or watching the news on TV, people can consider what is happening elsewhere in the world as somebody else’s business. Even though problems remain unsolved, people forget about the issues very quickly. Or, if an issue does not attract attention in the first place, it is as if nothing happened at all.

The reminders project, however, aims to tell as many people as possible what really happens around the world. We show images taken by  photojournalists who understand their subjects deeply and continue to cover issues through their own viewpoints. In addition to covering these stories, The Reminders Project creates slide shows, workshops and both national and international photo exhibitions. For more on the reminders project, see http://reminders