Exploring Intersections between Science and the Humanities


José Amador and Amanda McVety, Altman Fellows


In his 1620 masterpiece, Novum Organum, Francis Bacon lamented that “man by the Fall fell at the same time from his state of innocency and from his dominion over Creation. Both of these losses however can even in this life be in some part repaired; the former by religion and faith, the latter by arts and science.” Bacon’s remarks are striking because their focus on human dominion over the natural world hinges on the enduring relation between arts and sciences. Who are we in relation to biological innovations that alter life? How do these innovations challenge our criteria for determining differences between the human animal and other species? What are the implications of scientific and technological discoveries and practices for our place within a natural world, if a “natural” world can still be said to exist?

The Human and the Nonhuman explored the unstable border between humans and animals and the issue of human dominance in the world.  How do we understand our relations to other animals?   What are the proper limits to human manipulation of the natural world?  Is it ethical to control, harm, or even create other species?  And how can the study of philosophy, history, language, and culture complement scientific inquiry into such questions?

The 2012-13 Altman program united nine Miami University faculty, six Altman student fellows, nine distinguished visiting scholars and artists, and hundreds of students and faculty across campus to explore these questions through public lectures, seminars, film series, and formal courses.  The program culminated with "Thinking Interspecies," a two-day conference in April 2013.  

Download the 2012-13 Altman Program Calendar              

2012-13 Altman Program Highlights


  • Faculty Fellows and Scholars from anthropology, American studies, Asian history, U.S. history, philosophy, English, and Latin American studies.


  • Distinguished Lectures.  The Altman Program brings a number of distinguished scholars and artists to campus for high profile lectures attended by Miami undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and other public audiences.  The lectures for this year include a psychologist, an anthropologist, the director of the Cincinnati zoo, a Kenyan conservationist, a historian of science, a philosopher, an award-winning artist, and two scholars of literary and cultural theory:
    • Hal Herzog, “Animals, Ethics, and the Problem of Moral Consistency”

    • Jane Desmond, “ ‘Art’ by Animals?”

    • Cary Wolfe, “The Biopolitics of Animal Bodies”

    • Thane Maynard and John Kamanga Ole Ntetiyian, “Collaboration and Coexistence”

    • Karen Rader, “Domestication Revisited: Scientific Animals in the Laboratory and Beyond”

    • Kari Weil, “(In)human Empathy”

    • Marina Zurkow, “Friends and Enemies”

  • “Thinking Interspecies:  Conversations about Human-Nonhuman Boundaries." On April 10-12, the Altman program included a two-day conference including presentations several  distinguished visitors, this Miami faculty fellows and undergraduate fellows presentation.  The conference included an art exhibit, an artist's gallery talk, and a new format in which faculty and visitors publicly debate the questions raised by distinguished visitors.


  • Altman Faculty Seminar.  This bi-weekly meeting allows our interdisciplinary group of faculty to explore intellectual issues of pressing social significance.  The group is joined by our select cohort of Altman Undergraduate Scholars—advanced researchers who show exceptional promise as future leaders.


  • Altman Faculty Presentations.  Altman faculty use their fellowship year to generate new research on the core questions of the program.  Throughout the year they offer lectures or join public roundtables and discussions to share, and get valuable feedback on, their work in progress.  These public presentations help our undergraduates and graduate students to see how collaboration in the faculty seminar can lead to new research in the humanities.


  • The Altman Undergraduate Course.  Two Altman Fellows team-taught an original course for advanced undergraduates focused on the year’s theme.  Approximately 20-25 undergraduates are integrated closely into all other program events and take advantage of its visitors.  The course was History 410I/Latin American Studies 410I: “Human Dominion in the Americas”


  • Altman Student Fellows.  Approximately six outstanding graduate and undergraduate students were selected for this honor from areas including English, zoology, anthropology, music, philosophy, biochemistry, and comparative religion.  Student fellows gave fifteen minute lectures on their research to the enttire scholarly community present at the "Thinking Interspecies Conference." Attendees remarked on the high quality of the presentations.  One Altman Scholar, Brian Sopher, went on to win a prestigious Beineke Scholarship, one of 20 awarded nationwide in 2013.  


  • Art Exhibits, Film Series, and Related Courses.  The Human and the Nonhuman included two art exhibits, a screening and discussion of the film “Project Nim,” and a spring film series and one-credit American Studies course, “Films about the Human and the Nonhuman,” taught by the members of the Altman faculty community. 


  • Undergraduate Course Networking.  Over a dozen courses across the university incorporated the theme and public events of "The Human and the Nonhuman," producing a large intellectual payoff for the program.


2012-2013 Altman Fellows

Amanda Kay McVety is Assistant Professor of History at Miami University. A specialist in the history of U.S. foreign relations, she is interested in the consequences of human-directed development on the nonhuman. Her book, Enlightened Aid: U.S. Development as Foreign Policy in Ethiopia (Oxford 2012), examines the intellectual and political origins of Point Four, the first American aid program for the “underdeveloped world,” and its operations in Ethiopia.

José Amador is Assistant Professor of Latin American Studies and History at Miami University. A cultural historian of medicine, race, and empire, he is the co-editor of a volume entitled Cultura, memoria y vida cotidiana en Cuba, 1878-1917 and the author of articles on popular culture, race, and intellectual history in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. He has been awarded grants from the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Center for Caribbean Studies.


2012-2013 Altman Scholars

Yu-Fang Cho is Associate Professor of English and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and a founding member of the Asian/ Asian American Studies Program at Miami University. Her research explores how cultural production mediates contradictory subject relations within the context of U.S. expansionism. Her articles have appeared in American Quarterly, Transnational American Studies, The Journal of Asian American Studies, Arizona Quarterly, Meridians, and Oxford University Press’s Popular Print Culture Series. Her book, Uncoupling American Empire: Cultural Politics of Deviance and Unequal Difference, 1890-1910 (forthcoming from SUNY) examines how literary and popular texts reframe narratives of empire as domestic social conflicts.

Kristina Gehrman is Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Miami University. Her research brings together questions about nature, moral values, and human action, and it ranges from inquiry into the continuing relevance of Aristotle’s ethics to the problem of human bias in philosophical theories of action. During the Altman Program, she is exploring what it means to say that something is “natural” and whether values are features of the natural world. She received her doctorate from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2010 and recently presented her work at Northwestern’s Society for the Theory of Ethics and Politics.

Kimberly Hamlin is a cultural historian of women, gender, and science and Assistant Professor of American Studies and History at Miami University. She is particularly interested in questions concerning the “natural” differences between men and women, how women use science for feminist purposes, and the U.S. reception of evolutionary theory. She has published three essays on the gendered aspects of the U.S. reception of Darwin and her first book, From Eve to Evolution, is forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press. She teaches classes on gender, sexuality, and women, as well as on science, medicine, and technology in American culture. Together with José Amador, she coordinates MU’s Gender, Science, and Technology Faculty Working Group.

Linda Marchant is the founding and current chair of the Department of Anthropology at Miami University. Her research interests include behavioral primatology, laterality of function (handedness), African apes, and visual anthropology. She is the author of more than 60 chapters and journal articles and co-edited Behavioural Diversity in Chimpanzees and Bonobos (Cambridge University Press, 2002) and Great Ape Societies (Cambridge University Press, 1996). Most recently she was a Visiting Fellow, Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies, Department of Biological Anthropology, University of Cambridge, and Research Associate Darwin College, University of Cambridge (2009-2010).

Gaile Pohlhaus, Jr. is Associate Professor of Philosophy and faculty affiliate of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program. She has published articles on the social, political, and ethical dimensions of knowing in such journals as Hypatia, Political Theory, Social Epistemology, and Social Philosophy Today. She is a founding member of the Association for Feminist Epistemology, Metaphysics, Methodologies, and Science Studies, and she participated in the Future of Minority Studies Research Project as a Mellon Fellow.

Daniel Prior is Assistant Professor in the Miami University Department of History. A specialist on Inner Asia, he has lived in China, Japan, and for three and a half years in Kyrgyzstan, before and after its independence from the Soviet Union. He is the author of two books: The Semetey of Kenje Kara: A Kirghiz Epic Performance on Phonograph (Harrassowitz, 2006) and The Šabdan Baatır Codex: Epic and the Writing of Northern Kirghiz History (Brill, forthcoming). He recently curated Grass Routes: Pathways to Eurasian Cultures, an exhibition at the Miami University Art Museum. Prior is the past recipient of an NEH Fellowship, an ACLS/ SSRC/NEH International and Area Studies Fellowship, and an IREX Individual Advanced Research Opportunities grant.

Marguerite S. Shaffer is the Director of American Studies and an Associate Professor of American studies and History at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and received her Ph.D. in the History of American Civilization from Harvard University. She is the author of See America First: Tourism and National Identity, 1880-1940 (Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001) and editor of Public Culture: Diversity, Democracy, and Community in the United States, (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008). Her co-edited volume, Third Nature: Reconsidering the Boundaries Between Nature and Culture, is forthcoming from the University of Pennsylvania Press.


2012-2013 Altman Student Fellows

Caroline Heller, a master’s student in English literature, is writing a thesis on the relationship of writing to bios, or life, and forms of biopower in Romantic poetry. She recently presented a paper entitled “Beyond Species and Nation: Writing Life and Land in Charlotte Smith’s Beachy Head” at the British Women Writers Conference.

Brian Sopher is a sophomore philosophy major from Columbus, Ohio, whose interests include Marxism, the late Wittgenstein, and ideology and political philosophy generally. He has written works on the intersection of language and ideology, for which he won the 2011-2012 Linguistics Department Award.

Miranda Wood is a senior anthropology and comparative religion double major from Carmel, Indiana whose academic interests include the Anthropology of Religion and Medical Anthropology. In June 2012, Miranda completed research in Gozo, Malta on the relationship between the Maltese Roman Catholic Church and the Maltese Divorce Referendum of 2011.

Steven Lakin, originally from Carmel, Indiana, is a senior majoring in zoology, philosophy, and biochemistry. His primary academic interest is animal bioethics. He has been a Dean’s Scholar and Undergraduate Summer Scholar. He was recently named a Linda Singer Scholar for his work in philosophy.

Abby Sapadin, a senior from Naperville, Illinois, is a music and anthropology double major with a premedical focus. In 2011, she held the George Barron Memorial Music Scholarship. She holds positions as the Miami University Steel Band co-publicity chair and an Honors Undergraduate Associate for the course “Global Music for the iPod,” and is also preparing for her upcoming senior percussion recital.

Megan Teeples, a zoology and English literature double major from Auburn Ohio, is interested in writing a thesis comparing the scientific breakthroughs of recent decades and their subsequent effect on literature. She is in the Honors Program at Miami University and hopes to attend medical school following her college career.



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