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School of Humanities celebrates its 50th birthday

An exhibit in Compton Gallery celebrating 50 years of teaching and scholarship in the School of Humanities and Social Science at MIT will open with a reception on Wednesday, Sept. 20, from 5-7pm in the gallery, located under the dome on the first floor of Building 10.

"This exhibit is a wonderful collaboration between faculty in the school and the MIT Museum. It captures some of the remarkable history and achievements of the school over the past five decades. And it also captures some of the magic of our illustrious faculty," said Philip Khoury, dean of the school.

"Our 50th Anniversary is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the school and our lasting friendships and collaborations across the school and the Institute," he said.

This year, the School of Humanities and Social Science was renamed the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Science (SHASS), to honor the rigor and vitality of MIT's arts faculty and programs.

The SHASS exhibition is the kick-off event to celebrate the school's 50th anniversary season. The exhibit will run from September 20 through January 26, 2001.

Kenneth R. Manning, the Thomas Meloy Professor of Rhetoric and History of Science, was the chief curator of the exhibition and chair of an exhibition committee whose members were Associate Professor Deborah Fitzgerald of the Program in Science, Technology and Society; Associate Professor Margery Resnick of Foreign Languages and Literature; and Alex Chisholm of the Program in Comparative Media Studies.

"Our committee's challenge was to capture the richness and diversity of thought and scholarly and artistic achievement that have been hallmarks of the school for the last 50 years, and to invite the viewer to reflect on that history," Professor Manning said.

"The photographs, documents and artifacts displayed here are frames in a larger fabric, but they provide an opportunity for reflection in an institution geared more towards shaping the future than pondering the past," he commented.

Professor Manning used the image of a bridge to reflect the role of the school and to focus the theme of the exhibit.

"The exhibition outlines the development of the school over the last 50 years. The shapes and contours of our 'genealogy' reveal the many bridges that connect the academic and administrative units within the school, with the rest of the Institute and with the outside world. A bridge aptly reflects the role of the school at MIT.

"Three basic service units in existence at the founding of the school have evolved into more than a dozen distinguished academic units and programs today. This picture, worth at least a thousand words, could not have been predicted 50 years ago. It represents opportunities grasped, chances taken, decisions made and sustained efforts by the faculty and administration at critical moments in our history," Professor Manning stated.

A unique, historic feature of the Compton Gallery exhibit will be a display of three Nobel Prizes in economics, all awarded to SHASS faculty. The gold Nobel medal awarded in 1970 to Paul A. Samuelson, Professor of Economics, Emeritus, and the handpainted Nobel citations awarded in 1987 to Robert M. Solow, Institute Professor, Emeritus (economics), and in 1985 to Franco Modigliani, Institute Professor, Emeritus (management), will be on display from 10-4pm on Thursday and Friday, Sept. 21-22.

"The Museum is delighted to be working with the school on this exhibition -- our mission is to communicate the activities and achievements of MIT to a wide audience and this is a wonderful way to highlight the amazing work of the school that the public does not always know about. When people think of MIT they think of computers and do not realize the school has Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners among the faculty, thriving arts programs and a distinuished 50-year history," said Jane Pickering, director of the MIT Museum.

The SHASS exhbition is open to the public. Hours for the Compton Gallery exhibit are weekdays 9am-5pm. Admission is free.


In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the SHASS and its renaming, the MIT Symphony Orchestra, members of the faculty and other MIT performance ensembles will present a special "showcase" concert on Friday, Oct. 6 at 8pm in Kresge Auditorium. Admission is free and the public is invited.

The evening begins with an outdoor performance of Balinese music by MIT's Gamelan Galak Tika at 7:15pm on Kresge Oval. The main concert at 8pm features the MIT Symphony Orchestra, the MIT Concert Choir and Chamber Chorus and acclaimed pianist David Deveau in Beethoven's Choral Fantasy, under the direction of Dante Anzolini.

Also featured on the program will be the MIT Wind Ensemble, the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble and members of the MIT Chamber Music Society. A reception will follow on the Kresge Oval.


Another of the school's 50th anniversary events will be a colloquium on October 6 and 7. Over an intensive two-day period, a group of distinguished faculty and scholars from MIT and other institutions will discuss some of the fundamental questions that have occupied the attention of the school from its inception and that continue to animate the school's intellectual life.

The program for Friday, Oct. 6 will include two sessions in addition to the showcase concert. The first session, titled "What Do We Know About Human Nature?" will be chaired by Samuel Jay Keyser, Peter de Florez Professor of Linguistics, Emeritus. It will feature MIT panelists Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor (linguistics) and Professor Steven Pinker of brain and cognitive sciences. The second session, titled, "How Do Artists Tell Their Stories?" will feature Ellen T. Harris, Class of 1949 Professor of Music; Anita Desai, professor of writing; and John Harbison, Institute Professor (music).

The program for Saturday, Oct. 7 will open with a panel chaired by Rosalind Williams, the Robert M. Metcalfe Professor of Writing, titled, "How do History and Memory Shape Each Other?" It will feature MIT panelists John W. Dower, the Elting E. Morison Professor of History, and Pauline Maier, the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of History.

The fourth panel of the anniversary colloquium will be chaired by Joshua Cohen, the Arthur and Ruth Sloan Professor of Political Science and Professor of Philosophy. MIT panelists will include Suzanne Berger, the Raphael Dorman and Helen Starbuck Professor of Political Science, and Nobel laureate Robert Solow.

All sessions will be held in the Wong Auditoriium. For more information on the colloquium, please contact Joe Coen of the MIT Information Center at x3-4796 or

Updated information about the 50th Anniversary Celebration can be found on the web.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 20, 2000.

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