There will be a “contagion” at Whitman College on Saturday, Feb. 27, spreading across many minds and several disciplines — with the potential for wiping out stagnant thought.

“Contagion” is the topic of Whitman’s 2010 Global Studies Symposium, which will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. in Maxey Auditorium and is free and open to the public. Guest speakers will be professors representing various disciplines, from Duke and Columbia universities and from the University of Southern California.

Bruce Magnusson, Whitman associate professor of politics and a Global Studies Initiative Steering Committee member, recently shared why this topic is due some intensive intellectual exploration.

"The notion of contagion has been applied to everything from influenza viruses to financial crises to terrorism,” said Magnusson, who will be the event’s moderator. “What explains the power of this metaphor to describe, among other things, threats to personal, national, and international security?

“How does our reliance on this model of thinking about threats produce particular kinds of strategies for eradicating, containing, and immunizing individuals and populations from them? This symposium brings together scholars from very different disciplines — epidemiology, anthropology and communications, and literature — to discuss these issues."

Shampa Biswas, associate professor of politics, and director of Whitman’s Global Studies Initiative, said the Global Studies Steering committee picked the contagion topic prior to the H1N1 scare, “But that made it particularly timely ... We thought that an exploration of contagion could really bring the three divisions into conversation with each other quite well. It’s a topic that exemplifies our approach to global studies, which highlights the ways that problems, issues and questions cross various borders and disciplines.”

The symposium is another piece, and the most recent event, of the college’s ongoing Global Studies Initiative that was funded by a three-year $345,000 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant. The Whitman faculty developed a plan for the initiative and then launched it in 2009 with the intent being to support faculty development and the development of courses that address global interconnections, historical and contemporary. The addition of such knowledge is expected to help students - future humanitarians, teachers, diplomats and business people - interact effectively and meaningfully with people from all corners of the world.

Symposium guest panelists include:
— Andrew Lakoff, associate professor of anthropology, communication and sociology, University of Southern California. He will address “Epidemic Intelligence: The Genealogy of Global Health Security.”

— Stephen Morse, professor of clinical epidemiology and founding director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. He will address “Bio Terror: The Globalization of Infectious Diseases.”

— Priscilla Wald, professor of English and women’s studies, Duke University. She will address “From Microbes to Monsters in the Outbreak.”

Whitman faculty respondents will be Alberto Galindo, assistant professor of foreign languages and literatures (Spanish), and Jason Pribilisky, associate professor of anthropology. Student respondents will be DeeDee McCormick ’10, a pre-med and Latin American Studies major; Nicole West ’10, a biology major; and Seth Bergeson ’10, a history major.

Bergeson is preparing to respond to Wald’s work, which he says “is highly
interdisciplinary and looks at Cold War fears of contagion, the emerging literary genre of "bioterror," and international development as a social solution to public health problems.

“It should be an interesting opportunity to exchange ideas and criticisms,” he said.

— Virginia Grantier