As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, many may look to the future. But one organization at Binghamton University is showing that the gears of globalization have been turning for hundreds of years.
BU’s Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (CEMERS) will present the last of 10 workshop lectures for this semester, ‘The Annual Bernardo Lecture,’ on Thursday in the Anderson Center.
Sarah Kay, a professor of French at Princeton University, will be lecturing on how troubadour songs relate to the cultural geography of Europe.
CEMERS organizes interdisciplinary conferences, lectures and workshops in medieval, renaissance and early modern studies. This year the main topics are international trade, transportation and commercial markets of medieval times.
CEMERS was established in 1966 by two professors of the romance language department, Aldo Bernardo and Bernard Huppe. CEMERS is one of the first interdisciplinary centers of medieval and renaissance studies. Before BU’s department was created, the only center was located at University of California, Los Angeles.
According to Karen-edis Barzman, director of CEMERS and an art history professor, when the center was initially established, the focus was mostly on the European Middle Ages and early Renaissance, but it shifted to worldwide issues after the 1980s.
‘This year is the first effort of a year-long term. The goal is to promote innovative and curricular research,’ Barzman said. ‘Before this year, lectures were around particular themes, but there is a more integrated curriculum now.’
Barzman also said she is trying to attract more students from other disciplines.
‘To promote scholarships, we want to see selective courses. CEMERS is not only for history majors, but it is meant to be an interdisciplinary study. For example literacy, art history, history, music and anthropology are all related fields.’
CEMERS attracts many professors and students from all over the world. The event on Thursday, which was sponsored by both CEMERS and the Phi Beta Kappa honor society, featured Ronald Mellor, a professor of Greek and Roman history at UCLA. The lecture title was ‘East Meets West: Encounter Along the Ancient ‘Silk Road.’ Mellor discussed Asia and Buddhism in relation to the spread of cultures, religions and diseases.
Professor Alex Feingold, president of the local chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, said his goal in sponsoring the event was to bring in experts from a variety of fields.
‘The goal of this event is to enrich the scholarly atmosphere for students and faculty by having such distinguished scholars come to give talks and participate in classes,’ Feingold said. ‘While many departments often invite outside speakers to give colloquium or seminar talks in specialized areas, the Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar program is unique in its emphasis on general liberal arts studies not limited to any one area.’
Rosie Haller-Kaplan, a sophomore majoring in political science, commented on the uniqueness of Mellor’s lecture.
‘It was not like a typical lecture. Mr. Mellor had so many descriptions. He is a historian who has a good sense of humor,’ Haller-Kaplan said. ‘People who do not study history should still attend, the lectures are very interesting, and they are for everyone who wants to enjoy. History is important for the future.’
Jacinda Goicea, a freshman majoring in political science, expressed a similar sentiment.
‘I would still attend the lectures if I was studying something else like engineering or math,’ she said. ‘Yet, it is not commonly known by many students; the events are very valuable and need to be paid attention to in order to be more useful to more students in BU.’
However, the program is not without its challenges. The budget is limited, so CEMERS welcomes charitable contributions.
‘The annual budget is small. We have tremendous constraints for fund raising,’ Barzman said. ‘Yet, last year we raised $75,000 from provosts. The sources are dried up. It is hard to find funders, so we find other sources.’
According to Barzman, next semester there will be two larger events. The first involves workshops about commercial conflicts in the Balkans, including several arguments and historical perspective about conflicts in the borders, state sovereignty in the Balkans, medieval trade and the Ottoman effect. There will also be a symposium on global silk and cotton. The speakers will include experts on international law as well as journalists.
Barzman also emphasized that these events are open and free to all BU students who show their ID.
‘Students have been more important in the center. They are more able to find a place for themselves to study. Our most important ambition is to integrate students,’ Barzman said. ‘There is a family atmosphere here, students are devoted to it.’