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STeMS Speaker Series

STeMS events in Winter 2023 will run 4:00-5:30pm in 1014 Tisch Hall.
Free and open to the public. Lectures are posted here for two weeks after the event.

Winter 2023

Monday, 30 January
A World Cast in Concrete: How the US Built Its Empire
Vyta Pivo, U-M Taubman School of Architecture

We are familiar with concrete as a medium of everyday construction: from sidewalks to kitchen countertops, the material defines our daily experiences of life. But how has concrete performed as a medium of culture and politics? How did it serve as the critical materiel that structured the US empire and spread global capitalism?

 This talk will weave together two stories: (1) how the US cement and concrete industries expanded their material and technological reach across the globe and into outer space; and (2) how the material itself became a tool for spreading US cultural values and racial politics. In the end, it will show that concrete---and ensuing critical infrastructure like roads, buildings, bridges, airplane landing strips, and oil drilling platforms, among others---was an essential medium for US imperialism.

 Vyta Pivo is a historian of the built environment and a postdoctoral scholar with the Michigan Society of Fellows. Her current project is a social and cultural history of the US cement and concrete industries, their global and transplanetary ambitions, and environmental and social costs. She has published academic and public-facing articles on concrete, labor, and architecture, and her work has been supported by the Mellon Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Science Foundation, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, and others.


Monday, 6 March
Power, Responsibility, and Reliability in the Electrical World
Veronica Jacome, Temple University
Co-sponsors: Department of Afroamerican and African Studies; Program in Science, Technology & Public Policy; African Studies Center

A common policy narrative within contemporary electrification efforts in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is that unequal and unreliable grid services are partially the fault of electricity users themselves. But the
link between so-called problematic users and their problematic systems is rarely empirically justified.

 In this talk, I turn to the history of electrical power, reliability, and responsibility in the first fifty years of US electrification to explore how ideas of delinquents, nonpayers, and thieves have evolved in the context of increasing reliability. This research reflects on the tension between an idealized benchmark for access, the ever-present connection, and the kind that might in fact be feasible as access scales up in the context of humanitarianism and environmentalism.

 Veronica Jacome is Assistant Professor of Geography and Urban Studies at Temple University.  She works on the links between energy infrastructure, development, and environmental justice primarily in sub-Saharan Africa.


Monday, 13 March
Queering and Transing the Life Cycle in Jewish Ritual
Max Strassfeld, University of Arizona
Co-sponsors: Women’s and Gender Studies; Classical Studies; Center for Judaic Studies

The term “life cycle ritual” is used widely in Jewish Studies. In this talk, I trace the idea of the life cycle and its development, while considering the racialized, gendered, and sexual politics of the term, and the way it borrows from biological sciences. Scholars have argued that the concept of the life cycle in Judaism originates with the rabbis in late antiquity. Eunuchs and androgynes, who are found prolifically in rabbinic literature, can trouble the assumption that the rabbis are invested in an orderly cycle of life. I weave together trans and queer theory with Jewish sources to examine legal attempts to channel messy embodiment into a life trajectory.

Max Strassfeld is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Arizona. They are the author of Trans Talmud: Androgynes and Eunuchs in Rabbinic Literature, which was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Awards in 2022. Their work explores eunuchs and androgynes in Jewish law, and pairs classical Jewish texts with intersex autobiography, transgender studies, and theories of queer temporality.


Friday, 31 March
STS Symposium: ‘Ensnaring Entanglements’
9:00 am-4:00 pm, Room 2435, School of Information


Tuesday, 4 April
STS Distinguished Lecture
Deborah Coen, Yale University
Vulnerometry: Historical Reflections on the Quest to Measure Climate Vulnerability
Co-sponsor: Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies

This presentation will track a series of discoveries of previously unknown atmospheric forces, made in Vienna between the 1770s and 1850s: animal magnetism, Aereon, and Od. I propose that these belonged to a larger category of atmospheric influences on living things whose workings were obscure yet tantalizing, including ozone, moonlight, and “atmospheric electricity” (the last a new designation to distinguish it from that generated by electrical machines). The controversies that surrounded the discoveries of these forces need to be recognized as episodes in an overlooked history: the history of investigating the interrelations of life and the atmosphere. I show how this strain of research reflected the Habsburgs’ imperial and industrial ambitions. This is a story with telling parallels in present-day attempts to study the determinants of environmental health and to measure what experts refer to as “degrees of vulnerability” to climate change.

Monday, 10 April
The History of ‘Impairment’
Mara Mills, New York University
Co-sponsors: Departments of American Culture; Communication and Media; Center for Ethics, Society, and Computing; UM Initiative on Disability Studies