UnCommon Core

The signature intellectual event of Alumni Weekend, UnCommon Core features faculty and alumni speakers leading University of Chicago–style discussions. See below and throughout the guide for various talks.

Session I of IV
Friday, June 1
1:30–2:45 p.m.

Big Computation, Bigger Knowledge
Harper Memorial Library, Room 130, 1116 E. 59th St.
Ian Foster
Arthur Holly Compton Distinguished Service Professor of Computer Science, Director of the Computation Institute, and Senior Scientist and Distinguished Fellow at Argonne National Laboratory
Single computers with 100,000 processors, research teams that span the globe, online access to more data than is contained in the Library of Congress—such developments are transforming how knowledge is generated and used. Foster illustrates the implications of these trends with descriptions and demonstrations of relevant projects at the University and Argonne, including the world’s fastest supercomputer for open science, grid computing for worldwide resource federation and collaboration, and massive data sets from political science, astrophysics, and neuroscience.

Brazil and the Southern Cone Economies in the 21st Century
Harper Memorial Library, Room 140, 1116 E. 59th St.
Aloisio Araujo
Tinker Visiting Professor in the Department of Economics and Professor at the Instituto Nacional de Matemática Pura e Aplicada and the Graduate School of Economics at the Fundação Getúlio Vargas, Brazil
Fernando Alvarez
Professor in Economics and the College
Victor Lima AM’96, PhD’01
Senior Lecturer in Economics and the College and Director of Undergraduate Studies in Economics
After long years of high inflation and economic stagnation in the late 20th century and early 21st century, Brazil is experiencing political stability, a decrease in income disparity, and high economic growth, though not quite at the levels of India or China. What factors contributed to this economic renaissance in Brazil and, to some extent, other economies of the Southern Cone? What dynamics could threaten this growth in the medium and long term in Brazil and Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay? This session will present a broad overview of Brazil and the Southern Cone’s political economy, offer insights into the reasons for the current situation, and an outlook on the future.

Public Service Award Recipients Panel Discussion
Stuart Hall, Room 104, 5835 S. Greenwood Ave.
Enrique Beckmann, PhD’84
Chief Executive, MetroSouth Medical Center
Patrick F. Conway, AM’78
President, Great Lakes Brewing Company
John G. Markowski, AB’74
President and CEO, Community Investment Corporation
Eric D. Rosenthal, AB’85
Executive Director, Disability Rights International
Since 1941, UChicago alumni have recognized their peers and colleagues who have made the greatest contributions to improving society through their leadership, vision, and personal commitment to a wide range of endeavors. Recipients of this award in 2012 have made their mark in improving access to health care and housing, advancing the rights of the disabled, and raising awareness about clean and safe food and water. Alumni Board of Governors vice president Katrina Vidal, AB’78, will moderate a panel discussion with these outstanding individuals as they consider what shape advocacy and service will take in an era of impersonal interconnectedness, and what their time at Chicago means to them now.

Session II of IV
Friday, June 1
3:00–4:15 p.m.

Chicago: Origins and Vistas of a Mexican City
Harper Memorial Library, Room 140, 1116 E. 59th St.
Mauricio Tenorio
Professor in the Department of History and Director of the Center for Latin American Studies
Sarah Lopez
Postdoctoral Scholar in the Department of History
It may be an exaggeration to say that Chicago is today one of the largest Mexican cities, but it’s not untrue. There are an estimated 1.3 million Mexicans/Mexican Americans residing in the Chicago metropolitan area. With large populations of Mexicans historically living in the American West and Southwest why is it that by 1920 nearly 16,000 Mexicans called Chicago, a cold and faraway city, their new “home”? The origins of Mexican Chicago are at the roots of the 20th-century’s de facto economic and demographic integration between the United States and Mexico, and the United States’ so-called Mexican problem in 20th-century. It was in Chicago where, through the pioneering studies by University of Chicago sociologists, Mexican immigration was scientifically, and strategically, defined both as a problem and not as a problem. This session will provide historic insights on this fascinating interaction among immigrants, social organizations, and social scientists in Chicago in the 1920s and 1930s. And it will jump to the present to provide vistas of the input of the Mexican presence in the architectonical landscape of Chicago, the architectonical city par excellence. This session is cosponsored by the Latino Affinity Network.

Biology in Action: Detecting and Helping Another in Need
Stuart Hall, Room 104, 5835 S. Greenwood Ave.
Peggy Mason
Professor in the Department of Neurobiology
Mammalian young are born helpless and will only survive if their needs are detected and met by parents, typically mothers. In this talk, Peggy Mason discusses a fascinating recent finding that demonstrates empathic helping behavior in rats. This research adds to growing evidence that caring behavior is found in adult mammals of both sexes in a number of species. The implications of the research are societal, as understanding and reacting adaptively to another’s emotional state is a fundamental and necessary component of social cohesion, increasing cooperation within groups and decreasing the incidence of aggressive acts. Professor Mason will also offer some insight into her experimental approaches, given the limitations of inferring motivational state from nonverbal animals.

Infinity and Beyond
Harper Memorial Library, Room 130, 1116 E. 59th St. 
Bob Fefferman
Max Mason Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Dean of the Physical Sciences Division
Weird things can happen with infinity—for one thing, it comes in different sizes. The concept of infinity has tantalized and sometimes troubled humankind for ages. In the 1600s, Galileo introduced a modern attitude toward the infinite by proposing that infinity should obey a different arithmetic from finite numbers. In late 19th century, German mathematician Georg Cantor put infinity on a firm logical foundation and demonstrated that infinity can have different sizes, making him one of the most assailed mathematicians in history. Though his work eventually revolutionized mathematics, his ideas were suppressed and he was imprisoned in mental institutions for most of his later life. In this program, mathematician Robert Fefferman will discuss some of the weird and interesting problems posed by our efforts to understand infinity.

Teaching Pictures: Art in Academia
Stuart Hall, Room 102, 5835 S. Greenwood Ave. 
Laura Letinsky
Professor in the Department of Visual Arts and Cinema and Media Studies
Art is thought of as, to varying degrees, communication, investigation, personal expression, belief, and therapy. Within our University’s rigorous and stimulating liberal arts environment, how is teaching art conceptualized and put into practice? As an internationally exhibiting artist and a professor at the University of Chicago, Laura Letinsky will speak about the relationship between making and teaching art, and the role of teaching in relation to her art, an intellectually creative practice. This session is cosponsored by the Chicago Women’s Alliance.

Session III of IV
Saturday, June 2
1:30–2:45 p.m.

Bubbles, Crises, and the Global Economic Outlook
Stuart Hall, Room 101, 5835 S. Greenwood Ave.
Robert Aliber
Professor Emeritus in International Economics and Finance, Chicago Booth
The panics of 1907 and 1837. The South Sea Bubble of 1720 and the Tulip Mania of 1637. These are a few examples of the many financial crises that have plagued the United States and the rest of the industrial world for over 300 years. What causes these booms and busts? How long and deep are the slumps that follow? What can be done to prevent them? And what can we learn from the history of financial crises to help us deal with the current economic crisis? In this talk, Robert Aliber addresses these questions and what the answers mean for policy makers and consumers in the United States in the months and years ahead.

Critical Thinking in the US Armed Forces: A Chicago Perspective
Stuart Hall, Room 105, 5835 S. Greenwood Ave.
Aneesah Ali, Associate Provost (Introduction)

Fountain Walker, Commander, UChicago Police (Moderator)

Tobias Switzer, SB’99
Major, Active Service
Katrina Johnson, JD’06,
JAG, Active Service
Brian Penoyer, AB’88
Captain, Active Service
The University of Chicago Military Affinity Group (UCMAG) will present a distinguished panel of alumni to discuss their work as members of the US military or within the Department of Defense. This is an excellent opportunity to hear how a Chicago education can support military service, careers within the DoD and work in the national security sector. In particular, the panelists will address how preparation at Chicago informs critical decision making in war and peace. The panelists will represent different branches of service, ranks, and specialties such as law, support, and operations. The UCMAG welcomes all members of the Chicago community to this nonpartisan, nonpolitical event.

The Emergence of Big Data as a Discipline and Its Impact on Biology, Medicine, and Health Care
Stuart Hall, Room 102, 5835 S. Greenwood Ave.
Bob Grossman
Professor of Medicine in the Section of Genetic Medicine at the University of Chicago, Director of Informatics for the Institute for Genomics and Systems Biology and a Senior Fellow at the Computation Institute
The amount of data now being produced in a wide range of fields is overwhelming our ability to analyze it. In this talk, we describe some of the new techniques and approaches that are being used to extract useful information from large amounts of data. Some of the approaches have been developed by Internet companies such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook to meet their internal needs and are now beginning to influence how we analyze scientific data. The amount of genomic data being produced is growing especially fast, and we discuss how this data is changing our understanding of biology and the way we diagnose diseases and deliver personalized medicine

What Determines the Temperatures of Planets?
Stuart Hall, Room 104, 5835 S. Greenwood Ave.
John Frederick
Professor of Geophysical Sciences Collegiate Division and Master of the Physical Sciences Collegiate Division
Absorption of incoming solar energy acts to heat a planet and its atmosphere. For the planet to maintain a constant temperature, this heating must be offset by an equal amount of cooling. This is accomplished by the emission of thermal radiation by the planet and the loss of this energy into outer space. The exchange of energy between the atmosphere and the planet’s surface is a complicating factor that leads to temperatures warmer than would otherwise exist. In this talk, John Frederick explains how emissions affect this process and what it means for the earth’s climate in the future.

Session IV of IV
Saturday, June 4
4:15–5:30 p.m.

Love vs. Friendship in Hamlet
Stuart Hall, Room 105, 5835 S. Greenwood Ave.
David Bevington
Phyllis Fay Horton Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in the Department of English Language and Literature
David Bevington leads a conversation that will range over the topic of love and friendship in Hamlet. What view does the play present of congenial marital love, of lust and incest, of the failed relationship of Hamlet and Ophelia, and still more. And, conversely, to what extent does true friendship, especially that of Hamlet and Horatio, displace romantic and erotic love as offering any consolation for life’s tribulations? What views does the play offer of more self-interested friendships, in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and in Polonius’s warning to his son about trusting too many friends?

Coming Together or Coming Apart: America and the 2012 Election
Stuart Hall, Room 101, 5835 S. Greenwood Ave.
John Mark Hansen
Charles L. Hutchinson Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Political Science and the College and Dean of the Social Sciences Division
American politics today is polarized between Democrats and Republicans, between liberals and conservatives, as never before. Looking beyond the heated rhetoric, political scientist and Social Sciences Division dean Mark Hansen will trace the extent and origins of America’s political divisions, analyze their effect on the 2012 elections, and assess the prospects for effective governance in the future. One of the nation’s leading scholars of American politics and a Charles L. Hutchinson Distinguished Service Professor, Hansen has focused his research on interest groups, citizen activism, public opinion, public budgeting, and politicians’ inferences from the outcomes of elections.

Queer Style/Late James
Stuart Hall, Room 104, 5835 S. Greenwood Ave.
Bill Brown
Edward Carson Waller Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature, the Department of Visual Arts, and the Committee on the History of Culture

No writer has been so transformed by "queer theory" as Henry James, whose fiction has traditionally been understood as the culmination of European realism and the catalyst for Anglo-American modernism. Professor Brown will provide a brief history of a new critical engagement with James that has finally accepted the centrality of homosexual bonds and homoerotic desire in his life and in his fiction. He will then address the current discrepency between two critical emphases: one on the (repressed) gay content of Jame's stories and novels, and one on what has been dubbed "queer style." Professor Brown will be paying particular attention to "Brooksmith," "The Beast in the Jungle," and The Ambassadors.

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