April 30, 1998
Vol. 17, No. 15

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    'Translating Knowledge'

    Examining the relationship between academia and media

    By Shula Neuman
    News Office

    When scholarly research is reported incorrectly in the media, who is responsible? The media with its penchant for brief news stories? Or the academics who are unwilling to communicate their work to a general audience?

    Academics will take a hard look at the latter in the conference "Translating Knowledge: From Academic Discourse to Popular Representation," to be held Friday, May 1, and Saturday, May 2, in Quantrell Auditorium, Cobb Hall. The conference is sponsored by the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities.

    "We need to be talking more about how academic work gets disseminated to the public via various media," said conference organizer Larry Rothfield, Associate Professor in English Language & Literature. The conference will address academics' apprehensions about mass media and suggest ways for them to communicate their work to the world at large.

    One session of the conference will feature paleontologist Paul Sereno, Associate Professor of Organismal Biology & Anatomy, who has successfully advanced in his field while remaining in the public eye, and W.J.T. Mitchell, the Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor in English Languages & Literature and Art History, whose work on dinosaurs as cultural icons is the subject of a book to be published this fall. They will discuss such issues as whether the popularity of dinosaurs reflects scientific knowledge or if mass popularity of dinosaurs influences what scientists believe about them.

    Other sessions will include presentations by George Chauncey, Professor in History, and Susan Douglas, a media analyst for The Nation and a professor at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, on the representation of gays and feminists in the media, as well as a presentation by Bruno Latour, Professor at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Mines de Paris, on the representation of technology in the media, with a response by Barbara Stafford, the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor in Art History.

    The conference will conclude with a screening of an excerpt from Ric Burns' new documentary, New York, followed by a discussion led by Tom Gunning, Professor in Art History, on whether documentary film is an appropriate medium for teaching history.

    For a complete schedule and more information, including biographical sketches of the participants, see humanities.uchicago.edu/maph/translate.html.