Arts & Humanities

Bringing 17th-century Enlightenment tradition to Memorial Hall – Harvard Gazette

During her first year on campus, Fiona Pollack ’25 enjoyed meeting new people and talking about life at Harvard over a meal at Annenberg. But she wanted to delve deeper with like-minded students into the intellectual topics she was learning about in class.

She found that space in Memorial Hall, where the Harvard Undergraduate Salon for the Sciences and Humanities began meeting in February.

The group, founded by sophomores Julie Heng, Henry Haimo, and Chinmay Deshpande, is dedicated to informal yet rigorous discussions of issues ranging from ethics in designing artificial intelligence to the value of public-facing science communication.

“The salon has a different energy because the people who joined it really want to have very intense intellectual conversations, grappling with methodology and epistemology and the big questions of different academic disciplines,” said Pollack, one of about a dozen regular attendees. “That’s what I came to Harvard to do, and this has been the best place to do that.”

The group holds a students-only session once a week and a second weekly meeting with an invited faculty guest, open to all Harvard affiliates. Heng said a primary goal of the group is to build bridges between the seemingly disparate worlds of the sciences and humanities.

“In conversations that I had with other students, it seemed quite obvious that there is this sometimes-artificial dichotomy, a fissure between the sciences and the humanities,“ said Heng, who grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Windsor, Ontario, and studies integrative biology. “But there’s a lot of opportunity to bridge that gap.”

“The goal of the salon is to kind of examine what that might look like. Are there fundamental differences between two fields that prevent them from working together?” added the Kirkland House resident. “Or are there different case studies and projects that we might be able to infuse a different type of critical thinking into? It’s very exciting that we now have a forum to debate those questions.”

Heng was inspired by the namesake 17th-century French Enlightenment gatherings, which usually included art, music, and casual conversation on a variety of subjects. The faculty guest list this semester exemplified that diversity. Recent visitors included James Robson, James C. Kralik and Yunli Lou Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations; Woodward Yang, Gordon McKay Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; and Sheila Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the Harvard Kennedy School.

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