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Socrates returns to life in the Ho Tung Visualization Lab

November 10, 2016



Some say that the death of a great philosopher in Colgate’s Ho Tung Visualization Lab on October 27 was a miscarriage of justice and a stain on Athenian democracy. Socrates’ suicide, reenacted on the Vis Lab’s domed screen by actor H.C. Selkirk, didn’t require the response of law enforcement, but it did draw a crowd of spectators.

Students dressed in the garb of ancient Greece ushered faculty, staff, and friends into the intimate theater on the Robert H.N. Ho Science Center’s fourth floor. The lights went down, and the audience was transported through time into the agora in Athens, digitally reconstructed during the past two years by Colgate University and Hamilton Central School students under the guidance of Vis Lab director Joseph Eakin.

The film, Socrates on Death Row, used live action and a voiceover by Professor Alan Cooper to tell the tale of one of Athens’ most famous citizens, who was a font of notable quotes, a deep thinker who never published. We know of Socrates’ philosophy and his eponymous method of Q&A through the writings of Plato and Xenophon. Relying on those texts, Professor Robert Garland drafted the script for the show, which he considers a prequel of sorts to his Murder on the Ides.


Through Garland’s words, we hear of Socrates’ service in the Athenian army during the Peloponnesian War against the hated Spartans and their allies. We learn of his sympathy for nobles who would rather take government out of the hands of the hoi polloi. Socrates goes on trial for corrupting the youth and defends himself against his prosecutors, mostly by asking questions that make them look like fools. When the jury finds him guilty, he baits them into ordering his execution in an effort to prove the folly of their judicial system. We stand beside Socrates as he downs his dram of hemlock and sighs his last breath.

Thanks to Garland, Eakin, and their collaborators, the death of a classical hero demonstrates the life and vitality of Colgate’s interdisciplinary approach to liberal arts education.

“This is a new way of bringing the classics to a wider audience,” Garland said. “It’s not remote. In the Vis Lab, you see this great thing above you, and it really pulls you into it. I want to show that classics is exciting, gripping, and that it can engage you.”

Joe Eakin and his student staff are no strangers to the silver-blue screen. They have produced four full-length planetarium shows as well as flybys of the Grand Canyon, Rome, Mexico’s Teotihuacan, and other locales. They have supported courses in sociology and anthropology, Native American studies, geography, geology, biology, chemistry, art and art history, physics, and astronomy. Under a blanket of virtual stars, classes travel back in time and view the constellations as they would have appeared over now-ancient civilizations.

“It brings these cultures to life when you can show what it was really like to be there,” Eakin said. “It’s great to read the stories, but when we can combine the words with the visual elements, we bring the humanities into the digital world — we give students a completely new perspective and hopefully a better understanding of the content.”

The Ho Tung Visualization Lab, made possible by a gift from Robert Ho ’56, offers a variety of shows open to the public. Visit their website for details. 

Looking ahead to inauguration day and back at Colgate University’s history

September 28, 2016


This Friday, Colgate inaugurates Brian W. Casey as its 17th president. A full slate of special inauguration-week events kicked off yesterday with a panel discussion focused on Colgate’s historical roots. Participants then turned to the question of how the university’s long journey from Baptist seminary to modern liberal arts institution may inform its path forward.

“We have certain markings that make us distinct, and I would argue that we embrace those things,” said Casey, whose scholarship has focused on the history of American higher education. Referencing Colgate’s dynamic Liberal Arts Core Curriculum, Division I athletics, and relatively large student body, Casey said, “That’s what makes us unique.”

The panel conversation, titled Colgate’s History: Reflections on the Past and Future, featured Casey as well as Roy D. and Margaret B. Wooster Professor of the Classics Robert Garland; NEH Professor of the Humanities Mel Watkins ’62; Assistant Professor of History and Bicentennial Fellow Jennifer Hull; and James Allen Smith ’70, director of research, Rockefeller Archive Center and author of the forthcoming book on the history of Colgate University. The panel was moderated by Jill Harsin, professor of history and chair of Colgate’s Bicentennial Committee.

Visit colgate.edu/inauguration for a full schedule of events leading up to inauguration day. Friday’s ceremony will be held at 4:30 p.m. in Memorial Chapel. Those unable to attend are invited to watch the celebration live at colgate.edu.

Shan Wu ’15 finds direction in assisting Professor Kaimal with book manuscript

August 25, 2014
Shan Wu '15 helped Professor Padma Kaimal with her book manuscript as part of summer research.

Shan Wu ’15 helped Professor Padma Kaimal with her book manuscript as part of summer research.

Colgate students are sharing their experiences conducting research with faculty members on campus and in the field. This post is by Shan Wu ’15, a double major in art history and the classics, from Hangzhou, China.

This summer I have been assisting Professor Padma Kaimal with her book manuscript Many Paths to the Divine. It analyzes one of the canonical monuments of Indic architecture: the eighth-century Kailāsanātha temple in Kanchipuram, a city in India’s southern-most state of Tamilnadu. Read more

Professors lead “Atheism and Other Theisms” workshop for local teachers

August 7, 2014
Professor Patrick Riley leads a humanities worksop in the Case-Geyer Library for local high school teachers. Photo by Andrew Daddio

Professor Patrick Riley leads an arts and humanities workshop for local high school teachers. Photo by Andrew Daddio

Fill a room with teachers, hand them philosophical texts and pose centuries-old questions about the nature of spirituality and religion, and the conversation is bound to get interesting. Read more

Colgate faculty members to take an interdisciplinary walk on the Camino de Santiago

May 19, 2014
The El Camino de Santiago walkers

The El Camino de Santiago walkers

Colgate faculty members will join together to walk the Camino de Santiago, the route to the shrine of the apostle St. James who is said to be buried in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

The interdisciplinary experience is made possible through the Kallgren Fund, an endowed fund created to support faculty members at Colgate.

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Colgate professor Albert Ammerman helps uncover oldest Roman temple

January 31, 2014
Archaeologists work at the site of the oldest Roman temple.

Archaeologists work at the site of the oldest Roman temple.

According to The New Republic, when a team uncovers the oldest known temple in the Roman world, it’s a Big Deal (caps intended). For Colgate archaeologist Albert Ammerman to be part of the discovery is a Really Big Deal.

Read more about the excavation of the waterlogged Sant’Omobono site here. A story on NPR also touted Ammerman’s work.

Ammerman is a research professor in the Department of the Classics and has taught at Colgate. Last fall, he led the university’s Venice Study Group for the third time.

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Colgate hosts Parilia classics conference

May 2, 2013

Students from Union, Hamilton, Skidmore, and Colgate gathered on campus recently to share their research in the classics at the eighth-annual Parilia undergraduate conference.

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Students learn about careers after the classics

April 1, 2013
Careers after the classics

Seven Colgate graduates discuss law as a profession, its role in their own professional lives, and how a classics major helped them in law school. (Photo by Gabriela Bezerra ’13)

Students considering a career in law might not immediately make the connection to ancient philosophers Socrates and Plato, but they should.

Alumni from the Department of the Classics returned to campus March 26 to talk about how their majors, ranging from Latin to Greek to classics studies, have propelled them to success in both law school and in their legal careers.

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Picker Institute announces 2012 research awards

March 7, 2012

Two Colgate professors — Rebecca Miller Ammerman, classics, and Randy Fuller, biology — along with seven collaborative partners across the globe, received major research grants from Colgate’s Picker Interdisciplinary Science Institute. Both projects, as envisioned by Harvey M. Picker ’36 when he established the institute in 2006, extend the reach and resources of Colgate faculty members so they can tackle scientific problems in creative new ways. Read more

Teaching (and preaching) the humanities online

January 27, 2012

Forty-eight hours after posting his first installment of Ancient Greek Religion online at Udemy.com, Robert Garland had 99 viewers for his new video course. Garland, professor of classics at Colgate, is one of about a dozen professors from universities including Duke, Northwestern, and Stanford who donated content that is now available at no charge through Udemy’s Faculty Project.

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Classics professor honored for teaching excellence

January 17, 2012

Technically Latin is a dead language, but that’s not how it feels when taught by William (Bill) Stull, associate professor of the classics. Stull recently was awarded the 2011 Award for Excellence in Teaching by The American Philological Association (APA), which is the principal learned society in North America for the study of ancient Greek and Roman languages, literatures, and civilizations.

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