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The College Commons 2010-2011


Uncommon Conversations at USC Dornsife

Since 2009, The College Commons has been fostering conversations across disciplinary boundaries with series including “The Darwin Revolution, 1859–2059” and “Maps and Measures: On the Boundaries of What We Know.” With “The Darwin Revolution,” we asked how notions of time and identity have changed in the modern world, the world that Darwin made, and the role of art in both memorializing and redefining the human. By framing conversations around the ideas of “Maps and Measures” we explored the ways we know who we are, where we are, and what surrounds and mystifies us. 

The 2010-2011 theme, “Rethinking the Human,” offers us an opportunity to expand our conversation to intrigue the mind, body and soul. From the science of robotics to the mapping of the human genome; from evolution to extinction; from Hamlet’s invocation of “What a piece of work is man” to the “foul rag and bone shop of the heart,” ideas of the human permeate discourse in the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities. From human biology to humane letters to the human sciences, the very term seems to underwrite what we do. And yet, within and without the university, “the human” is being challenged: artificial intelligence asks how much of our humanity can be embodied in machines, while critiques of “identity politics” and the hermeneutics of suspicion ask how we know who we are. Gerontology asks how long we will live and neonatology asks where life begins. While philosophy asks if our minds really speak to our bodies, primatology asks if we shouldn’t replace “humane letters” with “primate letters.” Is what makes us “humane” what makes us “human,” and where do we draw the line between species, between genders, between man and animal and the inanimate?

USC Dornsife faculty and The College Commons committees have organized a series of conversations and events that will challenge and provoke. We encourage all members of the USC community, the Trojan Family and the greater Los Angeles community to come together to push forward the boundaries of knowledge.

Some events in this year’s The College Commons are grouped in series; others are free-standing. For the series, please visit For the complete schedule, please see the monthly events by clicking on the links on the right-hand side of this page.