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Research spotlight: Art and education in the South Asian context

This is the fourth and last article in a series highlighting SAI’s ongoing research projects that were featured at SAI’s Annual Symposium ‘South Asia: Local Solutions with Global Impact‘ in April.

By Abhishek RamanMDiv Candidate, Harvard Divinity School; SAI Student Coordinator

There is a need to create an ecosystem in South Asia comprised of public institutions, such as state museums and private firms, such as corporations, to not merely foster a market for art, but also to further the vibrancy of civil society, according to panelists at SAI’s Annual Symposium on April 16. The panelists included Jinah Kim, Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard FAS; Megan Panzano, Design Critic in Architecture at Harvard GSD; Doris Sommer, Ira Jewell Williams, Jr. Professor of Romance Languages and Literature at Harvard FAS; and Mukti KhaireAssociate Professor of Business Administration, HBS, who chaired the discussion.

Doris Sommer shared insights from her experience working in Latin America, where she found that art is being used as a vehicle for education in all subjects. According to Sommer, “Art is a medium for exploring the world not-merely expressing it.” For example, this idea can be seen in action in Bogotá, Colombia, where the city’s mayor fired twenty corrupt police officers and replaced them with circus clowns in order to direct traffic. In Sommer’s opinion, such methods of engaging people through pleasure create a virtuous cycle.

Jinah Kim addressed the assumption that art matters because it produces good citizens, who are in turn needed to produce a vibrant civil society. Although some Indian museums were started in 1840 to serve the purpose of jadugari, or wonderment, according to Kim, they have not been well-organized. Kim argued that with the help of private donations, change is happening slowly at large public institutions. For example, ‘Path Pradarshak,’ a 90-minute tour of the National Museum in Delhi has been introduced to more robustly engage visitors. There is an increasing number of visitors to these museums, which makes Kim hopeful about the emerging positive demand for culture and leisure in India.

Similarly, Megan Panzano shared insights from the recent cutting-edge renovation of the Mumbai City Museum, which showcases how the art worlds that have existed through history can be brought to exist in the current context through an intentional interaction and intersection of civil society and the art worlds.

The panelists argued that it is important for spaces that display art in India, especially museums, to engage their audiences more intentionally because they are responsible for generating and institutionalizing the conventions of artistic evaluation and value that determine tastes and consumption among consumers, as well as society, more broadly. Kim suggested that in order to improve audience engagement, museums should study the demographics of the visitors and survey their experiences to understand what they learn and want from these spaces.

Furthermore, the panelists discussed the need to create an ecosystem in South Asia comprised of public institutions, such as state museums, and private firms, such as corporations, to not merely foster a market for art but also for furthering the vibrancy of civil society. Diana Eck, Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies remarked, “Educating people to learn to see things differently is very important. There is so much art in India and it is essential to form a visual vocabulary to comprehend what one is seeing. The use of this expression is pervasive.”

Next steps for this research project: Through a rich set of symposia, exhibitions, and lectures by artists from South Asia, SAI will provide a platform for South Asian artists to contextualize, exhibit, and discuss their work with the Harvard community and with South Asia museum administrators and executives in the region. SAI will also develop training programs with partners in South Asia to focus on the management of art and culture of South Asia.

Read more about SAI’s South Asian Arts Project.

    Innovation and immersion overseas

    This article originally appeared in the Harvard Gazette.

    Grants help faculty shape study-abroad opportunities


    By Alvin Powell, Harvard Staff Writer

    New Delhi, Bangalore, Paris, Tblisi, Vienna, Dakar, Freiburg.

    Harvard summer students will have the option of classes on three continents through six new summer-abroad programs being developed and implemented by Harvard faculty, thanks to grants from a fund designed to expand study-abroad opportunities and encourage innovation in those experiences.

    “They’ll get immersion in a completely different context, exposure to a different society,” said Tarun Khanna, the Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at Harvard Business School, director of Harvard’s South Asia Institute, and the architect of a summer study-abroad class that places students in Indian nonprofits that are leveraging the promise of mobile phone technology. “I believe the immersion into a combination of library readings and real-world settings will be very instructive.”

    The grants were awarded from the President’s Innovation Fund for International Experiences (PIFIE), which was created to provide seed funding to faculty members to develop academic experiences abroad for Harvard undergraduates. The fund was created as part of David Rockefeller’s donation to support student international experiences, and seeks to encourage participation by faculty members at the graduate schools as well as Harvard College.

    In addition to Khanna, this year’s grantees include Emmanuel Akyeampong andOusmane Kane for programs in Accra, Ghana, and Dakar, Senegal; Sven Beckertfor a program in Freiburg, Germany; John Hamilton and Lisa Parkes for a program in Vienna; Robert Lue and Alain Viel for a program in Paris; andSteven Clancy for a program in Tblisi, Georgia.

    The India program, Khanna said, will run from mid-June through mid-August. The heart of the program will occur in Bangalore, one of the centers of India’s high-tech industry, with a side trip to New Delhi. In Bangalore, students will spend several weeks working at one of two organizations that are using mobile phone technology to improve either health care or education. They will meet regularly as a group, led by Harvard instructors, to discuss their experiences and go over related academic content, such as advances in mobile phone technology, regulatory and legal issues, and user behavior. The program includes a debriefing and presentation in the final week in India and a campus debriefing in Cambridge.

    Akyeampong, a professor of history and of African and African American Studies, sees this summer’s inaugural program in Dakar as part of a Harvard expansion into four key West African countries. A summer study-abroad program already exists in Ghana and he’d like to see programs established in Nigeria and the Ivory Coast.

    “These are four countries that are too important to ignore,” Akyeampong said.

    This summer, students will study language, history, and culture in Dakar, with field trips outside the city. The course, to alternate summers with the Ghana program, will be led by Kane, the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Professor of Contemporary Islamic Religion and Society.

    In Paris, students will embark on a course that Lue, a professor of the practice of molecular and cellular biology, and Alain Viel, a senior lecturer on molecular and cellular biology, described in a proposal “as wildly creative and diverse as the imaginations of the student teams.” Students will study biological evolutionary principles and apply them to the evolution of technology and society in Paris. Students will develop projects that seek to take advantage of the opportunities presented by technology to more fully engage residents in improving urban life.

    “The idea of collective contributions to an improved living environment shares many features with the evolution of populations, be they bacteria in a colony, cells in a tissue, or animals in an ecosystem,” Lue wrote. “This project-based program uses the principles of evolution at the molecular, cellular, and population level to innovate new models for engaging the citizens of Paris in meeting the urban challenges of their city.”

    In Freiburg, Summer School students will be able to share the experiences that Harvard College students have enjoyed in a semester-long program since 2012, according to Beckert, the Laird Bell Professor of History. The program, to begin in 2016, will explore European answers to questions of the modern world, Beckert said. Support from the President’s Fund, Beckert said, has been critical to the planning process.

    “[The program] blends the global and the local to give students an introduction to Europe and a deep international experienced in one of its most beautiful, centrally located cities,” Beckert said. “International experience is an essential part of education today. Students in our program will gain not only an understanding of foreign societies and cultures, but also a better understanding of their home societies and themselves.”

    Looking ahead, students will gather in Tblisi in the summer of 2016 for a nine-week program that will combine Russian language classes with instruction about Georgia and about Russia-Georgia literary and cultural ties, said Clancy, a senior lecturer on Slavic languages and literatures and director of the Slavic Language Program.

    “Georgia’s long history, fertile culture, intricate and beautiful language, rich folklore, unique choral and dance traditions, outstanding literary and cinematic history, and major archaeological discoveries will make for a unique international experience for our students,” Clancy said. “Quite simply, the President’s Fund will make this program possible. Support will enable us to explore the region, establish ties, and lay the infrastructure for the program in summer 2016 and beyond.”

      Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral Megacity Exhibition on display at Harvard

      Over fifty Harvard professors, students, administrative staff, and medical practitioners made the pilgrimage to Allahabad, India, to the Kumbh Mela site in 2013, to analyze issues that emerge in large-scale human gatherings. The Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral Megacity book and exhibition consolidate research findings and serve as an example of interdisciplinary research conducted at Harvard.

      Following the book launch at the Loeb House in April, the exhibition is now on dispay in CGIS Knafel, 1737 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA until the end of July. Open to the public Monday-Thursday 7am-9pm; Fridays 7am-7pm.



        Lessons from and for Nepal

        Anuraj Jha, left, Master’s student at Harvard Kennedy School, introduces the second panel on equity in humanitarian response

        By Abhishek RamanMDiv Candidate, Harvard Divinity School; SAI Student Coordinator

        As part of the Harvard For Nepal initiative, SAI hosted a panel discussion with Students For Nepal on May 14, 2015, “Consequences and Responses: Lessons from and for Nepal” with faculty from Harvard, Tufts, MIT, and Brown, who shared lessons and recommendations on a wide variety of topics related to Nepal’s recovery.

        Xeno Acharya, a PhD student at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and member of Students For Nepal, began the event with a moment of silence to honor and remember the families and community members who lost their lives. The first panel focused on Public Health, Water and Sanitation, and Rebuilding of Places and Heritage Sites,” and was comprised of Jarrod Goentzel, Director, MIT Humanitarian Response Lab; Michael Hooper, Associate Professor of Urban Planning, Harvard’s Graduate School of Design; Daniele Lantagne, Usen Family Career Development Professor, Tufts University; and Atul Pokharel, Postdoctoral Fellow in International Studies, Brown University.

        Acharya posed the following three questions to the panelists: (1) How can we ensure proper shelter for the displaced people before the upcoming monsoon season? (2) How can we learn from other humanitarian disaster responses to mitigate destruction and displacement caused by landslides in villages? (3) How can we strike a balance between building new toilets in the immediate future and long-term sanitation infrastructure in Nepal?

        Panelists agreed that strong dialogue with the government is necessary to have an engagement with the broader community in Nepal, as all of the formal structures of disaster response are being coordinated by the government. Jarrod Goentzel said, “As 2.8 million people have been displaced in Nepal, the importance of shelter becomes paramount. We need a strong dialogue with the government – and providing shelter should be a strong priority,” he explained. The government is highly restrained in terms of having access to resources to manage the influx of resources that have arrived at the border to support the relief efforts, explained Atul Pokharel.

        Daniele Lantagne demystified the popular notion spread by the media that there is always a massive disease outbreak in the aftermath of natural disasters such as the one in Nepal. She explained that flooding is what usually causes outbreaks in the event of natural disasters, and although safe drinking water is necessary, the need of the hour is providing adequate shelter to those displaced.

        Michael Hooper discussed parallels between Nepal and the Haiti earthquake in 2010 that killed more than 160,000 and displaced about 1.5 million people. He said that it is important to consider these parallels with Haiti because most organizations that are working to provide relief on the ground in Nepal are the same ones that were working in Haiti.

        When the panelists were asked about the role universities such as Harvard can play in providing relief, they replied, “We need to find a way to unleash the creativity of our students and connect them to local partners in Nepal.” However, all panelists stressed the importance of humility while responding to natural disasters such as the one in Nepal. They emphasized the importance of universities building long-term partnerships to effectively contribute to relief efforts.

        The second panel focused on “Equity in Humanitarian Efforts,” and was comprised of Jerold S. Kayden, Frank Backus Williams Professor of Urban Planning and Design, Harvard University Graduate School of Design; Ankit Rauniyar, Master’s Candidate, Real Estate Development, Harvard Graduate School of Design; Pukar Malla, Executive Director, Daayitwa and Former Senior Research Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School; and was chaired by Jennifer Leaning, François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights; HSPH, Director, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University.

        Jerold Kayden stressed that we cannot avoid the questions of “To rebuild or not to rebuild?” given that conventional wisdom tells us to rebuild as quickly as possible. However, it is important to ensure that safety is considered heavily in the rebuilding process. Ankit Rauniyar talked about the challenges of rebuilding Nepal’s infrastructure, and that many of the country’s historical buildings were not designed by architects.

        Pukar Malla discussed the importance of taking an inclusive approach to rebuilding: “We shouldn’t exacerbate the already existing culture of dependency,” he said. “We need to make sure these communities are self-sustaining.”

        Malla cautioned against rebuilding in these communities so that they are dependent on external forces, as that would not make them sustainable. Rather, he suggested, “we must consider local communities themselves to be resources who come together to help out when there are no external sources available.” Jennifer Leaning remarked that strategic reconstruction should have a bottom-up approach. She said Harvard can play a role in ensuring that there is an equity of voice in the reconstruction process, so that the stories of people on the ground are being told.

        Learn more about Harvard For Nepal:

        Visit our Facebook page to see photos from the candlelight vigil that followed.

          HBS seeks Research Associate with interest in Indian politics and education

          Job description:

          The Research Associate (RA) position reports directly to faculty supervisors. Ideal RA candidates will be comfortable in an environment that requires a high level of independence, intellectual curiosity and the ability to use discretionary judgment. Under the general direction of Faculty member(s), RAs will develop, design, and conduct research projects; develop interview structures, questions and conduct interviews; gather, analyze, edit, and draft all forms of academic writing; produce original written materials; conduct background research, draft new cases, and update existing cases or materials for classroom use; use knowledge of qualitative research methodologies to further research findings; design new databases, surveys and experiments.

          Primary duties:

          Work under the general direction of an HBS faculty member in the Business, Government, and the International Economy unit on topics central to HBS research agenda. Provide subject-area knowledge, analysis, and interpretation to faculty member.

          Develop, conduct and analyze social science research with a focus on Indian politics, economic development and education policy.
          Write draft cases and articles, case supplements, project reports, and policy memos creating original writing based on research and interviews. Independently manage all timelines and deliverables for multiple projects with competing priorities.

          Provide analysis, editing, and drafts for book manuscripts, academic journal articles, HBS cases and HBS teaching notes. Develop, synthesize and provide analysis of literature reviews.
          Create content for multi-media projects to be used as teaching and case supplements.

          Create original, thought-provoking, innovative presentations and writings for domestic and international audiences.
          Exercise independent decision making with regard to progression of research project and methodologies. When confronted with unexpected research data, be able to make deductions, add insight, and draw conclusions to share with faculty. Collaborate in development of new techniques and instruments. Make recommendations to and create original written material for faculty based on independent research.

          Represent HBS to outside entities: interacting with prominent individuals (grace under pressure is essential). Interview decision makers at companies around the world and work closely with company
          representatives on the case development and course development efforts (e.g., case supplements, rewrites, teaching notes, and multimedia products). Perform on-site field research, interviews (local, regional, and international level).

          Ensure compliance with department, University and federal regulations. Complete work with only general direction. Be aware of department, School, University policies and potential outside research policies.

          Under general direction of faculty member must be able to take complex research ideas, concepts, and methodologies and apply them to new projects and situations. Must be able to structure assignments and keep faculty member informed as necessary, using own judgment.

          Basic Qualifications:

          Bachelor’s degree in a writing-intensive program required, preferably in Political Science, Sociology, Public Policy, or allied field in the social sciences. Research interest in Indian politics and economic development required. Evidence of outstanding academic achievement. Indication of independent research experience and/or applied experience. Proven ability to work independently and creatively. This position requires an individual capable of consistent use of discretion, judgment, and initiative. Background in analysis and interpretation of relevant data, research, news, and literature is necessary. Evidence of prior high-quality, original academic writing required. All positions will be given a writing exam. Ability to read academic, subject-specific information and write a reasoned and thoughtful analysis necessary. Diplomatic skills, comfort in interacting with prominent individuals, and grace under pressure are essential. Strong skills related to the Microsoft Office Suite are expected. Basic knowledge of statistics and statistical software preferable. Experience studying or working in India preferable.

          Must be eligible to work in the United States, without needing the University’s visa sponsorship.

          Additional Qualifications:

          The candidate must have extremely high standards in terms of quality of work, attention to detail, strong organization skills, and absolute commitment to task completion. He or she must be able to balance multiple tasks and shifting priorities under tight deadlines at an accelerated pace when necessary. It is helpful if the candidate is familiar with navigating a complex organization, such as Harvard Business School. Preference for candidate who plans to seek an advanced degree in the social sciences.

          Please note, this is a ½ time appointment from 7/1/15 – 6/30/16 with potential for re-appointment. ½ time positions can be paired together to create a full-time opportunity.

          To Apply:

          To be considered, please share a resume, cover letter, transcript, and writing sample to Laura Kelley at