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Reppy Institute hosts interdisciplinary conference

Media Contact

Melissa Osgood

Cornell doctoral students in the fields of government, history and anthropology invited graduate student scholars from around the country to share in an interdisciplinary conference on peace and conflict April 16 at the A.D. White House.

The conference, sponsored by the Judith Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies, was the institute’s first graduate student-led conference. Michael Allen, the institute’s director’s fellow, and eight graduate fellows planned the conference.

The purpose of the event was “bringing people together across disciplines and universities,” said Whitney Taylor, last year’s director’s fellow and conference presenter.

Scholars in government and history study many of the same topics but approach them in different ways. Taylor discovered that students trained in other disciplines asked completely unexpected, but relevant and interesting questions.

“That’s when you get new productive thoughts about your own work,” Taylor said.

Allen also sees the value of this sort of collaboration. “You’re forced to re-evaluate a lot of disciplinary assumptions and language that cover up ambiguities” in your work, he said.

Doctoral and master’s students traveled to Ithaca from Yale University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University, Duke University, Boston University, University of Michigan, George Washington University, Northeastern University and Binghamton University to discuss their scholarly papers with Cornell students. The papers in progress are intended as master’s theses, dissertation chapters and journal articles.

Two Cornell students, Debak Das and Taylor – both doctoral students in the field of government – presented papers. Taylor’s paper, “Crime and Punishment in International Law: How the Incomplete Development of Law Leaves Individuals in Jeopardy,” explores how individuals involved in armed conflict are treated in today’s international human rights climate.

Das presented a paper on “Settling Nuclear Crises: Why Nuclear Superiority Does Not Matter for Regional Powers.” He argues that a state’s nuclear superiority does not guarantee success in a nuclear crisis, using the Kargil War between India and Pakistan in 1999 as a key case study.

After the conference, Allen said, “My hope for the event is that it helps to bridge not just different departments within Cornell, but also different universities within the northeastern region” and beyond.

Allen believes that presenters will be able to incorporate interdisciplinary theories and methodologies discussed at the workshop into their “broader research programs” beyond these papers.

For 45 years, the Reppy Institute – formerly the Peace Studies Program – has brought together faculty and students from such departments as government, science and technology studies, and history, as well as physics, engineering, natural resources, and the law school, to discuss issues of common interest.

“A lot of similar kinds of institutes … are named ‘security,’ but the emphasis here is on peace,” Allen said.

The Reppy Institute “pulls people out of their departmental silos and encourages scholars – professors and grad students – who are working on similar topics in different departments, in different physical buildings, to come together…to share ideas,” said Allen.

Everyone is welcome to share ideas at the weekly lecture series Thursdays from 12:15-1:30 p.m. in Uris Hall G-08.

Amanda Bosworth is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.

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