Andreas Wimmer @ Columbia Maison Française
Mar 27 @ 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm

WimmerNation Building presents bold new answers to an age-old question. Why is national integration achieved in some diverse countries, while others are destabilized by political inequality between ethnic groups, contentious politics, or even separatism and ethnic war? Traversing centuries and continents from early nineteenth-century Europe and Asia to Africa from the turn of the twenty-first century to today, Andreas Wimmer delves into the slow-moving forces that encourage political alliances to stretch across ethnic divides and build national unity.

Using datasets that cover the entire world and three pairs of case studies, Wimmer’s theory of nation building focuses on slow-moving, generational processes: the spread of civil society organizations, linguistic assimilation, and the states’ capacity to provide public goods. Wimmer contrasts Switzerland and Belgium to demonstrate how the early development of voluntary organizations enhanced nation building; he examines Botswana and Somalia to illustrate how providing public goods can bring diverse political constituencies together; and he shows that the differences between China and Russia indicate how a shared linguistic space may help build political alliances across ethnic boundaries.

Wimmer then reveals, based on the statistical analysis of large-scale datasets, that these mechanisms are at work around the world and explain nation building better than competing arguments such as democratic governance or colonial legacies. He also shows that when political alliances crosscut ethnic divides and when most ethnic communities are represented at the highest levels of government, the general populace will identify with the nation and its symbols, further deepening national political integration.

Offering a long-term historical perspective and global outlook, Nation Building sheds important new light on the challenges of political integration in diverse countries.

First published in 2018.

Andreas Wimmer is the Lieber Professor of Sociology and Political Philosophy at Columbia University. His books include Waves of War and Ethnic Boundary Making.

Michael Ryan @ Houston Museum of Natural Science
Mar 29 @ 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm

RyanDarwin developed the theory of sexual selection to explain why the animal world abounds in stunning beauty, from the brilliant colors of butterflies and fishes to the songs of birds and frogs. He argued that animals have “a taste for the beautiful” that drives their potential mates to evolve features that make them more sexually attractive and reproductively successful. But if Darwin explained why sexual beauty evolved in animals, he struggled to understand how. In A Taste for the Beautiful, Michael Ryan, one of the world’s leading authorities on animal behavior, tells the remarkable story of how he and other scientists have taken up where Darwin left off and transformed our understanding of sexual selection, shedding new light on human behavior in the process.

Drawing on cutting-edge work in neuroscience and evolutionary biology, as well as his own important studies of the tiny Túngara frog deep in the jungles of Panama, Ryan explores the key questions: Why do animals perceive certain traits as beautiful and others not? Do animals have an inherent sexual aesthetic and, if so, where is it rooted? Ryan argues that the answers to these questions lie in the brain—particularly of females, who act as biological puppeteers, spurring the development of beautiful traits in males. This theory of how sexual beauty evolves explains its astonishing diversity and provides new insights about the degree to which our own perception of beauty resembles that of other animals.

Vividly written and filled with fascinating stories, A Taste for the Beautiful will change how you think about beauty and attraction.

Michael J. Ryan is the Clark Hubbs Regents Professor in Zoology at the University of Texas and a Senior Research Associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. He is a leading researcher in the fields of sexual selection, mate choice, and animal communication. He lives in Austin, Texas.