Journalist to speak about experience covering Iraq

Mark Danner, a staff writer for The New Yorker and journalism professor at Berkeley, will speak about his coverage of the Iraq War, torture at Abu Ghraib prison and the Bush Administration’s policies on human rights Thursday at 7 p.m. in Smith 338.

The event will be hosted by the Portland Center for Cultural Studies. As the driving force behind the development of the center, the university’s goal is to bring together academics in the humanities and social sciences from many Portland-area institutes of higher learning to share research in progress, bring speakers to their campuses and organize an annual public conference.

The center has focused on creating an intellectual community among academics, but with a recent infusion of cash and labor the center hopes to become increasingly relevant to Portland State students.

In addition to opening events to students, the university may eventually offer a minor or a masters program in cultural studies, said Lee Medovoi, English professor and the center’s organizer.

Like other interdisciplinary “studies” departments, such as women’s studies or Black studies, cultural studies combines research and theory from several different academic fields in the humanities and social sciences, to examine topics related to cultural phenomena in industrial societies. Faculty affiliated with the Portland Center for Cultural Studies represent disciplines ranging from English, foreign languages, art and music to sociology, cultural anthropology, history and economics.

The center began in the fall of 2004, when several faculty members from the humanities and social sciences applied for an award to fund a cultural studies project at Portland State.

“We felt there was not enough contact between departments and between faculty,” Medovoi said. “We wanted a more vibrant intellectual life on campus, and for the community.”

The center was originally proposed just for PSU, but “we began to think that this could be larger than just a PSU initiative,” Medovoi said.

Faculty working on related topics were isolated in their departments, and the different colleges and universities in the Portland area had little contact with each other. In some of the smaller schools, such as Reed College and Lewis and Clark, academics have few colleagues with whom they can share their ongoing research.

“Portland as a community has a lot of intellectual curiosity, great arts and music, but the universities have not done much with this,” Medovoi said.

More than 40 professors from area universities showed up at a word-of-mouth meeting last year to discuss the possibility of a regional Center for Cultural Studies. After receiving a modest award, the group held a series of work-in-progress sessions, so that faculty could become familiar with each other’s work.

The center now includes faculty from Lewis and Clark, Reed, Linfield College, Mt. Hood Community College, Pacific University, the University of Portland and the University of Oregon, as well as Portland State. It also enjoys the support of the Oregon Council for the Humanities.

“A lot of academics in Portland are painfully aware that people at different universities in the city and the state never get a chance to meet people working on related or similar topics,” said Jan Mieszkowski, a German professor at Reed College. “At a school like Reed, the faculty’s not enormous, so if we can open up on a regional basis, we can hold discussions more often.”

Linda Angst, a cultural anthropologist at Lewis and Clark, concurred. “I just think it’s wonderful. A lot of times, academics get wrapped up in our own institutions … The other big point is to bring in the public, to interest in the public in cultural studies and get the public interacting with academics.”

In May 2005, the Portland Center for Cultural Studies held its first conference, with 40 academics from the region presenting on issues of globalization.

“It felt like, for the first time, we were building an intellectual community,” Medovoi said. “With that base, we’re moving forward this year to make this more and more relevant to the public.”

Both Angst and Mieszkowski praised Medovoi’s initiative in creating the Center for Cultural Studies.

“Professor Medovoi has been really instrumental in reaching out to academics all over the city,” Angst said.

“It’s nothing short of phenomenal what Lee has managed to accomplish with this,” Mieszkowski said. “He’s really the driving force.”

“The biggest challenge has been getting [the center] funded at a time when the university is facing budget cuts,” Medovoi said.

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has made a commitment to support the Center for Cultural Studies through next year, when Portland will host the annual conference of the national Cultural Studies Association.

The Center previously collaborated with the Multnomah County Library this year for Everybody Reads, a citywide event promoting reading and discussion of books. Portland State faculty affiliated with the Center for Cultural Studies spoke at reading clubs all over town.