Past Symposium: Spring 2013

Modernity and Chance
April 5, 2013
1:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m., with reception following
Lecture Hall, National Museum of African Art

This symposium considers chance as a central problem in the history of modernity, occupying a complicated place in modern lives and societies. It has become a phenomenon integral to our understanding of the world–natural and social–and, in practical terms, a phenomenon to be systematized and controlled (though, say, statistics and insurance) as well as a newly omnipresent counterforce to everyday order, whether in the form of industrial accidents or national lotteries.

Chance and order, this symposium proposes, have existed as a key dialectic of modernity, playing a particularly prominent role in the imagination and self-understanding of modern cultures. What have been the social and cultural effects of modernity’s engagement with chance and disorder? How has chance been understood and experienced differently under modernity—among different groups and in different places? To what extent and in what ways, in turn, has modernity been shaped or even defined by chance and the meanings that have attached to it? Speakers will address in particular unofficial lotteries in Brazil, worlds of digital gaming, and practices of photography, among other topics.


“Reexamining Brazil’s Animal Game: On Modernity, the Taming of Chance, and the Distribution of Risk”
Amy Chazkel
Associate Professor, History, Queens College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York

“Lucky Shot: Photography, Chance, and War”
Robin Kelsey
Shirley Carter Burden Professor of Photography and Chair, History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University

“Ritual, Bureaucracy, Game: Modernity and its Cultural Forms of Control”
Thomas Malaby
Professor and Chair, Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

T.J. Jackson Lears
Board of Governors Professor, History, Rutgers University

Martin Collins
Curator, Space History, National Air and Space Museum
Editor, History and Technology