Apr 25, 2024, 12:00 pm1:20 pm
PLAS 3rd Floor Atrium, Burr Hall



Event Description


“Orchestrating” Spectrum: Cuba, Communications Satellites, and U.S. Empire, 1963

Presented by: Haris A. Durrani, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History's Program in History of Science

In 1963, the United Nations held a conference to regulate the latest groundbreaking technology of the Space Age: the communications satellite. The conference was under the auspices of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a specialized U.N. agency that allocated radio frequencies on a worldwide basis. The "Space Conference," as it was called, would allocate frequencies for communications satellites. A team of U.S. lawyers, corporate executives, agency officials, and diplomats proposed a "first come, first served" allocation regime that allowed "freedom of access" to spectrum. But they soon found themselves at odds with a team of engineers, lawyers, politicians, and agency officials from Cuba. The Cubans, led by the head of their Ministry of Communications, Pedro W. Luis Torres, resisted the U.S. proposals. They were followed by a coalition of delegations from nations in the self-described "socialist" and "developing" worlds. These delegations made the first "reservations" to the ITU's historically stable regulatory regime. U.S. efforts were, Torres claimed, a continuation of the U.S. and European empires from which these "small countries" were in the process of freeing themselves. Historians of international law have often found notions of globalism to be either intrinsic to anti-imperial efforts in international law (e.g. the Bandung Conference), or else concepts against which such efforts operated by invoking globalism's supposed foils, sovereignty and self-determination (e.g. "permanent sovereignty over natural resources"). The conference presented both a concept of global scale--the apparently American idea of free, universal access to spectrum or outer space--and concerns about self-determination, through the claim that that spectrum allocation affected Cuban sovereignty. But closer scrutiny reveals that the conference complicates the idea that free space and sovereignty were foils during decolonization. I argue that, in the conference, sovereignty and the global imaginary of “free" access to spectrum were not antithetical but part of a shared legal vocabulary in which imperial and anti-imperial claims were contested. 

Haris A. Durrani is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History's Program in History of Science. He holds a JD from Columbia Law School, an MPhil in History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge, and a B.S. from the Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. His dissertation tells a legal history of Syncom II, the first "synchronous" communications satellite, during decolonization and the global Cold War.

DISCUSSANT: Joseph Fronczak, Research Scholar, History


Brígido Lara at Work. Photo: Jesse Lerner


Fake and Authenticity in Pre-Columbian Art: The Case of Brígido Lara

Presented by: Alejandro Virue, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese

In 1974, Mexican police arrested Brígido Lara under the accusation of being part of a group of archaeological traffickers. After a time in prison, he could prove that those allegedly archaeological artifacts were his own creations. His case acquired international notoriety when, after a publication of the art journal Connoisseur in 1987, it was discovered that some of his works were displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Dallas Museum of Art as authentic pre-Columbian.

In this presentation, I will read his case in relation to a change in the perception of pre-Columbian art in the United States that took place between the 1930s and 1960s. This reshaping had two dimensions. On one side, pre-Hispanic pieces took on an aesthetic dimension in addition to their value as objects of scientific study. On the other,  they were used to promote hemispheric unity and cultural diplomacy, mainly through initiatives by institutions like the Office of Inter-American Affairs and the Pan-American Union. Pre-Columbian forgeries were one of the ways in which Mexican artisans responded to this new demand. The presentation will delve into these shifts' aesthetic and historical implications, ultimately questioning the fluid boundaries between authenticity and inauthenticity in the art-culture system.

Alejandro Virue is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Princeton University. He holds a Bachelor's in Philosophy from the Universidad de Buenos Aires and a Master's in Latin American Literature from the Universidad Nacional de San Martín. His main areas of interest are literary, artistic, and audiovisual production in Latin America during the Cold War, and the relationship between technology and art. His dissertation focuses on fakeness in Latin American literature, cinema, and visual arts during the Cold War.

DISCUSSANT: Grace Kuipers, Postdoctoral Research Associate, High Meadows Environmental Institute

MODERATOR: Jonathan Romero, Graduate Student, Spanish and Portuguese

This workshop is open to students, faculty, visiting scholars and staff. Lunch will be available while supplies last.

Contributions to and/or sponsorship of any event does not constitute departmental or institutional endorsement of the specific program, speakers or views presented.