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Collaboratories Project Takes Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Stories and Myths

By Barry Jagoda | Oct. 1, 2007

Shlomo Dubnov
Shlomo Dubnov, associate professor of music, directs the Kamza and Bar Kamza Project.

A new interdisciplinary project, taking a unique approach to understanding stories and myth, has been launched as one of the first programs sponsored by Chancellor Marye Anne Fox’s “Collaboratories” initiative.  The “Kamza and Bar Kamza Project,” begun by Shlomo Dubnov, associate professor of music, uses a Talmudic story about the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem as the basis for scholarly debates and artistic presentations.  The three-year project hopes to explore insights, energies and emotions that can be unleashed by cultural expression when it is subjected to a variety of perspectives.

After an initial collection of materials, and shaping by a varied group of scholars and students, the project will have a theatrical presentation in early April 2008.  An accompanying symposium will discuss how myth and interpretation influence the human thought process and will look at new ways of using information technology and media arts to address questions of collaboration, understanding and decision-making.

Dubnov explains, "People enjoy stories for their suspense, drama and emotions. But when we gain new knowledge and understanding from a story, it becomes a powerful source of influence that can shape our thoughts and even change culture.”

“The project hopes to explore insights, energies and emotions that can be unleashed by cultural expression when it is subjected to a variety of perspectives.”

During the current academic year, a team of scholars has come together to experiment with ways of understanding the “Bar Kamza” story, to develop systems for collecting commentaries and for pulling together varied understandings and interpretive methodologies.  The project hopes to benefit from Hebrew Talmudic learning traditions, from debates and commentary in Buddhist philosophy and from other sources.  "The Talmud has been used frequently as an example of early hypertext," says Dubnov. “In addition to its inherent manner of linking commentaries to a story, the Talmudic method of argumentation has interesting relations to methods of modern game theory.”

The story, which is the namesake of the project, describes the history of a man named Bar Kamza who was invited by error to a feast at the house of an adversary. When the host realizes the mistake, he expels Bar Kamza, who in revenge reports to the Romans a Jews’ rebellion in the making. This treason ends up generating a Roman invasion, destruction of the Temple and the beginning of contemporary Judaism.

"Besides being full of drama and passion, the story has multiple interpretations. A common one is ‘needless hatred,’ or how little conflicts can escalate and bring a whole society to destruction. But there are other possible interpretations as well, including conflict that can be understood through mathematical models and game theory,” said Dubnov.

Shlomo Dubnov

Expertise in this area is provided by project collaborators Joel Sobel and Eli Berman, members of the UCSD economics faculty.  Historical perspective comes from UCSD historian David Goodblatt, an authority on the early period of Jewish history.  To shape the artistic presentation that is expected to be central to contemporary understanding of the ancient story Shahrokh Yadegari, from the theatre and dance department and Steve Schick and Philip Larson, from music, bring their special skills to the project.

In announcing the Collaboratories Program Chancellor Fox said, “Interdisciplinary scholarship is at the heart of the truly excellent research university. More and more frequently, solutions to the most challenging research problems require the collaborative talents of groups of investigators with a range of disciplines.”  In this spirit, graduate students who have benefited from the Bar Kamza Collaboratories Program include Jose Ignacio Lopez Ramirer-Gaston, music, Benjamin Kay, economics and Toby Algaya, theatre.  Funding for Collaboratories is provided by the Rik and Flo Henrikson Foundation. Additional support is provided by the UCSD Music Department and Center for Research in Computing and the Arts, UCSD.  A catalyst for the project was Michael Bernstein, former dean of Arts and Humanities.

Chancellor's Interdisciplinary Collaboratories

Debate and Commentary Play: The Kamza and Bar Kamza Proyect


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