Colloquium Highlights Consideration of Context Over Memorization of Dates

Published 11.19.2014

Faculty & Staff
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School of Sciences, Humanities & Visual Communications News

Under the lights of the ACC Auditorium dome (and the glow from the projection screen and students' electronic devices), a sizable crowd gathers for the final Centennial Colloquium.Craig A. Miller offers an overview of the technological, economic, environmental and cultural issues that surrounded construction of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railways – including displacement of American Indians.Miller responds to an audience question about the ultimate impact of automation on the workforce, optimistically saying that, while technology will continue to alter the way we live and work, humans will always be involved.The college's Centennial is drawing to a close, but Miller – along with the five other Penn College faculty members who contributed to the enlightening colloquia series – will reconvene for a panel discussion in February.Past and present meet as Miller time-travels across the stage, introducing his audience to Thomas C. Durant, vice president of the Union Pacific Railroad.Defining history as a "conversation between the past and the present ... and almost always about the future," faculty member Craig A. Miller delivered the concluding lecture in Penn College’s Centennial Colloquia Series on Tuesday night. The assistant professor of history and political science discussed “Technology, Power and Responsibility” in the Klump Academic Center Auditorium, engaging his audience the same way he challenges his students: "I'm not here to teach you history. I'm here to use history to teach you to be critical thinkers." So while the presentation was shaped around the construction of the transcontinental railroad, that story served as a thought-provoking springboard to the broader connection between choices and consequences. Cross-country rail service was "truly a technological marvel" steeped in progress and industrial speed, he said, a monumental achievement that was not without fallout. True, it ushered in an era of development and helped the United States become a global economic power. But the territorial expansion also relocated Native Americans under a policy of "assimilate or move," fostered financial chicanery and altered the workforce. In an informed give-and-take, Miller urged attendees to vigilantly weigh multiple perspectives, to logically and critically analyze the societal price of decisions, and to "accept uncomfortable truths and learn from them." The hourlong program, introduced and moderated by Paul L. Starkey, vice president for academic affairs and provost, was followed by a question-and-answer session and a reception in Wrapture.