Seeking the Common Good Series

seeking common good series 2008

Learn and reflect about the meaning of the common good and engage in exploration of major public issues.

The yearlong series of public events "Seeking the Common Good" reflects the McKeen Center’s role to encourage and support learning and reflection about the meaning of the common good and to promote exploration of major public issues. Emphasizing cross-disciplinary engagement in inquiry and debate that reaches beyond Bowdoin, this series links the study of topics in academic courses to their exploration in a multiplicity of other venues. Lectures, symposia, films, exhibitions and performances in this series will focus on particular visions for achieving some element of “the common good” through examination of compelling problems or issues, and efforts to address them locally, nationally and internationally.

For more information on the series please contact Janice Jaffe at or 798-4156.

From Civil Strife to Civil Society: Looking Toward the Future in Afghanistan (Fall 2011)

As the United States begins the draw down of forces in Afghanistan amid differences of opinion at home and conflicting messages from abroad, what are the implications of a decade of war on the citizens of a country ravished by invasion and internal strife since the 1970s? What are ways Americans and Afghanis can draw upon lessons past and present to work towards establishing a secure environment in which to foster positive community development at this transitional moment?

The Worlds of Public Health (Spring 2011)

In response to increased student and faculty interest in this field, this series takes a multi-disciplinary look at public health issues on the local, national and international levels. Screening and discussion of the acclaimed PBS series Unnatural Causes, which explores socio-economic and racial disparities in health, will lay the foundation for a public health symposium that will bring together practitioners and experts in a variety of public health fields to explore current trends and approaches in public health domestically and internationally. Afternoon breakout sessions will also focus on intersections between public health issues and studies in various academic disciplines, public health in the liberal arts curriculum, and possible fellowship and internship opportunities.

ACTivism: Your Cause.  Your Community.  Your Way. (Fall 2010)

What is activism? How do you translate your passion for an issue or a cause into action? What makes you engage in addressing a problem in your community? This series explores multiple notions of and approaches to activism with a focus on connections between activism and community, the impact of new media on engagement, and the different faces of activism internationally.

Literature as a Lens on the Common Good (Spring 2010)

Literature as a Lens on the Common Good takes a multi-disciplinary look at the impact of writers and literature on shaping visions of and working for the common good, and explores how literature can provide both inspiration for and reflection on effecting change.

Innovation for Change (Spring 2010)

In a constantly changing world, we are all called upon to think innovatively to address pressing public issues of our time. What are the emerging challenges we will face in our global and local communities? How do we develop the skills necessary to address these for greater impact? This series invites the campus community to think differently in understanding the intersection of social and environmental problems and brings attention to how the values of a liberal education provide a foundation for addressing these problems.

Empowering through Policy (Fall 2009)

Empowering through Policy examines public policy from multiple perspectives and in relation to major issues such as health, education and the environment, with an eye on enhancing understanding of how policy works and the various ways to influence policy as a way in which to effect change.

Embodying Inequality (Spring 2009)

This semester's agenda begins by exploring the consequences of unequal access to health care resources and calls attention to responses to these inequities within the United States and abroad.
In March the series shifts to "Seeking Equity through Education," which brings together educators, educational policy experts, and social activists from diverse settings to address inequalities in schools and examine possibilities for change.
The series concludes in May with "Redefining the Common Good after Communism," a conference that explores the changing meanings of the common good for citizens of post-communist states who have experienced social, economic, and political upheaval during the past two decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the demise of the Soviet Union.

Theatre for the Common Good (Fall 2008)

Theater for the Common Good looks beyond the traditional reach of theater to view its role in furthering social justice and the common good. Acclaimed theater artist and activist Norma Bowles, founder and artistic director of Fringe Benefits and leader of "Theater for Social Justice" workshops and institutes throughout the country, will engage students, faculty and community members in a week of master classes, lectures, and workshops that explore how theater can play an active role in addressing pressing social problems including racism, sexism, and homelessness.

Peculiar Obligations: Historical Perspectives on the Common Good at Bowdoin College (Fall 2008)

This series examines how individuals at different moments in Bowdoin’s history interpreted the common good and acted to fulfill the institution’s civic function. Initiated in Assistant Professor of Education Charles Dorn’s seminar entitled "The Civic Functions of Higher Education in America," this display draws on letters, photographs, policy statements, newspapers and other archival materials in Bowdoin’s Special Collections. Eight interpretive panels address how over time members of the College community responded to the Reverend Joseph McKeen’s appeal in his inaugural address in 1802: "If it be true, that no man should live to himself, we may safely assert, that every man who has been aided by a public institution to acquire an education, and to qualify himself for usefulness, is under peculiar obligations to exert his talents for the public good."

Manufactured Landscapes (Fall 2008)

Documentary director Jennifer Baichwal’s film "Manufactured Landscapes," created around Edward Burtynsky’s photographs of environmentally endangered landscapes, provides the focal point for a multi-faceted look at the global crisis generated by international trafficking in waste. Through film screenings, a museum exhibition, and panel discussions among scholars and students in various disciplines, this program seeks to spread awareness and mutual understanding of this largely unrecognized global environmental problem. “The connection between local trash and overseas disposal makes a provocative case that we need to seek the common good across national borders and beyond geopolitical boundaries,” explains Shu-Chin Tsui, associate professor of Asian Studies and organizer of these events.