Conservation is something humans do. A million years ago, our early ancestors were repairing handaxes. Five thousand years ago, Egyptians buried their rulers in elaborate containers, in spaces that also held precious objects, inside gigantic and impenetrable pyramids designed to last for all time. Preservation (of self) is a concept at the heart of both modern political and modern biological thought. Nineteenth-century physicists began describing the workings of nature in terms of conservation of energy / force / momentum. It was at just this time that the conservation of art objects took on a specific shape with specific practices and even norms. In this series of conversations between artists, scientists, humanists, and social scientists, we will explore the significance of conservation as a human practice with consequences for how we think about ourselves and our society, both past and future.

With Ubaldo Vitali, Emily Wilson, Beth Shapiro, and David N. Spergel. Moderated by Peter N. Miller.

Supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation


Emily Wilson is a Professor in the Department of Classical Studies and Chair of the Program in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at the University of Pennsylvania and is the College for Women Class of 1963 term professor in the Humanities. Her books include Mocked with Death: Tragic Overliving from Sophocles to Milton (Johns Hopkins 2005), The Death of Socrates: Hero, Villain, Chatterbox, Saint (Harvard 2007), and The Greatest Empire: A Life of Seneca” (Oxford 2014). She is the Classics editor of the revised Norton Anthology of World Literature. Her verse translations include Six Tragedies of Seneca (Oxford), four translations of plays by Euripides in the Modern Library The Greek Plays (2016), Oedipus Tyrannos (2020 Norton), and the Odyssey (2017, with a Norton Critical Edition published in 2020). She is working on a new translation of the Iliad, which is due to appear in 2023. She edited a volume on Ancient Tragedy for Bloomsbury Cultural Histories (2019). She was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2019, and won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2020.

Ubaldo Vitali
was born in Rome 1944 into a fourth generation family of silversmiths. He studied at Liceo Artistico, Rome; L’Accademia di Belle Arti, Faculty of Sculpture, Rome; L’Universitá di Roma, Faculty of Architecture, Rome. He has conserved and restored works of art for the Soprintendenza alle Belle Arti (the institution overseeing Italian museums), as well for various European museums and galleries. He has also designed and executed silver objects for the Italian government as gifts to foreign dignitaries, as well as three popes, the Queen of England, and the Shah of Iran. He moved to the United States in 1967. He has since worked for leading American museums, such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Detroit Institute of Art, The Toledo Museum of Art, The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Yale Art Gallery, North Carolina Museum, The Newark Museum, The Dallas Museum, and many others. He has been commissioned by the US State Department to design and execute silver objects to be given to foreign dignitaries by the President of the United States as presidential gifts. His objects are in the permanent collections of The Newark Museum, the Houston Museum, the Yale Art Gallery, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum Renwick Gallery. His works have been exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, as well as a solo exhibition in the Newark Museum, Oct -Dec 1990.

Beth Shapiro is an evolutionary biologist who specializes in the genetics of ice age animals and plants. As Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UC Santa Cruz and Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Beth uses DNA recovered from bones and other remains to study how species evolved through time and how human activities have affected and continue to affect this dynamic process. Her work focuses on organisms ranging from influenza to mammoths, asking questions about domestication, admixture, speciation, and pathogen evolution. Her current work also develops techniques to recover increasingly trace amounts of DNA such as from environmental and water samples and use these data to discover how biological communities and ecosystems might be made more resilient. A 2009 MacArthur Fellow, Beth is an award-winning popular science author and communicator who uses her research as a platform to explore the potential of genomic technologies for conservation and medicine. Her newest book, Life As We Made It: How 50,000 Years of Human Innovation Refined – and Redefined – Nature was published in 2021.

David N. Spergel
is the President of the Simons Foundation. He is the Charles Young Professor of Astronomy Emeritus at Princeton University and was the Founding Director of the Center of Computational Astrophysics at the Flatiron Institute in NY. After two years as a long-term member at the Institute for Advanced Study, he joined the Princeton astrophysics faculty in 1987, where he was also Associate Faculty in the Departments of Physics and Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. He served as Department Chair from 2006 to 2016. In 2016, he became the Founding Director of the Center for Computational Astrophysics. In 2021, he assumed leadership of the Simons Foundation. Spergel is a fellow of the American Physical Society, a Legacy Fellow of the American Astronomical Society, a member of the American Philosophical Society, National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has been awarded the MacArthur Fellowship, the Breakthrough Prize, the Gruber Prize, the Shaw Prize, Sloan Fellowship, and the Presidential Young Investigator award. For his contributions to NASA, he was twice awarded the NASA Exceptional Public Service Award. Spergel was one of the leaders of the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Prove (WMAP), which measured the age, shape, and composition of the universe.

Other conversations in this series
Wednesday, March 2, 6–7:30 pm
With Jeffrey Gibson, Sendhil Mullainathan, Marla Spivak, and Campbell McGrath

Wednesday, April 27, 6–7:30 pm
With Lauren Redniss, Danielle Bassett, Stanley Nelson, and Peter Cole
Attendance Details
We have opened registration for a limited in-person audience. Bard Graduate Center requires proof of vaccination and photo identification to enter the building. Guests are required to wear masks regardless of vaccination status.

This talk will also be available on Zoom. A link will be circulated to registrants by 4 pm on the day of the event. This event will be live with automatic captions.