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The Great Wall and Other Barriers

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An International Interdisciplinary Colloquium

September 26, 2008, Carter Hall at USI, 9:00 am - 4:00 pm

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Click on program name for abstract information
Session 1
9:00 am

Dr. Michael Strezewski"Walls and Warfare in the Prehistoric Midwest"
William Graves"Something there is that doesn't love a wall...but it's not the Roman Empire"


Session 2
10:00 am

Pat Aakhus — "Hadrian's Wall: Conquest and Devotion"
Dr Steven Williams — "Barbarians at the Gate: Immigrant Hysteria and the Great Wall of Mexico"


Session 3
11:00 am

Dr. M.T. Morris — “Behind the Great Wall: the Impact of Dam Construction in China”
Dr. Oana Armeanu — “The Iron Curtain: from Stalin to Gorbachev”


Session 4
12:00 pm

Dr. Mark Krahling — “Is that a Wall or a Window?”
Dr. Chad Tew — “The Virtual Wall: The Making of a Global Village through Social Networking”


Session 5
1:00 pm

Dr. S. B. Darrell — “O’erleaping Shakespeare’s Walls”
Dr. Leslie Roberts — “The Wailing Wall and the Separation Fence”


Session 6
2:00 pm

Dr. Silvia Rode — “Living with The Wall: A Personal History on Global Perspectives”
Matthew Graham — Original poetry
John Gibson — Original poetry


3:00 pm

Reception and photography by Xinran Hu, Katie Waters, Joan Kempf De Jong, Steve Small, Vicki Small, Michael Aakhus, Pat Aakhus


What is The Great Wall and Other Barriers?

“The Great Wall and other Barriers” International Studies Colloquium looks at boundaries that divide, protect, enclose, and exclude, producing a frontier along which diverse cultures meet, find conflict, exchange and transformation.  USI faculty will discuss the effects of the Great Wall of China on the environment, evidence of cultural exchange along Hadrian’s Wall, the impact of the walls of China, Rome, the prehistoric Midwest, Constantinople, Berlin, the Mexican-US border, Israel and the Iron Curtain.  The Great Wall and other Barriers include Shakespeare’s walls to chemical walls to virtual walls.

Abstracts of Presentations

Walls and Warfare in the Prehistoric Midwest

by Dr. Michael Strezewski

There is a common misperception that warfare in pre-contact Native American societies was of short term and rarely resulted in a large number of casualties. However, the archaeological record speaks otherwise. Archaeological evidence indicates that, by A.D. 1000, walls and defensive works of various types were common features of prehistoric villages in the Midwest and were designed with the express purpose of protecting village inhabitants from attack. The type of defensive works seems to have varied by region. Coupled with the skeletal evidence for warfare, archaeologists are now beginning to get a better understanding of the nature and frequency of interpersonal violence in the prehistoric Midwest.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall...but it's not the Roman Empire

by William Graves

From Augustus Caesar to Antoninus Pius the Roman Empire utilized walls, fortresses, camps, fortified bridges, military roads, and fleets, both riverine and maritime, to limit and define its borders.  Collectively they were called limes (pl. limites), from which we get the word “limit.”  While the walls might appear to the modern observer to be primarily defensive structures, they did not precisely serve this function.  To the Roman military mind these were strategic but not tactical barriers. 

Walls, especially, were used to control and channel trade and immigration, prevent brigandage, and serve as early warning tripwires.  Roman commanders, if they had to fight (and they often did), preferred to fight in the open, not from behind walls.  The massive Roman military structures and systems which defined the borders also served as propaganda and psychological intimidation vehicles which overawed most barbarian peoples living beyond them.  Internally, most important Roman cities were guarded by massive walls.  These structures were of a definite defensive nature.  They were constructed so that an enemy could be repulsed by a relatively smaller and weaker garrison.  Hannibal and Attila the Hun were just two of the commanders stymied by Roman city walls..

This illustrated lecture will discuss the Roman limes, their structures and history.  It will also explore the city walls of Rome itself and of ”New Rome” – Constantinople.

Hadrian's Wall: Conquest and Devotion

by Pat Aakhus

Hadrian’s Wall, 70 miles long, marked the northern limit of the Roman Empire, defending the frontier from barbarians. But the barbarian’s gods broke through, appearing along the Wall side by side with the gods of the Empire. Roman legions comprised of soldiers from Syria, Belgium, Germany and Romania, gave inscribed altars, sculpture and amulets in thanks for healing and protection to Jupiter, Mithras, the Great Mother of Anatolia and Celtic nymphs of the local spring.  One altarstone at Houseteads reads:

"To Jupiter Best and Greatest, the god Cocidius and the Guardian Spirit who inhabits this Place, the soldiers of the Second Augustan Legion, powerful in defense, willingly and deservedly fulfill a vow." 

Behind the walls of his villa at Tivoli near Rome, Hadrian dedicated a shrine to his drowned lover Antinous, whose cult assimilated the deified Greek youth, patron of shepherds, actors and the dead, to Osiris, Hermes, Apollo, Pan and Sylvanus.

Barbarians at the Gate: Immigrant Hysteria and the Great Wall of Mexico

by Dr. Steven Williams

Hadrian’s Wall was built to keep out the Picts; China’s Great Wall to keep out the Monguls. Neither were concerned with “barbarians” entering in order to work for low wages. Yet the intensity of fear in some quarters here in the United States about a Mexican “invasion” has induced a serious discussion of building a wall along our southern border. Illegal immigration from Mexico has recently been connected with not only the traditional anxieties about job competition, drug smuggling, and social service strain, but with near-hysterical fears about the spiriting in of WMDs and the spread of leprosy. This paper constitutes an attempt to dispassionately assess the consequences of illegal immigration as well as the viability and desirability of a physical barrier on the U.S./Mexico border. 

Behind the Great Wall: the Impact of Dam Construction in China

by Dr. M.T. Morris

The Three Gorges Dam, located 1,200 miles upriver from the Chinese port city of Shanghai, has been described as a modern engineering marvel, a source of clean electricity, and an environmental catastrophe in the making. One of a handful of man-made structures that can be seen from space, the 1.4 mile long dam towers 607 feet over the Yangtze River. It is the world’s most expensive dam with construction costs totaling $25 billion. Started in 1994, the dam is expected to be fully operational by 2011. Once completed, the waters along the river will rise approximately 400 feet, causing ecological damage within the Qutang, Wu, and Xiling Gorges – an area considered to be one of the world’s “natural wonders.”

The reasons for building the dam are monumental. Flooding along the river routinely kills individuals and displaces communities. In 1998, for example, China experienced its worst flood in 44 years, affecting approximately 300 million people – roughly the size of the population of the United States. Second, the dam is expected to generate one-tenth of the electricity needed for the country, as well as creating better ports further inland. Finally, the dam has been seen as a symbol of the country’s “emerging engineering prowess.” Yet, these benefits come with human, cultural, and economic costs. Close to 1.5 million people will be displaced by the project; cultural and archaeological sites will be lost to the new reservoir; and the hydrology of the river will be changed. Furthermore, the dam has affected the habitat for the critically endangered Siberian Crane and has lead to the functional extinction of the Baiji, otherwise known as the Yangtze River Dolphin.

This building project serves as the focal point for a truly interdisciplinary case study: one that synthesizes concepts from economics, environmental science, history, anthropology, and political science. In this paper, I will conduct a public policy analysis that looks at, among other things, the dynamics of the rural-urban divide, the role of focusing events in the creation of environmental policies, and the problems of bounded rationality and negative externalities.

The Iron Curtain: from Stalin to Gorbachev

by Dr. Oana Armeanu

“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an ‘iron curtain’ has descended across the Continent.” With these words, Winston Churchill has warned the world in a famous speech delivered in 1946 about the dangers posed by the Soviet Union and the separation of Europe into Western and Eastern Europe. Although the ‘iron curtain’ was more a symbolic than a physical barrier, it ultimately became a reflection of the division between a free world and a world dominated by the Soviet totalitarianism. A marker of the Cold War, the ‘iron curtain’ left a deep scar in the political geography of Europe. As the Cold War unfolded, it came to signify more than a border; it was a psychological barrier between two worlds, whose effects outlive the collapse of communism.

Is that a Wall or a Window?

by Dr. Mark Krahling

Walls can help us see a lot. We normally think of walls as human creations, but our natural world is filled with them. Exploring these walls or attempting to breach them reveals a great deal about their construction. Brian Cathcart captures the spirit of wall breaching in his recent book, The Fly in the Cathedral. The book chronicles the work of scientists John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton in the basement of the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge racing to penetrate the nucleus of the atom. In this presentation, we’ll deconstruct the walls, bricks, mortar, sand, cement and water of matter. Using atomically scaled walls, we’ll explore the strategies, tools and personalities used to understand walls of rather miniscule dimension.

The Virtual Wall: The Making of a Global Village through Social Networking

by Dr. Chad Tew

Social networking sites, like Facebook, MySpace or Second Life, offer people the possibility to reach out to others across national border and cultural boundaries. In this presentation, Tew will explore the basic assumptions of intercultural communication and look at how these Internet-based technologies, which help build online communities, can both facilitate and challenge cross-cultural communication.

O’erleaping Shakespeare’s Walls

by Dr. S. B. Darrell

Romeo o’erleaps the orchard wall to woo Juliet.

Pyramus and Thisby chat through a cranny in the garden wall to plan their hilarious, doomed elopement.

Jessica flies to freedom beyond Shylock’s vaults and walls in the Venetian ghetto to join her lover, Lorenzo, and dower him with stolen riches.

Prince Hamlet discovers murder with King Hamlet’s ghost atop Elsinore’s walls and, later, leaps the walls between life and death to embrace Ophelia in her grave.

Cleopatra defends her life and her devotion to Antony within her monument’s walls.

Cressida turns her back on Troy’s secure walls (and Troilus’s love) to become a giddy golden girl among the Greeks.

Let us explore, therefore, the meanings of Shakespeare’s famous walls.

The Wailing Wall and the Separation Fence

by Dr. Leslie Roberts

In my presentation, I will discuss the physical characteristics, history, political and symbolic significance of two walls that stand within the modern state of Israel: the Western or Wailing Wall and the West Bank Separation Barrier. The Western Wall is the only remaining wall of the second Temple. Built during the reign of King Herod, it is considered by religious Jews to be the holiest of sites at which to pray. Through the centuries, political changes have affected both the access to the wall and the dimensions and quality of the physical space in which prayer was possible.

The Separation Wall is the barrier still under construction that purports to protect Israel from violent incursions by inhabitants of the West Bank. Groups with a range of political agendas name the barrier, which will run 425 miles, according to the extent of their approval or disapproval of its existence. I will discuss the groups and their names for the barrier, which range from “geder ha’hafrada” (anti-terrorist fence) to “jidar al-fasl al-‘unsuri (racial segregation fence)” and “Apartheid Wall”, and will summarize world opinion and judgments by the Israeli Supreme Court on cases concerning specific parts of the fence.

Living with The Wall: A Personal History on Global Perspectives

by Dr. Silvia Rode

For almost three decades the Berlin Wall had been the symbol of a divided Germany, and its construction helped change the geopolitical landscape of 20th Century Europe and beyond. Its construction proceeded with little resistance from the Western Allies, as did its demise November 8, 1989, after a Velvet Revolution in the East. 

Historical events that paralleled the twenty six years of The Wall’s existence are seen through a kaleidoscope of autobiographical experiences and remembrances that shaped the political views of an entire generation. In this historical discourse that follows my coming to age in Germany, such events as the first man in space; Apollo 11; Kennedy’s Berlin visit; Willy Brandt’s Moscow trip; the Poland crisis; anti-cruise missile demonstrations; and Gorbachev’s announcement of the suspension of the deployment of SS-20s will be highlighted.

Original poetry

by Matthew Graham

Cold War

I.  Liberty, New York   1963

The Weiss boys annexed new territory
In the neighborhood that winter
We couldn't eat snow because of the testing.
Then missiles locked on Miami and a Mercury space capsule
Sank at sea. And that summer I had to live with my grandmother,
I watched a lattice of sunlight
Slide along the porch.
When I returned the Weiss boys had moved
And an empty peace settled on the neighborhood.
And then somebody shot the president.

II.  Karl Marx Platz, Berlin   1991

After stalling for time we departed
At a station whose time had come.
Its tile cornices were still swirled
With the ash of a park burned for fuel.
And time watched from tired windows --
Rearranged by shrapnel and rain --
The distant boulevards widen with light.
Time bought time
Beneath blind surveillance cameras,
And in time whole districts would surrender.
And later, back on the street, with my watch
Stolen or lost, I begged pardon
For the time.

Original poetry

by John Gibson


To mark the season you have drawn and sent
another card of dancing grass, dried umbels
in the wind. Such lines invite decipherment.

How should I read them? As special pleading
in the brothers' case? Protest against
that February death that left you needing

much more than anyone, but she who'd died,
could ever give? In general terms
you signal your distress; and though I've tried

to comprehend, something defies all thought;
a wall I cannot scale, bearing the legend:
"Whereof one cannot know, thereof one must say nought."

A Teaching Enhancement Awards (TEA) Grant Project...

through the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence and with support from the School of Liberal Arts and the Society for Arts and Humanities.

For more information, contact:

Pat Aakhus, Director of International Studies 

Interdisciplinary Programs  |