Harvard Thinks Big, Again

Daniel M. Lynch

Economics Professor Edward Glaeser finishes his ten minute lecture during "Harvard Thinks Big II" on the benefits of living in cities with a graphic that expresses how less energy is used per capita in the most urban parts of the greater Boston area.

Ten renowned Harvard professors ranging in disciplines from neuroscience to American literature spoke to a rapt audience in a packed Sanders Theater last night at the second annual Harvard Thinks Big forum.

The event, which was hosted by Zachary H. Richner ’11 and Peter D. Davis ’12, gave ten professors ten minutes to discuss an idea about which they are passionate. The night saw exploration of topics ranging from the relationship between time and music to the possibility of the existence of a fifth dimension.

Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig kicked off the evening with a discussion of how to preserve the American democracy. Lessig said that American politicians are too concerned with lobbyists’ interests and do not pay enough attention to their constituents’ needs.


“We have to convince a reluctant nation to wage a war to save democracy,” he told the audience, quoting President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a member of the Class of 1904 and a former Crimson president.

Richard Beaudoin, a composer and music lecturer, discussed how people experience music as a function of time, demonstrating his points with poignant excerpts on the piano. Beaudoin pioneered a new type of music called “musical photorealism,” in which he deconstructs and slows down recordings of iconic musical performances and then interweaves them with other musical pieces.



Harvard Thinks Big 2

Harvard Thinks Big 2

Professor Tarek Masoud touched on current civil unrest in Egypt, engaging with the question of the possibility of democracy in the Arab world. Masoud, who noted that he had been in Egypt just four days before the riots erupted, firmly supported the idea that the Arab world is ready for democratic governance.

History Professor and Pulitzer Prize Winner Caroline Elkins told the story of researching her controversial graduate dissertation, which focused on ethnic tensions in Kenya in the 1950s. After publishing her dissertation, she faced the dilemma of whether or not to testify on behalf of the Kenyan people.

Ultimately, she decided to do so against the urgings of many of her colleagues.

In addition to the professors presentations, this year’s Harvard Thinks Big had a new element.

Just before the intermission, the event’s organizers screened a five minute video in which Harvard undergraduate students’ ideas were highlighted. These ideas ranged from students who wanted to create websites that would allow for neighbors to easily build a sense of community to organizing time for Harvard students to de-stress during the week by creating a space in which they can play with legos and blocks.

Professors and students alike said that they enjoyed the event.

“I think it was a big success,” said Professor Lisa Randall.

Davis, who also organized Harvard Thinks Big last year, said he was pleased with the event.

“We all felt good about it,” said Davis. “We had ten great professors.”

Davis said he was delighted with what he referred to as the increased legitimacy of this years Harvard thinks big, and that he hopes to make the event a new Harvard tradition.

He also said he wants students take away an important message from the event, that they too can think big.

“I hope that they don’t think they are surrounded by great ideas,” Davis said. “I hope that the think that they, themselves, have great ideas.”

-Staff writer Mercer R. Cook can be reached at