Alpha of California 125th Anniversary

Throughout the academic year 2023–2024 Phi Beta Kappa Chapter Alpha of California is celebrating the 125th Anniversary of its charter.

In the spring of 1898, at the urging of Martin Kellogg, then president of the University of California, several members of the Berkeley faculty who had been initiated elsewhere into Phi Beta Kappa petitioned the National Council of the Phi Beta Kappa Society for the establishment of a chapter at the University. In response, a charter was granted on September 7, 1898, and Alpha of California was organized at Berkeley on December 14, 1898. Alpha of California is not only the first chapter established in California, but also the first chapter created west of the Rockies.

The founding members, all professors at the University, were, in the order of their signatures on the document (along with their specialty and affiliation): Martin Kellogg (Classics, Yale), Irving Stringham (Mathematics, Harvard), Willard Rising (Chemistry, Hamilton), George Howison (Philosophy, Marietta), Carl Plehn (Economics, Brown), Mellen Haskell (Mathematics, Harvard), Kendrick Babcock (History /Political Science, University of Minnesota), Joseph Rockwell (Classical Archaeology, Wesleyan), Isaac Flagg (Greek, Harvard), E. Percival Lewis (Physics, Johns Hopkins), William Setchell (Botany, Yale), and Herbert Nutting (Latin, Yale).

To mark the occasion, the current Executive Council has arranged a special series of public lectures celebrating the breath of studies in the liberal arts and sciences offered by our campus. Our speakers are Berkeley faculty members who are also members of Phi Beta Kappa. The series is co-sponsored by the College of Letters and Science. Speakers, dates and locations are listed below and can also be found here.

  • Wednesday, November 15, 2023 at 5pm
    Maude Fife Room, 315 Wheeler Hall
    Khiara M. Bridges, Professor of Law

    Race in the Roberts Court

  • In this lecture, Bridges will discuss the Foreword that she wrote for the Harvard Law Review’s annual issue exploring the U.S. Supreme Court’s most recent term. The Foreword argues that the Court’s impoverished conceptualization of what “counts” as racism against people of color is a strategy that the Court deploys to accomplish regressive ends. This constrained understanding of racism permits the Court to do nothing to destabilize and disestablish the country’s existing racial hierarchy. When confronted with a claim of racial discrimination, the Court appears to be simply determining whether the alleged discrimination resembles what the country did in the pre-Civil Rights Era. If the Court sees a resemblance between the present-day harm and the racism of yesteryear, the Court provides relief. If it sees no resemblance, it provides no relief. The lecture will use the Court’s recent decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Center, reversing Roe v. Wade, to make the argument.

  • Tuesday December 5, 2023 at 4 pm
    Banatao Auditorium, Sutardja Dai Hall
    Saul Perlmutter, Franklin W. and Karen Weber Dabby Professor of Physics, Senior Scientist Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, 2011 Nobel Laureate in Physics

    Scientific Critical Thinking: A Missing Ingredient in Science Education

  • click here to view lecture

    There is a body of techniques and practices, a language and culture, that is usually implicitly taught by apprenticeship and osmosis to graduate students and postdocs in the sciences. This is the underpinning of an approach to building a credible sense of the “real world” that is shared by scientists, but not much used (or understood) by the rest of society. Equipping future generations with this scientific-style critical thinking could be one of our most reasonable defenses against confused thinking and misinformation, both major challenges to our democratic societies’ ability to make deliberative decisions. Can we make these implicit concepts explicit, and teach them to scientists and non-scientists alike? Could this help our society address difficult issues such as are raised by the global environment and economics? And how could citizen scientists use these tools to help build sources of credibility on the web and in the news? This talk is intended to start a discussion.

  • Tuesday, February 13, 2024 at 5 pm
    Maude Fife Room, 315 Wheeler Hall
    Eileen A. Lacey, Professor of Integrative Biology and Curator of Mammals, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology

    Dead and Alive: Behavioral Ecology, Natural History Specimens, and Environmental Change

  • As a behavioral biologist and a museum curator, I work at the interface between the living and the dead – living organisms in their natural environments and no-longer-living specimens in drawers. This juxtaposition offers some incredible opportunities to explore relationships among behavior, ecology, and environmental change. Using examples drawn from my studies of tuco-tucos in the Andes and chipmunks in the Sierra Nevada, I describe how integration of data from the living and the dead can enrich our understanding of the natural world and its response to changing environmental conditions.

  • Tuesday, March 5, 2024 at 5pm
    Maude Fife Room, 315 Wheeler Hall
    Thomas W. Laqueur, Helen Fawcett Professor of History Emeritus, Director Emeritus of the Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities

    Are Dogs Our Best Friends?

  • The philosopher Stanley Cavill argues that we are friends with someone not because of what we do with them but because what we do, we do with them. That is, friendship is based on a shared life. Montaigne when writing about why La Boétie was his best friend said “because he is he and I am I.” This lecture asks whether we can be friends with animals and specifically whether we can be friends—and indeed best friends—with dogs. The lecture will be based on ethnographic, literary, and visual evidence.

In September 2023, the Chapter co-sponsored a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar with the Department of History and the Department of Ancient Greek and Roman Studies. Among other activities during her visit, Suzanne L. Marchand, Boyd Professor of History at Louisiana State University, delivered a public lecture on “Archaeology, the Bible, and Classical Antiquity in the 19th Century” on Thursday, September 7, at 5 pm, Maude Fife Room (315 Wheeler Hall).