By Tiffany Summerville | Administrative Affairs Editor
Today marks the beginning of the first University-sponsored Alabama-Cuba Conference, coinciding with International Education Week, which will showcase various aspects of Cuban and Latin American life through 23 sessions held today through Thursday.
Some sessions will focus on various Cuban aspects, while others compare Cuban life and cultural with that of the United States. All of the University’s colleges, as well as the UA libraries, department of student affairs, Natural History Museum and international programs, among others, are sponsoring the conference.
Conference director Lawrence Clayton said the idea for the conference began through a longstanding interest the University has had in Latin America and specifically Cuba, which has sparked more interest in the past four years.
He also said the conference, which has been in the planning stages for around a year, stemmed from the Cooper Cuba Initiative, which allowed UA faculty, staff and students to travel to Cuba to study, teach and conduct research. UA Board of trustee member Angus Cooper and his brother, David, contributed $50,000 to the initiative.
“We decided it would be good to focus this interest by having a conference,” Clayton said.
Clayton said the conference is designed to promote faculty research in Cuba, as well as promote undergraduate and graduate opportunities to study in Cuba and other Latin American countries. A second Alabama-Cuba conference, scheduled to be in Havana in 2005, is still in the planning stages.
The first session is tonight at 6 at the Bryant Conference Center and features a panel of baseball experts who will discuss the historic U.S./Cuba connection in the sport.
Tuesday will feature a Cuban breakfast and lunch and sessions on pottery, drinking water standards and the Cuban book arts and bookmaking process, as well as poetry and photography presentations and discussion on the economic and political perspectives of Cuba following the Cold War.
On Wednesday, students composing a UA student panel will discuss their experience as the first student group from the University to study in Cuba last May. The keynote event of the conference, “Cuba, Mambo and the World,” will feature Robert Farris Thompson, who will give a presentation of the Cuban mambo’s sound, look and place in Latin America culture and music.
“He’s supposed to be a slam-dunk performer,” Clayton said. “[He] opens up a world a lot of us aren’t really in touch with.”
Slides, music and a video will accompany the presentation. Thompson is a professor of art history at Yale University.
Other Wednesday conferences included discussion of Cuban archaeology and the historic, cultural and economic links between Cuba and Mobile.
Thursday’s sessions feature Cuban religion, science fiction, health care and environment engineering. Cuban luncheons will be held Tuesday through Thursday.
Carmen Taylor, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and one of the coordinators of the conference, said the initial funding for the conference came from Cooper’s donation, but she said all of the conference sponsors have also contributed funds.
Taylor said no programs have had to be cut from the conference schedule due to last-minute funding deficiencies.
Conference registration and check-in begins Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. and continues later at 5 p.m. Registration will continue each day through Thursday. The non-refundable registration for all or part of the week is $25 per person, but UA students, faculty and staff may register for free. In addition, the three luncheons cost $15 per person. As of Friday, Taylor said 140 people had registered for the conference.
A schedule of events and details on all sessions is available at [url=http://www.cuba.ua.edu]http://www.cuba.ua.edu[/url]