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Growing SUNY Potsdam seminar series kicks off new year


POTSDAM — According to some people, Dec. 21 will be the end of the world as we know it.

As the world enters a final countdown of just over three months, many prepare for a cataclysmic event expected by a Mayan calendar which counts the days from the birth of their civilization to the end of time.

At the beginning of his Wednesday seminar, SUNY Potsdam Dean of Arts and Sciences Steven Marqusee said if the calendar is right, every man and woman has just 106 days left on earth.

“There has been a lot of press lately dealing with the Maya,” he said. “If you have sick leave, vacation, retirement savings, use it up, because it is all over.”

Mr. Marqusee, who was delivering the first of the school’s 2012-2013 Seminar in Disciplined Inquiry in Education Series, later explained that the Maya likely did not view the date as the end of the world, but as the end of a calendar cycle and the birth of an new era.

The name of Mr. Marqusee’s presentation, “Do We Really Need to Plan for this Semester?: Mayan Mathematics, Calendrics and the End of the World” filled the board room’s seats with students, staff and faculty curious to see whether the end was near.

Mr. Marqusee explained that the Mayans kept several calendars. One, used to mark rituals, was a 260-day cycle. Another, a 365- day solar calendar, was used for civic purposes. A third calendar, called The Long Count by anthropologists, was used as a way of counting time since the origin of the Mayan era in 3114 BC.

“The Long Count is a 5128 year cycle, the end of which would usher in the fourth destruction and the creation of a new world,” according to Mr. Marqusee. Mayan cosmology, he explained, believed the world had been created and destroyed three times before the current era. The Mayan gods were unsuccessful in their first three attempts to create mankind, only in their fourth attempt did they create beings with speech, soul and intellect.

Authors and documentary makers have seized on the end of the fourth era, Dec. 21, as the date for the end of the world — perhaps because so much mystery surround the Mayan civilization itself.

“The fact that they suddenly disappeared has led to the mystery around them,” he said. “There are still Mayan people around, but their civilization collapsed.”

Mr. Marqusee urged his audience not to believe the prophecy.

“We will still be here in 108 days,” he said.

It seems that many Mayans agreed with him.

“Temple inscriptions discuss events slated to occur in 4772,” according to Mr. Marqusee. “On the web you can find interviews with Mayan shamen, and they find the whole end of the world thing kind of bizarre. The Mayan calendar does not predict the end of the world, but an end of an era.”

The seminar series, started in 2007, is open to the public, curator Sergei Abramovich, a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, said.

“Our original intent was to give a platform for junior faculty members to present their research to the college before they publish,” he said. “Then senior faculty started doing presentations.”

Mr. Abramovich said their first seminar had only eight participants, but now dozens attend the lunchtime sessions, filling up the school’s Satterlee Hall board room.

“We now have five or six meetings per semester,” he said. “It is becoming more college-wide, it is becoming quite an event. I’m happy.”

The next seminar, “Visiting Serbia on a Fulbright Specialist Grant: Education, Culture, Collaboration,” will be delivered by Mr. Abramovich at noon Sept. 19.

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