Past Event

The Transmission of Songs in Birds, Humans, and Other Animals

February 17, 2019 - February 18, 2019
9:00 AM - 6:00 PM
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Multiple locations, see description.

Songs are learned beginning in infancy and seem to exist in most human cultures. Song-like behaviors also characterize the lives of certain nonhuman animals, such as songbirds and whales, where vocal traditions also persist and change across generations via various modes of transmission. How are songs shaped by the ways in which they are acquired, and what methods are available to study these processes?

This conference will provide a venue for examining cultural transmission from diverse perspectives within the social and natural sciences as well as the humanities. While focusing on songs in humans and birds, a wide range of social behaviors, including gesture and language, will also be considered. The conference will explore ‘song’ in relation to social memory; the conditions which make cultural transmission possible; the role of aesthetics in the generational turnover of learned behaviors across species; and the social ecologies in which songs are created and recreated.


February 17, 2019, 9:00 AM - 6:00 PM
Jerome L. Greene Science Center, Room L3-079, 3227 Broadway, New York

February 18, 2019, 9:00 - 6:00 PM
Barnard Hall, Sulzberger Parlor (3rd Floor), Barnard College, 3009 Broadway, New York

This event is free and open to the public, but space is limited and registration is required. American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation will be provided.

A conference program is now available. 

Ian Cross, Professor of Music and Science, Chair of the Faculty Board of Music, and Director, Centre for Music and Science, University of Cambridge
James Cahill, Postdoctoral Associate, Erich Jarvis Lab, Rockefeller University
Emily Doolittle, Athenaeum Research Fellow, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
Olga Feher, Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of Warwick
Molly Flaherty, Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology, Swarthmore College
Tom Griffiths, Henry R. Luce Professor of Information Technology, Consciousness, and Culture, Princeton University
Gary Lupyan, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Eduardo Mercado III, Professor of Psychology, University at Buffalo
Julien Meyer, CNRS Researcher, GIPSA-lab
Adeline Mueller, Assistant Professor of Music, Mount Holyoke College
Rachel Mundy, Assistant Professor of Music in the Arts, Culture, and Media Program, Rutgers University
Richard Prum, William Robertson Coe Professor of Ornithology, Ecology, and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University
Andrea Ravignani, Pegasus Marie Curie Fellow, Sealcentre Pieterburen and Postdoctoral Researcher, Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
David Rothenberg, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Music, New Jersey Institute of Technology
Jon Sakata, Associate Professor of Biology, McGill University
Kenny Smith, Professor of Linguistics and English Language, University of Edinburgh
Jordan Suchow, Assistant Professor of Information Systems, Stevens Institute of Technology
Ofer Tchernichovski, Professor of Psychology, Hunter College
Gary Tomlinson, John Hay Whitney Professor of Music and the Humanities and Director, Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University
Tessa Verhoef, Assistant Professor, Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science and Visiting Scholar, Center for Research in Language, University of California, San Diego
Heather Williams, William Dwight Whitney Professor of Biology, Williams College

  • Brian Boyd, Professor of Anthropology, Director of Museum Anthropology, and Program Director of the Columbia Center for Archaeology, Columbia University
  • Julia Hyland Bruno, Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience, Columbia University
  • Nori Jacoby, Research Group Leader, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics (former Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience, Columbia University)
  • Pamela Smith, Seth Low Professor of History and Director, Center for Science and Society, Columbia University

This conference is supported by: