About the Center

The Center's Role in Madison's Cultural Life

Through its popular Humanities Without Boundaries series, the Center has brought fiction writers, memoirists, poets, filmmakers, and food writers to campus, along with philosophers, theorists, and historians whose work crosses disciplinary boundaries and cuts through academic hierarchies. From Michael Hardt on crisis, to Errol Morris on film, the Center’s guests have elevated discourse, aroused curiosity, and  encouraged audience members to inquire, critique, imagine, and engage on a wide range of topics.

Humanities NOW panels, convened to offer sharply-focused perspectives from UW humanities faculty on breaking issues, have covered the Iraq war, WikiLeaks, the bullying of queer youth, the Occupy movement, and more.  It’s a rare opportunity for faculty and the public to sift and winnow together, uncovering deeper insights and perspectives not found in general media coverage of  urgent, often disturbing, events.

Partnering with the Wisconsin Humanities Council, the Center brings an author or poet each year for the Wisconsin Book Festival, an annual celebration of literary life.  Past guests have included music critic and award-winning poet Joshua Clover and memoirist Andre Anciman.  In 2012, a partnership with the UW Arts Institute and Department of Communication Arts brings James Schamus, screenwriter, Columbia University arts professor, and CEO of Focus Features (Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) for the hugely-popular, five-day Wisconsin Film Festival.

The Nellie Y. McKay lectures, sponsored by the Center and the Institute for Research in the Humanities, memorialize one of the leading lights of the UW Afro-American Studies department.   Author, Harvard professor, and PBS documentarian Henry Louis Gates electrified audiences in 2011 with a lecture on roots and scientific advancements in the tracing of African-American geneaological lines.  

From public lectures by distinguished professors, to readings by poets of the zeitgeist, the Center brightens the cultural landscape of Madison with rich, thoughtful, surprising programs that draw ever-increasing, ever-more-diverse crowds from all corners of our community.