Center Lecture Series
Focus on the Humanities

Focus on the Humanities

Our Focus on the Humanities: Distinguished Faculty Lectures showcase current research by senior faculty in the humanities at UW-Madison, and creates a forum for campus and community members to engage with cutting-edge ideas of historical, political, philosophical, religious, and literary importance. Browse our past speakers for a complete overview of the series.

Focus on the Humanities: Distinguished Faculty Lectures is presented in collaboration with the Institute for Research in the Humanities, and funded through the generous support of the Anonymous Fund of the College of Letters & Science.

Upcoming Events

Lynn K. Nyhart

Lynn K. Nyhart

Vilas-Bablitch-Kelch Distinguished Achievement Professor of History of Science, UW-Madison

The Great Disruption: Biologists, Revolutions, and the Values of Science ca. 1848 Wednesday, February 21, 2018 @ 5:30pm Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, L140

In the German-speaking states of the 1840s and 50s, revolution was in the air. While the political revolutions of 1848-49 are best known, the life sciences were undergoing their own revolutions, marked by radical new ideas about the organization and transformations of living beings. This talk focuses on a cluster of leading life scientists of the period to examine their participation in the events of this era, both political and intellectual. Through these disruptions, Nyhart argues, scientists came to articulate and enact new models for the relationship of the scientist to political action—models that continue to have force today.

Presented in partnership with the Institute for Research in the Humanities.

Lynn K. Nyhart studies the history of biology in the modern (post-1789) era, as well as the relations between popular and professional science, and the politics of science, especially in nineteenth-century Germany. The author of Biology Takes Form and Modern Nature: The Rise of the Biological Perspective in Germany, she is most recently co-editor, with Scott Lidgard of Biological Individuality: Integrating Scientific, Philosophical, and Historical Perspectives (2017). They are currently working on a history of concepts of biological part-whole relations in the nineteenth century. 

Past Events

Louise Young

Louise Young

Professor of Japanese History, UW-Madison

Rethinking Empire in the Twentieth Century: Lessons from Imperial and Post-Imperial Japan Wednesday, February 22, 2017 @ 5:30pm Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, L140

Japan built a wartime empire in Asia in the 1930s, and after losing that empire in 1945 created trading imperium under the American cold war umbrella. What are the lessons that imperial Japan can teach us about the global moment of the twenties and thirties, when the rise of anti-colonial nationalism brought new pressures on longstanding imperial structures? After the cataclysm of World War Two shattered the foundations of colonial empires and divided the globe up into the first, second, and third worlds, what did this moment of rupture and the end of empire mean for Japan and Asia?

Presented in partnership with the Institute for Research in the Humanities.

Louise Young is Vilas Distinguished Professor in the Department of History. Her work focuses on modern Japan, especially social and cultural history. She is the author of Japan's Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism (winner of John K. Fairbank and Hiromi Arisawa prizes) and Beyond the Metropolis: Second Cities and Modern Life in Interwar Japan. She is currently working on a history of the idea of class in nineteenth and twentieth century Japan.

Leslie Bow

Leslie Bow

Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor and Mark and Elisabeth Eccles Professor of English and Asian American Studies, UW-Madison

Fantasy as Microaggression?: Racial Caricature, Kawaii-style, and the Anthropomorphic Asian Wednesday, October 19, 2016 @ 7:00pm Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, L140

How does the mundane object serve as a catalyst for exploring the relationship between aesthetics and political injury? Is race always bound to the circulation of negative feeling? We understand the harm embodied by the mammy cookie jar. Yet in the 21st-century, the anthropomorphic object has found new life: geisha cars, Harajuku Lovers perfume bottles, Chanel’s “China Doll” handbags, Alessi’s “Mandarin” juicer. Do these forms of racial kitsch—the Asian figure as salt shaker, decor, or toy—evade contextualization as racist kitsch? This lecture engages the Japanese style known as kawaii or cute style since the 1970s as it finds expression in a specific racial form. In looking at the feeling that the “cute” enables or forecloses, this talk explores the vacillation between pleasure and pain underlying Asian American spectatorship of racialized things. Exploring the convergence among theories of aesthetic form, affect, and stereotyping, this talk seeks to uncover the utility of fantasy and force of nonhuman actants. 

Presented in partnership with the Institute for Research in the Humanities and the Burdick-Vary Lecture Series: Asian Americans and the Pleasures of Fantasy.

Leslie Bow is Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor and Mark and Elisabeth Eccles Professor of English and Asian American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is the author of the award-winning, ‘Partly Colored’: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South; Betrayal and Other Acts of Subversion: Feminism, Sexual Politics, Asian American Women's Literature; and editor of Asian American Feminisms. 

Henry Drewal

Henry Drewal

Evjue-Bascom Professor, Departments of Art History and Afro-American Studies, UW-Madison

Come to Your Senses! – Sensiotics and Understandings of Art, Culture, and History Wednesday, April 6, 2016 @ 5:30pm Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, L140

In this talk, Drewal explores the vital role of the senses with an approach he calls sensiotics. While Drewal focuses on the Yoruba peoples of West Africa and their cultural sensorium, he argues that sensing is constitutive of thinking and that sensiotics can help us understand the shaping of persons, cultures, histories and the arts universally, as suggested in trans-disciplinary research that documents the crucial role of embodied knowledge.

While a teacher in Nigeria, Henry Drewal apprenticed himself to a Yoruba sculptor. That transformative experience led him to interdisciplinary studies at Columbia University in African art history and culture where he earned two Masters' degrees and a PhD in 1973. He has taught at Cleveland State University, UC-Santa Barbara, and SUNY-Purchase, and served as Curator of African Art at The Cleveland Museum of Art and the Neuberger Museum. Since 1991 he has been the Evjue-Bascom Professor of Art History and Afro-American Studies and Adjunct Curator of African Art at the Chazen Museum of Art, UW-Madison. He has published several books, edited volumes, exhibition catalogues, and many articles on African/African Diaspora arts and curated or co-curated several major exhibitions, among them: Introspectives: Contemporary Art by Americans and Brazilians of African Descent; Yoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought; Beads, Body, and Soul: Art and Light in the Yoruba Universe; Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and Its Diasporas; Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria; Soulful Stitching: Patchwork Quilts by Africans (Siddis) in India, and most recently, Double Fortune, Double Trouble: Art for Sacred Yoruba Twins.  Among his numerous awards are several NEH grants, two Fulbright Research Awards (Brazil and Benin), two AIIS Senior Fellowships for research in India, a Metropolitan Museum of Art Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Richard Goodkin

Richard Goodkin

Professor of French, UW-Madison

STEMming the Tide: Balzac and Statistical Humanity Wednesday, March 9, 2016 @ 5:30pm Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, L140

The recent trend toward favoring the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines over the humanities is a manifestation of a centuries-long struggle between quantitative fields of inquiry like physics and mathematics and qualitative fields like art and literature. In his monumental cycle of novels, The Human Comedy, Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850), one of the greatest of all French writers, brilliantly dramatizes this struggle, as his portrayal of humanity owes much both to qualitative notions of character, morality, and psychology and to quantitative notions like that of the “average man” (l’homme moyen) developed by his contemporary, Belgian statistician and sociologist Adolphe Quetelet (1796-1874). This talk will delve into one of Balzac’s most thought-provoking novels, The Search for the Absolute, the story of a chemist who sacrifices his marriage, his children, his place in society and ultimately his humanity to the failed quest for what he believes to be the single chemical component common to all materials. In this love story between a once-devoted husband and father and his adoring but ultimately disabused wife and daughter, the conflict between two fundamentally opposed notions of human values brings out compelling and surprising truths that help us to understand what is at stake today as we attempt to balance these opposing schools of thought.

Richard Goodkin has been a member of the Department of French and Italian since 1988. He previously taught at Yale University. He has published monographs on seventeenth-, nineteenth-, and twentieth century French literature, including The Tragic Middle: Racine, Aristotle, Euripides (1991), Around Proust (1991), Birth Marks: The Tragedy of Primogeniture in Pierre Corneille, Thomas Corneille, and Jean Racine (2000), and How Do I Know Thee? Theatrical and Narrative Cognition in Seventeenth-Century France (2015), this most recent book having been supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship. He has also edited two collections, Autour de Racine: Studies in Intertextuality (Yale French Studies, 1988) and In Memory of Elaine Marks: Life Writing, Writing Death (2007), and recently published his first novel, Les Magnifiques Mensonges de Madeleine Béjart (2013), a historical novel about Molière’s mistress and collaborator. The present talk is taken from a book project entitled Connecting the Dots: The Calculus of Personality in French Fiction and Film, for which he received a Senior Fellowship at the Institute for Research in the Humanities (2009-2014).

Tejumola Olaniyan

Tejumola Olaniyan

Louise Durham Mead Professor of English and African Languages and Literature, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Enchantings: On Modernity, Culture, and the State in Postcolonial Africa Wednesday, February 18, 2015 @ 5:30pm Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, L140

Tejumola Olaniyan will look at literature, popular culture, and social and political practices to tell a cultural history of African politics, and a political history of African culture that re-frames our understanding of the modern state, and takes seriously the charge from African scholars that even humanities scholarship should propose “concrete solutions” to problems of the state.

Presented in partnership with the Institute for Research in the Humanities.

Directions, parking and accessibility information for the Conrad A. Elvehjem Building.

Craig Werner

Craig Werner

Evjue-Bascom Professor of Afro-American Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison

For What It's Worth: Toward a New History of the Sixties Wednesday, December 3, 2014 @ 5:30pm Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, L140

A scholar of literature, music, and cultural history, Craig Werner lays out a set of guiding principles for a new history of the nineteen sixties, a mythologized decade that is too often reduced to a set of contradictory ideological tropes.

Presented in Partnership with the Institute for Research in the Humanities.

Directions, parking and accessibility information for the Conrad A. Elvehjem Building.

André Wink

André Wink

Professor of History and Senior Fellow, Institute for Research in the Humanities, UW-Madison

Re-emerging Superpowers: Turkey, Iran, India, and China in the 21st Century Wednesday, March 5, 2014 @ 5:30pm Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, L140

Turkey, Iran, India, and China are historical superpowers. All four were dramatically eclipsed by European imperialism and industrial progress in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Today, in the early years of the 21st century, they are on the rise again. And they have been making attempts to reconnect with their imperial past. In this lecture it will be argued that it is the imperial heritage of these countries that, together with economic growth, made possible their re-emergence as potential superpowers of the future but that it is the same heritage that is also holding them back. This is the unique dilemma of the world's re-emerging superpowers in the 21st century: for their historical transformation to be successful they have to reconnect with the past, but the past is marred by a failure they may be destined to repeat unless they let go of it. 

André Wink (PhD, 1984, University of Leiden) has been teaching South-Asian and World History at UW-Madison since 1990. He is the author of Al-Hind: The Making of the Indo-Islamic World Al-Hind: The Making of the Indo-Islamic World, 3 Volumes (Leiden, Boston, Oxford, New Delhi,  Abu Dhabi, 1990-2012, numerous editions).

In partnership with the Institute for Research in the Humanities

Directions, parking, and accessibility information for the Conrad A. Elvehjem Building.

Mary Louise Roberts

Mary Louise Roberts

Professor of History and Senior Fellow, Institute for Research in the Humanities, UW-Madison

Five Ways to Look at a Corpse: The Dead in Normandy, 1944 Wednesday, September 25, 2013 @ 5:30pm Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, L140

We prefer to think of war as producing heroes, not corpses. Perhaps for this reason, military historians have rarely focused on the dead. In the Normandy invasion of 1944, the bodies of American G.I.s were often not visible. This is because, in an effort to maintain the morale of the troops, the U.S. military quickly removed corpses from the battlefield and kept them out of sight. At the same time, however, much can be learned about the war's meaning for its combatants by exploring how corpses were perceived by U.S. and German soldiers, as well as military officials, French civilians, and the American public.

Mary Louise Roberts is a Professor of History and a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her most recent book, What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II France, appeared with the University of Chicago Press in 2013. Her work has recently appeared in the American Historical Review, French Historical Studies, French Politics, Culture & Society, and l'Histoire. She is working on a narrated collection of memoirs, D-Day through French Eyes: Memoirs of Normandy 1944, which will appear with the University of Chicago Press for the seventieth anniversary of the landings in June 2014.

Directions, parking, and accessibility information for the Conrad A. Elvehjem Building.

Read about Roberts' work in "The Dark Side of Liberation" from the Books section of The New York Times.

Gregg Mitman

Gregg Mitman

Vilas Research and William Coleman Professor of History of Science, Medical History, and Environmental Studies, UW-Madison

Ecological Imperialism Revisited: Entanglements of Disease, Commerce, and Knowledge in a Global World Wednesday, February 13, 2013 @ 5:30pm Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, 330 North Orchard Street

Forty years ago, in The Columbian Exchange, and a few years later, in Plagues and Peoples, Alfred Crosby and William McNeill advanced grand historical narratives on a global scale driven by the movement of plants, people, and parasites across space and time. The appearance of disease as an agent of empire in the writing of global environmental histories is deeply entangled with ecological and evolutionary understandings of disease that emerged in the service of capital in the early twentieth century. In his talk, Mitman examines how American military and industrial expansion overseas—witnessed firsthand by doctors in the American occupation of the Philippines, on the coffee plantations of the United Fruit Company, in the trenches of the Great War, and on the rubber plantations of Firestone in Liberia—helped bring into being new views of nature and nation that would, in turn, become the scientific foundation upon which later historical narratives of ecological imperialism relied.

Gregg Mitman's teaching and writing interests span the history of ecology, nature, and health in American culture, and are informed by a commitment and hope to build a more equitable and just environment. Reaching across the fields of environmental history, the history of science and medicine, and the visual culture of science, his research seeks to understand the ways in which political economy, cultural values and beliefs, and scientific knowledge intersect in shaping the interactions between people and environments over time. He served as the founding director of the Nelson Institute’s Center for Culture, History and Environment, and is also curator of Madison’s popular environmental film festival, Tales from Planet Earth. His current research explores the role of science and medicine in America’s changing relationship to the tropical world through the lens of the Firestone Plantations Company in Liberia.

Directions, parking, and accessibility information for the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.

Rachel Feldhay Brenner

Rachel Feldhay Brenner

Max and Frieda Weinstein-Bascom Professor of Jewish Studies; Professor of Modern Hebrew Literature, UW-Madison

The Holocaust and the Ethics of Witnessing: Polish Writers Look at the Ghetto Wednesday, October 10, 2012 @ 5:30pm Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, L140

The reality of the Final Solution declared a group of human beings subhuman and sentenced it to mass extermination. The Jewish tragedy transformed the ethical landscape of the tradition of the Enlightenment, which premised equality and fellowship of all human beings. While considerable research on this issue has been done from the perspective of the victim, the perspective of the witness has been hardly examined. And yet, since the Holocaust the moral obligations of the bystanders have been constantly discussed. This lecture investigates the diaries of five prominent Warsaw Polish writers who recorded the genocide which was evolving in their city. In a variety of ways and in differing degrees of intensity, the diaries expose the authors' evolving realization that the event of the Jewish genocide affected their deepest ethical orientations and beliefs. They confronted a world which no longer endorsed the humanistic universals of human dignity and the sanctity of human life; and they faced a world in which the capacity for empathy, which enables human beings to recognize each other's mental and emotional sameness as subjects had been shattered. While the intensifying consciousness of the unchallenged racist ideology of human extermination tested the validity of the ethical legacy of the Enlightenment, the concreteness of Jewish suffering tested the diarist's humanistic self. Brenner proposes that the insights into the Warsaw diarists' immediate responses to the Jewish victimization deepen our understanding of ethical, mental, and emotional challenges that face the witness of terror.

Rachel Feldhay Brenner is Professor of Modern Hebrew Literature in the Department of Hebrew and Semitic Studies, and Max and Frieda Weinstein-Bascom Professor of Jewish Studies, both at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research focuses on Jewish Diaspora Literature, Israeli literature, and on representations of the Holocaust in literature and in autobiographical writings. She is the author of, most recently, Inextricably Bonded: Israeli Jewish and Arab Writers Re-Visioning Culture (2003), and The Freedom to Write: The Woman-Artist and the World in Ruth Almog's Fiction (2008).

Directions, parking, and accessibility information for the Conrad A. Elvehjem Building.

Rob Nixon

Rob Nixon

Rachel Carson Professor of English, UW-Madison

Slow Violence and Environmental Storytelling Wednesday, February 1, 2012 @ 5:30pm Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, 330 North Orchard St

Rob Nixon will discuss "slow violence" -- environmental threats "that patiently dispense their devastation while remaining outside our flickering attention spans." Underrepresentation of slow violence in the media exacerbates the vulnerability of ecosystems and injustices of class, gender, race, and region. Nixon will track ways that writers and filmmakers have faced the storytelling challenges posed by attritional environmental degradation.

Professor Nixon teaches environmental studies, postcolonial studies, creative nonfiction, African literature, world literature, and twentieth century British literature. He is affiliated with the Border and Transcultural Studies Research Circle, the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, the Center for Culture, History, and  Environment, African Studies, and the Creative Writing Program. He is a frequent contributor to The New York Times.

His new book Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor was published by Harvard University Press in 2011.

Julia K. Murray

Professor of Art History, East Asian Studies and Religious Studies, UW-Madison

Venerating the Sage: The Rise and Fall of a Shrine to Confucius Wednesday, November 9, 2011 @ 5:30pm Chazen Museum of Art, Room L140 (Elvehjem Building)

Recognized throughout the world as a symbol of Chinese civilization, Confucius (551-479 BCE) is venerated as ancient philosopher, statesman, and teacher. Less familiar is his role in a religious cult supported over the centuries by Chinese emperors, officials, and scholars. After his death, a memorial shrine to Confucius in his hometown of Qufu, Shandong, gradually evolved into a large and magnificent temple. From the seventh century onward, schools throughout China also had temples for official worship. The focus of Julia Murray's talk, however, is a shrine near Shanghai, whose 17th-century patrons claimed it marked the place where his robe and cap had been buried 1000 years after his death. Using these unseen relics as a pretext, they build a ritual complex where scholarly pilgrims could offer sacrifices to the ancient sage and experience his beneficent presence. Like many sites associated with Confucius, it was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, but unlike others, it has not been rebuilt--yet. In presenting the history of the shrine, Murray will explore several ways that material forms of Chinese religious expression shaped its architectural and artistic features and speculate on its prospects for future revival.

Julia K. Murray is Professor of Art History, East Asian Studies, and Religious Studies at the University of Wisconsin. She received her Ph. D. from Princeton University in a joint program of East Asian Studies and Art & Archaeology. Before moving to Madison in 1989, she worked in curatorial positions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Freer Gallery of Art, and the Harvard University Art Museums. Her publications include Mirror of Morality: Chinese Narrative Illustration and Confucian Ideology (2007); Ma Hezhi and the Illustration of the Book of Odes (1993); Last of the Mandarins (1987); A Decade of Discovery (1979), and numerous articles on Chinese art. She guest-curated the exhibition "Confucius: His Life and Legacy in Art" at the China Institute Gallery in New York.

Aliko Songolo

Aliko Songolo

Halverson-Bascom Professor of French and African Languages and Literature, UW-Madison

Francophone Africa and the Myth of National Cinema Wednesday, February 23, 2011 @ 5:30pm Chazen Museum of Art, Elvehjem Building (L160)

Some fifty years after its inception, Francophone African cinema is in a transitional phase. While literature is thought to have played a significant role in the liberation struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, cinema failed to meet early filmmakers’ expectations and efforts to mold it into an efficacious tool for national cohesion and development post-independence. Its historical and complicated relationship with French cinema and government is but one of the many reasons for this failure. Now situated in a much changed and diverse cinematic landscape on the continent, Francophone African cinema nonetheless boasts real successes in its self-reflexivity and in its engagement with the global as it seeks new ways to apprehend and represent the national.

Steven Nadler

Steven Nadler

William H. Hay II Professor of Philosophy, UW-Madison

Spinoza, the First Amendment, and the Obama Administration Wednesday, December 1, 2010 @ 5:30pm Chazen Museum of Art, Elvehjem Building (L160)

Baruch Spinoza, the early modern Dutch philosopher of Portuguese-Jewish background, is rightly regarded as one of history’s earliest and greatest defenders of a liberal, tolerant, secular, democratic society. In this lecture, Steven Nadler will consider Spinoza’s views on toleration and assess the extent to which he is a proponent of two central pillars of the modern doctrines of toleration and civil liberties:  freedom of religion (or the separation of church and state) and freedom of expression.  He will also look at the way in which some recent events and political decisions in the United States may fail to match Spinoza's seventeenth-century standards.

Frank Salomon

Frank Salomon

John V. Murra Professor of Anthropology, UW-Madison

The Farther Shores of Literacy: New World Ethnography and the Question of What Writing Is Wednesday, April 28, 2010 @ 5:30pm Chazen Museum of Art, Elvehjem Building (L160)

Frank Salomon's current project is a detailed study of Rapaz, a community at 4000 meters over sea level, which guards some 263 khipus in a house of traditional ritual from which villagers serve the deified mountains. The project combines close study of these khipus with archaeological, ethnographic, and architectural study of their context. Khipu research bears on questions of "proto-writing," the origin and demise of scripts, and relations between semiosis (sign action) and social complexity.

William Cronon

William Cronon

Frederick Jackson Turner and Vilas Research Professor of History, Geography, and Environmental Studies, UW-Madison

The Riddle of Sustainability: Pondering the Environmental Past to Imagine the Human Future Wednesday, March 3, 2010 @ 5:30pm Chazen Museum of Art, Elvehjem Building (L160)

William Cronon studies American environmental history and the history of the American West. His research seeks to understand the history of human interactions with the natural world: how we depend on the ecosystems around us to sustain our material lives, how we modify the landscapes in which we live and work, and how our ideas of nature shape our relationships with the world around us.

Lea Jacobs

Lea Jacobs

Professor of Film and Communication Arts, UW-Madison

Towards a History of Taste: American Film in the 1920s Wednesday, December 2, 2009 @ 5:30pm Chazen Museum of Art, Elvehjem Building (L160)

The Hollywood cinema is often said to have altered in the decade following World War I. Historians frequently characterize the period in terms of the development of new feminine stereotypes—the flapper epitomized by the stars Clara Bow and Colleen Moore—and of a new sexual permissiveness both reflected within films and, perhaps, reinforced by them. Others have explained the new representations of sexuality seen in the films with reference to the emergence of a culture of consumption. But these by now standard interpretations of the period do not account for the nature or full extent of the cinema’s transformation. The lecture describes a decisive shift in taste that was manifested in critical discourse, in filmmaking technique and narrative. It will contrast what came to be identified as sophisticated taste, films deemed on the edge of what censors or more conservative viewers would tolerate, with naïve taste, films dismissed as cloying, overly melodramatic, or simply old fashioned.

Lea Jacobs is Professor in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches film history and criticism. She is the author of The Decline of Sentiment: American Film in the 1920s (University of California Press, 2008), The Wages of Sin: Censorship and the Fallen Woman Film (University of Wisconsin Press, 1991) and, with Ben Brewster, Theatre to Cinema (Oxford University Press, 1997).

David O. Morgan

David O. Morgan

Professor of History and Religious Studies

Iran's Mongol Experience Wednesday, October 28, 2009 @ 5:30pm Chazen Museum of Art, Elvehjem Building (L160)

Iran was invaded by the Mongol armies of Genghis Khan in 1219-23, and again by his grandson in the 1250s. The Mongol kingdom that was set up at that time lasted until the 1330s. The lecture will explore the nature of the Mongol impact on Iran. Was it wholly destructive, as traditionally believed, or are there positive elements that historians, without minimising the death and destruction that the Mongols brought with them, ought also to consider?

David  Morgan is professor of History and Religious Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of Medieval Persia 1040-1797, "History of the Near East" (Longman, 1988) and The Mongols, "Peoples of Europe" (Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1986).

Ronald Radano

Ronald Radano

Professor of Musicology and Ethnomusicology, UW-Madison

Who Owns Black Music? Reflections on Cultural Property, Ownership, and Value Wednesday, March 4, 2009 @ 5:30pm Pyle Center

How do we explain the power and significance of black music in American life? Working against common arguments that attribute value to inherent qualities of "blackness" (soul, rhythm, etc.), this paper will suggest that black music's aesthetic and cultural importance depends on the music's tenuous, contradictory status as a form of cultural property that is at once particular to black culture and accessible to the broad expanse of consumer America. This ambiguity of ownership reveals how aesthetic value is inextricably connected to race and economy, revealing what we might call the racial properties (or propertied value) of black music.

Since joining the faculty in 1990, Ronald Radano has balanced his teaching between the programs in musicology and ethnomusicology and the Department of Afro-American Studies. His primary work is that of an Americanist with special interests in cultural theory, race, globalization, popular music and the history of North American black music. He is author and editor of three books, New Musical Figurations: Anthony Braxton's Cultural Critique (1993), Music and Racial Imagination (2000; co-edited with Philip V. Bohlman) and Lying up a Nation: Race and Black Music (2003), all published by the University of Chicago Press. Currently, he is principally at work on a new book on black music, cultural ownership and aesthetics while also launching two secondary projects: the first, a study of the global circulation of African-American musical rhythm; the second, a critical meditation on private listening and the crisis of taste.

John D. Niles

John D. Niles

Frederic G. Cassidy Professor of Humanities, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Research in the Humanities, UW-Madison

War and the Containment of Violence in Anglo-Saxon England: A Problem in Mentalities Wednesday, February 18, 2009 @ 5:00pm Pyle Center

How did the people of England in its earliest recorded period think about war, peace, and the perennial issue of the containment of violence? Approaching this question as a problem in mentalities, this lecture will attempt to come to grips with key terms in the Old English language that were used for conflict and its resolution, taking into account the assumptions that these terms presuppose — assumptions that differ markedly from ones that are generally accepted today.

John D. Niles is the Frederic G. Cassidy Professor of Humanities in the Department of English at the UW – Madison, where he is also affiliated with the programs in Medieval Studies, Religious Studies, Folklore, and Celtic Studies. Presently the First Vice President of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists, he has authored, edited, or co-edited ten books relating to the language and literature of Anglo-Saxon England, among other publications. He has taught at UW-Madison since 2001.

Carolyn ‘Biddy’ Martin

Carolyn ‘Biddy’ Martin

Former Chancellor, UW-Madison (2008-2011)

Humanities in the Public Wednesday, February 11, 2009 @ 4:14pm Chazen Museum of Art, Elvehjem Building (L160)

In this talk, Carolyn “Biddy” Martin will discuss how aspects of the humanities have been viewed outside the university over the past couple of decades and reflect upon how it might be possible to communicate the value of humanities scholarship to a larger audience. Martin was appointed UW-Madison Chancellor in 2008, leaving Madison for UMass-Amherst in the summer of 2011. As provost at Cornell University from 2000-2008, Martin served as the president’s first deputy officer and reported to the president as Cornell’s chief educational officer and chief operating officer. She was responsible for overseeing all academic programs, with the exception of those programs reporting to the provost for medical affairs in New York City. Martin received her Ph.D. in German literature from UW-Madison in 1985. That same year, she joined Cornell’s faculty full time as an assistant professor of German studies and women’s studies. In 1991, she was promoted to associate professor in the Department of German Studies, with a joint appointment in the Women’s Studies Program. She served as chair of the Department of German Studies from 1994-1997, and in 1997 was promoted to full professor in the department. In 1996, she was named senior associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences. Martin was appointed as provost at Cornell University effective July 1, 2000.

Velcheru Narayana Rao

Velcheru Narayana Rao

Krishnadevaraya Professor of Languages and Cultures of Asia, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Research in the Humanities, UW-Madison

Imagined Biographies and Unwritten Readings: Authors and Texts in India's Literatures Wednesday, December 3, 2008 @ 5:00pm Pyle Center

Ever since the impact of the Western ideas of texts and authors through colonial education, there has been a major, but uncritically accepted notion in India that authors, individually identifiable preferably with a place and a date of birth write texts, which form the basis of literary history. Postmodern concepts of text and author significantly unsettled these notions, but not much work was done to go back to the indigenous concepts of authors and texts in India. This presentation aims at presenting evidence from precolonial literary cultures of India to argue for an Indian theory of texts and authors.

Professor Narayana Rao is the author of several books on Telugu Literature and South Indian history. His publications include Girls for Sale: Kanyasulkam. A Play from Colonial India (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007), God On the Hill: Temple Songs from Tirupati, with David Shulman (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), Textures of Time: Writing History in South India co-authored with Sanjay Subrahmanyam and David Shulman (New York: The Other Press, 2003), and Hibiscus on the Lake: Twentieth Century Telugu Poetry from India (University of Wisconsin Press, 2003).

Judith Leavitt

Judith Leavitt

Rupple Bascom and Ruth Bleier Professor of Medical History, History of Science, and Women's Studies, UW-Madison

Make Room for Daddy: Men and Childbirth in Mid-Twentieth Century America Wednesday, November 19, 2008 @ 5:00pm Pyle Center

In this talk I examine how expectant fathers fared during American hospitalized childbirth in the middle years of the twentieth century. I argue that men are crucial to understanding this period in the history of childbirth. Fathers-to-be found their place in hospital childbirth in four chronologically sequential spaces - the waiting room, the labor room, the delivery room, and the birthing room - and these significantly shaped and held the men's experiences and influence the organization of this talk. These rooms - the geography of labor and delivery - illustrate the expanding scope as well as the limits and boundaries of the men's participation at different points in time. In addition to the changing spaces in which men's activity took place and the changing meanings of those spaces, the talk follows two thematic developments: growing lay power, and class and race privilege.

Judith Walzer Leavitt, Ph.D., is the Rupple Bascom and Ruth Bleier Professor of Medical History, History of Science, and Women's Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she has taught since 1975. She has written or edited seven books, including The Healthiest City: Milwaukee and the Politics of Health Reform; Brought to Bed: Childbearing in America 1750-1950; and Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public's Health.

Lee Palmer Wandel

Lee Palmer Wandel

Professor of History, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Research in the Humanities, UW-Madison

Catechisms and the Construction of Religion in the Reformation Wednesday, November 5, 2008 @ 5:00pm Pyle Center

In the sixteenth century, the world as Europeans knew it spun apart. Christian divided from Christian, sundering families, towns, and kingdoms. In the wake of that loss, individual pastors wrote catechisms, seeking to teach their readers through the new medium of print an understanding of “religion” that would be portable in the harrowing displacements of expulsion and exile, intimate in a world of increasing surveillance, and inseparable from one’s person. That understanding of religion has shaped western conceptions of “religion” to this day.

Professor Lee Wandel is a Senior Fellow at the UW-Madison Institute for Research in the Humanities and Professor of History, Religious Studies, and Visual Culture. Her work explores the intersection of theology and culture, visual and material. She has written on changing perceptions of the poor, iconoclasm, and, most recently, the eucharist in the Reformation.

Kirin Narayan

Kirin Narayan

Professor of Anthropology, UW-Madison

Twin Muses: Ethnography and Fiction Wednesday, April 30, 2008 @ 5:00pm Wisconsin Historical Society Auditorium

Ethnography finds its identity in uneasy relationship to other practices of describing the world through writing. As ethnography emerged as a distinctive writing practice for anthropologists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, travel writing, missionary accounts, scientific monographs, and realist novels provided important counterpoints. Yet from as early as 1890, certain ethnographers have found some insights best expressed through fiction. Today, the practice of ethnography has spread across many disciplines, and the cultural perspectives gleaned through ethnography continue to occasionally spill into fiction. I explore the work of anthropologists who have openly moved between ethnography and fiction to address larger issues of scholarly representation, readability, and the use of suspense.

Kirin Narayan is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin--Madison. She is author of Storytellers, Saints and Scoundrels: Folk Narrative in Hindu Religious Teaching (which won the 1990 Victor Turner Prize for Ethnographic Writing and was Co-winner of the 1990 Elsie Clews Parsons Prize for Folklore); Mondays on the Dark Night of the Moon: Himalayan Foothill Folktales (in collaboration with Urmila Devi Sood); Love Stars and All That (a novel); and My Family and Other Saints (a memoir).

David Loewenstein

David Loewenstein

Marjorie and Lorin Tiefenthaler Professor of English, UW-Madison

Heresy, Persecution, and Fear in Early Modern English Wednesday, March 12, 2008 @ 5:00pm Wisconsin Historical Society Auditorium

How did perceptions and fears of heresy and heretics fuel bitter cultural conflicts, religious persecution and instability, and powerful anxieties during the early modern period? This talk will focus on religious fear and the literary imagination, and the multiple ways they intersected in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England. It will use the example of the great English martyrologist John Foxe (1516-87) to explore issues of religious demonization, hatred, fear, and polarization, as well as the violent consequences of religious extremism.

Claudia Card

Claudia Card

Emma Goldman Professor of Philosophy, UW-Madison

Evil and Inexcusable Wrongs Wednesday, January 30, 2008 @ 5:00pm Wisconsin Historical Society

Two background concerns guide Claudia Card's construction of the theory of evils that she calls "the atrocity paradigm" or "the atrocity theory." One is to specify what distinguishes evils from less serious wrongs. The other is to avoid demonizing perpetrators. The atrocity theory attempts both by taking the focus off perpetrator culpability and putting it more on harms done to victims. Applying the theory to torture, terrorism, and genocide in my current project, Card has been led to revisions that threaten to compromise those two background concerns. Card defends (1) the theory that evils are reasonably foreseeable intolerable harms produced by not just culpable but inexcusable wrongdoing and (2) the view that evils need not be extraordinary. One challenge is to show that this theory does not demonize perpetrators. The other is to show that this view still distinguishes evils from less serious wrongs.

Thongchai Winichakul

Thongchai Winichakul

Professor of History, UW-Madison

Moments of Silence: The Unforgetting of the 1976 Massacre in Bangkok Wednesday, November 28, 2007 @ 5:00pm Wisconsin Historical Society

Thongchai Winichakul joined UW faculty in 1991 and is currently Professor of Southeast Asian history. His book, Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-body of a Nation, was awarded the Harry Benda Prize by the Association for Asian Studies in 1995 and the Grand Prize for the Asia Pacific Book Award from the Asian Affairs Research Council, Japan, in 2004. Born and educated in Bangkok before doing his graduate degrees in Sydney, Australia, Thongchai witnessed the 1976 massacre, which is the subject of his lecture, while he was a college student.

Russ Castronovo

Russ Castronovo

Jean Wall Bennet Professor of English and American Studies, UW-Madison

Esperanto of the Eye: Democracy, Aesthetics, and Moving Pictures Wednesday, September 26, 2007 @ 5:00pm Wisconsin Historical Society

This talk explores the failed promise of motion pictures as universal art. Heralded as the "Esperanto of the eye," film echoes turn-of-the-century movements to create an international language, an idea that anarchists and socialists as well as businessmen and diplomats found enticing. But the example of Chaplin and early academic studies of film spectatorship invites the following question: does the utopian prospect of international language and global understanding also echo the language of commodity culture?

Russ Castronovo is Jean Wall Bennett Professor of English and American Studies. His research explores the relationship between literature and politics. His books include Fathering the Nation: American Genealogies of Slavery and Freedom (1995), Necro Citizenship: Death, Eroticism, and the Public Sphere in the Nineteenth-Century United States (2001), and Beautiful Democracy: Aesthetics and Anarchy in a Global Era (2007).

Jost Hermand

Jost Hermand

William F. Vilas Research Professor Emeritus of German, UW-Madison

Was German Fascism a Utopia? Wednesday, March 21, 2007 @ 5:00pm Chazen Museum of Art, Room L160

Jost Hermand earned his Ph.D. in 1955 from the University of Marburg, Germany. He has been teaching at the UW since 1955, has been a Vilas Research Professor since 1967, and retired in 2004. He is honorary professor at the Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany. Relevant publications include: Deutsche Kulturgeschichte des 20. Jahrhunderts (2006), A Hitler Youth in Poland: The Nazi Children's Evacuation Program in World War II (1997), Old Dreams of a New Reich: Volkish Utopias and National Socialism (1992).

Heather Dubrow

Heather Dubrow

Tighe-Evans & John Bascom Professor of English, UW-Madison

'Lend me your ears': The Audiences of Lyric Poetry Wednesday, November 15, 2006 @ 5:00pm Chazen Museum of Art, Room L160

Who is addressed in a lyric poem? And how and why? Answers to those questions illuminate issues ranging from the power politics of our daily conversations to the distinctive characteristics and tensions of Shakespeare's era.

Heather Dubrow's recent publications include two chapbooks of poetry, and Shakespeare and Domestic Loss: Forms of Deprivation, Mourning, and Recuperation (1999); Echoes of Desire: English Petrarchism and its Counterdiscourses (1995); and Happier Eden: the Politics of Marriage in the Stuart Epithalamium (1990). She has also just finished a new book on lyric poetry.
 

Florencia E. Mallon

Florencia E. Mallon

Julieta Kirkwood Professor of History, UW-Madison

Postcolonialism and the Chilean Frontier: The Ránquil Massacre Reconsidered, 1880-1934 Wednesday, September 13, 2006 @ 5:00pm Chazen Museum of Art, Room L160

In 1934, rumors of a major indigenous uprising, fuelled by Communist Party claims that the rebellion aimed to establish an independent Mapuche indigenous republic, prompted a major repressive campaign and massacre by the Chilean military police along the border with Argentina. Mallon will explore the claims made by the different actors involved, as well as subsequent historical interpretations of the event, which has long been considered a foundation for the Chilean left and the Chilean peasant movement.

Florencia E. Mallon is the author of Courage Tastes of Blood: The Mapuche Indigenous Community of Nicolás Ailío and the Chilean State, 1906-2000 (2005); Peasant and Nation: The Making of Postcolonial Mexico and Peru (1995); The Defense of Community in Peru's Central Highlands: Peasant Struggle and Capitalist Transition, 1860-1940 (1983); and is the editor and translator of Rosa Isolde Reuque Paillalef, When a Flower is Reborn: The Life and Times of a Mapuche Feminist (2002).