Center Lecture Series
McKay Lecture in the Humanities

McKay Lecture in the Humanities

The McKay Lecture in the Humanities was established in honor of Nellie Y. McKay (1930-2006), Evjue Professor of American and African-American Literature at UW-Madison and pioneer in the field of Afro-American studies. Visit the past events for a complete list of McKay Lectures.

The series is co-sponsored by the Institute for Research in the Humanities and the Departments of Afro-American Studies, Gender & Women's Studies, and English.

Upcoming Events

Christina Sharpe

Christina Sharpe

Professor of English, Tufts University

BLACK. STILL. LIFE. Thursday, October 19, 2017 @ 6:00pm Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, L140

In In the Wake, Sharpe interrogates literary, visual, cinematic, and quotidian representations of Black life that comprise what she calls the “orthography of the wake.” Activating multiple registers of “wake”—the path behind a ship, keeping watch with the dead, coming to consciousness—Sharpe illustrates how Black lives are swept up and animated by the afterlives of slavery, and she delineates what survives despite such insistent violence and negation. Initiating and describing a theory and method of reading the metaphors and materiality of “the wake,” “the ship,” “the hold,” and “the weather,” Sharpe shows how the sign of the slave ship marks and haunts contemporary Black life in the diaspora and how the specter of the hold produces conditions of containment, regulation, and punishment, but also something in excess of them. In the weather, Sharpe situates anti-Blackness and white supremacy as the total climate that produces premature Black death as normative. Formulating the wake and “wake work” as sites of artistic production, resistance, consciousness, and possibility for living in diaspora, In the Wake offers a way forward.

Presented in partnership with the Institute for Research in the Humanities and Center for Visual Cultures.

Christina Sharpe is Professor of English at Tufts University and the author of Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subject and In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Her research interests are in black visual culture, black diaspora studies, and feminist epistemologies, with a particular emphasis on black female subjectivity and black women artists.

Past Events

Christine Yano

Christine Yano

Professor of Anthropology, University of Hawaii

Kawaii: Fraught Innocence in Asian (American) Commodity Culture Wednesday, September 14, 2016 @ 7:30pm Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, L140

Pink globalization, the spread of cute goods from Japan to other parts of the world, has been a stronghold of consumption in various parts of the industrial world in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, particularly with Hello Kitty as its mascot. The Japanese icon that has gone global represents some of the most far-reaching aspects of kawaii (cute) soft power, creating what Yano calls an “empire of cute” that references the character’s global reach, as well as her broad power as a national (Japan) and ethnic (Asian American) icon. This presentation addresses ways by which kawaii (cute) presents a fraught regime in its infantilized familiarity, its unthreatening nature, and its “demand for care.” The critics’ voices rise from their own collective demographic of originary fans – Asian-American, female -- to complicate the picture. In short, the critics decry the stereotype that lives in part through the putative persistence of Hello Kitties in their midst, reinforced by the sexual politics of multicultural America. 

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

Christine R. Yano, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Hawaii, has conducted research on Japan and Japanese Americans with a focus on popular culture.  Her publications include Tears of Longing: Nostalgia and the Nation in Japanese Popular Song (Harvard, 2002), Crowning the Nice Girl; Gender, Ethnicity, and Culture in Hawaii’s Cherry Blossom Festival (Hawaii, 2006), Airborne Dreams: “Nisei” Stewardesses and Pan American World Airways (Duke, 2011), and Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty and its Trek Across the Pacific (Duke, 2013). She curated a major exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, “Hello!  Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty,” which ran from 2014 to 2015, and continues to travel.  During 2014-2015, she served as Visiting Professor of Anthropology at Harvard University, resulting in a book project with Asian American undergraduates there entitled Straight A’s: Asian American Academic Achievement

Earl Lewis

Earl Lewis

Historian, President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

If It Were Only the Blues Tuesday, February 23, 2016 @ 5:30pm Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, L140

Earl Lewis is President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. A well-regarded social historian, he has been a champion of the importance of diversifying the academy, enhancing graduate education, re-visioning the liberal arts, exploring the role of digital tools for learning, and connecting universities to their communities. Before joining the Mellon Foundation, he served as Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of History and African American Studies at Emory University, and as vice provost and dean of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies at the University of Michigan. He held faculty appointments at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Michigan. The author and co-editor of seven books including the eleven-volume Young Oxford History of African Americans, he has written numerous essays, articles, and reviews on different aspects of American and African American history. His recent books include The African American Urban Experience: Perspectives from the Colonial Period to the Present (2004), and Defending Diversity: Affirmative Action at the University of Michigan (2004).

Saidiya Hartman

Saidiya Hartman

Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University

A Serial Biography of the Wayward Thursday, October 9, 2014 @ 7:30pm Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, L140

Saidiya Hartman’s work on African American and American literature and cultural history, slavery, law, literature, and performance has contributed to our understanding of the intersection of slavery, gender, and the development of progressivism in the United States. She speaks here about her current project, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, which examines the social upheaval and radical transformation of everyday life that took place in the slums in the years between 1890-1920.

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

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

Anne Anlin Cheng

Anne Anlin Cheng

Professor of English and African American Studies, Princeton University

Sushi, Otters, and Mermaids: Race at the Intersection of Food and Animal Thursday, April 24, 2014 @ 7:30pm Conrad A. Elvehjem L160

What do sushi, food, race, and anthropology have to do with each other?  Taking a scene of sushi eating in David Wong Louie's short story "Bottles of Beaujolais" as a spring board into a larger meditation on the "nature" of human eating, this paper traces the often unspoken racial logic that subtends and connects the question of who is human and what is it that we eat. 

Anne Anlin Cheng is Professor of English and of the Center for African American Studies.  She specializes in race studies, aesthetic theory, film and psychoanalytic theories, working primarily with twentieth-century American literature with special focus on Asian American and African American literatures.  She is the author of The Melancholy of Race: Assimilation, Psychoanalysis, and Hidden Grief and Second Skin: Josephine Baker and the Modern Surface. Recent articles by Cheng includes: “Sheen: On Glamour, Race, and the Modern,” PMLA; “Skins, Tattoos, and Susceptibility,” Representations; “Psychoanalysis without Symptom,” Differences; “Skin Deep: Josephine Baker and the Colonial Fetish,” Camera Obscura; and “Ralph Ellison: Melancholic Visibility and the Crisis of American Civil Rights,” Journal of Law, Philosophy, and Culture

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

Eddie Glaude, Jr.

Eddie Glaude, Jr.

William S. Tod Professor of Religion and African American Studies, Department of Religion, and Chair, Center for African American Studies, Princeton University

Democracy in Black: Identity Politics in a Post-Soul Era Thursday, March 7, 2013 @ 4:30pm Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, L140

In his lecture, Glaude explores how "whiteness" continues to distort American democracy, disfiguring our precious ideals into unsightly and dangerous justification for ugly practices that ultimately cast away democratic principles, and eventually, people. This distortion requires a response, specifically from those who are disproportionately affected by the unseemly machinations of whiteness in our politics. Those who suffer injury, in part because they are not white, must give voice to the distinctiveness of their experiences in order to expand democratic possibility. Black politics, at its best, has done precisely this. No matter the specific demands of the black freedom struggle throughout our history, the one constant has been a complete and unequivocal rejection of the oxymoronic idea of "white democracy." But the public expression of black suffering has become increasingly difficult today, because "white democracy" trades in the language of color-blindness and the political idea of Black America has collapsed in the face of internal differences unleashed in what can be called a post-soul era.

Galude confronts a possible paradox: that the current expression of "white democracy" requires a response in the form of black identity politics, but the political idea of Black America has collapsed in the face of fragmenting black communities, where the once powerful ideal of black solidarity crumbles under the weight of internal class and generational differences. Glaude answers the paradox with a call for a more robust form of black identity politics attuned to the differences within black communities and rooted in a grassroots democratic ethos that exposes the continued political and moral work of "whiteness in America.

Professor Eddie Glaude's research interests include American pragmatism, specifically the work of John Dewey, and African American religious history and its place in American public life. He is the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards, including the 2002 Modern Language Association William Sanders Scarborough Prize for his book Exodus! (2000). He has also co-edited, with Cornel West, African-American Religious Thought: An Anthology, (2004). 


Glaude's public lecture participates in the 2012-2013 Emancipations Lab. With support from Wisconsin Public Radio.

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

Thadious M. Davis

Thadious M. Davis

Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania

Chaining: Theorizing African American Representations of Person and Past Thursday, March 22, 2012 @ 7:30pm Chazen Museum of Art (Elvehjem Building, Rm L160)

Davis uses the term "chaining" to signify the tight links, but open spaces, in conceptualizing and articulating person and past in the African American imaginary. Within the structure of the chain, functioning as restrictive bondage but also a structure to pass along ideas, there is what Davis calls "black space"--a space of enclosure, but at the same time open and operative. These concepts allow for a broader and wider access to the multiple and vexed aspects of black life in the United States.

Thadious M. Davis teaches African American literature and Southern Literature, with an emphasis on issues of race, region, and gender. She has taught and lectured throughout Europe and Asia, and is committed to contemporary archival work. Her most recent book is Southscapes: Geographies of Race, Region, and Literature (2011).

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University

Thursday, March 24, 2011 @ 7:30pm Mills Hall, Mosse Humanities Building

Professor Gates' talk will deepen the community-wide discussion of ethics and race launched this fall through the Go Big Read! program. Sponsored by the Center for the Humanities, the Institute for Research in the Humanities, the Office of the Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate, the Office of the Provost, and the General Library System.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is a literary critic, cultural historian, writer, editor, television producer, and public intellectual. He is the director of Harvard’s W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African-American Research, and co-edited "The Norton Anthology of African American Literature" with Nellie McKay. In addition to his extensive scholarly publications, he has helped call attention to African American experiences through projects like his 2006 PBS documentary “African American Lives,” the first documentary series to employ genealogy and genetic science to provide an understanding of African American history. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford African American Studies Center, the first comprehensive scholarly online resource in the field of African American Studies and Africana Studies, and of "The Root," an online news magazine dedicated to coverage of African American news, culture, and genealogy.