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Hall Center announces 2017-2018 Humanities Lecture Series

Thursday, May 11, 2017

LAWRENCE — The Hall Center for the Humanities announces its Humanities Lecture Series for 2017-2018 featuring prize-winning cancer specialists, sociologists, poets and historians. All events are free and open to the public.

Lectures in the coming academic year will focus on topics ranging from the history of the gene to Alexander von Humboldt and the invention of “nature.”

The first speaker in the series is Siddhartha Mukherjee, cancer specialist and acclaimed author of "The Emperor of All Maladies and The Gene." His lecture, “The Gene: An Intimate History,” is a response to the defining question of the future: What becomes of being human when we learn to “read” and “write” our own genetic information? Mukherjee has been published Nature, New England Journal of Medicine, Neuron, Journal of Clinical Investigation, the New York Times and New Republic.

Next in the series is classical archeologist and New York University Professor of Classics & Art History Joan Breton Connelly. She will deliver a lecture about “The Parthenon Enigma.” The Parthenon has been venerated for more than two millennia as the West’s paragon of beauty and proportion. Since the Enlightenment, it has also come to represent our political ideals. But how much do the values of those who built the Parthenon truly correspond with our own? And apart from the significance with which we have invested it, what exactly did this marvel of human hands mean to those who made it?

Matthew Desmond, John J. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University, will present “Evicted: Poverty & Profit in the American City.” The lecture will provide a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced into shelters, squalid apartments or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality — and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship.

The series will also feature an evening with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Peter Balakian. Working from a form of poetics he calls “writing horizontal,” Balakian’s poetry engages a wide range of realities including genocide, war, terrorism, climate change, the AIDS epidemic, historical trauma and memory as well as the personal domains of love, death, art and culture.

Brian Donovan is a cultural and historical sociologist at the University of Kansas, where his work focuses on the role of law and culture in shaping social inequality. “American Golddigger: Law, Culture, and Marriage in the Early Twentieth Century” traces the history of the “gold digger” from 1910s chorus girl slang to a powerful stereotype that shaped understandings of gender and matrimony. Donovan’s research illustrates the symbiotic connection between cultural production (stories about greedy gold diggers) and law (anti-alimony organizations, proposed alimony reforms, and legal judgments regarding alimony). 

Historian Andrea Wulf will bring Alexander von Humboldt and his achievements back into focus: his daring expeditions and investigation of wild environments around the world and his discoveries of similarities between climate and vegetation zones on different continents. She also discusses his prediction of human-induced climate change, his remarkable ability to fashion poetic narrative out of scientific observation, and his relationships with iconic figures such as Simón Bolívar and Thomas Jefferson.

Founded in 1947, the Humanities Lecture Series is the oldest continuing series at KU. More than 150 eminent scholars from around the world have participated in the program, including authors Salman Rushdie and Junot Diaz, actress and playwright Anna Deveare Smith, poets Nikky Finney and Mary Oliver, and legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

The full schedule is below.

  • Siddhartha Mukherjee, “The Gene: An Intimate History,” 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 26, Lied Center
  • Joan Breton Connelly, “The Parthenon Enigma,” 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 5, Lied Center Pavilion
  • Matthew Desmond, “Evicted: Poverty & Profit in the American City,” 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14, Woodruff Auditorium. Supported by the Sosland Foundation of Kansas City.
  • Peter Balakian, “An Evening with Poet Peter Balakian,” 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, The Commons, Spooner Hall
  • Brian Donovan, “American Golddigger: Law, Culture, and Marriage in the Early Twentieth Century,” Monday, Mar. 26, Lied Center Pavilion. Sponsored by the Friends of the Hall Center.
  • Andrea Wulf, “The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World,” Thursday, Apr. 19, The Commons, Spooner Hall