Public Events

Virtual Book Club: Othello Was My Grandfather: Shakespeare, Race, and Visions of Freedom in the African Diaspora

Kim F. Hall leads a discussion of the role of Shakespeare in constructions of Blackness and race; the appropriation of Shakespeare by Black communities; the policing of canonical literature along racial lines; and the race and gender politics of the American stage and popular media. She suggests that we learn much about modern Blackness from how Afrodiasporic peoples evoke, appropriate, and contest “Shakespeare” in their quest to make legible new political Black identities.

Madness in the City of Magnificent Intentions

Virtual Book Club: Madness in the City of Magnificent Intentions: A History of Race and Mental Illness in the Nation’s Capital

Martin Summers argues that assumptions about the existence of distinctive black and white psyches shaped the therapeutic and diagnostic regimes in Saint Elizabeths hospital and left a legacy of poor treatment of African American patients, even after psychiatrists had begun to reject racialist conceptions of the psyche. Yet black patients and their communities asserted their own agency and exhibited a “rights consciousness” in large and small ways, from agitating for more equal treatment to attempting to manage the therapeutic experience.

Virtual Book Club: The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins: Justice, Gender, and the Origins of the LA Riots

Brenda Stevenson explores the long-simmering resentment within LA's Black community that ultimately erupted in April 1992 by focusing on a preceding event that encapsulated the city's growing racial and social polarization: the 1991 shooting of a fifteen-year old African American girl, Latasha Harlins, by a Korean grocer who suspected her of shoplifting. Stevenson provides a meticulous account of the case and its aftermath, and uses the lives of the three protagonists to explore the intertwined histories of three immigrant ethnic groups who arrived in Los Angeles in different eras: Blacks, Koreans, and Jews.

Live Webcast: Race and the Movement for Justice in America

Racial injustice courses deeply through American history. In 2020, demands for rights and racial equality are at the center of renewed calls for decisive policy action in response to law enforcement brutality and systemic racism. The size, composition, and sustained nature of nationwide protests suggest it’s different this time. Is it? What kind of moment is this? Join Clayborne Carson, Douglas McAdam, and Brenda Stevenson in conversation with Xavier de Souza Briggs as they explore how insights from America’s distant and near past can inform the possibilities for durable, transformational change in our time.

Virtual Book Club: Sisters and Rebels: A Struggle for the Soul of America

Sisters and Rebels follows the divergent paths of the Lumpkin sisters, who were “estranged and yet forever entangled” by their mutual obsession with the South. Tracing the wounds and unsung victories of the past through to the contemporary moment, Jacquelyn Dowd Hall revives a buried tradition of Southern expatriation and progressivism; explores the lost, revolutionary zeal of the early twentieth century; and muses on the fraught ties of sisterhood.

The National Humanities Center’s Virtual Book Club Series: Race and Injustice

July 15–August 19, 2020

This installment in our virtual book club series features six gifted scholars whose work helps illuminate the long history, bitter realities, and complex dynamics surrounding racial oppression in the United States. Over these six events, we look to consider both the breadth of human suffering propagated by entrenched racial bias and the heroic efforts required to correct systemic injustice.

Virtual Book Club: “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs”: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination

“Most Blessed of the Patriarchs” looks to shed light on perhaps the most complex of America’s Founding Fathers. Two of the world’s leading scholars of Jefferson’s life and accomplishments, Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter S. Onuf, join forces to fundamentally challenge much of what we think we know and help create a portrait of Jefferson that reveals some of the mystery at the heart of his character by considering his extraordinary and capacious mind and the ways in which he both embodied and resisted the dynamics of his age.

Virtual Book Club: Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife

In clear and compelling terms, Bart D. Ehrman recounts the long history of the afterlife, from the Epic of Gilgamesh to the writings of Augustine, focusing especially on the teachings of Jesus and his early followers. He discusses ancient guided tours of heaven and hell, in which a living person observes the sublime blessings of heaven for those who are saved and the horrifying torments of hell for the damned.