The National Humanities Center hosts a variety of public talks, conferences, and other cultural events. Here, on iTunes, and at our Soundcloud channel, you will find podcasts and audio recordings of recent events.
These podcasts are made possible in part with support from TUCASI.
In the seventeenth century, the notion of the infinite universe was so controversial that believers could be burned at the stake. Today, however, the concept of infinity is commonplace, integrated into science and math curricula, and used as a metaphor to describe the inconceivable. In this podcast, Fellow John H. Smith traces the shifting understandings of the infinite across the long eighteenth century. His project ultimately locates the infinite at an interdisciplinary crossroads, demonstrating the interconnectedness of the sciences and the humanities.
Georgia’s antebellum state capitol, Milledgeville, was also home to the state mental hospital, an institution founded in 1842 which eventually became the largest asylum in the world. Fellow Mab Segrest is at work on a project considering how the hospital’s history reveals the relationships between psychiatry and white settler colonialism. In this podcast, she discusses the social function of mental hospitals in the South. At the nexus of U.S. psychiatry and the emergence of racism, the history of the Milledgeville asylum has broad and urgent implications for today’s mental health facilities and their treatment of patients.
Legalized slavery has been abolished around the world, yet human trafficking remains a significant problem. Though slavery may not take the exact forms it did in the nineteenth century, approximately 45.8 million persons in 167 countries endure modern forms of slavery. Fellow Laura Murphy, Associate Professor of English and Director of the Modern Slavery Research Project at Loyola University New Orleans, is currently at work on a book about the way survivors of forced labor have mobilized the discourse of slavery in the twenty-first century to reinvigorate their struggles for freedom. In this podcast, she discusses the generic conventions of the slave narrative and how they complicate our notions of what it means to be free.
First emerging in the Italian Renaissance, the sonnet was used to document and address a problem, such as the pain of unrequited love. Under the shadow of slavery and then Jim Crow, African American poets from Phillis Wheatley to Natasha Trethewey have adopted the sonnet’s 14-line form to poetically register political protest. Fellow Hollis Robbins is currently at work on the first book-length examination of the African American sonnet tradition. In this podcast, Robbins draws on examples from writers such as Claude McKay and Gwendolyn Brooks to explain how the formal qualities of the sonnet— structured around an argument—exemplify what W.E.B. Du Bois famously called “double-consciousness.”
The average American produces four and a half pounds of trash every single day, and, as a whole, the U.S. generates nearly a quarter of a billion tons of garbage each year. Yet one person’s trash is another’s treasure. What can we learn about ourselves from what we discard and what we keep? What stories are contained in the detritus of contemporary life? In this podcast, Fellow Stephanie Foote discusses her current work on the “art of garbage” and the intersections of consumer culture, the global economy, and the environment. She also speculates about how contemporary literature mediates the presence of planetary waste.
In the decades following the Civil War, African American intellectuals focused much of their attention beyond the borders of the United States and, in doing so, engaged global histories of colonization, slavery, immigration, and imperialism. While a significant body of scholarship attends to the work of politicians, clergy, actors, and artists, relatively little attention has been paid to the role of black historians. In this podcast, Fellow Stephen G. Hall introduces and expands on important issues at play in his study: the sources black historians enlisted to frame critical events, the community they engaged beyond the walls of the academy, and the ways their discourse was intertwined with activism, from anti-imperialism to Pan-Africanism to the Civil Rights Movement.
Over the past century, revolutions in technology and increased mobility have fostered connections across vast spaces and among different cultures. Still, Americans’ sense of regional identity remains strong. Fellow Wendy Griswold has studied how literary culture helps produce and maintain regional identity for much of her career. In this podcast, she discusses the third installment of her ongoing project exploring how art and literature are integral to American “place-making.” Building on her previous work, she argues that by drawing on the fields of neurobiology and neuroaesthetics—examining how our brains respond to different sensations and stimuli—we may be able to shed new light on the ways we experience places and form lasting emotional attachments to them.
John McGowan, “From Comedy to Comity: How Comic Literature Can Guide Us Toward a More Civil Society”
A democratic society relies on the ability of citizens to address one another in a measured and temperate fashion, yet civil debate in recent years has become increasingly contentious and polarized. In this podcast, Fellow John McGowan, professor of English and comparative literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, discusses how literature—specifically comedy—can help us recognize our shared humanity and help us find ways to transcend our differences.
For years, public discourse and policy debates about people with disabilities have focused on the rights of those with medically recognized impairments. Increasingly, however, scholars of disability studies, including Fellow Nancy J. Hirschmann, professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, are reshaping the way we see our bodies, the range of freedoms we enjoy, and the limitations we experience. In this podcast, Hirschmann helps us make sense of the complex relationship between freedom and disability. She speaks about her latest book project, Freedom, Power, and Disability, which builds on her work on the intersections of politics, gender, and philosophy.
Nancy Gardner and Patricia Matthew, “How to Teach English Literature and Writing in the Digital Age”
How has the digital environment changed the way English is taught at the high school and college level? What kinds of possibilities have been generated and new challenges presented? In this podcast, Nancy Gardner, with the Center for Teaching Quality, and Patricia Matthew, associate professor of English at Montclair State University, discuss the advantages and anxieties that accompany the use of digital technologies to support the study of literature and instruction in writing.
How can teachers help students draw connections between humanities and STEM subjects? In this podcast, Omar Ali, professor of history and Dean of Lloyd International Honors College at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Andromeda Crowell, who teaches science at Orange High School in Hillsborough, NC, discuss similarities in the ways historians and scientists approach the process of discovery. They also consider how digital technologies have made it easier for students to think and act like researchers, regardless of discipline, in a classroom setting.
How should the study and teaching of music be integrated into K-12 classrooms? In this podcast, Ben Wides, who teaches social studies at East Side Community High School in New York, NY, and Warren Zanes, former executive director of the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation, discuss the benefits of music education for all students and the ways that music can be used in the teaching of other subjects to help students make connections and appreciate cultural context. They also consider some of the opportunities and challenges presented by new technologies that provide ready access to extensive musical resources.
How have technological innovations helped students and others engage with, and better understand, longstanding philosophical questions? How does philosophical training help us grapple with contemporary concerns surrounding technology and its influences on our lives and societies? In this podcast, Michael Burroughs, executive director of the Kegley Institute of Ethics and assistant professor of philosophy at California State University, Bakersfield, and Allison Cohen, who teaches Advanced Placement U.S. government and philosophy at Langley High School in McLean, VA discuss the ways technology has contributed to the study and teaching of philosophy.
Elizabeth Mulcahy and Molly Warsh, “How to Think (and Teach) About World History in the Digital Age”
How has the study and teaching of world history been transformed by the proliferation of digital tools? In this podcast, Elizabeth Mulcahy, social studies teacher in Albemarle County, VA, and Molly Warsh, assistant professor of world history at the University of Pittsburgh, discuss the ways new technologies expand the possibilities for exploring world history, how those changes shape thinking, and the positives and negatives associated with readily accessed information.
What are the habits of mind specific to art historians? How does their practice, centered around the careful observation of artistic works, provide a basis for the questions they ask? In this podcast, Teresa Assenzo, director of visual arts at Saint Mary’s School in Raleigh, NC, and Morna O’Neill, associate professor of art history at Wake Forest University, demonstrate the ways art historians interpret artists’ works and situate them within larger greater historical and cultural contexts through an in-depth conversation about Claude Monet’s painting “The Gare Saint-Lazare.”
How has the study and teaching of classics been changed by the proliferation of digital tools? In this podcast, Michael Fontaine, professor of classics at Cornell University, and Skye Shirley, Latin teacher at Newton Country Day School in Newton, Massachusetts, discuss the remarkably diverse ways the information age has rejuvenated the study of Latin and Greek—altering the ways ancient languages are taught, expanding opportunities for learning, and fostering a robust network among scholars, teachers, and students.
What does it mean to think geographically? How do we foster geoliteracy in classrooms? In this podcast, Edward Kinman, professor of geography at Longwood University, and Megan Webster, Social Studies Department Chair at J. J. Pearce High School in Richardson, Texas, discuss how geography helps students understand the world more fully. Specifically, they discuss the ways that geography helps students understand interconnected systems—natural, cultural, economic, technological—issues of scale, and relationships between the local and the global.
“Fake news.” Political polls. Twitter. Big data. Institutional mistrust. Civic responsibility. How do learners sort through it all? In this podcast, Daniel Palazzolo, professor of political science at the University of Richmond, and Patrick Touart, Social Studies Department Chairman at Tunstall High School in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, compare notes on how students make sense—or don’t make sense—of political science in the 21st century.
Since the early modern era, history has been largely viewed through an anthropocentric lens, skewing towards the involvement of humans. David Christian (NHC Fellow 2006-07) flips this narrative by zooming out to see history—specifically, Big History—on a larger scale, measured by geological and cosmological time. Bringing together fields as seemingly disparate as cosmology, anthropology, and geology, Big History offers what Christian calls “a unifying origin story” that explains our origin and place in the universe, bridging the humanities with the social sciences.
Scholars in gender and sexuality studies have largely ignored or dismissed attempts to explain the causes of sexual deviation for a variety of reasons. In this podcast, Fellow Benjamin Kahan discusses how his work, exploring “the historical etiology of sexuality,” moves past those scholars’ dismissal of early sexuality theories in hopes of producing a fuller understanding of how contemporary attitudes and notions about sexuality developed.
Non-human, post-human, anti-human. In recent years, historians, political theorists, philosophers and others have increasingly tried to think beyond an anthropocentric perspective to gain insights on a wide range of questions. But these ways of thinking have a long precedent in American fiction. In this podcast, Fellow Kate Marshall, associate professor of English at the University of Notre Dame, discusses how weird fiction, cosmic realism, and pseudo-science fiction have imaginatively grappled with non-human points of view from the late 19th century to the present.
The Humanities Moments pilot project at Weaver Academy in Greensboro, North Carolina introduces high school students to the role the humanities play in their lives. The value of the project is visible across the entire school from increasing self-understanding among students and bridging the gap between STEM and arts educators to teaching life preparedness and vital skills like critical thinking and empathy needed beyond high school.
While we often think of Renaissance-era Florence and the surrounding area as brimming with intellectual inquiry, artistic genius, and political intrigue, music and poetry were also important elements of life and to the Studia Humanitatis, the core of early modern education. In this podcast, Fellow Blake Wilson, professor of music at Dickinson College discusses his current project exploring the music and oral performance traditions of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance — how it was composed and performed as well as its relationship to other art forms in creating the rich civic and cultural life of the Renaissance.
Surviving accounts of the foundation of the early Christian church are extremely limited, leaving scholars with few sources beyond the narrative found in the fifth book of the New Testament, the Acts of the Apostles. And, for centuries, questions have persisted about the book of Acts itself: Who wrote it and for whom? What was the document's purpose? And, how historically reliable is the account it provides?
Most people would agree that judging people based on generalizations related to their skin color or gender, religion or nationality is wrong. Yet this is a common practice in all societies. So the question arises, is it ever okay to use stereotypes? And, if so, when?
Beyond their inspirational and devotional power, what other functions do religious works of art serve? From antiquity through the medieval periods, practitioners of many religious traditions throughout central Asia used works of art to teach followers religious histories, parables, and central tenets of their faith. How does this use inform our appreciation of these works and what can we learn from examining these religious practices?
For centuries before the arrival of Europeans, trade routes connected the various peoples who lived throughout the American Southwest and Mexico, and trade among these groups remained an important source of economic vitality and cultural exchange even after the Spanish arrived in the sixteenth century. In later years, these routes formed the basis of El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, connecting merchants and communities from Mexico City to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Beginning as a small group of intellectual ideologues, the Shining Path grew to become a significant insurgency movement whose violent practices resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Peruvians in the late twentieth century. However, to understand the Shining Path's history and its influence, it is important to understand its origins and the motivations of the individuals who formed its leadership.
On October 5, 2016, NHC director Robert D. Newman delivered a keynote address as a part of the ongoing Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Speaker Series at North Carolina Central University. In his remarks Newman touched on events as seemingly disparate as the workings of the Continental Congress and the social media origins of the Black Lives Matter movement and discussed the ways that the humanities help us understand the world, relate to one another, and come to terms with the most profound experiences and questions — on the nature of beauty, the search for justice, and the meaning of life in the face of horrific violence and our own mortality.
Since its founding over 50 years ago, perceptions of the Black Panther Party have varied widely, often shaped by misinformation—about the Party's motivations, its relations with other organizations, its influence in the U.S. and around the world. In this conversation, historian Jakobi Williams discusses the challenges facing scholars in reconstructing the history of the Black Panther Party, the common misconceptions that continue to shape views of the movement and its leaders, and the ways that the organization helped inspire resistance groups in other countries.
Shakespeare's plays are full of the influences of the supernatural—spirits, magic, temptation—haunting the lives of characters and shaping their actions. In this conversation, literary scholar Mary Floyd-Wilson discusses how these demonic representations reflect questions that were very much on the minds of Elizabethan-era theater-goers and offer a valuable perspective on contemporary debates of the period and shifts in thinking about questions of religion, of autonomy, personality, and the mind.
In a wide-ranging talk to alumni Fellows that incorporated stories about figures as distinct as H. L. Mencken, Georgia O’Keefe, and Mary Oliver, NHC president Robert Newman discussed how the humanities lend perspective to current events, refine our sense of the world and all it contains, and provide wisdom for navigating the future.
The use of geospatial technologies allows the interactions of place, space, time, and scale to be more obvious to teachers and students. Often there is an over-emphasis on the chronology of historical events without a strong consideration for their connections to geography. Geospatial technologies allow students to raise the critical ability to answer not only the important question of “where?” but also “why there?” With an emphasis on inquiry-based teaching and learning, Chris Bunin provides insights on the ways that GIS tools contribute to a deeper understanding of the humanities.
For most of the last 30 years, Congressman David Price has represented NC's Fourth District which covers much of the greater Research Triangle region including the National Humanities Center. As co-chair of the Congressional Humanities Caucus and a member of the Congressional Arts Caucus, Congressman Price has been a fierce advocate for federal investments in the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, championing their work and the work of all of those engaged in promoting the arts and preserving the cultural and historical legacy of the United States. During his most recent visit to the Center, he sat down with NHC Director Robert D. Newman to discuss the importance of the humanities in a democratic society and why they remain a relevant and vital part of American education and civic life.
While historians have increasingly marked the Haitian Revolution as a key moment in the history of the Atlantic world, literary depictions of the revolution and events surrounding it have remained little known among contemporary readers. By exploring a broad range of works from writers living in the Atlantic World, Marlene Daut has uncovered a transatlantic abolitionist literary culture that was shaped in many ways by imagining Haiti.
The banjo links disparate musical and cultural traditions — from Africa to the Caribbean to the United States — and its history is deeply interwoven with the history of those places. In this podcast, host Robert Newman talks with Laurent Dubois about this history and his book, The Banjo: America's African Instrument, published earlier this year by Harvard University Press.
Contention over questions surrounding immigration and citizenship have been foregrounded in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but how does the current debate relate to America's historical treatment of foreigners and the establishment of birthright citizenship in the U.S. Constitution? In this podcast, host Richard Schramm talks with Kunal Parker about this history and helps frame current discourse as it relates to legal history.
In part 2 of this interview, Florence Dore and host Robert Newman continue to explore the surprising reciprocity between rock and literature. They also discuss the conference Novel Sounds—upcoming October 14-15 at the National Humanities Center—which will bring together scholars, critics, and performers to examine rock’s broader connections to a wide array of social, historical, and cultural concerns.
While it is not difficult to perceive rock ‘n’ roll’s profound influence on American culture since the mid-1950s, we seldom consider the surprising reciprocity between rock and serious literature. In this podcast, host Robert Newman talks with Florence Dore about the rock-literature nexus and on the ways that rock has both reflected and helped shape our national heritage.
In recent years, historians, literary theorists, archaeologists, geographers and others have been exploring space—both physical and metaphorical—and the ways that it shapes, and is shaped by, us. Host Richard Schramm talks with John Corrigan about “the spatial humanities,” a turn in academic research that brings together scholars from diverse fields, using new digital tools to better understand how we live in our spaces and how those spaces influence economics, politics, and culture.
Americans have long pictured themselves as all but free of religious intolerance and have difficulty coming to terms with the kinds of religious conflict and violence that occur in other parts of the world. In this podcast, host Richard Schramm talks with John Corrigan about America’s often forgotten history of religious intolerance despite our ideals and how that history has been all but lost. Their conversation also offers a preview of an NHC webinar, “Religious Freedom and Religious Intolerance in America,” which took place on Thursday, March 24, 2016.
At a recent dinner with Center Fellows alumni, President Robert Newman recounted several “humanities moments,” including Kurt Vonnegut’s response to the 1973 burning of his book Slaughterhouse Five by school officials in Drake, North Dakota.
Friends, current research Fellows and members of the Center staff gathered recently for the annual National Humanities Center Patio Party. President Robert D. Newman, who joined the Center in July of this year, addressed the group with brief but timely remarks entitled “The Uncomfortable Responsibility of the Liberal Arts.”
By 1832 Shakespeare’s biographers had already concluded that “among the very few facts of his life that have been transmitted to us, there is none more clearly proved than the unhappiness of his marriage.” Anne Hathaway was eight years older; her premarital pregnancy led to a shotgun wedding; Shakespeare’s dying bequest of a “second-best” bed confirmed his loathing for her. But is this case closed? Lena Orlin discusses new ways of thinking about Shakespeare’s marriage.
In this lecture, legal historian Kunal Parker ranges over four centuries of immigration and citizenship law and canvasses the histories of immigrants, Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, women, and the poor, exploring the American legal tradition of not only excluding and removing those from other countries, but also of rendering foreign their own populations.
Historians tend to focus on two questions about American tax politics: how much and how progressive (or regressive). But because the U.S. political system is designed to emphasize geography more strongly than class interest or political ideology, the history of federal taxation is best understood in geographical terms. Most generally, it is a story about redistribution from the South to the Northeast through the nineteenth-century tariff and from the Northeast to the South through the twentieth-century income tax. After reviewing the familiar story of tariff struggles, this lecture focuses on the lesser-known sectional politics of the income tax.