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Focus on the Humanities Distinguished Faculty Lectures

The Focus on the Humanities Distinguished Faculty Lecture series highlights UW-Madison senior faculty whose research is internationally recognized as pushing the boundaries of intellectual inquiry. In keeping with the Wisconsin Idea, the series engages campus and community audiences in conversation on issues of critical importance, from Rob Nixon's focus on the slow violence wrought by climate change and human-caused environmental catastrophes to Tejumola Olaniyan's call for the humanities to provide concrete solutions to the crises of the state in Africa.

The Focus on the Humanities Distinguished Faculty Lecture series is presented in collaboration with the Center for the Humanities with generous support from the Anonymous Fund of the College of Letters & Science.






Portrait image of Toma Longinovic holding his chin standing in front of book shelves with a glass reflection in front of the shelves.

Tomislav Z. Longinović
Professor of German, Nordic, and Slavic, UW-Madison

April 3, 2019 6:00 PM

Room L140 (Lower Level), Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, 800 University Avenue

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East into Europe has challenged the existing notion of national boundaries and demonstrated an increased need for a public policy that would take into account problems arising from the forced movement of population on such a large scale. Media reporting of the crisis focuses on the plight of miserable migrants who are using Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Hungary as transition points to reach the wealthier countries in Europe. Needless to say, countries comprising the European Union have had vastly differing responses to the issue of national boundaries and their permeability in the ongoing migration crisis.

Tomislav Z. Longinović (PhD, MFA) is Professor of German, Nordic, and Slavic at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is currently Visiting Professor at Harvard University. His books include Borderline Culture: The Politics of Identity in Four Twentieth Century Slavic Novels (1993), Vampires Like Us (2005), Red Knight: Serbian Women Songs (1992, co-edited and co-translated with Daniel Weissbort), and the edited volume: David Albahari, Words are Something Else (1996). He is also the author of several books of fiction, both in Serbian (Sama Amerika, 1995) and English (Moment of Silence, 1990). His new book Vampire Nation: Violence as Cultural Imaginary was published by Duke University Press in 2011 and was awarded the 2012 Mihajlo Miša Đorđević prize for best book in Serbian studies. His research interests include South Slavic literatures and cultures; literary theory; Central and East European literary history; comparative Slavic studies; translation studies; cultural studies. He is currently working on the book manuscript entitled The Secret of Translation, which features a theory of culture based on relational structures rather than ethnic or national ones.

Portrait image of Terry Kelley wearing a dark blue shirt standing in front of a white brick wall

Theresa M. Kelley
Marjorie and Lorin Tiefenthaler Professor of English Emerita, UW-Madison

November 7, 2018 6:00 PM

Room L140 (Lower Level), Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, 800 University Avenue

For many thinkers, including Romantics themselves, their era was an age of prophecy—of revolution, radical change, new beginnings, perhaps even new worlds.  Yet the Romantic writing that we identify as prophecy is strangely unable to predict the new realities and progress that we, like Romantic writers, thought they could deliver. Instead, prophetic writing in a Romantic key is preoccupied with impermanence, ruin, decline, calamity, loss, extinction, evanescence.  If these motifs are the darkened mode of Romantic prophecy, how do the Romantics, and how do we, read for the future?  I reply to this question by thinking about uncertainty, chance, and contingency, not sure-fire prophecy, as the narrative engines of Romantic futurity.  At issue for the Romantic era, as for our own, is not knowing what the future will be (impossible to know in any era), but working out resources to keep at hand for when we or others get there.

Theresa M. Kelley is Marjorie and Lorin Tiefenthaler Professor of English Emerita at University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is the author of Clandestine Marriage: Botany and Romantic Culture (Johns Hopkins, 2012), Reinventing Allegory (Cambridge, 1997), and Wordsworth’s Revisionary Aesthetics (Cambridge, 1988). She has published widely on Romantic poetics, aesthetics, visual culture, the matter of archives, and philosophy. She is the recipient of fellowships awarded by the American Council of Learned Socieities, Simon D. Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, Henry E. Huntington Library, Yale Center for British Art and UW-Madison Institute for Research in the Humanities. She is currently working on two books: Reading for the Future and Color Trouble.

Portrait image of Lynn Nyhart

Lynn K. Nyhart
Vilas-Bablitch-Kelch Distinguished Achievement Professor History of Science, UW-Madison

February 21, 2018 5:30 PM

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.

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.

Louise Young
Professor of Japanese History, UW-Madison

February 22, 2017 5:30 PM

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?

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

October 19, 2016 7:00 PM

Conrad A. Elvehjem Building room L140, 800 University Avenue

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 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 SouthBetrayal and Other Acts of Subversion: Feminism, Sexual Politics, Asian American Women's Literature; and editor of Asian American Feminisms. 

Henry Drewal
Art History and Afro-American Studies, UW-Madison

April 6, 2016
5:30 PM to 7:00 PM

Conrad A. Elvehjem Building room L140, 800 University Avenue

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
French, UW-Madison

March 9, 2016
5:30 PM to 7:00 PM

Conrad A. Elvehjem Building room L140, 800 University Avenue

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
English and African Languages & Literature, UW-Madison

February 18, 2015 5:30 PM

L140 Elvehjem Building, 800 University Avenue

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.

Craig Werner
Afro-American Studies, UW-Madison

December 3, 2014 5:30 PM

L140 Elvehjem Building, 800 University Avenue

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.

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

September 25, 2013 5:30 PM

L140 Conrad A. Elvehjem Building

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.

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