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Conversations & Cocktails

When is “continuing education” fun?  The answer: always -- with our UTHC series “Conversations & Cocktails”!

“Conversations & Cocktails” is a free public lecture and discussion series that showcases the original research done by our distinguished UT arts and humanities faculty. Our monthly get-togethers give you the opportunity to hear about fascinating work in the arts and in fields such as philosophy, history, and literature studies.

You can join us to learn about how the ASPCA was started and why; the lives of saints in Renaissance drama; how popular cinema does and does not adequately represent the Jewish Holocaust; how minority communities create social structures within dominant cultures; how computers can help us to learn new things about archeological sites; how new African religions attract followers; how famous writers such as Virginia Woolf and James Agee wrote the beautiful books we love today—and so much more!

speakerThis year our theme is “Breaking Boundaries,” featuring new, groundbreaking work in five different research fields. Presentations are 30-40 minutes long and are designed for the general public. A spirited question-and-answer discussion follows each presentation.

While we usually hold our evening meetings at a restaurant in Knoxville, for the health and safety of our campus and community, we will host our spring 2021 Conversations & Cocktails lectures as webinars on Zoom.

You can check the Zoom Help Center to learn more about setting up an account and joining a meeting. Contact us if you have any questions at or 865-974-4222!

Schedule for Spring 2021

(click on date for event information)

"Making Humans More Humane: Henry Bergh and the Birth of Animal Rights in 19th-Century America"

Ernest Freeberg, Distinguished Professor and Head
UT Department of History

Thursday, January 28, 2021
7:00 P.M.

Professor Freeberg discusses his new book, A Traitor to His Species Henry Bergh and the Birth of the Animal Rights Movement. The book tells the story of a remarkable man who helped to shape our modern relationship with animals. In Gilded Age America, people and animals lived cheek by jowl in environments that were dirty and dangerous to man and beast alike. The industrial city brought suffering, but it also inspired a compassion for animals that fueled a controversial anti-cruelty movement. When Henry Bergh founded the ASPCA in 1866, he launched a campaign to grant rights to animals that was applauded by many, and ridiculed by many more. Bergh fought with robber barons, Five Points gangs, and legendary impresario P.T. Barnum as Bergh came to the defense of trolley horses, livestock, stray dogs, and other animals.


“Baptizing Soldiers on the Roman Frontier: An Archeological Dig and the Early Christian Church in Jordan”

Erin Darby, Associate Professor, UT Religious Studies
Robert Darby, Lecturer, UT School of Art

Thursday, February 25, 2021
7:00 P.M.

In this lecture, Erin and Robert Darby will introduce the early Christian church at the Roman military site of 'Ayn Gharandal (Arieldela), Jordan and the role the military played in spreading Christianity. The Darbys will discuss the importance of the site to Christian history, including several important historical implications of the church complex, including the commission of the building and the date of its construction, the extent of conversion to Christianity at the site, and the nature of Christian practice in this distant province of the Empire. The Darbys regularly take UT graduate students to the Jordan dig.


"Printing Presses, Playing Cards, and a Renaissance of Technology"

Kelli Wood, Assistant Professor of Art History
UT School of Art
Sean Roberts, Lecturer of Art History
UT School of Art

Thursday, March 25, 2021
7:00 P.M.

The invention of the printing press was revolutionary in the European Renaissance, but what about playing cards? In this conversation, Professors Kelli Wood and Sean Roberts will bring together their respective areas of expertise, game studies and the history of print, to explore how early playing cards and cultures of gambling were not only enabled by technological innovation, but in fact spurred it. The pips, packs, suits, and rules of card games spread throughout Europe rapidly, occurring during the same era as the burgeoning of paper mills and the technology of woodcut printing. Professors Wood and Roberts consider the question, “Did printing itself develop in response to the demand to reproduce playing cards inexpensively and disseminate them to a wide audience of would-be gamblers?”


"A Dangerous Age: John Hervey Wheeler and the Search for Freedom of Movement”

Brandon Winford, Associate Professor
UT Department of History

Thursday, April 22, 2021
7:00 P.M.

This talk examines the activism of banker-lawyer John Hervey Wheeler during the modern civil rights movement. As president of Mechanics and Farmers Bank (M&F Bank), located on Durham's "Black Wall Street," Wheeler became North Carolina’s most influential black power broker and among the top civil rights figures in the South. Wheeler recognized that while direct action represented a shift away from strict reliance on legal tactics, ongoing civil disobedience meant that he was in a better position than ever before to fulfill the ideals of New South prosperity through increased involvement in reform and policymaking at the local, state, and national levels.


"Virginia Woolf’s Hidden Memoir"

Urmila Seshagiri, Associate Professor
Department of English

Thursday, May 27, 2021
7:00 P.M.

Decades after Virginia Woolf’s death, scholars discovered “Sketch of the Past,” the author’s unknown, unfinished, and unpublished memoir. When “Sketch of the Past” was published in 1985, critics hailed it as one of Woolf’s most beautiful and important works. However, the only published version of “Sketch” is error-riddled and inauthentic: editors made hundreds of mistakes as they transcribed and combined Woolf’s incomplete drafts. Professor Seshagiri is preparing a new, accurate edition of “Sketch of the Past” for 21st-century readers, and in this conversation, she will describe her adventures in archives, her new discoveries about how Woolf composed her autobiography, and the complex, exhilarating decisions that editors make when they publish unfinished work.


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