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Distinguished Lecture Series

Distinguished Lecture Series

Funded through the UT Humanities Center for use by faculty in one of our nine affiliated arts and humanities departments, the Distinguished Lecture Series brings acclaimed humanities scholars and renowned artists to the Knoxville campus and connects UT humanities faculty to the best researchers in their fields. Because only speakers with exception records of publication and research activity are eligible to receive a nomination as a visiting scholar, the program brings to campus some of the most cutting-edge and prolific intellectuals in the humanities today.

Lectures are free and open to the public and are held on the UT Knoxville campus. Public parking is available in the Volunteer Hall parking garage for our off-campus visitors. Everyone is welcome!

Follow our Twitter and Facebook accounts for updates on our events. Details about our Distinguished Lectures are also available on the UT Calendar.

2022-2023 Lecture Series

 More information about our 2022-2023 lecture series is forthcoming.

Click on the drop-down panels for details about each lecture.

October 3, 2022 – Helen Solterer

Justice, Mercy & Two Disabled Homeless: Scenes from an Open-Ended Social Drama in French

Helen Solterer
Professor of French and Francophone Studies
Duke University

Monday, October 3, 2022
3:30 PM (ET)
Lindsay Young Auditorium (rm. 101), John C. Hodges Library

Talk Title: “Justice, Mercy & Two Disabled Homeless: Scenes from an Open-Ended Social Drama in French”

About the Talk:

The figures Justice and Mercy, well-known to Christian and Jewish communities from a Biblical episode, were enacted frequently by Christian and civic fraternities in early modern towns. These same city people also improvised a sketch featuring one blind person and another who appears ‘lame.’ The scenes they played: the trial of these figures before time ‘began’ and the travails of this duo after the so-called Fall.

What do these dramas that embody both ideal principles and people in trouble tell us about popular views on irreconcilable social relations? In this brief cultural history, Helen Solterer will investigate a set of such scenes in French-speaking towns around 1450, in the wake of World War Two, and again today to show how people use early theatrical fictions to meet the civic conflicts of their time, to respond to inequities, and to energize the struggle of living together day in, day out.

About the Speaker:

Helen Solterer is Professor of French and Francophone Studies at Duke University. Her writing and teaching combine her research on early modern literature and culture and her work in twentieth-century cultural history. Timely Fictions in French, her latest book supported by the Guggenheim Foundation is nearing completion. Out this fall, the collection of essays edited with Vincent Joos, Migrants Shaping Europe: Multilingual Literatures, Arts and Cultures. After hours, she writes in the vein of family history. James Joyce Remembered, edition 2022, a collective volume, co-edited with Alice Ryan, that she spearheaded with University College Dublin colleagues around the essay of C.P. Curran, her grandfather, appeared for the Decade of Centenaries marked in Ireland. Earlier books include: Medieval Roles for Modern Times, Theater and the Battle for the French Republic, translated into French, and the MLA prize-winning Master and Minerva, in a feminist vein. 

Helen Solterer was invited to campus by Sara Ritchey, an associate professor in the Department of History.

November 7, 2022 – Anne Fernald

Change and Choice: Eight Modern Women

Anne Fernald
Professor of English and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Fordham University

Monday, November 7, 2022
3:30 P.M. (ET)
Lindsay Young Auditorium (rm. 101), John C. Hodges Library

Talk Title: "Change and Choice: Eight Modern Women"

About the Talk:

In the early twentieth century, middle class women’s lives were defined by constraint. Yet from the late-nineteenth century into the first decades of the twentieth, social and legal changes also opened a broad array of choices for women. This lecture will explore women’s lives a hundred years ago, the dramatic changes in their world, and the hard choices that women of the time faced. Anne Fernald will discuss these changes and choices through the stories of several women writers: the American children’s book author Margaret Wise Brown, Chinese-American writer Eileen Chang, Jamaican broadcaster and poet Una Marson, British pacifist Vera Brittain, film director Dorothy Arzner, and American editor and novelist Jessie Fauset, who discovered and championed many of the most important writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Fernald’s subjects used art to tell stories that bristle with the possibilities and dangers of women negotiating a life path more adventurous, interesting, and varied than predicted. These writers were wanderers, rebels, ladies, or pioneers; each was talented, but none so talented that she did not care what others thought or did not feel the sting of choosing to go against the grain of expectations. Virginia Woolf’s words form a common thread; her reflections on the challenges of women’s lives bring these stories together.

Anne Fernald was invited to campus by Urmila Seshagiri, an associate professor in the Department of English.

November 21, 2022 – Ed Pavlić

Non-Violence, Black Power and the Citizens of Pompeii: James Baldwin's 1968

Ed Pavlić
Distinguished Research Professor of English, African American Studies and Creative Writing
University of Georgia

Monday, November 21, 2022
3:30 P.M. (ET)
Lindsay Young Auditorium (rm. 101), John C. Hodges Library

Talk Title: "Non-Violence, Black Power and the Citizens of Pompeii: James Baldwin's 1968"

About the Talk:

Radicalization for James Baldwin meant moving from the idea that experience was an essentially individual endeavor to the understanding of experience as a mutual reality. For a writer who had made his career in the1950s among New York intellectuals who premised the idea of freedom—as well as artistic achievement--in individual terms as part of American and Western Cold War propaganda efforts, this shift in Baldwin’s thinking, writing and living involved intense negotiations and confrontations at every level of this life. This talk traces Baldwin’s career of radicalization beginning in 1963 and culminating in the tumultuous year of 1968.

About the Speaker:

Ed Pavlić is author of more than a dozen books written across and between genres including: Call It In the Air (2022), a documentary lyric; Outward: Adrienne Rich’s Expanding Solitudes (2021), an itinerary across the poet’s full career in poems; Another Kind of Madness (2019), a novel set in contemporary Chicago and coastal Kenya; and Who Can Afford to Improvise?: James Baldwin and Black Music, the Lyric and the Listeners (2016), an exploration of Black music’s many roles in Baldwin’s life and work. He is currently at work on two books: No Time to Rest: The Four Lives of James Baldwin, a narrative of Baldwin’s career for the 21st century, and Like I Was Ink, a memoir of racially non-binary experience. Pavlić is currently Distinguished Research Professor of English and African American Studies at the University of Georgia.

Rita Raley
Professor of English and Media Studies
University of California, Santa Barbara

Monday, December 5, 2022
3:30 P.M. (ET)
Lindsay Young Auditorium (rm. 101), John C. Hodges Library

Talk Title: "Critical AI"

About the Talk:

Artificial intelligence, as a set of cultural techniques, is facilitating profound institutional and epistemic transformations that are still only partly understood. This talk uses the emerging subfield of “Critical AI” as a frame for thinking through literary, artistic, and ethicopolitical engagements with machine learning, particularly in the domain of natural language generation, that both reflect and respond to our new sociotechnical condition. 

About the Speaker:

Rita Raley is a professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara, with courtesy appointments in Film and Media Studies, Global Studies, and Comparative Literature. Her work is situated at the intersection of digital media and humanist inquiry, with a particular emphasis on language, literature, politics, and art practices. Her most recent work appears in Digital Humanities QuarterlysymplokēAmodernPUBLIC, and The Routledge Companion to Media and Risk. She is co-editor of the "Electronic Mediations" book series for the University of Minnesota Press and of forthcoming special issues of American Literature (Critical AI) and ASAP/Journal (Inscriptive Studies). Her current work focuses on the aesthetic and theoretical questions raised by machine translation, text generation, and NLP more broadly.  

Roopika Risam
Associate Professor of Secondary and Higher Education and English, and Faculty Fellow of Digital Library Initiatives 
Salem State University

Monday, February 6, 2023
3:30 PM (ET)
Zoom (registration details forthcoming)

Title: TBA

Heather Houser
Professor of English 
The University of Texas at Austin

Monday, February 20, 2023
3:30 PM (ET)
Zoom (registration details forthcoming)

Title: TBA

March 6, 2023 – Rita Charon, MD 

Narrative Fusion: Clinical Arts and Literary Sciences

Rita Charon
Bernard Schoenberg Professor of Social Medicine and Professor of Medicine
Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons

Monday, March 6, 2023
3:30 PM (ET)
Lindsay Young Auditorium (rm. 101), John C. Hodges Library

Title: “Narrative Fusion: Clinical Arts and Literary Sciences”

About the Talk:

Narrating the self has long been the foundation of both literary and clinical practices. Whether in a published memoir or novel or in a visit to one’s doctor or psychoanalyst, one discovers aspects of the self by telling of it to another. Narrative medicine has grown from crossing the literary with the medical. We have achieved clinical success in training health professionals to listen for what their patients tell them and conceptual advances in investigating the interpersonal and aesthetic properties of literature. A just and effective health care may emerge from the creative and self-making capacities of patients and clinicians that are developed in rigorous practices as readers, writers, and seers.

About the Speaker:

Rita Charon is a general internist and literary scholar who originated the field of narrative medicine. She is the Bernard Schoenberg Professor of Social Medicine, the founding chair of the Department of Medical Humanities and Ethics, and Professor of Medicine at the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons. She serves as the Executive Director of Columbia Narrative Medicine. She completed the MD at Harvard and the Ph.D. in English at Columbia, concentrating on the works of Henry
James. Her research investigates narrative medicine training, reflective practice, health care justice, and health care team effectiveness and has been supported by the NIH, the NEH, the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation, and many other private foundations. She was selected by the NEH to deliver the Jefferson Lecture in 2018, the highest academic distinction awarded by the Endowment. She has authored, co-authored, or co-edited four books on narrative medicine. She lectures and teaches internationally on narrative medicine and is widely published in leading medical and literary journals.

Rita Charon was invited to campus by Stan Garner, James Douglas Bruce Professor of English.


Maggie Cao
David G. Frey Assistant Professor of Art History
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Monday, March 27, 2023
3:30 PM (ET)
Lindsay Young Auditorium (rm. 101), John C. Hodges Library

Title: TBA

April 3, 2023 – Olivia Bloechl

Telling Big Stories with Small Things: Times and Travels of a Violin

Olivia Bloechl
Professor of Musicology
University of Pittsburgh

Monday, April 3, 2023
3:30 P.M. (ET)
Lindsay Young Auditorium (rm. 101), John C. Hodges Library

Talk Title: “Telling Big Stories with Small Things: Times and Travels of a Violin”

About the Talk:

Sometimes “minor” figures or small things have big stories to tell. The story I’ll tell starts with a teenaged apprentice in colonial Philadelphia, Peter Warren Johnson (Canajoharie Mohawk/Irish), and the London-made violin he bought because it reminded him of home. Peter later died fighting for the British in the Revolutionary War, and his violin was probably plundered along with other goods left behind by Loyalist refugees like his mother, Konwatsitsiaienni/Mary Brant, who fled Canajoharie for Canada. Tracing the part of her son’s life that was lived with the mundane sound of fiddling offers insight into the overlapping networks that let him move between different territories, languages, and sound worlds. Yet it was the disruption of these networks from 1774 onward that propelled him and his violin into “world” history, as it’s usually understood. That raises questions about the conditions by which certain musical lives appear to have major or global significance, especially in colonial settings, and about what other stories lives like Peter’s have to tell.

About the Speaker:

Olivia Bloechl is Professor of Music at the University of Pittsburgh, with research interests in European and colonial North American music history (1600-1800), French Baroque opera, and global music historiography. She is the author of Native American Song at the Frontiers of Early Modern Music (Cambridge, 2008) and Opera and the Political Imaginary in Old Regime France (Chicago, 2017) and co-editor of Rethinking Difference in Music Scholarship (with Melanie Lowe and Jeffrey Kallberg, Cambridge, 2015). Her current book project is Sound and Song in the Allegheny World, 1740-1776, a study of Indigenous and settler sonic interaction in the upper Ohio Valley before the American Revolution. A trained pianist, she also enjoys dancing Argentinian tango and learning to play the lute.

Olivia Bloechl was invited to campus by Rachel Golden, an associate professor of musicology in the School of Music.

May 1, 2023 – Joseph Campana

Thinking with Bees

Joseph Campana
William Shakespeare Professor of English and Director, Center for Environmental Studies
Rice University

Monday, May 1, 2023
3:30 P.M. (ET)
Lindsay Young Auditorium (rm. 101), John C. Hodges Library

Talk Title: "Thinking with Bees"

About the Talk:

Claude Lévi-Strauss said animals are good to think with. That couldn’t be more true in the case of bees, whose entanglement with human life spans millennia. This talk begins with a case study of bee books written around the time of William Shakespeare. To read these works of husbandry alongside literary and political works of the era and earlier is to put natural history back into human history and to understand how bees enabled thinking about political and environmental dilemmas still with us as the extinction of bees, or a larger insect apocalypse, is all too easy to imagine.

About the Speaker:

Joseph Campana is a poet, arts writer, and scholar of the literature and culture of Renaissance England, at a time of climatic instability many refer to as the Little Ice Age. Recent projects consider the long impact of early modern understandings of creaturely life, personhood, population, scale, affect, and waste refracted through a range of arts and media, from poetry and theater to political theory and natural history. Current projects include two monographs in progress, Living Figures: Life and it Forms in Early Modernity and Scales of Nature: Thinking with Bees in the Renaissance, a two-volume co-edited collection on Renaissance insect life called Lesser Living Creatures of the Renaissance, and a collection of poems entitled Live Oak. Campana serves as the William Shakespeare Professor of English and directs the Center for Environmental Studies.

We would like to thank the Office of Research & Engagement for their generous support.



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