Past Lectures


Valentino Achak Deng - "What Is the What" 
Valentino Achak Deng who, along with thousands of other children, the so-called Lost Boys, was forced to leave his village in Sudan as a young boy and trek hundreds of miles by foot, pursued by militias, government bombers, and wild animals, crossing the deserts of three countries to find freedom. When he finally resettled in the United States, he found a life full of promise, but also heartache and myriad new challenges. Watch lecture.

Mike Davis - "Planet of Slums" 
Mike Davis, Professor Emeritus at University of California, Riverside, a Macarthur Fellow and the author of more than 20 books, spoke about his book Planet of Slums, which investigates the increasing inequality of the urban world. According the U.N., more than one billion people now live in the slums of cities. Davis discussed the meaning and the future of this radically unequal and unstable urban world. Watch lecture.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia - “Constitutional Interpretation” 
Justice Scalia, nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, is the longest serving current member of the Court. In nearly three decades of service, Justice Scalia has become known as a forceful advocate for adhering to the original meaning of the constitutional text and he addressed this approach in this Constitution Day Lecture.

Sven Beckert - “Empire of Cotton” 
Dr. Sven Beckert, the Laird Bell Professor of American History at Harvard University, spoke about his book Empire of Cotton: A Global History. A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and winner of the Bancroft Prize, the most prestigious award for works on American history, the official announcement called it “a masterful achievement in the burgeoning field of the study of capitalism…an expansive global history that also helps us rethink the history of the United States, lifting our understanding of American slavery, cotton production, the Civil War, and Reconstruction out of the parochial confines of nation-centered history.”

Preston Lauterbach - "Beale Street Dynasty" 
Preston Lauterbach's latest book, Beale Street Dynasty: Sex, Song, and the Struggle for the Soul of Memphis, tells the vivid history of Beale Street – a lost world of swaggering musicians, glamorous madams, and ruthless politicians. Lauterbach was the keynote lecturer for the three-day Beale Street Symposium. Watch lecture.

Dr. Nell Irvin Painter - "The History of White People"
Dr. Painter’s The History of White People covers more than 2000 years of Western civilization, illuminating not only the invention of race but the concept of “whiteness” and exploring how racial and gender identity have figured into the history of America and the West. She discussed how many ethnic groups now regarded as white, like the Irish, Jews, and Italians, were once excluded from American society. Watch lecture.

Scott Samuelson - "Suffering and Soul-Making: On the Deep Value of the Liberal Arts" 
According to Dr. Scott Samuelson, there are two general visions of suffering – the "Promethean" attitude, which holds that we'd be better off if we could minimize, perhaps even eliminate, suffering; and the "Orphic" attitude, which holds that finding ways of coming to terms with suffering is a crucial part of how we form our identities. Though skills pertinent to both attitudes should be cultivated in a good education, the Promethean attitude now threatens to drown out some of what's crucial in the Orphic approach. The deep value of studying the liberal arts is that it helps us in what John Keats called "soul-making." Watch lecture.

Brian Greene - "The Big Bang to the End of Time" 
Through a remarkable series of theoretical and observational breakthroughs, science has given a sharp insight into the universe's earliest moments and future. Dr. Brian Greene, physicist and mathematician, took the audience on a cosmic journey. Watch lecture.


James D. LeSeuer - "Between Terror and Democracy"
James LeSueur discussed the upheaval that occurred in Algeria in the early 1990s, when Islamic reformers were democratically elected for the first time in the Middle East, only to be confronted by the Algerian military, plunging the country into a decade-long civil war. He examined what went wrong and discuss Algeria’s controversial experiments to achieve reconciliation with militant Islamists. Watch lecture.

Michael Roth - "Beyond the University - Why Liberal Education Matters" 
Drawing on his new book, Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters, Michael Roth discussed the debate over the benefits of a liberal education, focusing on important moments and seminal thinkers in America’s long-running argument over vocational vs. liberal education. Watch lecture.

Melvin I. Urofsky - "Dissent and the Constitution" 
Melvin I. Urofsky explored some of the great dissents and dissenters in the history of the United States Supreme Court. Specifically, Urofsky discusses how dissenting opinions, which represent the “losing” side of a case, play an important role in the nation’s ongoing constitutional conversation and sometimes end up shaping future decisions. Watch lecture.

Maud Mandel - "Muslims and Jews in France: A History of Conflict" 
Maud Mandel discussed how Muslims and Jews in France have related to each other as former residents of French North Africa, as immigrants competing for limited resources, as employers and employees, as victims of racist aggression, as religious minorities in a secularizing state, and as French. Watch lecture.

Aram Goudsouzian - "Down to the Crossroads" 
Aram Goudsouzian discussed the story of the last great march of the civil rights era in 1966, and the first great showdown of the turbulent years that followed. Watch lecture.


Darrin McMahon - "Divine Fury: A History of Genius" 
Darrin McMahon drew on his new book, Divine Fury: A History of Genius, to explore what genius has meant, and what it still might mean today, by ranging across its understanding from the ancients to the moderns, from poets to the whiz kids of Silicon Valley. Watch lecture.

J. Baird Callicott '63 - "Judeo-Christianity, Zen Buddhism, and Environmental Ethics" 
American philosopher J. Baird Callicott described the development of secular environmental ethics and comparative religious environmentalism, two approaches to environmental ethics that continue to define how we think about a sustainable world. Watch lecture.

Robert Darnton - "Digitize and Democratize: Libraries, Books and the Digital Future" 
Robert Darnton argued that in the current digital environment, books and libraries are more important than ever. Their importance will increase as we design the digital future—if only we can get it right. Watch lecture.

Leora Batnitzky - "How Judaism Became a Religion"
Leora Batnitzky discussed how Judaism came to be defined as a religion in the modern period—and why Jewish thinkers have fought as well as championed this idea. Ever since the Enlightenment, Jewish thinkers have debated whether and how Judaism—largely a religion of practice and public adherence to law—can fit into a modern, Protestant conception of religion as an individual and private matter of belief or faith. Watch lecture.


Dr. Paul Mendes-Flohr - "Two Modern Prophets" 
Martin Buber (1878-1965) and Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) shared an unyielding commitment to social justice and the pursuit of peace. This lecture reflected on the theological convergence of these two towering figures of 20th century religious thought in Israel and in America. Watch lecture.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf - "A New Vision of Islam in America"
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf discussed his path to faith and the current state of Islam in the United States. Watch lecture.

Steven Schlozman - "How to Inadvertently Learn Some Neuroscience While Preparing for the (Inevitable) Zombie Apocoplypse" 
Steven Schlozman, author of The Zombie Autopsies, discussed, "How to Inadvertently Learn Some Neuroscience While Preparing for the (Inevitable?) Zombie Apocalypse." Watch lecture.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau - "The Pursuit of Happiness" 
Christopher Kelly talked about Jean-Jacques Rousseau's philosophical discourse on the Pursuit of Happiness. Watch lecture.

Robert Mnookin - "Bargaining with the Devil"
Harvard Professor Robert Mnookin is a leading expert in the field of conflict resolution. Mnookin has applied his interdisciplinary approach to negotiation and conflict resolution to a remarkable range of problems, including complex commercial disputes which involved advanced technologies and intellectual property. Watch lecture.

Russell Berman - "The Humanities in Our Culture" 
Immediate Past President of the Modern Language Association and Walter A. Haas Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University, Berman discussed the relevance and the importance of the humanities in our culture. Watch lecture.

Noam Chomsky - "The Occupy Movement"
Noam Chomsky spoke about the Occupy Movement. Watch lecture.