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Public Events

Fall Semester 2016

September 21, 2016, 4:00-6:00 pm, Cabot ASEAN Auditorium
"South Sudan: The Road to Civil War"

Mahmood Mamdani, Herbert Lehman Professor of Government, Anthropology, and African Studies,
Columbia University
In this public lecture, Professor Mamdani rethinks our understanding of international relations through the lens of African politics, and will consider questions of crime and punishment in the case of mass violence in civil war situations. Taking the case of South Sudan, the lecture will pose questions like: Should we treat mass violence in civil war situations as criminal violence, identifying individual perpetrators and holding them responsible for crimes, or as political violence where more important than perpetrators are constituencies organized around issues? Is the individualization of criminal responsibility an appropriate method to deal with accountability for mass violence? Or should responsibility be thought through as more political than criminal?

September 22, 2016
Political Violence and Political Justice, 2:00-4:00 pm, Center for Humanities
Mahmood Mamdani, Herbert Lehman Professor of Government, Anthropology, and African Studies,
Columbia University
In this seminar, Professor Mamdani examines the relevance of the South African transition for political justice in light of Nuremburg as the template with which to define responsibility for mass violence. The negotiations that ended apartheid – the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) – provide material for a critique of the “lessons of Nuremburg.” The seminar investigates the difference between criminal justice and political justice in light of the South African case.



October 13, 2016, 4:30-6:30 pm, Coolidge Room, Ballou Hall
"Migrations, Islands, and the Creative Economy"
Françoise Lionnet, Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures, and African and African American Studies, Harvard University
By some estimates, one sixth of the world’s population will be migrants by the end of the next decade. Social scientists capture these changes with numbers to understand population movement, predict trends and the large-scale problems they create, while writers and visual artists give us the human stories that are a powerful point of entry into the concrete lives of individual migrants and their families. In this lecture, Professor Lionnet shares perspectives on recent artistic and literary works inspired by migrant crises in both the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean sea and focus more specifically on the Comoros archipelago and the island of Mayotte, that "ultra peripheral" region of "Europe," she considers the multilingual work of poet and dramatist Soeuf Elbadawi to test the critical effectiveness of literature in the world as agent of cultural change.


November 4, 2016, 2:30-5:30 pm, Rabb Room
Colonialism, Slavery, and the Archive

Vincent Brown, Warren Professor of History, Harvard University
Elizabeth Dillon, Professor of English, Northeastern University
Vivek Bald, Associate Professor of Media Studies, MIT
This seminar session considers the theory, practice, and methods of digital archives and recovery of histories of slavery and colonialism, as well as antislavery and anticolonial cultures.



December 2, 2016, 2:30-5:30 pm, Interfaith Center, 58 Winthrop Street
Plantation Dispossession and the Futures of Black Embodiment

Alexander Weheliye, Professor of African American Studies, Northwestern University
Katherine McKittrick, Professor of Gender Studies, Queen's University
Demetrius Eudell, Professor of History, Wesleyan University
This session explores the futures of Black embodiment, both futures-past and futures-present. The material existence of black bodies, and the cultural and social representations of Black embodiment, have developed through and against colonial and racial processes of commodification, natal alienation, captivity and forced migration, slave labor, cultural dispossession, and violent de-speciesization. At the same time, Black embodiments articulate epistemological and cultural "futures," or unforeclosed possibilities, that exceed the repetitive logics of sequestration, incarceration, and mass annihilation which threaten all species with catastrophe. This session explores the place of the black body in the history of the present, and the futures to which it signals.


Spring Semester 2017


January 26, 2017, 12:00-2:00 pm, Center for Humanities
The Worldly Turn in Humanistic Studies

Shu-mei Shih, Professor of Comparative Literature, Asian Languages and Cultures, and Asian American Studies, UCLA
Françoise Lionnet, Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures, and African and African American Studies, Harvard University
In this seminar, Professors Shih and Lionnet will focus on critical concepts in the “worldly” turn in humanistic and comparative studies, which have been employed in the approach to world literature, planetarity, and "minor" literatures.

January 26, 2017, 4:30-6:00 pm, Coolidge Room, Ballou Hall
"Comparative Postcolonial Theory and the Question of Chinese Empire"

Shu-mei Shih, Professor of Comparative Literature, Asian Languages and Cultures, and Asian American Studies, UCLA
In this lecture, The emergence of Sinophone studies in the last decade is altering the landscape of postcolonial theory, which had been largely derived from the historical experience of western European empires. How does Sinophone studies intervene in and contribute to existing postcolonial theory? Why is Sinophone studies still marginalized in postcolonial studies? By taking a comparative approach that emphasizes conjunctures and relations, this lecture will explore the question of Chinese empire in relation to European empires via the pivot to Sinophone literature from Southeast Asia.



February 16, 2017, 4:30-6:30pm, Coolidge Room, Ballou Hall
Colonial Memory and Trauma

Debarati Sanyal, Professor of French, UC Berkeley
Stef Craps, Associate Professor of English, University of Ghent
Drawing upon material culture, cinema, and literature, this seminar explores how coloniality may compel us to rethink the very structures of “memory” and “trauma” as they have been constituted within the humanities.


February 22, 2017
Race and the Human

Alondra Nelson, Professor of Sociology, Columbia University
This seminar focuses on how science and its applications may shape the human social world, including aspects of personal identification, racial formation, and collective action. In turn, it will explore the ways in which social groups reject, challenge, engage and, in some instances, adopt and mobilize conceptualizations of race, ethnicity, and gender derived from scientific and technical domains.

February 23, 2017
Professor Nelson will present a public lecture on her current research, title and location TBA.



March 8, 2017, 4:30-6:30, Coolidge Room, Ballou Hall
Rethinking the Human: Life Between Epistemology and Therapeutics

Emily Martin, Professor of Anthropology, NYU
Lawrence Cohen, Professor of Anthropology, UC Berkeley
Global approaches to bodies, minds, and therapeutics call into question not only the instability of “the human” and “humanity,” but continuously demand we rearticulate boundaries between the methodological and epistemological projects that order our intellectual lives and institutions. This session constellates innovations in medicine, technology, and clinical therapeutics as horizons for humanist ethics and counter-ethics.



March 29, 2017, 4:30-6:30, Coolidge Room, Ballou Hall
"Empires of Religion"

David Chidester, Professor of Comparative Religion, University of Cape Town
In this lecture, Professor Chidester situates the global study of religion and the humanities in relation to the history of modern European exploration, conquest, and colonization while also exploring the ways that same history can help us rethink the meaning and the practice of globalization in the 21st century.

March 30, 2017, 4:30-6:30, Center for Humanities
David Chidester, Professor of Comparative Religion, University of Cape Town
In this seminar, we will consider the genealogy of comparative religion. Not only did the discipline of comparative religion emerge out of Europe’s colonial encounters, but it can be argued that the very category of “world religions” betrays the traces of its genesis within a Christian theological framework.



April 3, 2017, 4:30-6:30, Alumnae Hall
"The Politics of Human Rights"

Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature, UC Berkeley
This lecture considers the operation of human rights in critical legal studies, deconstructive political thought, and postcolonial theory, with consideration of situated struggles in various global locations.

April 4, 2017
The Idea of Human Rights
Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature, UC Berkeley
The figure of “the human” is an enduring and powerful idea for political and ethical philosophy. This session investigates the genealogy of human rights, from European theories of natural man and natural rights and its political expression in 18th-century republican revolutions, to contemporary practices of international law, humanitarianism and social movements for justice, with consideration of Judith Butler’s recent work on precarity, grievability, speech and assembly.



April 20, 2017, 4:30-6:30, TBA
Sovereignty, Settler Colonialism, Territoriality and Resistance

Audra Simpson, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University
Jessica Cattelino, Associate Professor of Anthropology, UCLA
Settler colonialism leaves its marks on territory and bodies through displacement and destruction of communities, environmental change, construction of borders, and war. In this seminar, we consider practices that seek to create alternative sovereignties, geographies, and conceptions of belonging and intimacy.