Previous Themes and Lecture Series

Fall 2023


Spring 2023

Take Care

Fall 2022

Pay Attention

Spring 2022

Islands as Metaphor and Method


Fall 2021

Consent & Subjection


Spring 2021

Ephemera Banner 2


Fall 2020

Dirt Image for Monday Night Lecture Series


Spring 2020

Revolutions: Material Forms, Mobile Futures

Revolutions: Material Forms, Mobile Futures


Fall 2019

Revolutions: Material Forms, Mobile Futures

Revolutions: Material Forms, Mobile Futures


Spring 2019

Hyperbole: Sense, Sensation, Spectacle

Hyperbole: Sense, Sensation, Spectacle


Fall 2018

Corporeal Techniques and Technologies

Corporeal Techniques and Technologies


Spring 2018

Grand Narratives/Modest Proposals

Grand Narratives/Modest Proposals


Fall 2017

Rethinking Necropolitics

Rethinking Necropolitics


Spring 2017

Spring 17

Intellectual Property/Intellectual Piracy


Fall 2016

Hope and Hopelessness Banner

Hope and Hopelessness


Spring 2016

spring 16



Fall 2015

Matters header

Matters that Matter

Matters that Matter Lecture Videos


Spring 2015

Mobilities Fall 2014


Mobilities Lecture Videos


Fall 2014

Mobilities Fall 2014


Mobilities Lecture Videos


Spring 2014



Audience(s) Lecture Videos


Fall 2013


Justice and Judgment

Justice and Judgment Lecture Videos


Spring 2013

emplacing the local

Emplacing the Local

Emplacing the Local Podcast


Fall 2012

Temporality: Stasis, Repetition, Transformation

Temporality: Stasis, Repetition, Transformation

Temporality: Stasis, Repetition, Transformation Podcast


Spring 2012

Visceral States: Affect and Civic Life poster

Visceral States: Affect and Civic Life

The term “affect” encompasses a range of bodily and social experiences that has traditionally been defined in contradistinction to rationality: visceral reactions, feelings, emotional attachments, and states of mood. Recent studies across the disciplines, from literature to political theory to neuroscience, have complicated this definition by according a foundational role to affect in human behavior and cognition. These inquiries destabilize the grounds on which affect has been excluded from rationalist discourses in both academic and public realms. This “affective turn” thus affords new possibilities for understanding aesthetics, reasoning, art, personal experience, power and the civic sphere, posing as well new problems for the conceptualization of feelings, emotion, and mood.

Our inquiry is organized around a broad scope of intra- and interdisciplinary questions, including: can the deployment or solicitation of affect in civil life be understood as complementary to—or even partially constitutive of—reasoned debate? How might fields such as moral philosophy, social theory, and psychology adjudicate between canonical rationalist frameworks and those proposing constitutive dynamics of affect? To what extent do aesthetic representations and practices provide grounds for new approaches to the interplay of affect, subjectivity, and sentiment in social life?


Fall 2011

Fact and Artifact poster

Fact and Artifact


To what extent has the modern fact been redefined as artifact, as an entity shaped by human hands? Scholars have at once recognized the production of facts about the empirical world as a central achievement of modernity and redefined facts not as paragons of objectivity but as markers of human intervention. Facts thus are alternately seen as a triumph of knowing or as products of social processes shaped by tools of witness, communities of inquiry, and methods of narration. Scholars of language, art, narrative, historical epistemology, philosophy, and archaeology have contributed to our understanding of how people fashion facts, which may in turn be accepted as veridical statements about reality or called into question as the conceptions of interested and historically situated human beings. They have explored, for instance, the practices and technologies used in apprehending the natural world: e.g. those used when collecting plants for herbaria and gene banks, or when tagging nutrients with radioisotopes. They have considered, too, the epistemological claims of aesthetic realism, the implication of historical facts in rhetorically constructed narratives, and the very possibility of establishing objects of knowledge in the humanities as facts in the sense in which that term has been used in the sciences. These investigations draw and redraw the lines between fact and artifact and fact and fiction – that is, not what we know to be true or false, but rather how we think we know it.

Under what conditions can facts be created? How do efforts to pin down empirical reality gain access to the material world? How do they depend upon symbolic or aesthetic logics of representation or produce such representations? What is at stake in the legal and moral order of facts? Does new knowledge change people’s aesthetic or moral sensibilities or alter their understandings of their first-hand experiences? What light can the study of artifacts shed on the status and function of facts in our world?


Fall 2010

Worlding poster





War poster



Wars bring brutality, death, upheaval, and trauma. Participants and survivors bear witness to the disruptions of war in concrete detail. Nothing is so urgently documented as war, and war-making itself is often organized with reverence and precision. Yet accounts of war struggle with the limits of their narrative grasp. How might we make sense of the very breakdown of meaning and order? Can war be understood, as commonly claimed, to be the continuation of politics by other means or is it more accurate to understand politics as the continuation of war by other means? By virtue of the vivid struggles bound up in our ordinary and literal understanding of combat, war inevitably becomes the ground for metaphorical extensions, and these in turn affect our understanding of war in its most visceral form. The interaction between concrete and symbolic dimensions of war is far from simple.

The Center for the Humanities invites scholars and visitors for 2009-2010 to shed light on the realities and meanings of war, and to explore whether and how these are changing. Is war paradoxically presented as a state of exception, yet one from which there is no exit? Has Kant’s ideal of “perpetual peace” yielded to an ideology and reality of eternal war? What is the impact of bringing war home to civilian life, whether in the marketing of combat games and paraphernalia or in the involuntary re-enactments of post-traumatic stress disorder? How has war become a paradigm for political projects such as “wars” on terror, cancer, drugs, or poverty? How are cultural debates figured as social battles such as the war on the family or gender wars? What new responses to war are emerging in politics, theory, and religious and social movements?



Figuring the Human poster

Figuring the Human

Founded in 1959, the Center for Humanities at Wesleyan University is among the oldest in the United States. In celebration of the Center’s 50th year, we seek to reflect upon the category of “the human” in the humanities.

At the time of the Center’s founding, this category was all but unquestioned; it was assumed that “the human” transcended all cultural and history specificity by virtue of a set of universal cognitive, moral, emotional, and creative attributes. The last fifty years have brought major challenges to these assumptions. The purported unity of the human subject, occasionally unsettled by claims such as those of psychoanalysis, has been trenchantly interrogated through post-structuralist appraisals of the human subject as decentered, fragmented, heteronomous, or “dead.”  Without a stable “humanity,” the humanities themselves consequently seem lacking epistemic foundation.  The visual and performing arts similarly have become sites for enacting critiques of identity, authorship and even creativity.  The long presumed universality of human nature, although periodically the subject of critique, also has been extensively contested through feminist, race, and queer studies; paralleling these innovative counter discourses are postcolonial critiques of the dominant western notions of the individual.  In the meantime, inventions in medicine, computer science, genetics and fiction have spawned thinking about the possibility of new categories of humans – hybrids, clones, cyborgs, and avatars. Alongside such explorations of the posthuman emerged fresh examinations of the not human, those animals usually taken to be other than and less than human. This rethinking has even occurred in certain social sciences where new knowledge has suggested that rationality and agency are quite different phenomena than long assumed.

On the occasion of the Center’s anniversary, we must ask ourselves a series of questions. How has the “human” been figured over the last fifty years? How has our understanding of what it means to be human changed?  What is the relationship between the animal and the human?  Is the human a singular kind?  How have the substantial even revolutionary challenges to long-established views of human nature influenced our commitment to understand the human condition?


2007/2008 - Revision and Translation

During both fall and spring semesters of 2007-2008, the Wesleyan University Center for the Humanities will consider the theme "Revision and Translation." We hope to pursue inquiry into the nature and role of revision in the academic disciplines as well as its natural counterpart, the project of translation. We will investigate what sorts of conditions stimulate revision and or translation and whether these conditions are discipline specific. But what constitutes a revision? What sorts of shifts qualify as revisions? What are the character, scope, and function of these revisions? Does (or should) a revision have the same sweep as a "paradigm shift"? Does translation itself qualify as "revision" or is there something else essential to the task of the translator?

Spring 2007 - Domesticity: Past, Present and Future

Fall 2006 - The Natural, the Unnatural, and the Supernatural

Spring 2006 - Hope and Fear

During the spring semester of 2006, the Wesleyan University Center for the Humanities will consider the theme "Hope and Fear." We will ask what hope and fear are, what they consist in. Are they best understood as elemental orientations? as feelings? as something else instead? How may they shape or motivate social movements? governmental policy? scientific programs? personal behavior? How have they been figured or represented in popular culture? art? dance? music? literature? How have they been conceptualized, analyzed, explained, valued, deployed, in theology? philosophy? psychology? psychoanalysis? political theory? economic theory? law? historiography?

Fall 2005 - Culture and Policy

During the fall semester of 2005, the Wesleyan University Center for the Humanities will consider the theme "Culture and Policy." We will ask how culture is, and has been, related to public policy. How have cultural norms and practices of various kinds including, for instance, marriage customs--philanthropy--sport --etiquette--rituaI--highway design--film-going--dietary usage--television- viewing--novel reading--architecture--post-secondary education--systems of class and caste and race classification--influenced public policy? in democratic regimes? in non-democratic regimes? in the past? in the present? And how has public policy in turn influenced cultural norms and practices? Also, should there be any limits to the use of public policy to influence cultural norms! and practices? and if so, what should those limits be?

Spring 2005 - Truth

During the spring semester of 2005, the Wesleyan University Center for the Humanities will focus on the theme "Truth."  We will consider questions such as these:  How has truth been variously understood, conceived, represented, valued, de-valued, at different times, in different places?  in philosophy, in the arts, in religious doctrine, in ritual observance, in social science, in physical science, in psychoanalysis, in social movements, in popular cultures?  Is any one understanding of truth preferable to all others?  Is realistic fiction more truthful than any other kind?  Can dance or poetry or music convey truth, and if so, in what sense?  Should they endeavor to convey truth?

Fall 2004 - Human and Other Rights

During the fall semester of 2004, the Wesleyan University Center for the Humanities will focus on the theme "Human and Other Rights."  We will consider questions such as these:  Are there rights which should be secured for all human beings?  If so, what are these rights?  Can they be known, found, through philosophical inquiry, through the arts including literature, through anthropological or sociological study?  How might such rights best be secured?  Should all or some of these rights be secured for non-human beings?  How has the modern conception of rights developed historically?  Is this conception distinctively Christian?  distinctively liberal?  distinctively Western?  Is it linked to imperialism?  Is it insufficiently regardful of difference? Is it based on reason?

Spring 2004 - Moving Images

Fall 2003 - Tracing the Past, Plotting the Future

Spring 2003 - Mimesis

Fall 2002 - Transnationalisms, Past and Present

Spring 2002 - Politics, Learning, Pedagogy

Fall 2001 - Defining Humanity: Unity and Difference

Spring 2001 - Performance

Fall 2000 - Rethinking the Twentieth Century

Spring 2000 - Lives of the City

Fall 1999 - The Problem of Aesthetics

Spring 1999 - Discourses of Progress and Development: The Return of Religion

Fall 1998 - Discourse of Progress and Development: Local, National, Regional, and Global Histories

Spring 1998 - Cultural and Visual Representation

Fall 1997 - Cultural History and Cultural Studies

Spring 1997 - Producing the Past

Fall 1996 - Culture and the Market

Spring 1996 - Utopia and Apocalypse

Fall 1995 - Cultural Constructions of the State

Spring 1995 - Discourses of Childhood and Youth

Fall 1994 - Culture and Resistance

Spring 1994 - Race and Culture

Fall 1993 - Global Culture: After the Nation State

Spring 1993 - Culture and the Uses of Nature

Fall 1992 - Making and Selling Culture

Spring 1992 - Cultural Spaces and Audiences

Fall 1991 - Cultural Studies, the Humanities and the Social Sciences

Spring 1991 - Migrating Texts

Fall 1990 - Narratives of Resistance and Empowerment

Spring 1990 - Structures of Narratives

Fall 1989 - Massproducing Narratives

Spring 1989 - The Cultural Myth of Modernity

Fall 1988 - Narrative as a Form of Knowledge

Spring 1988 - History: Remembered, Recovered, Invented

Fall 1987 - Stories and the Moral Life: Narrative as Pedagogy and Inquiry

Spring 1987 - Film and Culture

Fall 1986 - The Cannon: Social Theory

Spring 1986 - Religion, Tradition and Transformation

Fall 1985 - Construction and the "Other"

Spring 1985 - Peace and Society

Fall 1984 - Popular Culture and People's History

Spring 1984 - On Community

Fall 1983 - Reconstructing the Disciplines

Spring 1983 - Autobiography and Other Presentations of Self

Fall 1982 - Studies in Sex and Gender

Spring 1982 - Nihilism and the Irrational

Fall 1981 - The Humanities and Authority:The Problematic Role of Humanistic Education in Society and Culture

Spring 1981 - On War

Fall 1980 - The Book

Spring 1980 - Marriage and the Ideologies of Love

Fall 1979 - Comedy and Humor

Spring 1979 - Literacy, Class, and Culture

1978-1979 - The Nature and Function of Perception

1977-1978 - The Theory and Practice of the Humanities

Spring 1976 - Language of Elites

Fall 1975 - Masses and Elites in American Culture

Spring 1975 - Death and Civilization

Fall 1974 - Art and Criminality

Spring 1974 - No theme

Fall 1973 - No theme

Spring 1973 - Interpretation

Fall 1972 - Mimesis

Spring 1972 - Responsibilites of Artists and Intellectuals

1970-1971 - Varieites of Language

1969-1970 - The Humanities in Revolution