2019-20 Old Dominion Public Lectures Feature Darwin, the Civil Rights Movement, Medieval Africa, and a Violin Concerto

October 22, 2019
Steven Mackey, William Schubel Conant Professor of Music and Old Dominion Research Professor (2019-20), will deliver the first Old Dominion Public Lecture entitled "Me Versus Them," on Wednesday, November 13, 2019.

This November, the Humanities Council launches the 2019-20 Old Dominion Public Lecture Series featuring its newly appointed Old Dominion Research Professors who will discuss their research and current projects with a wide audience. The first talk will be given by Professor of Music, Steven Mackey.

The series, which is in its second year, will continue through fall and spring semesters with talks by Rachael Z. DeLue, Kevin M. Kruse, and D. Vance Smith.

The Old Dominion program is designed to provide additional research time for faculty members and to enhance the humanities community more broadly by providing a core group of senior faculty, in the humanities and humanistic social sciences, with time and resources to engage colleagues and students from across the University in sustained discussions of their work. They are appointed for a term of one year. They will participate in Humanities Council activities and serve as Faculty Fellows in the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts.

The lectures will be held in 010 East Pyne at 4: 30 PM and are free and open to the public.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019: Steven Mackey

 “Me Versus Them”

Steven Mackey will talk about recent work focusing on works for soloist and orchestra, including two projects that will both have world premieres this fall. He will also discuss a violin concerto he wrote about the experience of his mother’s death.

Steven Mackey, the William Schubel Conant Professor of Music, is a Grammy award-winning composer with compositions ranging from orchestral and chamber music to dance and opera. He regularly performs his own work, including two electric guitar concertos and numerous solo and chamber works. Helping to shape the next generation of composers and musicians, he teaches composition, theory, twentieth century music, improvisation, and a variety of special topics. He regularly coaches and conducts new work by student composers, as well as 20th-century classics.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019: Rachael Z. DeLue

“Darwin’s Diagram”

Charles Darwin included only one illustration in On the Origin of Species when it was published in 1859.  Often described as a “tree of life,” the diagram represents divergence of character, a principle at the heart of Darwin’s theory of evolution.  A significant departure from prevailing conventions of scientific illustration, Darwin’s minimalist diagram appears to add little to his account.  So why did Darwin include it?  And why, apart from the diagram, did he in On the Origin of Species eschew illustrations, a staple of his earlier publications?  And why this illustration, given its marginal capacity to signify? In her talk, Rachael DeLue considers these questions, which form part of a larger project on Impossible Images and the Perils of Picturing.  

Rachael Z. DeLue, the Christopher Binyon Sarofim ’86 Professor in American Art, specializes in the history of American art and visual culture, with particular focus on intersections among art, science, and the history and theory of knowledge.  She has written about the French Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro, Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, the contemporary artists Kara Walker and Michael Ray Charles, the modern artist Romare Bearden’s only self-portrait, early American archaeology and Native America, landscape theory and practice, paintings of total solar eclipses, and medical diagnosis as a paradigm for art writing circa 1900.  Her books George Inness and the Science of Landscape (2005) and Arthur Dove: Always Connect (2016) reevaluate the practice of two important American artists.  Her current book project, Impossible Images and the Perils of Picturing, considers visual representations from the fine arts and the sciences of things that should be impossible to depict because of limits of visibility, perception, space, time, species, and medium.

DeLue teaches courses on a wide range of topics, including American Studies, American modernism, African American art, critical race theory, picture theory, landscape representation, art and the history of knowledge, and the visual and material culture of science. Her courses make regular use of area collections, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the American Museum of Natural History, as well as Princeton’s own art museum and Firestone Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020: Kevin Kruse

 “The Division: John Doar, the Justice Department and the Civil Rights Movement”

Kevin M. Kruse, Professor of History, will offer a talk drawn from his work-in-progress on the career of civil rights official John Doar.

The point man for civil rights for the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, Doar was a vital actor in countless crisis moments in the civil rights movement. He pioneered federal protections for voting rights, personally confronted segregationists at Ole Miss and the University of Alabama, put Klansmen on trial for the murders of civil rights activists (including the famous “Mississippi Burning” murders), laid the groundwork for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, and literally led the way in the Selma-to-Montgomery March.

Drawing on previously unused archival materials, Kruse hopes to use Doar’s career to provide new insights into these civil rights milestones as well as construct a new framework for understanding both the partisan realignment over civil rights and the tense relationship between federal, state and local authorities during the struggle for black equality. Doar’s contributions, long overlooked, are vital for understanding the civil rights struggle and its legacies today. When he awarded Doar the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, President Barack Obama noted “it’s fair to say I might not be here had it not been for his work.”

Kevin M. Kruse studies the political, social, and urban/suburban history of 20th-century America. Focused on conflicts over race, rights, and religion, he has particular interests in segregation and the civil rights movement, the rise of religious nationalism and the making of modern conservatism. He has taught undergraduate and graduate courses on twentieth-century U.S. history, race and racism in modern American politics, the civil rights movement, postwar suburbia, and the Religious Right, among other topics.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020: D. Vance Smith

“Blood Flowers: Recolonizations”

In his talk, Professor of English Vance Smith discusses how in law, scholarship, and the imagination, the Middle Ages shaped the colonization of Africa, and continues to shape efforts at decolonization. In Kenya, the devolution of centralized one-party power into provincial governments is also a reinscription of forms of distributed feudal power. To the extent that the Middle Ages was first conceived as a space of European forgetting–the in-between of history–it remains complicit in the European enjoyment of Africa. The deep medieval structure of land ownership in contemporary Kenya, for example, is visible in both colonial-era writing and in the contemporary shape of both the massive flower industry and the policies and practices of wildlife conservation. The European aesthetic contemplation of the world is entangled with the forgetting of a crucial part of Africa, and with the forgetting of the medieval roots of Europe’s colonization of Africa. 

D. Vance Smith has been a Fulbright Scholar (at Magdalen College, Oxford and King’s College, London), an NEH Fellow at the National Humanities Center, a Visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study, and a Guggenheim Fellow. His forthcoming book Arts of Dying: Literature and Finitude in Medieval England (University of Chicago Press) is the third book in a series examining the medieval limit experience. The first, The Book of the Incipit, concerns beginnings in medieval and modern philosophy and literature, with Piers Plowman as the central exhibit. The second book, Arts of Possession, meditates on dwelling in medieval romance and economic theory and practice.

The author of two ethnographies on the South Sudan, he works primarily at the nexus of anthropology and philosophy in medieval literature, and teaches and works extensively in philosophy and critical theory. He has written articles on Piers Plowman that examine grammatical theory, nationalism, negation, and the figure of Study, as well as essays on Chaucer on tragedy and Middle English literature. His articles also cover topics like textual editing and manuscript transmission; book history; the masculine body in Middle English writing; women’s account books; medieval institutions and literature; medieval literary and philosophical form; the genesis of philosophy out of fallacy.

He has edited a special issue of New Literary History on medieval cultural studies (with Michael Uebel), The Legitimacy of the Middle Ages: On the Unwritten History of Theory (with Andrew Cole),  Medieval Literature: Criticism and Debates (with Holly Crocker), and has written a number of prefaces and afterwords for essay collections and journals. Current projects include a study of negation in mysticism from Gregory of Nyssa to Julian Norwich, Love Without Object, and Modernity’s African Unconscious, which he will be working on during 2019-2020 as an Old Dominion Professor.

Read about the 2018-19 lectures.

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