Being Human at Princeton in 2019

Nate Gadiano '20 connects poetry read aloud to paintings in the Princeton University Art Museum for "The Art of Being Human: St. Cecilia Through Poetry and Film" on Dec. 12, 2019. Photo: Ruby Shao

Being Human 2019 spanned October 11, 2019 through January 9, 2020. Presenters collaborated with local organizations including museums, businesses, restaurants, arts centers, historical societies, community theaters, and more. Themed “Discoveries and Secrets,” over 20 activities revealed untold stories, hidden histories, and mysteries of our towns or cities. The largely off-campus celebration brought incredible research to a variety of audiences. All programming was free.

2019 Publicity

University Homepage: Princeton expands ‘Being Human’ festival to communities on campus and in greater New Jersey

Council Website: BEING HUMAN: 2019 Festival Sparks Humanities Insights Among over 1,000 Participants Across New Jersey

2019 Program

Friday, Oct. 11, 7:00 – 8:30 pm, McCosh 50

The Spirit of Truth-Seeking I

Art Project

Being Human invites local artists using any medium to capture “The Spirit of Truth-Seeking,” based on their experience of the conversation among Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions and Cornel West *80, Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy, Harvard University; Class of 1943 University Professor in the Center for African American Studies, Emeritus, Princeton University. Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83, Princeton University President, will provide a welcome and introduction. Hosted by the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. Open to the public. (Artwork from “The Spirit of Truth-Seeking I” will be displayed on Saturday, Dec. 7 through Saturday, Dec. 14 at the Arts Council of Princeton under “The Spirit of Truth-Seeking II.”) More

Friday, Oct. 11, 4:30 – 7:30 pm, East Pyne 010

Belonging(s) in Movement


This performance of readings, spoken word, and traditional storytelling will launch three days of celebrating indigenous and immigrant tales from the Americas, presented by the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. Festivities will begin on the day recognized as the anniversary of when Christopher Columbus landed in the Caribbean, as this history and its legacies unfold through art, narrative, and praxis. The performance is open to the public. Participation in the following days’ workshops is by application only. More

Friday, Oct. 18, 8:30 am – 5:00 pm, Aaron Burr 219

The Powers of African Spirituality in Global Consciousness: Light, Vision, & Truth


Featuring priestesses and priests from the Akan sacred path of African spirituality, alongside related healers, practitioners, and scholars, this interdisciplinary gathering will explore the recent revitalizations of African spirituality. Open to the public. More

Saturday, Nov. 2, 4:30 – 6:00 pm, Nassau Hall

Princeton’s Civil War

Guided Tour

Princeton University did not go to war when the American Civil War broke out in 1861, but a substantial number of its alumni and students did—as many as 600, of whom 86 died during the conflict. This figure will surprise those familiar with only the 62 Civil War alumni names appearing in the Memorial Atrium in Nassau Hall. Further surprising discoveries will be discussed on a tour by Professor Allen C. Guelzo, the foremost expert on the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln, who will present the Civil War as experienced by Princeton University. Co-sponsored by the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions.

Tickets are limited and required for this free event. Those selected through the lottery will be notified on Monday, Oct. 28. Register for the lottery here.


Thursday, Nov. 7 – Thursday, Dec. 19; 8:30 – 11:00 am; Garden State Youth Correctional Facility

Discovering Gandhi in Prison

Study Group

Discovering the profound way in which prison was the secret to the ethics and actions of Mohandas K. Gandhi, this study group will meet weekly for six weeks, reading and discussing Gandhi’s Autobiography alongside other essential writings. Princeton University lecturer Mark Edwards will convene the sessions with twenty residents inside Garden State Youth Correctional Facility (GSYCF). More

Wednesday, Nov. 13, 4:30 – 5:30 pm, Labyrinth Books

Formations of Belief: Historical Approaches to Religion and the Secular


Just published in September 2019 by Princeton University Press, Formations of Belief: Historical Approaches to Religion and the Secular examines changing attitudes toward religion and spirituality as secularism declines. The essay collection explores new perspectives on the ebb and flow of beliefs, their core orientations, and how the Reformation along with the Renaissance enabled the rise of the secular in the industrialized Western world. In this event, editor Philip Nord will be interviewed by Libby Zinman Schwartz, a Princeton-based freelance writer and therapist combining Eastern theory with Western psychotherapy, as part of a discussion with audience members. All are welcome. Open to the public. More

Wednesday, Nov. 13, 7:00 – 9:00 pm, Murray Theater

Socrates NOW

Interactive Performance and Talkback

Think. Question. Change. Plato’s timeless classic The Apology of Socrates will unfold in a solo performance-discourse by Emmy Award winner Yannis Simonides. Presented by the Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies, this accessible and interactive rendition of Socratic ethics has received great acclaim at the United Nations, the Athens Agora, the NBC TODAY Show, and in close to 500 venues internationally. Leading world universities have combined Socrates NOW with interactive seminars on how Socrates’s ideas apply to society today. All ages are welcome. Open to the public. More

Friday, Nov. 15 – Friday, Dec. 13; 5:30 – 7:00 pm; Lawrence Community Center

Conversations on Identity and Difference

Discussion Group

In four Friday sessions—Nov. 15, Nov. 22, Dec. 6, and Dec. 13—students and community members will reflect upon service and civic engagement, exploring how narratives can ultimately increase self-awareness among diverse backgrounds, communities, and environments. Through readings and conversations with leaders from Princeton University as well as People & Stories, participants will not only discover previously unexamined parts of themselves, but also critically engage with the people around them. Open to the public. Direct any questions to Kira O’Brien: More

Thursday, Nov. 21, 4:30 – 7:30 pm, Princeton University Art Museum

States of Health: Visualizing Illness and Healing

Workshop, Concert, and Guided Tour

Being Human will support three Princeton University Art Museum activities surrounding a new exhibition, States of Health: Visualizing Illness and Healing. The exhibition features over 80 globe-spanning works of art, from antiquity to the present—including paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, photographs, and works in mixed media—that collectively illuminate the role that art plays in shaping our perceptions and experiences of illness and healing. Being Human will cover the following:

4:30 pm: An invitation-only gallery workshop led by Dr. Kevin Liou, who uses museums and art to teach medicine, targeting pre-med students, lab workers, and MD/PhD candidates

5:30 pm: A Princeton Chamber Music Society concert, “Being Sound: Music, Madness, and Medicine,” that explores the multifaceted intersection of music and medicine, open to the public

5:30 pm: An invitation-only tour given by Princeton University molecular biology graduate student Robert LeDesma, the research assistant for the exhibition, to medical professionals from the Princeton Medical Center


Friday, Nov. 22, 2:00 – 3:30 pm, Nassau Hall

Words and Places: A Literary Tour and Walking Workshop

How do the environment and literature of Princeton connect with each other? This guided tour will intersperse historic sites with readings from Princeton-related literature. Leaders will represent Princeton Writes, an initiative that nurtures and celebrates non-academic writing among staff, students, and faculty at Princeton University, as well as the Historical Society of Princeton. The tour will stop at sites on campus that are linked with historic literature or writers who have lived and worked at the University, such as the former train stop that F. Scott Fitzgerald described in This Side of Paradise. Participants are encouraged to bring notebooks, pens, and gloves for warmth, in order to free-write during the tour whenever inspiration hits. Afterwards, all participants are invited to send their pieces to Princeton Writes, which will feature a selection on its website. Open to the public. Registration here is preferred, though not essential, and participants should assemble in front of the main entrance to Nassau Hall no later than 2:00 pm. More

Tuesday, Dec. 3; 4:30 – 6:30 pm; Princeton Public Library, 2nd Floor Conference Room

Queer Letters: Writing Stories About Identities, Families, Gender, Cultures, and Communities

Workshop and Interactive Exhibit

Centering on queer and trans experiences, this workshop will invite participants to explore questions of identity through guided free-writes, such as How does your family accept or respond to your gender expression or sexual identity? and What does it feel like to live in your body? Their writings will be shared on postcards around Princeton encouraging members of the community to interact with the project by writing on and mailing the displayed postcards.

Led by Kelly Lin-Kremer, Data and Project Coordinator in the Department of History, whose work has been published or is forthcoming in Edible Jersey and InQluded, and Claire Spaulding, Springboard Innovation Fellow at the Center for Jewish Life, whose work has been published in Daily Science Fiction and YA Pride, in collaboration with the Princeton Public Library.

Spots are limited and registration here is required for this free event. More

Saturday, Dec. 7, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm, Murray-Dodge

Refugee Oral History Convention

Workshop and Lunch

To incorporate more diverse voices as interviewers and narrators, the Office of Religious Life will invite around 20 resettled refugees to a day-long oral history convention funded by Being Human. The refugees will become RRP oral history fellows by receiving a three-hour training in oral history methods, having lunch with around 20 Princeton University students who have undergone similar training, and spending an afternoon interviewing their fellow refugees. In the process, the refugees will gain professional development, engage in civic life, and educate locals about the lives of refugees. Altogether, the refugees and students, representing different religions and regions, will together sustain an interfaith, intercultural dialogue to explore how newcomers contribute to their communities. More

Saturday, Dec. 7; 2:00 – 5:00 pm; D&R Greenway Land Trust at the Johnson Education Center, 1 Preservation Place

Literature and Environment: A Reading and Creative Writing Colloquium

This colloquium invites participants to creatively examine the role of literature in tackling the environmental crisis. Professor William Gleason and PhD candidate Kate Thorpe, both from the Department of English, will lead the event with insights from their undergraduate seminar “Literature and Environment.” Convening at the D&R Greenway Land Trust headquarters, participants will first closely read a poem, analyzing not only how the writer imagines relationships between humans and the natural world, but also the formal strategies used by the poet. Next, participants will walk along the Scott and Hella McVay Poetry Trail, where they will learn to craft their own poems. Open to the public. More

Saturday, Dec. 7 – Saturday, Dec. 14; 9:00 am – 5:00 pm; Arts Council of Princeton

The Spirit of Truth-Seeking II


The Arts Council of Princeton will host an exhibit of pieces commissioned from “The Spirit of Truth-Seeking I,” in which Being Human invited local artists using any medium to capture the Friday, October 11 conversation among Princeton University Professor Robert George, Harvard University Professor Cornel West *80, and Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83. A closing reception will feature Professor George on Saturday, Dec. 14 from 3:00 – 4:00 p.m. Inspired by the dialogue, the artwork will delve into the truth-seeking mission of colleges and universities. Each creation will consider the virtues needed if frontiers of knowledge are to be pushed back, understanding of complex matters is to be deepened, and wisdom is to be found. Open to the public on Mondays through Saturdays from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm; closed Sundays. More

Monday, Dec. 9; 7:00 – 9:00 pm; Princeton Public Library, Community Room

Improv and Being Human


The Princeton Graduate Improv Club, along with New York-based improvisation instructors, will teach audience members improvisation. Improvisation spurs creative thinking, confidence in public speaking, and unconventional problem-solving. It offers an antidote to social anxiety and expels tension through collective self-expression and laughter. Open to the public. Please email if interested. More

Tuesday, Dec. 10, 5:30 – 8:00 pm, Jammin’ Crepes

Prescription Vegetable?

Dinner with Lectures

“Prescription Vegetable?” will explore food as an entry point for human connection, and in particular the ways in which “plant-forward” and “place-based” eating can bring health to both individual bodies and systems of community agriculture. To reveal local foodscapes, food insecurities, and food initiatives, Professor Andrew Chignell (Religion and University Center for Human Values), Associate Research Scholar Tessa Lowinske Desmond (American Studies), and undergraduate Alice Wistar ’20 will partner with the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey to host a special dinner at Jammin’ Crepes on Nassau St. Dr. Ron Weiss of Ethos Health will give a presentation on the importance of conscientious eating for the health of humans and land alike. Space is limited and registration here is required. More

Thursday, Dec. 12, 2:30 – 9:00 pm, McCormick 101 and Princeton University Art Museum

The Art of Being Human: St. Cecilia Through Poetry and Film

Film Screening, Guided Tour, Performance, and Roundtable

Celebrating the aesthetic riches of the Princeton University Art Museum, a series of interdisciplinary events will examine human nature from the perspectives of music, poetry, painting, stained glass, and sculpture. The festivities will revolve around Edward Burne Jones’s luminous stained glass portrait of the pensive Saint Cecilia. A screening of George Frideric Handel’s oratorio Alexander’s Feast will intersect with a live performance of Gustav Holst’s “Four Songs for Voice and Violin” and a roundtable featuring professional artist-scholars as panelists. In “Poetry Night at the Museum,” an interactive tour of ancient, medieval, and modern exhibits, wonder researcher Joe Perez-Benzo ’17 will offer commentary while pairing paintings with poems read aloud. Open to the public. Registration is required and will open here later. More

Thursday, Dec. 12, 4:30 – 6:30 pm, Princeton Entrepreneurial Hub

The Secret Lives of PhDs

Panel, TedTALK, Poster Campaign, and Social Media

Quickly search Google Images for “professor” or “PhD.” What do you see? Perhaps solitary figures in front of chalkboards, or groups of scholars in full medieval regalia. A panel of PhDs will speak about their myth-busting experiences, answering questions from the audience about their training, research, and current use of their degree. Subsequently, four current graduate students in the humanities will share their dissertation research in TEDTalk fashion. Open to the public. RSVP by emailing More

Twitter: @SecretLivesPhDs

Thursday, Dec. 12, 7:00 – 10:00 pm, McCosh 50

Equivocation: A Play Reading and Panel

Equivocation whirls through William Shakespeare, his daughter Judith, the undercover Jesuit priest Fr. Henry Garnett, the Gunpowder Plot, and the history of Catholics in England. Alexi Sargeant of The Aquinas Institute for Catholic Life at Princeton University will direct a performance including members of The Playwright’s Guild at Princeton University. Followed by a discussion with Equivocation’s author Bill Cain and Princeton University or Princeton Theological Seminary professors. Open to the public. More

Saturday, Dec. 14, 1:00 – 4:00 pm, Arts Council of Princeton

Redesign Your Workplace: Space and Creativity

Workshop and Interactive Exhibit

The spaces where we work, play, rest, and socialize might affect our thinking more than we realize. Which ideas strike kids in fenced, concrete yards, as opposed to expansive, grassy playgrounds? What about employees in gray cubicles versus colorful clusters? Incorporating groundbreaking psychology and neuroscience, this interactive exhibit will encourage participants to arrange three scenes—an office, a classroom, and a domestic room—with a view to creativity. Open to the public. Register for a one-hour slot here to guarantee your spot. More

Saturday, Dec. 14; 5:00 – 7:00 pm; Mana Contemporary, Mana Theater (Jersey City)

Serve It Forth

Workshop and Interactive Exhibit

“Serve It Forth” will examine the intersection of attention and taste. Participants will reconsider fundamental questions about food and sensory experience while sharing a multi-course meal under heightened conditions of mindful awareness. The trajectory will echo the writings of the great American food thinker, M.F.K. Fisher. For her, communicating taste to others is difficult, because taste is so abstract and ephemeral — but, when shared, taste must be narrativized. Telling a personal story of taste thus resembles unearthing, and conveying, a secret. Food will be variously sourced from individual chefs as well as members of the Jersey City restaurant community. All concerns regarding food allergies should be sent to Registration here is required. More

Wednesday, Dec. 18; 7:00 – 8:30 pm; Princeton Public Library, Community Room

Illuminating Incarceration in Antiquity Through Digital Humanities

Lecture and Workshop

Professors Matthew Larsen in Religion and Caroline Cheung in Classics will guide audiences into incarceration in antiquity in conjunction with the use of digital humanities. In addition, they will use 3D modeling, virtual reality, and 3D printing technologies to see layouts of entire ancient prisons, as well as experience one ancient prison through a virtual reality walkthrough of a 3D model. Open to the public. More

Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, 6:00 – 9:00 pm, Source of Knowledge Bookstore (Newark)

The Thicker Than Water Open Mic

Performance and Fundraiser

Newark, New Jersey bears the most lead poisoning in the state, among the greatest amounts recently recorded by any large water system in America. Legal battles involving authorities as high as the Environmental Protection Agency continue to deprive this largely Black population of clean water in their homes or schools. “The Thicker Than Water Open Mic” will serve as a free show that simultaneously provides clean water to people in Newark. Black student poets from Princeton University’s premier group Ellipses, including Aniyah Smith, the youth poet laureate of Washington, D.C., will perform alongside the Newark Youth Poetry Team. Open to the public. More

Read about Being Human 2019 on the University homepage.

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