Special Events

The Liberal Studies and Literature lecture series connects MALS and MALit students with Northwestern faculty presenting work from a range of engaging and thought-provoking topics. Visit the SPS events calendar to check for upcoming events.


Michelle Molina — Conversion Over Hot Chocolate: A Shipboard Interfaith Dialogue in the 18th Century

In 1768, a young Lutheran Swedish merchant left his home in Sweden. As Thjülen tells it, his quest for true religion — a religion in accord with reason — had begun with his love of French philosophy and literature, particularly the writings of Voltaire. Through his stepfather’s commercial connections, he took up life as a merchant, and on a journey from the Spanish port of Cádiz to the French island of Corsica, he found himself among 1,200 Jesuits who, recently expelled from Mexico, were en route to their exile in Bologna, Italy. The story that I tell here is one of encounter between religious “others.” Thjülen had no contact with Catholics prior to his journey to Spain. Similarly, the Jesuits who had been born in the Mexican Province had never met a Protestant. Five weeks on board a ship proved to be a very close encounter, indeed. I will share what we can learn from reading both Thjülen’s conversion narrative and the expulsion narratives authored by several Jesuits from the Mexican Province, to understand the suppositions both the Swedish Lutheran and the Mexican Catholics brought to the encounter, as well as the surprises they experienced on board.

Geraldo Cadava — History According to Trump, and the History of Trump

In this lecture, Geraldo Cadava places Donald Trump in the context of United States and world history, including both Trump’s understanding of American history, and how historians have compared him to prior leaders. Trump has talked about the darkness of the recent past, a yearning to return the country to better times, to “make America great again.” He has been called a fascist, a demagogue, a narcissistic tycoon, and many other names. What’s old and what’s new about these themes and labels, and how has their use and application changed across the twentieth century? These are the questions Cadava answers, in part based on his experience teaching a winter quarter seminar on “The History of the 2016 Election.”

Dilip Gaonkar — Crowds, Riots and the Politics of Representation

Crowds and riots are a frequently recurring feature of public life/sphere in cities and nations since the onset of modernity. They figure in democratic politics and struggles in complex ways, but are rarely approved or endorsed by the liberal democratic tradition. From the liberal perspective, there is something intrinsically “illiberal” about the crowd to the extent that it leads to the dissolution of the “individual.” Within the liberal imaginary, the individual is the bedrock of social ontology, moral responsibility and economic calculation and the crowd jeopardizes all those invaluable assets. Every crowd is a potential mob and susceptible to rioting and violence. Literary and cinematic representations of crowds and riots often express this liberal bias. At the same time, while negatively portraying crowds and riots, specific literary narratives and film scenes depict them as generative sources of collective action and energy indispensable for sustaining the social bond through a dialectic of conflict and reconciliation. His presentation will dwell on the implications of this representational ambivalence.

A Panel Led By Brian Edwards — Getting A Humanities Degree And Putting It To Work

A round table led by Professor Brian Edwards in which he discusses with recent graduates the interesting and unexpected directions they’ve gone since graduating from their respective master's programs. Alumni featured: Ignatius Aloysius, Elaine Joy Basa, Barbara Egel, and Devin Savage.

Susan J. Pearson — Age Ought to Be a Fact: The Campaign Against Child Labor and the Rise of the Birth Certificate in the U.S.

In this lecture, Professor Susan J. Pearson examines how the campaign against child labor transformed birth certificates into the most privileged evidence of individual identity. In the late nineteenth century, parental testimonials about children’s ages were considered adequate proof of age. Beginning in the early twentieth century, however, revised laws required children and their parents to submit “documentary proof” of age, preferably in the form of a birth certificate. These legal and administrative changes not only clashed with working class notions about “age” but also transformed the structure of the epistemological authority. The replacement of affidavits of age with birth certificates made age an objective fact. Professor Pearson teaches in the Department of History.

After the American Century: The Ends of U.S. Culture in the Middle East

In this lecture, Professor Brian Edwards (PhD Yale University) draws upon a decade of fieldwork in Cairo, Casablanca, and Tehran to argue that the ways that young Arabs and Iranians engage with American culture reflects a new set of global conditions – further arguing for a renewed understanding of how culture and geopolitics interrelate. Edwards is crown professor in Middle East Studies, professor of English, Comparative Literary Studies, and American Studies.

Christine Froula: Modernist Revolution and Contemporary Returns in 21st Century Art and Aesthetics

English Professor Christine Froula examines the many ways the Modernist Revolution relates to 21st-century art.

Finding Mango Street: Professor John Alba Cutler on Sandra Cisneros's Chicago

English Professor John Alba Cutler explores the Chicago setting of Sandra Cisneros's classic 1984 novel The House on Mango Street.

Anna Parkinson: Emotions and Democracy in Post-World War II Germany

Professor Anna Parkinson explores the relationship between emotions and democracy in post-World War II Germany, drawing on her new book, An Emotional State: The Politics of Emotion in Postwar West German Culture. This lecture argues against the prevailing notion that the post-war German population was characterized by a lack of emotion, and examined the ways in which emotional norms evolved during US-Allied led attempts at democratization and reeducation of the German population.

Rock on the Bones — Kate Baldwin

In a lecture that explores the intersection of film, music and literature, Professor Kate Baldwin examines the phenomenon of "rock on the bones" — vinyl records printed on discarded X-ray films — during the mid-Soviet period to rethink cultural narratives of opposition between the West and the East during the Cold War. Baldwin discusses this fascinating mode of transmitting western music into the Soviet Union, and draws on her book Cold War Hot Kitchen to complicate the notion that the fall of the Soviet Union depended upon the lure of Western consumer culture.

Renaissance Zombies — Kasey Evans

Twenty-first century popular culture seems to be witnessing a Zombie Renaissance right now, a fascination with the dead rising from the grave and the terrifying consequences of their return for those still living. Film, television, and new media scholars have their own theories about the reason for this Zombie Renaissance at this moment in history, but ours in not the first culture to be fascinated by the ways in which the dead return to trouble the living. Northwestern University Professor Kasey Evans turns from The Zombie Renaissance to Renaissance Zombies, and explores several strategies used by Renaissance playwrights, poets and theologians to represent the reanimation or resurrection of the dead. Touching on work by William Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, and Thomas Lodge, she discusses how Renaissance Zombies dramatized some of the same fears about the "walking dead" as we see in contemporary culture.

Christine Froula — The Zeppelin in the Sky of the Mind

By the time the First World War broke out, Count Zeppelin had developed the dirigible balloon for both pleasure and military use. On 6 August 1914, just days after war was declared, a German zeppelin bombed the Belgian city of Liège, killing nine civilians. Artillery bombing killed thousands more, yet with this unprecedented air attack on a European city — “the first attempt in history to strike directly at the will-to-resist of a civilian population in war” — modern war shattered the walls of the private house and the private/public divide, bringing the war into civilians’ houses, streets, and everyday lives. This illustrated lecture describes the impact of this war game-changing technology on British civilians' lives and psyches. Taking Virginia Woolf's writings--diaries, letters, novels, essays--as documents of British civilian responses to the wartime threat of aerial bombing, it shows the ways in which this new technology shadows her writings — and her life — from the Great War to her "Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid," written during the Blitz.

Brian Edwards — Shrek in Casablanca, Ben Affleck in Tehran: American Culture in Middle East Circulation

Drawn from his forthcoming book, After the American Century: Ends of Circulation in Cairo, Casablanca, and Tehran, Brian Edwards takes two cases where American cultural products make their way to the Middle East and North Africa, where they are taken up by publics in ways their producers never imagined. Edwards asks how culture circulates now, when the reputation of the US is continually changing, and when the pathways cultural products travel are unpredictable, accelerated, and full of diversions.

Nick Davis, How to Read a Film Adaptation

Nick Davis, associate professor of English and gender and sexuality at Northwestern University, uses literary excerpts and movie clips to illustrate different ways of experiencing films based on books. This presentation provides a window into his winter 2014 School of Professional Studies course Henry James and Film, as Davis compares films to the texts they adapt, and analyzes adaptation choices from scene to scene, shot to shot, and sentence to sentence.

Kasey Evans — Shakespeare's Ghosts

Four of Shakespeare's plays — Hamlet and Macbeth, most famously, along with Richard III and Julius Caesar — feature ghosts who return from beyond the grave to issue warnings, demands, portents or prophecies. In considering these Shakespearean ghosts, Northwestern Department of English and MALS instructor Kasey Evans explores the nature of these Shakespearean ghosts; the kinds of forces and memories they represent; and what, precisely, was haunting the Renaissance stage, and the psyches of its characters and its audiences.

Gerald Butters, KUUMBA and Blaxploitation in the 1970s

Venture into a forgotten chapter of Chicago's cultural history, as Northwestern Professor Gerald Butters explores the cultural effect of Blaxploitation films of the 1970s and the backlash against the genre led by a South Side Black Arts organization, The Kuumba Workshop, in the tumultuous years immediately following the Civil Rights Movement.

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