Past Lectures


To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising and the bicentennial celebration of American poet Walt Whitman, Caldicott-winning illustrator Brian Selznick (The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Harry Potter) and Whitman scholar Karen Karbiener came to Rhodes. Their visit celebrated the publication of Live Oak, With Moss, a series of 12 poems that Whitman wrote, but never published together in his lifetime, that were the first ode to homosexual love in American letters, beautifully illustrated by Selznick.

Memphis: 200 Years Together
Communities in Conversation hosted a panel discussion with 4 contributors to Memphis: 200 Years Together, followed by a concert by Motel Mirrors, featuring Amy LaVere and John Paul Keith.

Quinn Slobodian | From the End of Empire to the End of Neoliberalism?: The Alt-Globalization of the Right-Wing Backlash
Drawing upon his much-touted book, Globalists, Quinn Slobodian will trace the development of neo-liberalism and explore its consequences for the rise of the populist right.

Barbara King | Personalities on the Plate: The Lives and Minds of the Animals We Eat
Drawing on her book, Barbara King will consider the ethical implications that emerge from a hard look at the cognition and emotion of animals we eat.


Claire Colebrook: 200th Anniversary of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Colebrook will bring an environmental lens to Shelly’s text. Not only does 2018 mark the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein, but it also marks nearly two decades since the concept of the Anthropocene was proposed as a new stratum—marking a threshold, where the human imprint has altered the earth at a geological level. Frankenstein might seem to be the anti-Promethean manifesto for our time, warning us against playing God, asking us to be more mindful of the moral presence of nature, a cautionary tale about scientific and technological hubris. There is, however, a hyper-Promethean way in which Colebrook wants to read Shelley’s Frankenstein. She will suggest that rather than take on Victor Frankenstein’s moral anguish and guilt for over-reaching, perhaps we should look at the world from the point of view of the orphaned creature, whose only thought of life is not survival, procreation, and longevity: not living on, but living with nature.

Stephanie Elizondo Griest: Dispatches from the U.S. Borderlands
Griest will address how after she spent a decade chasing stories around the globe, she returned home to her native South Texas, which post-9/11 was radically transformed in her absence. Ravaged by drug wars and barricaded by an eighteen-foot steel wall, her ancestral land had become the nation’s foremost crossing ground for undocumented workers, many of whom perished along the way. The frequency of these tragedies seemed like a terrible coincidence, before Griest moved to the New York / Canada borderlands, where she discovered striking parallels. Tejanos and Mohawks alike struggle under the legacy of colonialism, toxic industries surround their neighborhoods, while the U.S. Border Patrol militarizes them. Combating these forces are legions of artists and activists devoted to preserving their indigenous cultures
Colson Whitehead: The Underground Railroad
Colson Whitehead visited Rhodes campus as part of the Memphis Reads/Rhodes Reads program for a lecture, Q&A, and booksigning of his National Book Award and Pulitzer-prize winning novel, The Underground Railroad.


Tasty Conversation 
Wine tasting and gallery showing of Ecole de Paris painter David Malkin followed by a discussion of Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time led by Ernest Gibson.

Digital Baldwin 
James Baldwin’s work has become a touchstone in our present cultural moment. CiC will stoke a cross-city series of conversations under the rubric of Baldwin Now. Baldwin is an intellectual forebearer of Ta-Nehisi Coates, Jesmyn Ward, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and a key reference for post-civil rights discussions of race in America. As such, Baldwin continues to be a cultural catalyst for American society.

Featuring Zandria Robinson, Terrence Tucker, and Ernest Gibson. Each will introduce, screen, and discuss a video clip of Baldwin as a means to inform, to contextualize, and to highlight aspects of Baldwin’s work.

Pearce Shakespeare Symposium
Jews and Muslims in Shakespeare’s World

In spite of enduring myths about their absence, Jews and Muslims were a complex presence in Tudor England, whether as imagined stage caricatures or actual political agents. Jerry Brotton and James Shapiro, two preeminent cultural historians of the Renaissance, will engage in a far-ranging dialogue about how Judaism and Islam were — and remain — part of the British national story.

Baldwin Now Symposium
Keynote lecture by Dwight McBride, author of Impossible Witness, Why I Hate Abercrombie and Fitch, and editor of James Baldwin Now.

Roundtable discussion with leading Baldwin scholars Quentin Miller, Soyica Colbert, and Magdalena Zaborowska. Moderated by Ernest Gibson.


Dread Scott: The Impossibility of Freedom in a Country Founded on Slavery and Genocide
Dread Scott makes revolutionary art to propel change. In this lecture and performance, he will talk about the development of his artwork and the relationship between art and political action in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Dread Scott’s art has been exhibited at the MoMA PS1, the Contemporary Art Museum Houston, The Walker Art Center, and in America is Hard to See at the new Whitney Museum. His work has been denounced on the Senate floor and became part of a landmark first amendment Supreme Court decision during the "culture wars" of the early 1990’s.

Memphis Reads
Memphis Reads book talk and book signing with Jesmyn Ward | September 28 @ 7:00 pm
Christian Brothers University Theater

Jesmyn Ward in conversation with Rhodes Readers | September 29 @ 6:00 p.m. Q&A
McCallum Ballroom, Bryan Campus Life Center, Rhodes College (reception @ 5:30 pm)

Memphis Reads author Jesmyn Ward was the 2011 National Book Award winner for her novel Salvage the Bones, a story about a poor, rural, black family set during the days of Hurricane Katrina. Ward, a survivor of Katrina, comes from a very small, impoverished community in Southern Mississippi where she rode out the storm with her family at her grandmother’s house. She used her experience to tell the fictional tale of a family caught in a net of social forces and their fight to survive.

Michael Bess – Icarus 2.0: Enhancing Human Bodies and Minds through Biotechnology
Biotechnology is moving fast. In the coming decades, advanced pharmaceutical, bioelectronic, and genetic technologies will be used not only to heal the sick but to boost human physical and mental performance to unprecedented levels. The results will no doubt be mixed. People will live longer, healthier lives, enjoying a wide range of radically new capabilities, but these technologies also threaten to blur the boundary between “person” and “product,” widening the rift between rich and poor and forcing people into constant upgrades merely to keep up. This lecture will survey the ethical questions raised by human performance enhancement, exploring the space for human agency in dealing with the many societal challenges that these technologies will present. 

Sarah Bakewell – At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails
Existentialism was one of the most exciting movements of the twentieth century, inspiring several generations with its philosophy of liberation, authenticity, and political activism. Its concerns are remarkably close to those argued over today, from questions about freedom and purpose to the difficulties of living authentically in a technologically networked world. Sarah Bakewell, author of At the Existentialist Café, will explore the lives of the best-known existentialists, especially Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, and ask what they still have to offer in the 21st century.

Mel Chin - Memphis: Art and Place 
The symposium “Memphis: Art and Place” considered how the arts have defined and shaped our city, aiding social change, community building, and urban development. It opened with a keynote lecture by acclaimed conceptual visual artist Mel Chin.

The symposium featured a full slate of discussions, including a plenary lecture by scholar and urban planner Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson. Conference participants also attended the opening performance of Ballet Memphis’s “Places” show.

Steve Ash – A Massacre in Memphis: The Bloody Race Riot of 1866
In May 1866, a year after the Civil War ended, the city of Memphis erupted in a three-day spasm of racial violence aimed at the recently-freed African American people who lived there. More than forty black men and women were murdered, many more injured, and all of the city's black schools and churches and many homes destroyed by fire. Professor Ash's talk examined the origins of the riot, described its horrific violence, and assessed its significance in American history.

Thomas Christensen – 1616: The World in Motion 
1616 was a momentous year, marked not only by the deaths of Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Tang Xianzu, but also cultural contact (and conflict) around the globe: Japan was closed to foreigners; Pocahontas visited London; Galileo discussed heliocentrism at the Vatican; a smallpox epidemic decimated the indigenous population of New England; Harvey lectured on the circulation of blood; and the first slaves arrived in the Bermudas. Writer Thomas Christensen surveyed 1616 as a year of the “World in Motion,” discussing fascinating images from the visual arts in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. Christensen's talk was the keynote for the 1616 Symposium, which featured lectures across the liberal arts and a performance based on the last days of Shakespeare’s life.


Valentino Achak Deng - "What Is the What"
Valentino Achak Deng who, along with thousands of other children, the so-called Lost Boys, was forced to leave his village in Sudan as a young boy and trek hundreds of miles by foot, pursued by militias, government bombers, and wild animals, crossing the deserts of three countries to find freedom. When he finally resettled in the United States, he found a life full of promise, but also heartache and myriad new challenges.

Mike Davis - "Planet of Slums"
Mike Davis, Professor Emeritus at University of California, Riverside, a Macarthur Fellow and the author of more than 20 books, spoke about his book Planet of Slums, which investigates the increasing inequality of the urban world. According the U.N., more than one billion people now live in the slums of cities. Davis discussed the meaning and the future of this radically unequal and unstable urban world.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia - “Constitutional Interpretation” 
Justice Scalia, nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, is the longest serving current member of the Court. In nearly three decades of service, Justice Scalia has become known as a forceful advocate for adhering to the original meaning of the constitutional text and he addressed this approach in this Constitution Day Lecture.

Sven Beckert - “Empire of Cotton” 
Dr. Sven Beckert, the Laird Bell Professor of American History at Harvard University, spoke about his book Empire of Cotton: A Global History. A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and winner of the Bancroft Prize, the most prestigious award for works on American history, the official announcement called it “a masterful achievement in the burgeoning field of the study of capitalism…an expansive global history that also helps us rethink the history of the United States, lifting our understanding of American slavery, cotton production, the Civil War, and Reconstruction out of the parochial confines of nation-centered history.”

Preston Lauterbach - "Beale Street Dynasty"
Preston Lauterbach's latest book, Beale Street Dynasty: Sex, Song, and the Struggle for the Soul of Memphis, tells the vivid history of Beale Street – a lost world of swaggering musicians, glamorous madams, and ruthless politicians. Lauterbach was the keynote lecturer for the three-day Beale Street Symposium.

Dr. Nell Irvin Painter - "The History of White People"
Dr. Painter’s The History of White People covers more than 2000 years of Western civilization, illuminating not only the invention of race but the concept of “whiteness” and exploring how racial and gender identity have figured into the history of America and the West. She discussed how many ethnic groups now regarded as white, like the Irish, Jews, and Italians, were once excluded from American society.

Scott Samuelson - "Suffering and Soul-Making: On the Deep Value of the Liberal Arts"
According to Dr. Scott Samuelson, there are two general visions of suffering – the "Promethean" attitude, which holds that we'd be better off if we could minimize, perhaps even eliminate, suffering; and the "Orphic" attitude, which holds that finding ways of coming to terms with suffering is a crucial part of how we form our identities. Though skills pertinent to both attitudes should be cultivated in a good education, the Promethean attitude now threatens to drown out some of what's crucial in the Orphic approach. The deep value of studying the liberal arts is that it helps us in what John Keats called "soul-making."

Brian Greene - "The BIg Bang to the End of Time"
Through a remarkable series of theoretical and observational breakthroughs, science has given a sharp insight into the universe's earliest moments and future. Dr. Brian Greene, physicist and mathematician, took the audience on a cosmic journey.


James D. LeSeuer - "Between Terror and Democracy"
James LeSueur discussed the upheaval that occurred in Algeria in the early 1990s, when Islamic reformers were democratically elected for the first time in the Middle East, only to be confronted by the Algerian military, plunging the country into a decade-long civil war. He examined what went wrong and discuss Algeria’s controversial experiments to achieve reconciliation with militant Islamists.

Michael Roth - "Beyond the University - Why Liberal Education Matters"
Drawing on his new book, Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters, Michael Roth discussed the debate over the benefits of a liberal education, focusing on important moments and seminal thinkers in America’s long-running argument over vocational vs. liberal education.

Melvin I. Urofsky - "Dissent and the Constitution"
Melvin I. Urofsky explored some of the great dissents and dissenters in the history of the United States Supreme Court. Specifically, Urofsky discusses how dissenting opinions, which represent the “losing” side of a case, play an important role in the nation’s ongoing constitutional conversation and sometimes end up shaping future decisions.

Maud Mandel - "Muslims and Jews in France: A History of Conflict"
Maud Mandel discussed how Muslims and Jews in France have related to each other as former residents of French North Africa, as immigrants competing for limited resources, as employers and employees, as victims of racist aggression, as religious minorities in a secularizing state, and as French.

Aram Goudsouzian - "Down to the Crossroads"
Aram Goudsouzian discussed the story of the last great march of the civil rights era in 1966, and the first great showdown of the turbulent years that followed.


Darrin McMahon - "Divine Fury: A History of Genius"
Darrin McMahon drew on his new book, Divine Fury: A History of Genius, to explore what genius has meant, and what it still might mean today, by ranging across its understanding from the ancients to the moderns, from poets to the whiz kids of Silicon Valley.

J. Baird Callicott '63 - "Judeo-Christianity, Zen Buddhism, and Environmental Ethics"
American philosopher J. Baird Callicott described the development of secular environmental ethics and comparative religious environmentalism, two approaches to environmental ethics that continue to define how we think about a sustainable world.

Robert Darnton - "Digitize and Democratize: Libraries, Books and the Digital Future"
Robert Darnton argued that in the current digital environment, books and libraries are more important than ever. Their importance will increase as we design the digital future—if only we can get it right.

Leora Batnitzky - "How Judaism Became a Religion"
Leora Batnitzky discussed how Judaism came to be defined as a religion in the modern period—and why Jewish thinkers have fought as well as championed this idea. Ever since the Enlightenment, Jewish thinkers have debated whether and how Judaism—largely a religion of practice and public adherence to law—can fit into a modern, Protestant conception of religion as an individual and private matter of belief or faith.


Dr. Paul Mendes-Flohr - "Two Modern Prophets"
Martin Buber (1878-1965) and Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) shared an unyielding commitment to social justice and the pursuit of peace. This lecture reflected on the theological convergence of these two towering figures of 20th century religious thought in Israel and in America.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf - "A New Vision of Islam in America"
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf discussed his path to faith and the current state of Islam in the United States.

Steven Schlozman - "How to Inadvertently Learn Some Neuroscience While Preparing for the (Inevitable) Zombie Apocoplypse"
Steven Schlozman, author of The Zombie Autopsies, discussed, "How to Inadvertently Learn Some Neuroscience While Preparing for the (Inevitable?) Zombie Apocalypse."

Jean-Jacques Rousseau - "The Pursuit of Happiness"
Christopher Kelly talked about Jean-Jacques Rousseau's philosophical discourse on the Pursuit of Happiness.

Robert Mnookin - "Bargaining with the Devil"
Harvard Professor Robert Mnookin is a leading expert in the field of conflict resolution. Mnookin has applied his interdisciplinary approach to negotiation and conflict resolution to a remarkable range of problems, including complex commercial disputes which involved advanced technologies and intellectual property.

Russell Berman - "The Humanities in Our Culture" 
Immediate Past President of the Modern Language Association and Walter A. Haas Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University, Berman discussed the relevance and the importance of the humanities in our culture.

Noam Chomsky - "The Occupy Movement"
Noam Chomsky spoke about the Occupy Movement.