Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

W. E. B. Du Bois Lectures




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The W. E. B. Du Bois Lecture Series in American Culture Studies offers new contributions to the urgently needed intercultural dialogue by inviting scholars and intellectuals to give lectures open to a wider audience that address some of the crucial aspects and problems of public culture and the modes of cultural critique today.

The lectures are named in honor of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868 to 1963) an important and influential intellectual, scholar, public figure, and writer of 20th century America. After doing graduate work at Harvard University, he was a doctoral student at Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität (now Humboldt-Universität) from 1892 to 1894. In Berlin he studied with Gustav von Schmöller, Adolf Wagner, Heinrich von Treitschke, and Max Weber. The first African American ever to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1895, he was subsequently professor of economics and history at Atlanta University from 1897 to 1910 and became widely known for his numerous historical and analytical studies of the social, economic, political, and cultural status of black people in the United States. In his famous book The Souls of Black Folk (1903), which combined political essays, cultural critique, autobiographical sketches, and fiction, Du Bois elaborated his notion of the inescapable "double-consciousness" that characterizes the lives of black Americans and his vision of the crucial role racial conflicts were to play all over the world in the new century: "The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line." He was a co-founder of the racially integrated civil rights organization National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and organized several Pan-African Congresses (from 1919 to 1945) which addressed the problems of imperialism and decolonization in a worldwide context. As editor of The Crisis, the journal of the NAACP, from 1910 to 1934, and of Phylon, from 1940 to 1944, Du Bois created a forum for black American literature, cultural and political debate, and social thought that situated African Americans in the wider frame of a revised notion of a multicultural democratic society in the United States and its interrelations with other parts of a postcolonial world. In 1958/59, he received an honorary doctorate from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. He emigrated to Ghana in 1961 where he edited the Encyclopedia Africana. Du Bois died in Ghana in 1963.

American Studies in Perspective

In the age of globalization, the gradual unification of Europe, and the increasing awareness of the crucial importance of the political organization of social heterogeneity and cultural differences, a critical engagement with U.S. American culture and society has become ever more urgent. The repercussions of American multiculturalism, the interplay of competing public cultures, the impact of the new media, and the transnational perspectives of American cultural production have fundamentally changed the direction, the academic organization, and the public role of the interdisciplinary project of American Studies in the United States. These new developments not only challenge our understanding of the role American Studies should play in German universities, but also demand a new, genuinely dialogical conception of American Studies that articulates different and conflicting experiences and visions of the future from both sides of the Atlantic in a globalizing context. American Studies in Germany, seen in the wider European frame, can provide a forum in which the most pressing issues of the powerful dynamics of cultural differences, of the reorganization of the production of cultural knowledge, and of the implications of a reconstitution of the public sphere, all of them critical issues for the new Berlin Republic, can be debated in a transnational, comparative perspective.

The American Studies Program at Humboldt-Universität defines its research objectives and curricula in this context. It therefore focuses on the literary and cultural representations of, and theoretical approaches to, categories such as 'race,' ethnicity, gender, class, region, and age, and their complex interrelations within and beyond American society. Literary studies are complemented by studies of other print media, film, television, the internet, and the arts. The American Studies Program is involved in the new interdisciplinary Gender Studies program and cooperates closely with Cultural Studies, Cultural Anthropology, and the Modern Literature and Language Departments at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Intercultural dialogues are pursued in collaborative research projects with scholars from the United States and European countries. These activities materialize in a number of student and faculty exchange programs with various American and European universities.



Winter Semester 2021/2022:


Dear friends of the W.E.B. Du Bois Lecture Series,

we will continue our Du Bois Lecture Series digitally or in person.

In the meantime, we have also been planning to install a W.E.B. Du Bois memorial in the main building of Humboldt University, for which we created a crowdfunding platform, to finance the final 5.000 € of the 20.000 € needed. Please share or contribute if you have the means, we really appreciate it!

For more information, read this interview with visual artist Jean-Ulrick Désert and our American Studies colleague Dorothea Löbbermann.

Thank you and take care!
American Studies, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin



26 October 2021


Channing Joseph (Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California)

"America’s Black Queer History"


6.30 – 8.00 P.M. (CET)

Hybrid Lecture
Dorotheenstr. 24, room 1.501
and Zoom

Please register for this hybrid event:


In the 1880s, a formerly enslaved Black American became the earliest-known self-described drag queen and the earliest-known queer activist in the United States. His name was William Dorsey Swann, and he inspired a rebellious group of butlers, coachmen, and cooks — most of them formerly enslaved people as well — to risk their newly attained freedom, their livelihoods, and their reputations to create a secret world of crossdressing balls in Washington, D.C. — the center of American power, prestige, and influence. Swann’s organization is the only known queer resistance group formed until the German physician Magnus Hirschfeld created his Scientific-Humanitarian Committee in Berlin in 1897. In this talk, Channing Gerard Joseph — a lecturer at the University of Southern California and a former journalist at The New York Times — will draw on previously unexplored archival sources to examine Swann’s far-reaching influence on U.S. history and culture.

BIO: Channing Gerard Joseph (he/him or she/her) is the winner of the 2021 Berlin Prize and a 2019 Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant for his research and writing on Black queer U.S. history. He has been a staff editor and writer at The New York Times, Associated Press, and elsewhere. A leading expert on race and sexuality, Joseph regularly appears on the BBC, the CBC, and other international outlets. He is the author of the forthcoming House of Swann: Where Slaves Became Queens — and Changed the World. He teaches at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. He completed his BA at Oberlin College and MSc in Journalism at Columbia University, and has also worked at Oberlin and the State University of New York–Plattsburgh. His work has been supported by a Logan Nonfiction Fellowship, a Whiting Grant for Creative Nonfiction, and a Leon Levy Center for Biography Fellowship, the International Center for Journalists, Ford Foundation, and Scripps Howard Foundation, among others. Joseph has lectured widely on narrative nonfiction, journalism; early LGBTQ history; diversity, inclusion, and access in education and the workplace; and African-American history, literature, and genealogy.



07 December 2021


Juana María Rodríguez (University of California, Berkeley)

"Identity and Activism: Queer Latinx Organizing in 1990’s San Francisco"


6.30 – 8.00 P.M. (CET)

Hybrid Lecture
Dorotheenstr. 24, room 1.501
and Zoom

Please register for this hybrid event:


This presentation uses the example of one social service agency in San Francisco, Proyecto ContraSIDA por Vida [Project Against AIDS for Life] to analyze how they negotiated and reimagined identity politics to respond to the social crisis that surrounds the AIDS pandemic. Through an examination of the agency's programming, flyers, and events, I document how they used images and words as dynamic vehicles of representation to enrich the cultural and political climate in the service of radical social change.

BIO: Juana María Rodríguez is Professor and Chair of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley where she also holds appointments in Gender and Women's Studies and Performance Studies. Currently the John P. Birkelund Fellow in the Humanities at the American Academy in Berlin, she is the author of Queer Latinidad: Identity Practices, Discursive Spaces (NYU Press, 2003), Sexual Futures, Queer Gestures, and Other Latina Longings (NYU Press, 2014) and co-editor of a special 2019 issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly on "Trans Studies en las Americas."



The Lectures (archive)