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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Language, Literature and Humanities

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 2018/19:


DOWNLOAD the whole lecture program here.

Dorotheenstr. 24 (Hegelplatz)
Room 1.501 
10117 Berlin


The Legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois:

Interdisciplinary Responses / Commemorating Du Bois’ 150th birthday

Oct 31, 2018 – Wednesday

Senatssaal, 5.30 P.M.



Joseph Slade

(Ohio State University)

Screening of documentary

“Paul Laurence Dunbar: Beyond the Mask”

November 13, 2018 – Tuesday

extended event time: 6.30 – 9.00 P.M.



Priscilla Layne

(University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

The (Im)possibility and Necessity of Hope: Afrofuturism and Diasporic Intertextuality in Olumide Popoola’s Also By Mail

December 13, 2018 – Thursday – 7.00 – 8.30 P.M.

Dr. Layne will present from the first chapter of her current book project on Afro-German Afrofuturism. In the talk she uses an Afrofuturist lens to interpret Olumide Popoola’s play Also by Mail (2013). Set in both Nigeria and Germany, the play centers around the Afro-German siblings Wale and Funke, who travel to Nigeria to attend the funeral of their recently deceased father. Their presence in Nigeria stirs up numerous conflicts. Having grown up in Germany with a white mother, the siblings are repeatedly othered by their Nigerian relatives. While they don’t identify with Germany as theirs due to the racial discrimination they have experienced there, they don’t quite feel at home in Nigeria either. Fantasy enters the text through Funke, whose battle with a case of Malaria brings on a fever that either facilitates a meeting or creates the fantasy of a meeting with her dead father who comes to share some wisdom with her from beyond the grave. In this talk, Layne argues that Popoola incorporates both Afrofuturist thought and Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun to argue for the necessity of hope for a better future even in the absence of teleological determination.



Michele Meek

(Bridgewater State University)

Seduction or Rape? “Consent Puzzles” in American Teen Films

January 22, 2019 – Tuesday – 6.30 – 8.00 P.M.



Denise Uyehara

(Performance Artist, Writer)

February 11, 2019 – Monday – 6.30 – 8.00 P.M.



Shooting Columbus and other Radical Vocalizations: Artist talk by Denise Uyehara


Award-winning performance artist, writer and director Denise Uyehara examines difficult questions through her projects: If settlers never came to North America, how would life today be different? How could a person of color work with Indigenous artists in true dialogue? What does life look like for an undocumented immigrant in the Southwest United States? Through solo and collaborative multidisciplinary projects, Uyehara explores these questions, providing layered and complicated responses instead of outright answers, challenging us to look deeper in these troubling times.





The Lectures