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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Department of English and American Studies

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.

 

 

Summer Semester 2021:

 

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

we will continue our Du Bois Lecture Series digitally.

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

 

25 May 2021

Rebecca Racine Ramershoven (Folkwang University of the Arts Essen)

Artist Talk

"Watch Us: On the structural misrepresentation of the Black Body and the possibilities of resistance and liberation in the arts."

6.30 – 8.00 P.M. (CET)

Please register for this online-event: evangelia.kindinger@hu-berlin.de

[After your registration, you will receive the password to watch How much time do you want? on vimeo.]

Many facets and multilayered experiences, in all their simultaneity and complexity, are part of the Black Identity. I examine one aspect of this complexity in regard to representation and selfidentification in the works How much time do you want? (video, 21 min) and Resilience (photographs). In my talk I would like to present these two works, discuss their mutual effects and share the questions and challenges that accompany during the process of creation.

Bio: Rebecca Racine Ramershoven is currently graduating with a Master's degree in Photography Studies & Practice at Folkwang University of the Arts Essen. Her artistic interests focus on the artistic exploration and examination of socio- cultural themes and issues. Since 2014, her photographic work has been shown in national and international solo and group exhibitions. Most recently, Rebecca Racine Ramershoven participated in the 13th Conference of the Collegium for African American Research in Orlando/Florida (USA) and the Athens Photo Festival 2020 at the Benaki Museum in Athens/Greece. Her work How much time do you want? and Resilience is currently on exhibit at the Folkwang Museum Essen/Germany.

 

8 June 2021

Carrie Helms Tippen (Chatham University)

"Feeding Grief and Raising the Dead in Southern Cookbooks"

6.30 – 8.00 P.M. (CET)

Please register for this online-event: evangelia.kindinger@hu-berlin.de

Cookbooks for funeral foods make up an unexpected niche subset of Southern cookbooks. They provide instructions for feeding, behavior, and rituals of Southern funerals while promising delicious food and fellowship as a balm for suffering death in a community. In the US South, funerals become an opportunity to ritually perform a distinct and continuous regional identity that transcends both time and geography. The repetition of the same meals, “year after year,” creates a feeling of collapsed time and continuity with a stable identity connected to a distinct Southern homeplace. I argue that Southern funerals may be unique to the South in practice because of an intentional and self-conscious attempt to craft a distinct and continuous place-based identity for the community of mourners, attached through kinship and friendship to a particular Southern homeplace. The food practices associated with Southern funerals are a tangible, if temporary, means of performing, embodying, and perpetuating a community identity. When cookbook writers share recipes connected to the funeral feast and the stories the accrue to the dishes served, they are essentially enacting the storytelling and communal aspects of the funeral without the occasion of a death. No pain must be endured to experience the joys of the locally-bound and communally-practiced traditions of Southern funerals, even if only experienced in the reader’s imagination. The genre of the cookbook and its requirement for pleasure gives ample opportunity for writers to emphasize the many pleasures of cooking, eating, and imagining what is presented as a distinctly Southern experience.

Bio: Carrie Helms Tippen is Assistant Professor of English and Assistant Dean of the School of Arts, Science, and Business at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA.  Her 2018 book, Inventing Authenticity: How Cookbook Writers Redefine Southern Identity (University of Arkansas Press), examines the rhetorical strategies that writers use to prove the authenticity of their recipes in the narrative headnotes of contemporary cookbooks. Her academic work has been published in Gastronomica, Food and Foodways, Southern Quarterly, and Food, Culture, and Society. Carrie is a host of the podcast New Books in Food from the New Books Network.

 

22 June 2021

Max Paul Friedman (American University)

"Prelude to Castro: The United States vs. 'Spiritual Socialism' in Guatemala, 1944-1963"

6.30 – 8.00 P.M. (CET)

Please register for this online-event: evangelia.kindinger@hu-berlin.de

The United States brought the Cold War to Latin America by twice destroying Guatemalan experiments in social democracy launched by Juan José Arévalo, a professor of philosophy who described his approach to governance as “spiritual socialism.” Ridiculed by US officials and overshadowed by the CIA coup of 1954 that overthrew his successor, Jacobo Árbenz, Arévalo has been largely forgotten by history, although he offered a Latin American “third way” for national development between the poles of extractive capitalism and revolutionary communism that shaped decades of violent conflict in the most unequal region in the world. This lecture connects Arévalo’s political thought to his experience while in exile in Argentina of the krausista tradition inspired by the German philosopher Karl Christian Friedrich Krause, a contemporary (and rival) of Hegel's, who envisioned peaceful societies based on justice and harmony. It analyzes his writings and policy initiatives, which can be characterized by an effort to address Guatemala’s extreme levels of poverty and inequality while preserving the dignity of the individual, largely by maintaining freedom of expression and emphasizing the role of public education. It also reveals the role of the United States in thwarting Arévalo’s likely return to power in 1963 when another, forgotten coup d'état was authorized in secret by John F. Kennedy. The doppia morte of Arévalo’s vision, twice blocked by U.S. covert action, helped snuff out the possibility of a Latin American alternative in the Cold War, radicalizing the Latin American Left, fueling the Cuban Revolution’s repressive turn, and contributing to an era marked by shocking levels of violence in the Central American civil wars.

Bio: Max Paul Friedman is Professor of History and International Relations at American University in Washington. He holds a PhD from UC Berkeley and a BA from Oberlin College. He is the author of the prize-winning book Nazis and Good Neighbors: The United States Campaign against the Germans of Latin America in World War II (Cambridge University Press, 2003) and Rethinking Anti-Americanism: The History of an Exceptional Concept in American Foreign Relations (Cambridge University Press, 2012). He is co-editor of Partisan Histories: The Past in Contemporary Global Politics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) and the forthcoming Cambridge History of America and the World.

 

 

 

The Lectures