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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.



Summer Semester 2019:


DOWNLOAD the whole lecture program here.


6:30 PM
Dorotheenstr. 24 (Hegelplatz)
Room 1.501 
10117 Berlin


Simon Strick

Freie Universität Berlin

The Alternative Right and American Studies

Tuesday, May 7


Katharina Wiedlack

Alexander von Humboldt Post-Doc Fellow at the Department of English and American Studies, Humboldt University Berlin

The Ballerina with PTSD: Russia imaginations in contemporary US popular culture

Tuesday, May 28

Contemporary popular culture is full of Russian figures, especially beautiful Russian women. From the Marvel comic Black Widow, the film Red Sparrow, and the Amazon mini-series The Romanoffs, to the Braodway musical Anastasia, fictional female Russian characters capture our attention and take us deep into stories full of espionage, crime, and love. Their stories vary greatly, as do their cultural forms. What they all have in common, however, is that they all suffer from some trauma connected to their motherland. In some cases, their trauma is connected to the brutal murder of the Russian czar family after the October Revolution. In others, they are traumatized by the effects of post-Soviet shock capitalism such as organized crime, alcoholism, sex trafficking and sexual abuse, or the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Quite often, the trauma is connected to the Stalin terror, Soviet and post-Soviet authoritarian rule. In my presentation I analyze ideas about Russian trauma and the embodiment of trauma in female Russian figures in American popular culture through a disability and queer studies lens. I am interested in how Russianness becomes signified through embodiments of post-traumatic stress disorders. Reading my examples of Russian figures against what disability scholars Robert McRuer and Merri Johnson identify as THE crisis of the 21st century – the crisis of ability and disability – I ask what the othering of Russian women as figures of mental crisis tells us about American identity constructions.


Mabel Wilson

Professor of Architecture and African American & African Diasporic Studies, Columbia University

Building Race and Nation: Slavery and Dispossession in Thomas Jefferson’s America

Tuesday, June 11

In post-Revolutionary United States, physical attributes of race linked to one’s capacity for reason influenced social perceptions and legal definitions that determined who was entitled to the rights and privileges of freedom and who was destined to toil enslaved in perpetuity. Paradoxically, enslaved Africans, defined solely as ‘property’ lacking the proper subjectivity to be self-conscious and self-possessed, built a significant number of the U.S.’s civic buildings—Virginian State Capitol, U.S. Capitol and White House—designed by the nation’s first architects: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Henry Latrobe and others. If as “property,” personhood and land underwrite the American national project, then racism, in part, defines their exclusionary nature. The history of how race/racial/racism informed the discourses on slavery, dispossession, nationalism, aesthetics, and architecture during this formative period comprises the core thesis of Mabel Wilson’s lecture “Building Race and Nation: Slavery and Dispossession in Thomas Jefferson’s America.”


Eliza Steinbock

Leiden University

Cherishing and Perishing in Transgender Portraiture

Tuesday, June 25


The presentation uses the interdisciplinary category of portraiture to bridge different objects of study: artistic portraits, media representations, and ethnographic studies of artists. These working artists include J. Jackie Baier and Yishay Garbasz in Berlin; Elisha Lim, Syrus Marcus Ware, and Kiley May in Toronto; Muholi Muholi and Collen Mfwaze in Johannesburg; and Robert Hamblin and Gabrielle LeRoux in Cape Town. My objective is to investigate how and to what effect these forms of portraiture yield archives of transgender experience. Cherishing and Perishing in Trans Portraiture studies trans* experiences of biopolitics and necropower vis-à-vis artistic creations of trans lives surviving even within death-worlds. I investigate how in their structures of feeling—their tone, restraints, impulses—artworks can capture and express the human and nonhuman sensations circulating within diffuse networks of control.

Eliza Steinbock is Assistant Professor of Cultural Analysis at Leiden University’s Centre for the Arts in Society, where they are involved in critical diversity issues. Eliza trained in cultural analysis (PhD 2011) and investigates visual culture mediums like film, digital media, and photography, with a special focus on dimensions of race, gender and sexuality. Their current book project is the culmination of a NWO Veni grant on contemporary transgender (self) portraiture in the wider field of visual activism, which includes interviews with trans-identified cultural producers based in Toronto, Berlin, Cape Town and Johannesburg. Their first book is Shimmering Images: Trans Cinema, Embodiment and the Aesthetics of Change (Duke University Press, March 2019). www.elizasteinbock.com


Katharina Vester

American University, D.C.

Cleaning up the American Mess with KonMari and Goop: Curation, Self-Care and Belonging(s)

Tuesday, July 2


ABSTRACT - Cleaning up the American Mess with KonMari and Goop: Curation, Self-Care and Belonging(s)

Eight episodes of the much-awaited new home make-over series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, started to stream on Netflix in January 2019. Kondo’s KonMari Method has been a success story since the release of her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up in 2014. The method that promises “a spark of joy” from one’s (well-organized) possessions and therewith greater happiness and sense of purpose in life, is a further twist in a neoliberal economy: As the quantity of possessions obviously fails to produce happiness, new advice claims that the right choice does. “Curating” one’s possessions to optimize one’s self and wellbeing has emerged as a new disciplinary practice to perform class privilege through discriminating taste.While Marie Kondo teaches Americans how to curate their belongings for the sake of creating purpose and happiness, websites have emerged recently that sell already curated “collections,” thus lifting the burden of buying the “right” things from consumers, usually for a princely sum. Goop.com is one of the earliest and most successful examples. Launched in 2008, the website flies under the banner “Make every choice count.” It suggests that the allegedly hand-picked products (from food to cosmetics, fashion and home decor) sold here reflect creator Gwyneth Paltrow’s taste. The curated items therefore promise to bring some of the movie star’s glamour, success and happiness into the life of everyone (who can afford the stellar prices). The advice to curate one’s belongings or the offer to buy curated ones not only leaves the presumption that property brings happiness unchallenged, but reinforces it. If belongings have failed so far to provide richness and texture to a person’s life, then it is the person’s fault as they lacked the knowledge, skill, and commitment to choose the right possessions. With these two examples, the talk investigates the implications of curating and what the phenomenon reveals about power relations under American neoliberal conditions.



Katharina Vester is Associate Professor of History at American University in Washington, D.C. Her book, A Taste of Power: Food and American Identities, published in November 2015 by the University of California Press, is an investigation of the crucial role played by food discourses and culinary practices in the formation of cultural identity and power relations in American history. Food writing, she argues, has helped to make normative claims about citizenship, gender behavior, class privilege, race, ethnicity, and sexual deviancy, while promising an increase in cultural capital and social mobility to those who comply with the prescribed norms.

Her work on her next monograph, Bodies to Die for: Health and Beauty in Pop Culture leads her to investigate the cultural architecture of bodies, and how health advice and beauty ideals serve to justify privileges coming with class, race and gender.

Vester’s article "Regime Change: Gender, Class, and the Invention of Dieting in Post-Bellum America" in the Journal of Social History won the Belasco Prize for Scholarly Excellence. Vester is the editor, with Kornelia Freitag, of Another Language: Poetic Experiments in Britain and North America.





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