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 2022/23:

 

01 November 2022
Matthew W. Hughey (University of Connecticut)
"W. E. B. Du Bois and his Strange Synthesis of Spirituality and Sociology"
6:30 PM
DOR 24, 1501


22 November 2022
Michael Thomas (Susquehanna University)
"W.E.B. Du Bois and the Social Aesthetics of Race"
6:30 PM
DOR 24, 1501


17 January 2023
MaryAnn Snyder-Körber (Universität Würzburg)
"Questions of Translation: Perspectives / Perspektiven USA and the Protest Against Protest"
6:30 PM
DOR 24, 1501


14 February 2023
Babette B. Tischleder (Universität Göttingen)
"Mind Your Nonhuman Neighbors: Rethinking Urban Naturecultures"
6:30 PM
DOR 24, 1501

 

 

01 November 2022

 

Matthew W. Hughey (University of Connecticut)

"W. E. B. Du Bois and his Strange Synthesis of Spirituality and Sociology"

 

6.30 – 8.00 P.M. (CET)
DOR 24, 1501

 

This W.E.B. Du Bois Lecture will take place in a hybrid format. For the Zoom dial-in, please send an email to: dorothea.loebbermann@hu-berlin.de. You will receive the link by Oct. 31. Thank you!

 

Scholarship on W. E. B. Du Bois now flourishes. Despite the newfound attention, few critically engage the complicated and contradictory uses of divinity, prayers, transcendental virtues, and otherworldly dimensions that circulate within Du Boisian social theory. This absence looms large within sociology, wherein only a fraction of Du Bois's vast oeuvre endures. As a remedy, I plumb lesser-engaged works like "A Vacation Unique" (1889), "The Princess Steel" (1909), Prayers for Dark People (1910) and "The Comet" in Darkwater (1920) to illumine a "Du Boisian Sociological Spirituality": (1) a ritualized blend of materialist instrumentalism and pedagogical idealism; (2) a pragmatist-underpinned social interactionism that sanctifies the Black self, and; (3) a sociology of knowledge predicated on otherworldly dimensions and metaphysical standpoints. I argue that Du Bois's poiesis animates his analysis of the color-line and his understandings of both Whiteness and White Supremacy.

 

BIO: Matthew W. Hughey, PhD is Professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut (USA) and is affiliate faculty at the University of Barcelona (Spain), Nelson Mandela University (South Africa), University of Cambridge (UK), as well as a 2022 Fulbright Scholar at the University of Surrey (UK). A scholar of race and racism, he has authored over eighty scholarly articles and nine scholarly books, such as his award-winning ethnography, White Bound: Nationalists, Antiracists, and the Shared Meanings of Race (Stanford University Press). He also opines as an expert witness for legal cases involving racial discrimination and serves as editor of Sociology Compass—Race and Ethnicity.

 

 

22 November 2022

 

Michael Thomas (Susquehanna University)

"W.E.B. Du Bois and the Social Aesthetics of Race"

 

6.30 – 8.00 P.M. (CET)
DOR 24, 1501


Du Bois' famous question, "How does it feel to be a problem?," points to the role of race in experience, both as a division between races and within racialized peoples. This question also points to a wider role of the experience of race in Du Bois' early work, which traverses the ontological, epistemic, and socio-political dimensions of the concept. In this talk, I will argue that the aesthetic dimension of race and of Du Bois' work links these dimensions together into a theory of racialization grounded in sensual experience. This theory serves as a starting point for models of cultural change in politics, knowledge production, and institution building.

BIO: Michael L. Thomas is an Alexander von Humboldt Postdoctoral Fellow at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American studies at the Freie Universität Berlin. He was previously an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Coordinator for Africana Studies at Susquehanna University. His research explores the aesthetic dimension of social life, investigating the use of aesthetic experience for theorizing empirical social relationships and the construction of societies as a collective, aesthetic endeavor. He has published work in Philosophy and Literature, Social Theory, the Critical Philosophy of Race, and North American Studies.

 

 

17 January 2023

 

MaryAnn Snyder-Körber (Universität Würzburg)

"Questions of Translation: Perspectives / Perspektiven USA and the Protest Against Protest"

 

6.30 – 8.00 P.M. (CET)
DOR 24, 1501

 

This talk takes the short-lived, but significant cultural cold war periodical Perspectives USA (1952-1956) as its focus. Why significant? Among the many publications aiming to win over readers for one or the other side of the cold war conflict, Perspectives stands out due to its concept. First, the quarterly published no original material. Instead, its vision of the United States was selected and reprinted from the nation’s own print public sphere. Second, this curated consolidation of America was published not only in the original English, but simultaneously in French as Profils, in Italian as Prospetti, and in German as Perspektiven along with a further English-language edition for Great Britain. Why was this interesting project so short-lived? In a nutshell, Perspectives was deemed not political or persuasive enough for cold war aims. As this talk will argue, what the multi-language journal instead offered editors and particularly translators was the opportunity to articulate, but also complicate connections between the US and Europe. Only in the pages of Perspectives / Perspektiven USA do James Baldwin and Paul Celan meet to negotiate what a protest against protest literature could mean in the trauma-shadowed midcentury.

 

BIO: MaryAnn Snyder-Körber is Professor of American Cultural Studies at Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg where she is also the Academic Director of the Schreibzentrum |Writing Center. Her research and teaching focus on intersections of modernity and modernism, gender discourses and feminism as well as aesthetics and cultural studies. Her most recent book publication is the co-edited volumed Anecdotal Modernity: The Making and Unmaking of History (2020).

 

 

14 February 2023

 

Babette B. Tischleder (Universität Göttingen)

"Mind Your Nonhuman Neighbors: Rethinking Urban Naturecultures"

 

6.30 – 8.00 P.M. (CET)
DOR 24, 1501

 

Cities are mostly considered people's places. And while (some) birds, squirrels, and rats are familiar as city dwellers, foxes, coyotes, or beavers still come as a surprise and are often seen as intruders of urban and suburban spaces and as a threat to human residents and their pets. Yet cities have long become home to predators and other wild creatures that have adapted in remarkable ways to their urban environments. In this talk, I will engage with cities as multispecies habitats: What stories are being told about encounters with nonhuman urban critters? How are they seen to disrupt a human order and sense of safety and hygiene? What possible ways of cohabitation can be imagined? Considering a range of texts, from science to fiction, I want to propose ways of reimagining concepts of wildness, "invasive species," and human supremacism in the more-than-human city.

 

BIO: Babette B. Tischleder is professor of North American Studies and Media Studies at the University of Göttingen. Her books include The Literary Life of Things: Case Studies in American Fiction (2014) and the coedited volumes An Eclectic Bestiary: Encounters in a More-than-Human World (with Birgit Spengler, 2019) and Cultures of Obsolescence: History, Materiality, and the Digital Age (with Sarah Wasserman, 2015). Her current work is concerned with the ways in which critical and creative practices may tackle the ecological troubles and endangered futures in our multispecies world, as in the recent essay "Neither Billiard Ball nor Planet B: Latour’s Gaia, Literary Agency, and the Challenge of Writing Geohistory in the Anthropocene Moment" (2019).

 

 


 

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