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Distinguished Visiting Scholars Lecture Series


Funded through the UT Humanities Center for use by faculty in one of our nine affiliated arts and humanities departments, the Visiting Scholars project brings distinguished humanities scholars and renowned artists to the Knoxville campus and connects UT humanities faculty to the best researchers in their fields. Because only speakers with exception records of publication and research activity are eligible to receive a nomination as a visiting scholar, the program brings to campus some of the most cutting-edge and prolific intellectuals in the humanities today.

Lectures are free and open to the public and are held on the UT Knoxville campus. Public parking is available by the stadium for our off-campus visitors. Everyone is welcome!

 Check our Twitter and Facebook sites for updated information about our Visiting Scholars Series. If you want more information, feel free to call us anytime.

2019-2020 Visiting Distinguished Speakers

Click on each of the names to find out more information about each scholar.

Michael WitmoreVinton CerfMichael Witmore
Folger Shakespeare Library

Vinton Cerf
Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist
Thursday, September 12, 2019
Time: 7:00 P.M.
Student Union Auditorium - Room 180

Title:  “Machine Reading in the Digital Age”

If a machine can complete a sonnet by Shakespeare and fool an audience of English professors, is Shakespeare or the algorithm the truly great writer? What role will the humanities play in the training or direction of artificial intelligence that is evolving alongside our own? What role will computation play in the simple act of reading years in the future? Vinton Cerf and Michael Witmore discuss applications of digital techniques to our understanding of the humanities and their province of textual analysis today.

Vinton G. Cerf is vice president and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google. He is the co-designer of the TCP/IP protocols and the architecture of the Internet and has served in executive positions at ICANN, the Internet Society, MCI, the Corporation for National Research Initiatives and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. He is the past President of the Association for Computing Machinery, served as a member of the National Science Board, and is a recipient of numerous awards, including 29 honorary degrees, the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, US National Medal of Technology, the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, the Prince of Asturias Award, the Tunisian National Medal of Science, the Japan Prize, the Charles Stark Draper award, the ACM Turing Award, the Legion d’Honneur, the Franklin Medal, Foreign Member of the British Royal Society and Swedish Academy of Engineering.

Michael Witmore was appointed the 7th director of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC in 2011. He was formerly professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The recipient of numerous fellowships, he has held an Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at the UCLA, a research fellowship and a curatorial residency fellowship at the Folger, and a predoctoral fellowship at the Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte in Berlin. He was awarded an ACLS Digital Innovation Fellowship, and his publications include numerous articles, website resources, book chapters, and five books: Landscapes of the Passing Strange: Reflections from Shakespeare, with Rosamond Purcell (2010), Shakespearean Metaphysics (2009), Pretty Creatures: Children and Fiction in the English Renaissance (2007), Childhood and Children’s Books in Early Modern Europe, 1550-1800 (2006), and Culture of Accidents: Unexpected Knowledge in Early Modern England (2001).

Michael Witmore and Vinton Cerf were invited to the University of Tennessee by Amy Elias (Department of English/UTHC).

Celia ChazelleCelia Chazelle
Professor, Department of History
The College of New Jersey

Monday, September 23, 2019
Time:  3:30 P.M.
Lindsay Young Auditorium – UT Hodges Library

Title:  “Women and the Dead in the Carolingian World”

What important roles did women play in terminal care during the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries in western Europe? Formal ceremonies marked dying, death, and burial among clerics, monks, nuns, and aristocrats. Yet ordinary Christian funerals happened at home. In her presentation, Professor Chazelle examines how women cared for the dying and the dead within their households in practices apparently sanctioned by ecclesiastical authorities, who regarded death—much like birth—as a traditionally domestic family matter.

Celia Chazelle is professor of medieval history at The College of New Jersey. She is the author of The Crucified God in the Carolingian Era: Theology and Art of Christ’s Passion (2001), The Codex Amiatinus and its “Sister” Bibles: Scripture, Liturgy, and Art in the Milieu of the Venerable Bede (2019), and has co-edited several volumes on late antique and early medieval culture, religion, and art. She is a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America.

Free and open to the public. A book signing will follow the lecture.

Celia Chazelle was invited to the University of Tennessee by Matthew Gillis (Department of History).


Zsuzsanna GulácsiZsuzsanna Gulácsi
Professor, Department of Comparative Cultural Studies
Northern Arizona University

Thursday, October 3, 2019
Time:  3:30 P.M.
Lindsay Young Auditorium – UT Hodges Library

Title:  “History of Manichaean Art in China”

The recent discovery of Chinese Manichaean silk paintings shook up Manichaean studies during the past decade. This small but well-preserved corpus consists of six complete and three fragmentary silk hanging scrolls, eight of which are housed in various Japanese collections and one in the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. While the visual language of these paintings reflects the norms of late medieval Chinese religious art (best known from Buddhist and Taoist images), their unique iconography and doctrinal content positively confirms their Manichaean identification. Professor Gulácsi will explore the pre-Chinese antecedents of these paintings, fragments of which survive from the Uygur Era of Manichaean history (755/762 – ca. 1024 CE), preserved today in the Asian Art Museum of Berlin.

Zsuzsanna Gulácsi is professor of art history, Asian studies, and comparative religious studies at Northern Arizona University. She is a historian of religious art, specializing in the contextualized art historical study of pan-Asiatic religions that adapted their arts to a variety of cultures as they spread throughout the continent. Her research has been supported by the National Humanities Center, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Scholarship, the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Philosophical Society, the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and most recently the Getty Foundation (2019).

Zsuzsanna Gulácsi was invited to the University of Tennessee by Shellen Wu (Department of History).


Jerry GershenhornJerry Gershenhorn
Julius L. Chambers Professor, Department of History
North Carolina Central University

Monday, October 28, 2019
Time:  3:30 P.M.
Lindsay Young Auditorium – UT Hodges Library

Title:  “The Power of the Press: Southern Black Journalists and the 20th-Century Freedom Struggle”

Operating boldly in the nation’s most racially oppressive geographical areas, Black Southern journalists in the early to mid-twentieth century shined a bright light on racial injustice and energized the Black freedom struggle. Professor Gershenhorn analyzes how African American newspapers in the Carolinas, Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi used the power of the press to win important victories in public facilities, education, politics, and the courts.

Jerry Gershenhorn is Julius L. Chambers Professor of History at North Carolina Central University, specializing in 20th-century US, African American, and North Carolina history. He was awarded the 2010 R.D.W Connor Award from the Historical Society of North Carolina, served as a consultant for Herskovits At The Heart of Blackness (Vital Pictures, 2009), and has been Scholar-In-Residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in NYC. His publications include Melville J. Herskovits and the Racial Politics of Knowledge (2004) and Louis Austin and the Carolina Times: A Life in the Long Black Freedom Struggle (2018), as well as numerous articles concerning Black history and culture.

Jerry Gershenhorn was invited to the University of Tennessee by Brandon Winford (Department of History).


Kate ElswitKate Elswit
Reader in Theatre and Performance
The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
University of London

Monday, November 11, 2019
Time:  3:30 P.M.
Strong Hall, Room 101

Title:  “Dance, Bodies, and the Digital: Digital Methods for Movement on the Move”

This presentation centers on the work of African American choreographer Katherine Dunham to show how dance moves across both geographical locations and cultural, artistic, and financial networks.
Building from Elswit and Bench’s project “Dunham’s Data: Katherine Dunham and Digital Methods for Dance Historical Inquiry,” Elswit considers what dance studies may offer to the digital humanities, which questions how to make the analysis and visualization of data meaningful for historical inquiry.

Kate Elswit is an academic and dancer whose research on performing bodies combines dance history, performance studies theory, cultural studies, experimental practice, and technology. She is author of Watching Weimar Dance (2014), which won the Oscar G. Brockett Book Prize for Dance Research, and of Theatre & Dance (2018). Together with Harmony Bench, her digital work has been most recently funded by a three-year project grant from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council. She is Reader in Theatre and Performance at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London.

Kate Elswit was invited to the University of Tennessee by Amy Elias (Department of English/UTHC).

William EggintonWilliam Egginton
Decker Professor of the Humanities, Director
Alexander Grass Humanities Institute
Johns Hopkins University

Monday, January 27, 2020
Time: 3:30 P.M.
Lindsay Young Auditorium – UT Hodges Library

Title:  “Humanities Education at the Crossroads: Why the Liberal Arts are Fundamental to Democracy”

In his lecture, Professor William Egginton posits that US college and university education has come to embody the very social and economic inequality it should be challenging, thereby amplifying political and social divisions in our country and making it harder for democracy to function. After sketching a history of the factors that contributed to this trend, Professor Egginton will show how the liberal arts can refocus our educational institutions to support a sense of national community and civic engagement.

William Egginton is the Decker Professor in the Humanities at the Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches literature and the relation between literature and philosophy and where he directs the Alexander Grass Humanities Institute. He is the co-editor of three books of essays and author of eight books, including work on Cervantes’ Don Quixote. His most recent book is The Splintering of the American Mind (Bloomsbury, 2018).

William Egginton was invited to the University of Tennessee by Harrison Meadows (Department of Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures).


Fred MotenFred Moten
Professor of Performance Studies
Tisch School of the Arts
New York University

Thursday, February 20, 2020
Time: 3:30 P.M.
Student Union Auditorium - Room 180

Title: “Blue(s) as Cymbal: Beauford Delaney (Elvin Jones) James Baldwin”

In his presentation, Professor Moten brings together James Baldwin's writing, Beauford Delaney's painting, and Elvin Jones' theory of music. Baldwin's writing often complicates representations of personhood, blurring distinctions between fiction and nonfiction genres both to achieve the aims of narrative and to refuse writing's ossified images. Delaney's use of color likewise challenges how we understand the relation between abstraction and figuration in traditional portraiture. Complicating technique in this way allows both artists to experiment radically with understandings of Black life and identity. Professor Moten is concerned with two questions: Do both artists immerse their audiences in the artwork in a way that allows something else of blackness to show up beyond any predictable nexus of personhood, narrative and portrait? And is it possible that this new and generous way of representing blackness becomes sensible for us through the theory of "musical color" formulated by the great drummer Elvin Jones, as a kind of synesthetic nonsense?

Professor Fred Moten teaches black studies, critical theory, performance studies, and poetics in the Department of Performance Studies at New York University. He is author of In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (2003); Hughson’s Tavern (2009); B. Jenkins (2010); The Feel Trio (a finalist for the National Book Award), The Little Edges (2015), and The Service Porch (2016). His latest books are all that beauty (2019) and the three-volume consent not to be a single being (2017-18).

Fred Moten was invited to the University of Tennessee by Amy Elias (Department of English/UTHC).


We would like to thank the Office of Research & Engagement for their generous support.

To view previous Visiting Distiguished Speakers, click the following links: 2018-2019

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