Skip to content

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.

2020-2021 Visiting Distinguished Speakers

We are converting our Visiting Lecture Series this year to an online format. Lectures will be on Mondays and in a webinar format. More information will be coming soon!

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

Department of History 2020 Charles O. Jackson Memorial Lecture
Co-sponsored by The UT Humanities Center Distinguished Lecture Series

Walter JohnsonWalter Johnson
Winthrop Professor of History and Professor of African and African American Studies
Harvard University

Thursday, October 15, 2020
5:30 PM
Registration link

Title: The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States

St. Louis was once one of the nation’s largest and most important cities. It was the site of the 1904 World’s Fair, also known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, a massive celebration of American imperialism in the city that was once the staging point for the westward expansion of the United States and the dispossession of Native Americans. There had been talk of moving the nation’s capital to St. Louis. The city is the home of institutions like Washington University in St. Louis, as well as Anheuser-Busch, founded by German immigrants in the 19th century, Monsanto, and McDonnell Douglas—all of which have now been bought by multinational firms. Three of the 25 wealthiest suburbs in the country are in metro St. Louis.

Yet, like many cities in America’s interior, it has experienced de-industrialization and dramatic population loss since the 20th century; vast tracts of the starkly segregated city feel like a wrecked ghost town. St. Louis today has the highest murder rate in the nation and the highest rate of police shootings in the nation. There is an eighteen-year difference in life expectancy between a child born to a family living in the almost completely black Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood in North St. Louis and a child born to a family living in the majority-white suburb of Clayton.

St. Louis’s apparent contradictions, Johnson suggests, may not be so incongruous. His book takes what is already widely known about modern St. Louis and writes it into a new story of the city, from its imperial history to its contested role in the nineteenth-century battle over the expansion of slavery to its racist urban planning and development policy.

Walter Johnson is the author of prize-winning books, Soul by Soul: Life Inside in the Antebellum Slave Market (1999) and River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Mississippi Valley's Cotton Kingdom (2013), both published by Harvard University Press. His autobiographical essay, “Guns in the Family,” was included in the 2019 edition of The Best American Essays; it was originally published in the Boston Review, of which Johnson is a contributing editor. The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States was published in the spring of 2020. Johnson is a founding member of the Commonwealth Project, which brings together academics, artists, and activists in an effort to imagine, foster, and support revolutionary social change, beginning in St. Louis.

Walter Johnson was invited to The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, by Robert Bland (Department of History) as a speaker in the Charles O. Jackson Memorial Lecture Series, which is co-sponsored by the UTHC Distinguished Lecture Series.

© Vidura Jang Bahadur, 2019

Rachel Cohen
Writer, Professor of Practice in the Arts
Department of English
Program in Creative Writing
The University of Chicago

Monday, October 19, 2020
Time: 3:30 P.M. (ET)
Registration link

Title: Reading Through Trouble: A changing experience of Jane Austen and her work

For the writer Rachel Cohen, the years of 2012 to 2019 were difficult years – both in the world and for her personally. During that time, one of her most central reading relationships was with Jane Austen. Cohen wrote a book of personal literary criticism, Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels, which was published in 2020 in a world transforming again, through the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. Austen herself lived in a time of transformation – a period when women writers struggled anew to find their voices as well as a period of industrialization, the Napoleonic Wars, and the trade in enslaved persons that Austen and her abolitionist brothers opposed. In her talk, Professor Cohen considers the possibilities and challenges of personal literary criticism, what it means to someone to re-read literature at different life moments, and the relevance of Austen 200 years after her time.

Rachel Cohen is a writer and professor of practice in the arts in the English department at The University of Chicago. She is the author of Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels (FSG, July 2020), Bernard Berenson: A Life in the Picture Trade, and A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of Writers and Artists, winner of PEN/Jerard Fund Award. Her essays on artists and writers – their friendships, fallings out, and the work they make – have appeared in publications including The New Yorker, the Guardian, the London Review of Books, Art in America, Apollo Magazine, McSweeney’s, and Best American Essays. Cohen is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Rachel Cohen was invited to The University of Tennessee by Hilary Havens (Department of English).

UT Theater Department with support from the UT Humanities Center Distinguished Lecture Series presents virtual Anti-Racism Play Festival.

Idris GoodwinIdris* Goodwin
Break Beat Poet, Playwright, Speaker
Exec. Director of Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center @ Colorado College
Follow my process & Explore digital content
(*how is it pronounced?)

  • October 28: Features opening address and post-show discussion with playwright, Idris Goodwin
    7:00 PM
  • October 29: Features Post-show discussion with directors Aleah Vassell and Shinnerrie Jackson.
    7:00 PM

About "#Matter":   
After a feud on social media, two former high school friends sit down to discuss matters of life and race as they share two very different perspectives from shared childhood memories.

Two young women, one from Georgia and the other from Detroit, cannot wait to start their freshman year together. That is, until one of them decides to decorate their room with a little piece of "Southern Pride." A story about allegiance, censorship and the price of honoring the past.

For more info and to register, click here:

Department of Religious Studies Annual Siddiqi Lecture in Islamic Studies

Shahzia Sikander
Photo credit: The MacArthur Foundation

Shahzia Sikander
Multimedia Artist
New York

Thursday, November 12, 2020
5:30 PM
Register in advance for this webinar

Title: “Visual cultures of Islam: A Conversation with Shahzia Sikander”

In conversation with UT faculty, multimedia artist and MacArthur fellow Shahzia Sikander will discuss her engagement with the visual languages of Islam as well as her own artistic trajectory, from her classical training in Indo-Persian miniature painting to interdisciplinary practices that challenge conceptual, national, and artistic boundaries. The discussions and the art that accompanies them will focus on the religious as well as the artistic dimensions of her work.

Hosted by The University of Tennessee Department of Religious Studies with support from the UT Humanities Center

The lecture has been supported by the UT Departments of English. History, Modern Foreign Languages
and Literatures, Political Science; the Global Studies program in the Department of Sociology; the Interdisciplinary Program in Middle East Studies; the Haslam College of Business, the UT College of Law, and the UT School of Art.

Meiqin Wang
Professor of Art History
California State University, Northridge

Monday, November 16, 2020
Time: 3:30 PM
Registration link

Title: Art in Action: Socially Engaged Art from Contemporary China

Professor Meiqin Wang explores the potential of socially engaged art as a critical and creative response to China’s top-down, pro-urban, and profit-driven social landscape. Analyzing various projects of engagement and intervention launched by contemporary Chinese art professionals in response to social and environmental injustices or the widening gap between the rural and the urban, she emphasizes how individuals may be agents of social critique and how changes can be made by grassroots projects. She highlights the practical, transformative, and activating power of art for social criticism, place construction, and personal development. 

Meiqin Wang is a professor of art history at California State University Northridge.  Her research focuses on contemporary art from China in the context of commercialization and urbanization of the Chinese world. She has written on topics such as art and cultural industries, art and urbanization, and socially engaged art.

Meiqin Wang was invited to The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, by Suzanne Wright (School of Art).

John DunneJohn Dunne
Distinguished Professor of Contemplative Humanities
Center for Healthy Minds
Chair, Department of Asian Languages and Cultures
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Monday, February 15, 2021
Time: 3:30 PM (ET)
Registration link

Free and open to the public

Title: “Reflexivity and Conscious Experience in Buddhist Thought”

In what sense do we have “self-knowledge?” At times, it may seem that we know ourselves as something like a character within a story. In such cases, we seem to see ourselves objectively, from the outside. Buddhist epistemologists, however, maintain that there is another form of “self-knowing” that is inherent to the very structure of experience itself. This “reflexivity” is innate and relates closely to our ability to be aware of the larger context and emotional framework that informs experience. This talk explores the notion of reflexivity in the works of Buddhist epistemologists such as Dharmakīrti and examines its relevance to understanding conscious experience.

John Dunne holds the Distinguished Chair in Contemplative Humanities at the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is also chair of the Department of Asian Languages & Cultures. His work focuses on Buddhist philosophy and contemplative practice, especially in dialogue with cognitive science and psychology. His work appears in both the humanities and sciences publications. It includes work on Buddhist philosophy as well as contemplative practices and their empirical examination and interpretation within scientific contexts.

John Dunne was invited to The University of Tennessee by Kristina Gehrman (Department of Philosophy) and Megan Bryson (Department of Religious Studies).

Marisa ParhamMarisa Parham
Visiting Professor of English / Director of the African American History, Culture and Digital Humanities Initiative
University of Maryland

Monday, March 1, 2021
Time: 3:30 PM
Registration link

Free and open to the public

Title: Interactivities: difference, computation, textuality

This talk examines what might be made possible at the intersection of Black expressive traditions, digital humanities, and electronic literature. Dr. Parham will discuss her recent projects, such as “.break .dance digital project,” an experimental digital project that uses Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade as a keystone text to ground musings about time, code, and internet experience, and her other projects collected at <>. She will discuss the underlying rationale for these projects and why they are needed now.

Marisa Parham is Visiting Professor of English at the University of Maryland, where she serves as director for the African American Digital Humanities initiative (AADHUM), and is the associate director for the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH). She also co-directs the Immersive Realities Lab for the Humanities, which is an independent workgroup for digital and experimental humanities (irLhumanities). Parham’s current projects focus on texts and technologies that complicate our assumptions about time, space, and bodily materiality, that are increasingly complex in African American texts, and that offer ways of thinking about intersectional approaches to digital humanities and technology studies. Parham’s recent work includes “Sample | Signal | Strobe: Haunting, Social Media, and Black Digitality” and the interactive longform scholarly essays .break .dance, and Breaking, dancing, making in the machine. She is currently developing Black Haunts in the Anthropocene, a book-length interactive project that focuses on memory, haunting, digitality, and Black environmental experience.

Marisa Parham was invited to The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, by Amy Elias (Department of English/UTHC).

Pamela GilbertPamela Gilbert
Albert Brick Professor of English
University of Florida

Monday, March 22, 2021
Time: 3:30 PM
Registration link

Free and open to the public

Title: “Those Mysterious Markings: Tattoos, Identity and the British Traveler”

People in Victorian England were famously concerned about the ways travel could transform the self. One common “mark” of both travelling and openness to local experience—or to simply “going native”—was the tattoo, which in the late 19th century became increasingly common across social classes. Professor Gilbert examines how, in the Victorian popular imagination, the tattoo was a marker of experience. She surveys the history of late 19th-century tattoos to show how, both in life and in art and specifically in fiction of the day, the tattoo marked the home community’s inability to identify the traveler as the “same” person who had gone abroad.

Pamela K. Gilbert is Albert Brick Professor of English at the University of Florida. She has published widely in the areas of Victorian literature, cultural studies, and the history of medicine. Her books are Victorian Skin (Cornell 2019), Cholera and Nation (SUNY Press, 2008), The Citizen’s Body (Ohio State University Press, 2007), Mapping the Victorian Social Body (SUNY Press, 2004), and Disease, Desire and the Body in Victorian Women’s Popular Novels (Cambridge, 1997).

Pamela Gilbert was invited to The University of Tennessee by Nancy Henry (Department of English).

Andrew CurranAndrew Curran
William Armstrong Professor of the Humanities
Wesleyan University

Monday, March 29, 2021
3:30 PM (ET)
Registration link

Free and open to the public

Title: The Bordeaux Academy of Sciences and the Great Race Contest of 1741

In August of 1739, Bordeaux s Royal Academy of Sciences publicized an essay contest in Europe’s best-known scientific journal. The subject was a riddle that had long perplexed Europeans: what is the cause of the Sub-Saharan Africans’ peculiar hair texture and dark skin? While this query theoretically limited itself to discussion of African physical features, what really preoccupied the Academy were three hidden questions: the first was who is black? The second follows the first: and why? The third was an even bigger concern, namely, what did being black signify? Professor Curran will explain both the genesis of this contest and the range of theories proposed to the Academy in 1741.

Andrew Curran is William Armstrong Professor of the Humanities at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Curran is a specialist of the French eighteenth century, with interests in the history of race and the history of medicine. He is the author of three books, including The Anatomy of Blackness: Science and Slavery in an Age of Enlightenment (Johns Hopkins, 2011). He is currently preparing an edition of 16 eighteenth-century essays on the history of race for Harvard University Press. Curran has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the French Government, and the Mellon Foundation; most recently, he received a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholars award (2016).

Andrew Curran was invited to The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, by Mary McAlpin (Department of Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures).

Photo of Jaskot credit: DePaul University, Jeff Carrion

Paul Jaskot
Professor of Art History and Director of the Wired Lab for Digital Art History and Visual Culture
Duke University

Monday, April 12, 2021
Time: 3:30 PM
Registration link

Free and open to the public

Title: Building Nazi Occupied Krakow: Digital and Analog Approaches to the Spaces of the Holocaust

Plans for rebuilding Krakow during its WWII Nazi occupation were ambitious and followed Adolf Hitler’s goal to rebuild cities such as Nuremberg and Berlin. Also ambitious were the regime’s Holocaust goals of concentrating and ultimately murdering the Jewish population of Krakow. Comparing Nazi plans, drawings, and photographs to digital renderings of the Jewish ghetto, Professor Jaskot shows how spatial visualizations help us to see how the ambitions for establishing Nazi presence complemented but also contradicted spatial planning for the threatened Jewish community.

Paul Jaskot is professor of art history and Director of the Wired Lab for Digital Art History and Visual Culture at Duke University. He has published widely on the political history of Nazi cultural policy and its influence in the postwar era. In addition to this work, he has been a member of the Holocaust Geography Collaborative since 2007, a collaborative dedicated to the use of GIS and other methods to analyze the spaces of the genocide.

Paul Jaskot was invited to The University of Tennessee by Daniel Magilow (Department of Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures).

Photo of Williams credit: Zoe Rodriguez
Photo of Williams credit: Zoe Rodriguez

Terry Tempest Williams
Author and writer in residence at the Harvard Divinity School

April 15, 2021
Time: 7:00 P.M.
Registration Link

Free and open to the public

Title: “An Evening with Terry Tempest Williams: Author, Conservationist, Free Speech Advocate”

Terry Tempest Williams has been called "a citizen writer."  Known for her impassioned and lyrical prose, Williams is a writer who speaks eloquently on behalf of an ethical stance toward life. A naturalist and fierce advocate for freedom of speech, she has consistently shown us how environmental issues are social issues that ultimately become matters of justice. Williams has testified before Congress on women’s health issues, been a guest at the White House, has camped in the remote regions of Utah and Alaska wildernesses, and worked as "a barefoot artist" in Rwanda. As an educator, she has served as the Annie Clark Tanner Fellow in the University of Utah’s Environmental Humanities Graduate Program which she co-founded in 2004; was the Provostial Scholar at Dartmouth College; and currently is writer-in-residence at the Harvard Divinity School. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Orion Magazine, and numerous anthologies worldwide. Her work includes the environmental classic, Refuge as well as An Unspoken Hunger: Stories from the FieldDesert Quartet; LeapRed: Passion and Patience in the Desert; The Open Space of Democracy; Finding Beauty in a Broken World; When Women Were Birds; and most recently, Erosion: Essays of Undoing. Her book, The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks was a New York Times bestseller. She has received the 2006 Robert Marshall Award from The Wilderness Society; a Lannan Literary Fellowship; a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in creative nonfiction; the Sierra Club’s 2014 John Muir Award; the 2017 Audubon New York Award for Environmental Writing; and the 2019 Robert Kirsch Award. In 2009, Williams was featured in Ken Burns' PBS series on the national parks, and she was elected into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Williams is currently writer-in-residence at the Harvard Divinity School. 

UTHC Director Amy Elias will talk with Terry Tempest Williams about her writing and life as a critical voice for ecological consciousness and social change.

Terry Tempest Williams was invited to The University of Tennessee by UTHC Director Amy Elias.

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

To view previous Visiting Distiguished Speakers, click the following links: 2019-2020

The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.