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Conversation & Cocktails

When is “continuing education” fun? The answer: always -- with our UTHC series “Conversations & Cocktails”!

“Conversations & Cocktails” is a free public lecture and discussion series that showcases the original research of our distinguished UT arts and humanities faculty. Our monthly get-togethers give you the opportunity to hear about fascinating work in the arts and in such fields as philosophy, history, and literature studies.

Join us this fall to learn about how the end of the Roman Empire affected understandings of its history; the strategies Black residents of one Washington, DC community have used to resist gentrification; and art as a way of comprehending spaces “between”—between ourselves and the animal world, the animate and inanimate, life and death.

Our theme is “Breaking Boundaries,” and in that spirit we will feature groundbreaking work in three very different research and creative fields this fall. Presentations are 30-40 minutes long and are designed for the general public. A spirited question-and-answer discussion follows each presentation.

For the health and safety of our campus and community, we will host our Fall 2021 and Spring 2022 Conversations & Cocktails lectures as webinars on Zoom.

You can check the Zoom Help Center to learn more about setting up an account and joining a meeting. Contact us if you have any questions at or 865-974-4222!

Schedule for Fall 2021

(click on date for event information)

"After Rome: Writing History at the End of Empire"

Felege-Selam Yirga, Assistant Professor
UT Department of History

Thursday, September 30, 2021
7:00 P.M.

Scholars have long claimed that the contraction of the Roman Empire in Europe and the Near East during the early Middle Ages affected historical writing, limiting its scope to local concerns. Professor Yirga’s talk will compare seventh and eighth century historical chronicles from Gaul, Syria, and Egypt, in order to challenge that view. As cultural expressions of their authors—three aristocrats whose wealth and social influence were built for an empire that no longer existed—these works reveal visions of history that accommodated the collapse and reconfiguration of the society in which they lived. Ultimately, in contrast to the assumptions of modern historians, all three chroniclers prove themselves to be deeply interested in the place of themselves and their societies in an international context.


“What We Talk About When We Talk About Gentrification”

Jessi Grieser, Associate Professor
UT Department of English

Thursday, October 28, 2021
7:00 P.M.

Gentrification is happening in cities across the United States and around the world. While it is often understood in terms of urban renewal or the development of new resources, such understandings can obscure the real ways gentrification impacts local residents. Drawing on ten years of research in a historically Black neighborhood in Washington, D.C., Professor Grieser’s talk will show the strategies existing Black residents use to oppose gentrification, and in turn, to lay claim to their neighborhood as Black Space.


"The Space Between: Animate/Inanimate, Alive/Dead, Animal/Human"

Emily Bivens, Professor
UT School of Art

Thursday, November 18, 2021
7:00 P.M.

This lecture features Professor Bivens's original artwork, created from video, animation, sound, and sculpture, and explores documents that pose a quandary about our relationship to the natural world, and, on another level, our relationship to ourselves. By investigating natural phenomena, like the calcium-rich diet of opossums or the homing ability of pigeons, or such historical documents as George Washington's Rules of Civility or Darwin's travel journals, Professor Bivens’ projects pose questions about lived political, social, or psychological spaces situated in-between" and at boundaries.Those questions include the distrust of women in power, the long-lasting effects of invisible labor, and the effect of being rendered mute or put into a category of unrepresentability. Who lives in "the between," and how can art help us to ask, and to answer?



Schedule for Spring 2022

(click on date for event information)

"Memorias de Oro: Music, Memory, and Mexicanidad in Pixar’s Coco (2017)"

Jacqueline Avila, Associate Professor of Musicology
UT School of Music

Thursday, February 24, 2022
7:00 P.M.

Representations of Mexicans in Hollywood cinema have typically recycled negative stereotypes, but Pixar’s Coco (2017) provides a different interpretation. Set during Día de muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead, Coco provides a novel portrayal of Mexicanidad—the cultural identity of the Mexican people—for a new generation, by embellishing aspects of the comedia ranchera, a film genre that showcased Mexican popular culture and musical performance, as well as elements of contemporary Mexican popular culture. Coco, which premiered during a socially unstable period, utilizes earlier cinematic and musical formulas, as Professor Avila will discuss—formulas that evoke Mexico’s cinematic past to construct a visual, aural, and narrative portrayal of Mexicanidad that confronts and destabilizes past cinematic representations.


"The Global Cowboy: Country Music’s Journey Through the American Empire of the Twentieth Century"

Tore Olsson, Associate Professor
UT Department of History

Thursday, March 31, 2022
7:00 P.M.

Most Americans today imagine country music as a genre unique to their nation: made by Americans, for Americans. This presentation challenges such stereotypes by exploring the surprising history of how millions of people around the world embraced this diverse musical genre since the 1930s, with an emphasis on West Africa and Southeast Asia. Curiously, country music followed the tendrils of American military and economic power during the twentieth century, and took unexpected forms in unexpected places.


"Buddhist Art and Artefacts on the Silk Roads."

Megan Bryson, Associate Professor
UT Department of Religious Studie

Thursday, April 28, 2022
7:00 P.M.

When we think of the Silk Road, we usually think of the medieval transportation route that connected East Asia to Central Asia and eventually to the Mediterranean. However, there were several such routes that facilitated the global spread of goods, people, and ideas in Asia and beyond. This talk focuses on Buddhist art and artefacts that traveled along three silk roads to demonstrate how people in Dunhuang, Dali, and Java developed distinctive regional traditions in an earlier era of global exchange.



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