Upcoming Events: Humanities

Mon 2/27

Socrates Café

Date: Mon, February 27, 2017
Time: 6:30 PM
Discussion group

On one Monday evening of every month the Humanities Forum sponsors Socrates Café at The Commonwealth Club. Each meeting is devoted to the discussion of a philosophical topic chosen at that meeting. The group's facilitator, John Nyquist, invites participants to suggest topics, which are then voted on. The person who proposed the most popular topic is asked to briefly explain why she or he considers that topic interesting and important. An open discussion follows, and the meeting ends with a summary of the various perspectives participants expressed. Everyone is welcome to attend.

Wed 3/1

Ben Franklin Circles

Date: Wed, March 01, 2017
Time: 6:30 PM
Discussion group

Join us monthly, every first Wednesday, for a 21st-century version of Ben Franklin’s mutual improvement club. One evening a week, for more than 40 years, the founding father discussed and debated with his friends the 13 virtues that he felt formed the basis for personal and civic improvement, a list he created when he was 20 years old. The virtues to which he aspired included justice, resolution and humility (but don't misunderstand Ben on that one—his explanation of humility was "imitate Jesus and Socrates").

Ben Franklin Circles bring people together to discuss the most pressing philosophical and ethical issues of our time with the goal of improving ourselves and our world. 

Thu 3/2

Image - Elizabeth Cobbs

The Hamilton Affair

Date: Thu, March 02, 2017
Time: 6:00 PM
The love story behind the controversial Revolutionary-era leader

Elizabeth Cobbs, Professor and Melbern G. Glasscock Chair in American History, Texas A&M University; Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University; Author, The Hamilton Affair

This program is part of our Good Lit series, underwritten by the Bernard Osher Foundation.

Celebrate the imminent arrival of the musical Hamilton with a discussion of a new novel about this intriguing founding father. The Hamilton Affair tells the true story of Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler, from passionate and tender beginnings to his fateful duel.

Hamilton was a bastard and orphan, raised in the Caribbean and desperate for legitimacy, who became one of the Revolution’s most dashing—and improbable—heroes. Admired by Washington, scorned by Jefferson, Hamilton was the most controversial leader of the new nation. Elizabeth was the wealthy, beautiful, adventurous daughter of the respectable Schuyler clan—and a pioneering advocate for women. Together, the unlikely couple braved the dangers of war, the anguish of infidelity, and the scourge of partisanship that menaced their family and the country itself.

Wed 3/8

Images - Judges Lillian Sing and Julie Tang

Building a Memorial to the Comfort Women

Date: Wed, March 08, 2017
Time: 12:00 PM
The legacy of sexual slavery

Judge Lillian Sing, ret.
Judge Julie Tang, ret.

On International Women's Day, recently retired judges Lillian Sing and Julie Tang will present the history of the "comfort  women," a euphemism for the sexual slavery of hundreds of thousands of women and girls (whose death rate during enslavement was 87 percent) by the Japanese imperial government in 13 Asia-Pacific countries from 1931 to 1945. This history will be memorialized in the soon-to-be-installed “Comfort Women” Memorial in San Francisco. Judges Sing and Tang will review the 20th century history of war-time atrocities against women and also touch on current efforts to fight against modern-day sexual slavery.

Mon 3/13

Image - Mark Twain and George Hammond

Mark Twain's Funny Fight for Free Will

Date: Mon, March 13, 2017
Time: 6:00 PM
Twain's twilight struggle

George Hammond, Author, Mark Twain's Visit to Heaven

Monday Night Philosophy finds the fun in Mark Twain's almighty fight for free will. Taking issue with analysts who believe that Mark Twain became a pessimist in old age due to his many personal tragedies, and finding the cracks of freedom in Mark Twain's own deterministic conclusions about the "damned human race" in "What is Man?", George will focus on the consistent, and consistently humorous, though sometimes painful and angry, philosophical fight Mark Twain waged from his youth to his dying breath against the stultifying fears and clearly false ideas about life that keep our otherwise free wills chained to "petrified opinion," preventing us from dreaming "other dreams, and better." 

Wed 3/15

Image - detail from The Prose Edda book cover

Humanities West Book Discussion: The Prose Edda, by Jesse Byock

Date: Wed, March 15, 2017
Time: 6:30 PM
Gods and giants and dwarves and elves — what's not to like?

Join us to discuss The Prose Edda, the most renowned work of Scandinavian literature and our most extensive source for Norse mythology. The Edda was written in Iceland a century after the close of the Viking Age, and tells in clear prose, interspersed with powerful verse, the ancient Norse creation epic and stories of the battles that follow as gods, giants, dwarves and elves struggle for survival. Discussion led by Lynn Harris.

Mon 3/20

Socrates Café

Date: Mon, March 20, 2017
Time: 6:30 PM
Discussion group

On one Monday evening of every month the Humanities Forum sponsors Socrates Café at The Commonwealth Club. Each meeting is devoted to the discussion of a philosophical topic chosen at that meeting. The group's facilitator, John Nyquist, invites participants to suggest topics, which are then voted on. The person who proposed the most popular topic is asked to briefly explain why she or he considers that topic interesting and important. An open discussion follows, and the meeting ends with a summary of the various perspectives participants expressed. Everyone is welcome to attend.

Tue 3/21

Image - Sheila Melvin and Jindong Cai

Beethoven in China

Date: Tue, March 21, 2017
Time: 6:00 PM
How Beethoven became a cultural icon in China

Jindong Cai, Associate Professor of Music (performance), Stanford University; Orchestra Conductor; and Co-Author, Beethoven in China: How the Great Composer Became an Icon in the People's Republic

Sheila Melvin, Co-Author, Beethoven in China: How the Great Composer Became an Icon in the People's Republic

Beethoven in China demonstrates that there is no parallel to the depth and breadth of Beethoven's integration into the culture, politics and private passions of China. Schoolchildren routinely read Beethoven, My Great Model and busts of Beethoven are a common sight. Cai's and Melvin's research reveals that the process by which Beethoven became a Chinese icon was tumultuous, starting with a 1906 article by Li Shutong, who referred to him as The Sage of Music, and held him up as a moral exemplar for a struggling nation trying to prevent a slide into chaos. His stoicism in the face of paternal mistreatment and increasing deafness resonated with a culture focused on working hard, on "eating bitterness," in order to achieve greatness. That stoicism proved crucial when Mao had musicians arrested and executed during the Cultural Revolution. But at Tiananmen Square students accompanied their protests with his "Ode to Joy" anyway.

Tue 3/28

Image - Marty Brounstein

The Courage and Compassion to Do the Right Thing

Date: Tue, March 28, 2017
Time: 6:00 PM

Marty Brounstein, Author, Two Among the Righteous Few: A Story of Courage in the Holocaust

This program is part of our Good Lit series, underwritten by the Bernard Osher Foundation.

Come hear a true interfaith story of courage, compassion and rescue during the Holocaust. A Catholic couple in the Netherlands, despite great risk and danger, helped save the lives of at least two dozen Jews from certain death during World War II. Brounstein will also explain the meaningful personal connection that inspires him to tell and retell the story of their heroic actions.

Thu 4/13

Image - Strauss

How Leaders Can Gain Competitive Advantage Through Lessons from History

Date: Thu, April 13, 2017
Time: 6:00 PM
Lessons from generals throughout history

Barry Strauss, Bryce and Edith M. Bowmar Professor in Humanistic Studies, Department of History at Cornell University; Visiting Scholar, Hoover Institution; Author

In his book, Masters of Command: Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, and the Genius of Leadership, Strauss draws lessons from the experiences of history’s greatest generals. Strauss explains that a key component of these leaders’ successes was their ability to inspire loyalty from their troops. They did so by leading by example and, in turn, earned their soldiers’ trust and respect. In this program, Strauss will apply these lessons to today’s executives who strive to outperform competition and create an engaged, high-achieving workforce.

Wed 4/19

Image - detail of book cover of Cleopatra

Humanities West Book Discussion: Cleopatra, by Stacy Schiff

Date: Wed, April 19, 2017
Time: 6:30 PM
The story of one of the most intriguing women in history

Join us to discuss Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer who brings to life one of the most intriguing women in human history. Though the palace of the last queen of Egypt actually did shimmer with onyx, garnets and gold, it was richer still in political and sexual intrigue. Cleopatra died young, at 39, but first married two brothers, dispatching one in a brutal civil war while they were still teenagers, and poisoning the other, before eliminating a sister as well. She had a son with Julius Caesar and three children with Marc Antony, complicating but probably prolonging wealthy Egypt's fatal embrace by the relatively uncivilized Romans. In a masterly return to classical sources, Schiff boldly separates fact from fiction to rescue the magnetic queen whose dramatic death ushered in a new world order. Discussion led by Lynn Harris.

Mon 4/24

Image - Bridget Ford

Bonds of Union

Date: Mon, April 24, 2017
Time: 6:00 PM
The tensile strength of national connections

Bridget Ford, Professor of History, California State University, East Bay; Author, Bonds of Union: Religion, Race, and Politics in a Civil War Borderland

Americans today worry that social and political divisions threaten our democracy and our futures together, bound by one nation. Bonds of Union offers valuable historical perspective from the Civil War era, a period in which the ties holding Americans together frayed and then broke. But Ford shows the ways diverse Americans maintained and strengthened the connective tissue that held them together, even at a time of extreme division and bloodshed. The focus of her talk will be the establishment of publicly funded schools for all Americans, and the new Republican Party’s critical involvement in that effort in the 1850s. She demonstrates that the United States has a longer, deeper history of imagining an inclusive society than we typically imagine, one that stretches back to the decades before the Civil War.

Tue 4/25

Image - David Dalin

Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court, from Brandeis to Kagan

Date: Tue, April 25, 2017
Time: 6:00 PM
Jewish justices of the high court

David Dalin, Ph.D., Author, Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court, from Brandeis to Kagan

Dr. Dalin will cover the lives, legal careers, judicial legacies, and Jewish background of the eight Jews who have served or who currently serve as justices of the U.S. Supreme Court: Louis D. Brandeis, Benjamin N. Cardozo, Felix Frankfurter, Arthur Goldberg, Abe Fortas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan, who was appointed by Barack Obama in 2010. He will also discuss how Woodrow Wilson's historic appointment of Louis D. Brandeis in 1916 began the tradition of a "Jewish Seat" on the Supreme Court, and the role that antisemitism did or did not play in these eight Justices' legal careers and Senate confirmation hearings.

Thu 5/4

Image - Schiff

The Witches: Salem 1692

Date: Thu, May 04, 2017
Time: 6:00 PM
Account of Salem witch trials

Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize Winner; Author, The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem

The Witches is Pulitzer Prize winner Stacy Schiff's account of a primal mystery. Women's suffrage, Prohibition and the Salem witch trials are three rare moments when women played a central role in American history, and in Salem it was adolescent girls who stood at center stage. The panic began during a raw Massachusetts winter, when a minister's niece began to writhe and roar. The panic spread quickly, as neighbors accused neighbors, husbands accused wives and parents, and children accused each other. The witch trials ended less than a year later, but not before 19 men and women had been hanged and an elderly man crushed to death. Drawing masterfully on the archives, Schiff introduces us to the strains of Puritan adolescent life and the vulnerability of wilderness settlements adrift from the mother country, and she brilliantly aligns them with our own anxieties: religious provocations, crowdsourcing and invisible enemies.

Mon 5/8

American Enlightenments: Pursuing Happiness in the Age of Reason

Date: Mon, May 08, 2017
Time: 6:00 PM
American Enlightenment and ideals

Caroline Winterer, Professor of History and, by courtesy, of Classics, Stanford University; Anthony P. Meier Family Professor in the Humanities; Director, Stanford Humanities Center; Author, American Enlightenments: Pursuing Happiness in the Age of Reason

Monday Night Philosophy investigates the accepted myth of the “American Enlightenment,” which suggests that the rejection of monarchy and establishment of a new republic in the U.S. in the 18th century was the realization of utopian philosophies born in the intellectual salons of Europe, which radiated outward to the New World. Winterer argues that this national mythology of a unitary, patriotic era of Enlightenment in America was created during the Cold War to shield against the threat of totalitarianism, and Americans in the 1700s were influenced by European models in far more complex ways than commonly thought. Winterer explores which of our ideas and ideals are truly rooted in the 18th century and which are inventions and mystifications of more recent times.

Tue 5/16

Rugged Individualism

Date: Tue, May 16, 2017
Time: 6:00 PM
Why rugged individualism still exists

David Davenport, Hoover Institution Research Fellow, Former President of Pepperdine University, Co-author of Rugged Individualism

In Rugged Individualism, Davenport and Lloyd analyze the history of American individualism, from its earliest roots in the Christianity of the Colonial period to the present day. In spite of the closing of the western frontier; the shift from an agrarian to an industrial economy; the rise of Progressivism, the New Deal, the Great Society and the Reagan Revolution; federal education reform; and growing income inequality, rugged individualism has continued to survive as an American cultural icon. Davenport argues, though, that our ever more stifling federal government and overwhelming national debt may leave no room for rugged individualism to survive.

Wed 5/17

Image – Detail of Penguin edition of Antony and Cleopatra

Humanities West Book Discussion: Antony and Cleopatra, by William Shakespeare

Date: Wed, May 17, 2017
Time: 6:30 PM
Book discussion group

Join us to discuss "Antony and Cleopatra," the famous Elizabethan play by the legendary English playwright about the infamous Roman general who would be Caesar, and the even more famous, legendary and infamous last pharaoh of ancient Egypt—even if she was really Greek. Discussion led by Lynn Harris.

 

Wed 5/24

Image - Mugambi Jouet

American Exceptionalism and the Rise of Trumpism

Date: Wed, May 24, 2017
Time: 6:00 PM
Understanding American exceptionalism

Mugambi Jouet, Thomas C. Grey Fellow and Lecturer in Law, Stanford Law School; Author, Exceptional America: What Divides Americans from the World and from Each Other

How did Donald Trump become president in an increasingly polarized America? Mugambi Jouet traces these intriguing social changes to American exceptionalism—an idea widely misunderstood as American superiority. While exceptionalism was once a source of strength, it may now spell decline, as unique features of U.S. history, politics, law, culture, religion and race relations foster grave social conflicts.