Upcoming Events: Humanities

Wed 4/5

Image - Ben Franklin Circles

Ben Franklin Circles

Date: Wed, April 05, 2017
Time: 6:30 PM
Ongoing Ben Franklin forum

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 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.

Mon 4/17

Image - Socrates

Socrates Café

Date: Mon, April 17, 2017
Time: 6:30 PM
Ongoing Socrates forum

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 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. Bridget Ford will offer valuable historical perspective from the Civil War era, this country’s greatest test of unity and moral purpose. Drawing from her recent book, Bonds of Union, Ford will show how diverse Americans worked to create a stronger, more inclusive nation that prevented the country’s permanent dissolution. Her talk will focus on the establishment of publicly funded schools for all children, and the new Republican Party’s critical involvement in that effort in the 1850s. She will argue 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.

Wed 5/3

Image - Ben Franklin

Ben Franklin Circles

Date: Wed, May 03, 2017
Time: 6:30 PM
Ongoing Ben Franklin forum

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 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

Image - Winterer

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.

Mon 5/15

Image - Socrates

Socrates Café

Date: Mon, May 15, 2017
Time: 6:30 PM
Ongoing Socrates forum

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 5/16

Image - Davenport

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.

Wed 5/31

Image - Ting

The Universal Stage: A Critique of Empathy

Date: Wed, May 31, 2017
Time: 6:00 PM
Theater and the expression of self

Eric Ting, Artistic Director, California Shakespeare Theater

In the theater, we concern ourselves with questions of authenticity and artifice in our search for human truth. They are questions that grow more pertinent as we consider classical theater's place in our contemporary world: whose stories are represented, whose stories are appropriated, how do we see ourselves in these stories and can we ever truly understand another person? Go in depth with Eric Ting, the artistic director of CalShakes—a San Francisco cultural treasure.

Thu 6/1

Image - Beatles

They Say It's Your Birthday

Date: Thu, June 01, 2017
Time: 12:00 PM
The 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper's

Dulais Rhys, Faculty, Amabile School of Music; Professional Musician

Celebrate the 50th birthday of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by learning about the background, creation and songs of the Beatles' revolutionary album. The album was released on June 1, 1967, right as the Summer of Love was beginning. Six months earlier, just three months after their August 29 farewell concert in San Francisco, Paul McCartney suggested he and his bandmates create a new album based on their various childhood experiences; Sgt. Pepper's was the result. Want to know why “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” didn't make the cut? Want to learn other details you may not have known before, even if you’re a major fan? Come find out what Dulais Rhys' research has revealed. Singing along is encouraged. 

Mon 6/12

Image - Clair Brown

Buddhist Economics

Date: Mon, June 12, 2017
Time: 6:00 PM
Applying Buddhism to economics

Clair Brown, Professor of Economics; Director, Center for Work, Technology and Society at the University of California, Berkeley; Author, Buddhist Economics

Monday Night Philosophy travels a different path to economic wisdom. Traditional economics measures the ways we earn and spend our income, but it doesn't always consider what gives our lives meaning. In response, Clair Brown has developed a holistic model that approaches the organizational structure of an economy by using Buddhist values, emphasizing sustainability, interconnectedness, capability and happiness to promote a more compassionate society. By replacing the endless cycle of desire with collective priorities, Brown argues we will benefit both personally and globally for generations to come.

Wed 6/14

Image - Cranna

Opera for Our Time: Bringing New Works to Life

Date: Wed, June 14, 2017
Time: 6:00 PM
Exploring opera with longtime dramaturg

Kip Cranna, Dramaturg, San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera’s longtime dramaturg Clifford “Kip” Cranna has managed the commissioning of more than 20 new operas, including “Harvey Milk,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Dead Man Walking,” “Doctor Atomic,” “Appomattox,” “The Bonesetter’s Daughter,” “Moby Dick,” “Dream of the Red Chamber” and the upcoming “Girls of the Golden West.” Join Cranna for an insider’s viewpoint—with video examples—as he explores the thriving world of contemporary American opera and offers behind-the-scenes tales of how new operas are born.

Thu 8/10

Image - Devlin

Finding Fibonacci

Date: Thu, August 10, 2017
Time: 6:00 PM
The lost legacy of Fibonacci

Keith Devlin, Executive Director, Stanford University's H-STAR Institute; President, BrainQuake; Senior Researcher, the Center for the Study of Language and Information; the "Math Guy," NPR; Author, Finding Fibonacci

Finding Fibonacci is Devlin's compelling quest to tell the story of the medieval mathematician Leonardo of Pisa, more popularly known as Fibonacci. Although he is most famous for the Fibonacci numbers (which he did not invent), Fibonacci's greatest contribution was as an expositor of mathematical ideas at a level ordinary people could understand. In 1202, Liber Abbaci ("The Book of Calculation") introduced the western world to modern arithmetic. Yet Fibonacci was long forgotten after his death, and it was not until the 1960s that his achievements were finally recognized. Devlin describes his quest's highs and lows, false starts and disappointments, tragedies and unexpected turns, hilarious episodes, and occasional lucky breaks, bringing together the threads of Fibonacci's astonishing (and previously vanishing) part in the revival of science, technology and commerce.