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World-renowned experts to launch humanities lecture series

Acceptance letters have rolled in from around the world:

Authors Isabel Allende, Svetlana Alpers and Umberto Eco, critic Harold Bloom, artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, playwrights Hélène Cixous and Wole Soyinka, philosopher Jacques Derrida, architect Peter Eisenman and historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. all have agreed to participate in the new Stanford Presidential Lectures and Symposia in the Humanities and Arts.

President Gerhard Casper has said the series, scheduled to begin March 2, is intended to attract "visits from distinguished humanists from around the world." Twenty participants ultimately will be chosen.

"This is the long-term payoff of a change of culture in the humanities at Stanford," Hans Gumbrecht, the Albert Guérard Professor of Literature and director of the series, said about the anticipation surrounding the 10 speakers who have accepted invitations to date.

"The old certainties in the humanities no longer exist and no new paradigms or set of answers have emerged," Gumbrecht said. "So I think the experiment we are launching with the lecture and symposia series is very important. The humanities can win big but they can also lose big, and the fact that it is an experiment makes it very exciting."

David Holloway, associate dean for the humanities, said that "after the intense debates about multiculturism, I think there's a sense that there is a new kind of thinking about the humanities and how they should develop. We've come out of a stringent period, as well, into one that seems to provide more economic opportunities."

Holloway, the Raymond A. Spruance Professor in International History and a specialist in international security and Soviet nuclear policy, said his office is committed to "elaborating the vision of the humanities" at Stanford.

"The humanities have to do with the kind of society we live in, and a society that closes off the humanities, as the Soviet Union tried to do, is a society that loses a capacity to reflect upon itself," Holloway said. "The humanities also are one of the ways in which we try to understand not only our own culture but also the relationship between our culture and other cultures."

Holloway described the new initiatives as particularly exciting.

"This is not a push to make the humanities fit some particular mold that already exists, but to explore what it is that the humanities at Stanford should do."

The lecture and symposia series is one of several new initiatives in the humanities at Stanford.

In his annual state of the university address last fall, Casper announced that his office would provide $12 million to fund four new professorships in the arts and humanities. Endowed professorships typically are funded at $2 million, but Casper said the university wanted to attract top-ranked scholars to the new chairs.

"These professorships will enable the humanities departments to appoint the most distinguished scholars working in these fields today," Casper told the audience in Kresge Auditorium on Oct. 16, 1997. "The opportunity to make such appointments should encourage departments to think ambitiously and imaginatively about ways to strengthen the humanities as a whole."

The new professorships and lecture and symposia series will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the School of Humanities and Sciences in the 1998-99 academic year. Faculty in the school were encouraged to submit proposals for symposia, conferences, performances and readings in January. Those whose projects are selected will be announced in early February; they will receive funding of between $5,000 and $50,000 from the school.

A series of mini-conferences will also be sponsored by the Humanities Center next year to discuss the future shape of the humanities.

Keith Baker, the J. E. Wallace Sterling Professor in Humanities and Anthony P. Meier Family Professor in the Humanities and director of the center, said the conferences would explore the role of literature and language departments at universities and the extent to which disciplinary boundaries are increasingly becoming blurred on today's campuses.

Baker said the center recently had reached an agreement with the Stanford Bookstore to set aside a space where new publications by humanists could be displayed.

Stanford libraries will support the humanities initiatives with a website that will provide information about speakers and events, and also will be linked with other sites worldwide. When the library renovations are complete, rooms will be available where scholars from various disciplines can gather.

"There will be a history seminar [room] and an English seminar [room], and a big humanities reading room," Michael Keller, university librarian, said about the renovated buildings. "The websites also will provide 'virtual collections' and 'threaded conversations' for scholars."

Stanford faculty from the arts, humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, engineering and professional schools are meeting in marathon sessions to talk about how best to strengthen the humanities over the next two-and-one-half years. The discussions were launched with a six-hour retreat at the Humanities Center annex on Dec. 17 to plan for the upcoming symposia. Tentative topics will focus on how the humanities, medical school and athletics department address questions of "limits"; how the humanities and engineering faculty look at "forms of embodiment"; how the humanities and sciences think about the cosmos; and how the humanities and social sciences conceive of the nature of value.

The Monday evening lecturers who are scheduled to speak in winter quarter are the following:

c March 2: Christo and his partner ,Jeanne-Claude. Best known for his monumental wrapping, tying and covering projects, the artist has wrapped a stretch of coastline in Sydney, stretched an orange Valley Curtain across a canyon in Rifle, Colo., erected a 24-mile Running Fence in Northern California, and tied together the Surrounded Islands of Miami's Biscayne Bay.

c March 9: Peter Eisenman. An architect and professor of architecture at Cooper Union in New York City, Eisenman is considered an innovator in large-scale housing and urban design projects and has been honored for his social housing project at Checkpoint Charlie at the former Berlin Wall and his design of office buildings in Tokyo.

c March 16: Hélène Cixous. An internationally respected feminist philosopher, theorist and playwright who is at the center of contemporary French thought, Cixous is the author of more than 40 volumes of literary criticism and theory, essays, novels, short fiction and plays, many of which have been translated into English, German, Italian and Japanese.

c May 18: Harold Bloom. The De Vane Professor of the Humanities at Yale University, Bloom is considered a leading critic of English and American literature. His A Map of Misreading applies critical techniques to close readings of poems by major poets from Milton and Wordsworth to Ammons and Ashbery, and Omens of Millennium examines such "New Age" issues as angels, prophetic dreams and near-death experiences.


By Diane Manuel

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