Previous Programs from the 2016-2017 Academic Year

Previous Programs from the 2016-2017 Academic Year

Tuesday, June 6, 2017
Luncheon, The Chicago Club
Robert Pippen,  Evelyn Stefansson Nef Distinguished Service Professor of Social Thought, Philosophy, and the College
The Philosophical Hitchcock: Vertigo and the Anxieties of Unknowingness

In almost all of Hitchcock’s films, people have a great deal of trouble understanding each other. The human condition, as he seems to understand it, is one where self-knowledge and reliable understanding of others seem extremely difficult because of deceit, self-deceit, wishful thinking, and simple ignorance.

The most famous manifestations of this are the many films in which the wrong person is blamed for or suspected of something. In his masterpiece, Vertigo, this situation of general unknowingness is extreme, and the consequences more catastrophic than in any of his other films.

Join Professor Robert Pippin as he explores the philosophical presuppositions and implications of this depiction, showing several scenes as a way of exploring why Hitchcock seems to think we are in such a situation and why the famed director thinks it becomes ever more difficult in late modern, advanced societies.

Thursday, May 11, 2017
Luncheon, The University Club
Adrian Johns, Professor of History, the Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science, and the College
Information Police: How the Renaissance Gave Us Our Intellectual Property System

We all live, work, and create in a system of information structured by intellectual property. Central to that system is the practice of patenting, by which inventors are given exclusive rights to their inventions for limited periods of time. Patenting has always been controversial, and it remains so to this day. It is typically justified by invoking the need to encourage innovation and by pointing to the equity of a bargain by which inventors gain monopoly rights in return for abjuring secrecy.

But even if that justification makes sense today, it certainly did not at the time when the patenting of inventions was first defined, in England’s Statute of Monopolies of 1624. Indeed, the point of that statute was not to create the practice of patenting but to destroy it; and it was inspired not by any desire to defend inventors but by anger at the overweening actions of patentees and their agents.

Those agents—badgers, broggers, sealers, and other strange beasts—forced lawmakers to ask a quite different question: not why inventions should be patented, but why everything else should not be. The world’s information infrastructure rests, to this day, on the answer they produced. Join historian Adrian Johns as he takes on a voyage into the fascinating world of intellectual property.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Dinner, The Casino Club
Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law
Sex and the Constitution

With changes in the makeup of the Supreme Court, serious issues may well arise in the coming years about the future of Roe v. Wade.

Drawing on his new book, Sex and the Constitution, which focuses on the history of sex, religion, law, and constitutional law from the ancient world to the 21stcentury, Geoffrey Stone will explore the realities of abortion in the past.

To what extent is our contemporary understanding of abortion and of Roe v. Wade reflective of historical experience? How did Roe become a central flashpoint of American politics that today plays such a pivotal role in American elections and in judicial nominations? In this inquiry, Stone sheds new light on what was once common practice and in doing so illuminates the challenges we face going forward.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Luncheon, The University Club
Tara Zahra, Professor of East European History and the College
The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World

Beginning in the nineteenth century, millions of East Europeans departed from home in search of work or in flight from war and persecution. This talk examines the consequences of mass migration on the societies and families they left behind. Across the rise and fall of states, attempts to manage emigration gave rise to new forms of border control, humanitarian activism, social protection, colonial fantasies, and ethnic cleansing. And while many migrants insisted that they were leaving home out of longing for freedom and prosperity, other East Europeans claimed that emigration led only to new forms of slavery and exploitation.

Professor Tara Zahra argues that the experience of mass migration ultimately shaped competing ideals of freedom itself in Eastern Europe and “the West” over the course of the twentieth century. After the Second World War, the “captivity” of East Europeans behind the Iron Curtain came to be seen as a quintessential symbol of Communist oppression. The Iron Curtain was not, however, built overnight in 1948 or 1961. Its foundation was arguably laid before the First World War, when Austrian Imperial officials began a century-long campaign to curtail emigration in the name of demographic power and humanitarian values. Join Professor Zahra for a timely lecture that will provide insights into contemporary immigration and emigration challenges in the world today.

Thursday, January 26, 2017
Annual Dinner, Four Seasons Chicago
UChicago Urban Labs Panel
Tomorrow's Cities: Meeting the Challenges of Urban Life

Panelists (from left to right, top to bottom): Marianne Bertrand, Faculty Director, University of Chicago Poverty; Evelyn Diaz, AM’98 (SSA), President of the Heartland Alliance; Jens Ludwig, Faculty Director, University of Chicago Crime Lab; Michael Nutter, Executive Fellow, University of Chicago Urban Labs

Moderated by Timothy Knowles (left), Pritzker Director, University of Chicago Urban Labs


Cities fuel remarkable economic, social, educational, and cultural progress. At the same time, cities amplify and concentrate dire social problems.

Organized just last year, the University of Chicago Urban Labs work to address challenges across five key dimensions of urban life: crime, education, health, poverty, and energy and the environment. In partnership with civic and community leaders, the Labs identify, test, and help scale the programs and policies with the greatest potential to improve human lives.

Join moderator Timothy Knowles and our esteemed panelists as they discuss their work to uncover the best solutions to our cities' biggest challenges.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Luncheon, The Casino
David E. Wellbery, PhD, LeRoy and Margaret Carlson University Professor, Department of Germanic Studies and the John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought
Gender, Aging, Desire: Narrative Artistry in Thomas Mann’s The Black Swan

Thomas Mann’s late novella The Black Swan in its English translation—known as Die Betrogene in the original German—is not the best known of his works. This may be because it does not entirely avoid crossing the border into bad taste, a border that Thomas Mann often tested (such as in Mann’s classic Death in Venice). Nonetheless, it fully displays Mann’s cunning narrative artistry, his talent for caricature, and most importantly, his central themes: the disruptive quality of erotic desire, the ambiguities of gender, and the complexities of aging. Join Professor David Wellbery for a close reading of Mann’s 1954 tale of mortality and femininity. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016
Luncheon, The University Club
Dana Suskind, Founder and Director, Thirty Million Words Initiative
Thirty Million Words: A Public Health Approach to Early Childhood Education

As early as nine months of age, infants born into poverty score lower in cognitive development than their more affluent peers. This disparity triples by the age of two, and by their fourth birthday, these vunerable children were found to have heard 30 million fewer words than others otheir age. This profound disparity in early language enviroments - known as the national word gap - has a cascade of consequences for cognitive development, school readiness, academic achievement, occupational status, and health and social wellbeing later in life.

Dr. Dana Suskind will share her observation of disparities in the language development of young children. Thirty Million Words disseminates evidence-based, parent-directed programs that encourage parents to harness the power of their words to build their children's brains and shape their futures, highlighting that parents are their children's first teachers. Dr. Suskind will share the science behind TMW, some of the current interventions under the Thirty Million Words initiative that utilize existing social and health infrastructures- like Early Head Start centers and pediatric clinics- to engage adults and children in using their words to build a child's brain and to disseminate critical public health information from the start.

Thursday, October 6, 2016
Dinner, The Casino
Institute of Politics Panel
Precarious World: National Security after the 2016 Election
 Michael Morell, Fellow at IOP, former acting director of the CIA
with Rachel Bronson, executive director and publisher of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist

In the midst of a contentious presidental campaign, national security has become a hot-button issue, but policy discussion is often clouded by heated rhetoric. What are the real security threats facing our nation? What are the national security and foreign policy issues the next president will be faced with on Day 1? And what has been the impact of this campaign on our foreign allies and enemies?

Join two of the nation's leading experts on national security, IOP Fellow Michael Morell, former acting director of the CIA, and Professor Robert Pape, director of the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, as they discuss these questions and more in a discussion moderated by Rachel Bronson, executive director and publisher of Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Luncheon, The Chicago Club
Jack A. Gilbert, Faculty Director, The Microbiome Center
with Erin Lane, Exective Director, The Microbiome Center
Invisible Influence: The Microbiome in Chicago

The microbiome comprises the bacteria, archaea, protists, and viruses—essentially microorganisms—that live in an ecosystem. They are found everywhere and form the fabric of the reality of our world. The human body has its own microbiome, which has a profound influence on our health and wellbeing.

Scientists at the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory, and the Marine Biological Laboratory have come together to form the Microbiome Center. This new innovative center is helping to fundamentally influence the future of microbiome science.

We will explore some of the new science in this area and share exciting findings that suggest we may be ever-closer to treatments for a variety of human diseases, to understanding how microorganisms are influencing our climate, and even to supporting our food security. It is an exciting time for microbial ecology, and the Microbiome Center is playing a leading role in the national program of research.