Discovery & Inspiration

Discovery & Inspiration

Discovery & Inspiration asks “What can we learn by talking to scholars about their research? What makes them so passionate about the subjects they study? What is it like to make a new discovery? To answer a confounding question?” For over 40 years the National Humanities Center has been a home away from home for scholars from around the world—historians and philosophers, scholars of literature and music and art and dozens of other fields. Join us as we sit down with scholars to discuss their work—to better understand the questions that intrigue and perplex them, the passion that drives them, and how their scholarship may change the ways we think about the world around us.... Show More

Episodes

July 6, 2020 15 min
When mapping the struggle for Black freedom and racial justice, historians have often emphasized the events and organizational efforts that occurred in urban areas, largely led by men. However, in order to take Black Power politics seriously in a more comprehensive fashion, we need to understand how they also emerged from and developed in rural American communities, where the voices and leadership of women were extremely influentia...
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Between the 1930s and the 1970s, racialized legislation and subsequent migrations of Black Americans combined to drive explosive population growth in urban centers, which in turn gave rise to the creation of segregated districts and public housing projects. The experience of life in these spaces, which required residents to navigate precarious conditions where distinctions between public and private collapsed, was chronicled by Bla...
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After the ancient Roman Empire embraced Christianity under Emperor Constantine in the fourth century A.D., the empire’s culture and politics were significantly transformed. Records of poetic inscriptions found throughout Rome can help us to understand how these public displays both recalled an earlier model of poetic discourse and established new forms of spiritual authority and civic instruction. In this podcast, Dennis Trout, pr...
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For the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States, the changing nature of American immigration law and policy is not merely an abstract concern. The rise in anti-immigrant sentiment has transformed the lives of young people, who must contend with the uncertainty of their own legal status even as they fear for the safety of their families. In this podcast episode, Angela Stuesse, associate professor of anthrop...
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In the 1930s, the writer Ursula Parrott used her novels, short stories, and screenwriting ventures to portray independent women during a period of immense social change in America. Despite this, like many women writers, Parrott’s legacy has been all but erased from the popular imagination. In this podcast, Marsha Gordon, professor of film studies at North Carolina State University, delves into the way that Parrott’s independence a...
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We tend to think of money as a familiar object that plays a role in our everyday lives. However, when we consider the changing nature of currency in colonial America, money appears differently—as a “social technology for the distribution of value.” Because money allows individuals to represent and share value in direct and visible ways, the transition to the use of paper money in the United States in the eighteenth century suppleme...
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As commonly understood, slavery in the United States officially came to an end with the surrender of the Confederacy and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. Yet various forms of human bondage and forced labor continued across the United States and its territories long after the conclusion of the Civil War and into the twentieth century. In this podcast, historian Christina Snyder from The Pennsylvania State University discusse...
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Erle Stanley Gardner is best remembered as a best-selling author and the creator of the fictional lawyer Perry Mason, a hard-nosed criminal defense attorney with a penchant for taking on hopeless cases. Mason’s heroic efforts to establish the innocence of his clients—first in novels, then films, radio, and television—captured the imaginations of Americans for four decades. Gardner’s interest in highlighting and reversing miscarriag...
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After she tragically died in childbirth in 1932, acclaimed novelist and activist Margery Latimer became lost to history. While her work had drawn comparisons to Gertrude Stein and James Joyce, Latimer’s reputation as a writer was overshadowed by her interracial marriage with the poet and novelist Jean Toomer. In this podcast Emily Lutenski, associate professor of American studies at Saint Louis University, discusses Latimer and T...
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Research indicates that African Americans are far more likely to get sick than their fellow citizens who are white. Regardless of their age, educational attainment, or socioeconomic circumstances, they are more likely to suffer from severe forms of illness and have shorter life expectancies. While a number of factors play a part in this sad statistical reality, a key underlying factor is the persistence of racial bias in America. ...
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The 15th-century Wars of the Roses between Yorkist and Lancastrian factions often summon images of royal intrigue and courtly splendor. Whether it is one of Shakespeare’s plays or a more scholarly account, histories of this struggle for the English throne tend to privilege the nobility. Art historian and NHC Fellow Sonja Drimmer offers a far different perspective of the era. By extending the political sphere beyond the royal court ...
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When we think of the way in which past audiences encountered poems and novels, we often tend to imagine a silent and solitary process. But for many readers, engaging with fiction was a fundamentally collective endeavor, which often involved getting together with a group of friends to read aloud or visit locations depicted in the work of a favorite author. By acknowledging and engaging with these social habits of reading, we can beg...
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Proponents of distant reading practices in which computers are used to analyze vast quantities of textual material assert that their quantitative methods simultaneously complement and complicate traditional literary criticism. NHC Fellow Ted Underwood, professor of Information Sciences and of English at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and an innovative leader in the use of digital reading practices, is working on a new...
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Founded by freed slaves in the early nineteenth century, the candomblé temple Casa Branca in Salvador, Bahia, was the first Afro-Brazilian place of worship in Brazil. But despite its religious and historic significance, the story of Casa Branca’s origins has remained the stuff of oral traditions until the recent discovery of written documents by NHC Fellow Lisa Earl Castillo. Castillo is working on a new book which situates the tem...
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In the popular imagination, computers are not only superior to humans in speed and accuracy, but they do their work free from prejudice, treating users equally without regard to race or gender. NHC Fellow Mar Hicks, associate professor of history at Illinois Institute of Technology, is helping complicate our understanding of how computers shape our world as she works this year on a new book exploring how technological systems in Gr...
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Poets have long used ekphrasis—the vivid description of a piece of visual art—as a way of exploring the deep complexity of representation, the relationship between the artist and her art, and to make legible things which may otherwise seem inexpressible. NHC Fellow Meta DuEwa Jones is herself a poet and a scholar of poetry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she is an associate professor of English. She is cur...
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Traditionally, accounts of the scientific advances of the Renaissance have focused on the contributions of famous individuals like Copernicus whose theories about heavenly bodies radically altered how we understood the arrangement of the universe and our place in it. Increasingly, though, historians have noted striking parallels between the work of figures like Copernicus and their contemporaries in the Islamic world though they’ve...
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In the opening lines of his most famous poem, “To Althea, From Prison,” Richard Lovelace writes, “Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage...” This line expresses a thought common among imprisoned writers across time — that regardless of the conditions of their imprisonment, the human spirit and the poetic imagination cannot be constrained. NHC Fellow Andrea Brady, however, suggests that the relationship between our p...
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Monuments commemorating historical figures, events, and regimes can be found nearly everywhere, yet we often barely notice them. At other times, though, the histories they represent can inflame passions and the monuments themselves become contentious flashpoints for their communities. NHC Fellow Mia Fuller, associate professor of Italian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, is a cultural anthropologist who has focused...
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For most of us, learning to read is an important milestone in our intellectual development. This accomplishment is a cornerstone on which our educations and professional lives are built, and one of the primary mechanisms through which we connect with the world. But for some people, specifically those affected by neurological disorders such as dyslexia or dementia, reading can be an experience fraught with challenges. NHC Fellow Mat...
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