"20" Questions

The “20” Questions series features discussions of provocative recent publications in a unique format. The author of the publication gives a brief presentation, and then five or six distinguished questioners—coming from a wide range of disciplines and perspectives—each poses one question. After the author has responded, the audience joins in the discussion.

Age of Terror

The aim of the Humanities Center’s series on an Age of Terror was to illuminate discrete aspects of our anxious times while drawing together underlying themes having to do with politics, ethics, and cultural practices. The issue of security, for example, can be considered from the perspectives of law and policy, of course, but also as a phenomenological matter, as much related to our affective lives, to our psyches, as to our roles as citizens.

Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Seminar

The Mellon Seminar’s current theme from 2017 to 2020 is “Migration and the Humanities.” From 2014 to 2017, the Mellon Seminar examined the interrelationship between violence and non-violence.

Arts and Ideas

In addition to hosting lectures and readings, we have tried different, more interactive formats—conversations and panels—for poets, novelists, playwrights, performers, literary critics, biographers, historians, and philosophers to share their work with students, faculty, and the public.

Between Two Cultures

In 2005, the Humanities Center joined with the Harvard Stem Cell Institute to create the Between Two Cultures interfaculty seminar to host discussions between scientists and humanists on the ethical, social, political, and philosophical implications of new developments in biotechnology.

Book Events

The Mahindra Humanities Center, at times in partnership with the Harvard Book Store, strives to bring important writers to campus and to extend the work of the Center into the Cambridge and Boston communities.

Collaborations with the A.R.T.

In addition to hosting lectures and readings, we have tried different, more interactive formats—conversations and panels—for poets, novelists, playwrights, performers, literary critics, biographers, historians, and philosophers to share their work with students, faculty, and the public. Partnerships with the American Repertory Theatre and the Harvard Book Store have enabled the Humanities Center to bring important writers and performers to campus and extend the work of the Center into the Cambridge and Boston communities.

Cultural Mobility

The Cultural Mobility lectures were funded by a Mellon Foundation Distinguished Humanist grant to Professor Stephen Greenblatt. Cultural mobility is a portmanteau term for a broad investigation of the translation of cultural forms across time and space. But the overarching goal of the lectures was quite simply to help forge a lively intellectual community by fostering an ongoing conversation that could go beyond the brief round questions that ordinarily follows lectures.

Digital Humanities

With the Initiative for Innovative Computing, the Mahindra Humanities Center sponsors talks and workshops on the “digital humanities” in an effort to introduce innovative computing techniques for research and teaching in the humanities and non-quantitative social sciences. The first workshop provided an overview of a variety of technologies useful in humanities research and teaching, including geospatial visualizations, text mining, multiverses, 2D and 3D imagery, audio technology, content management systems, wikis, online collaboration, and various online humanities sites. Subsequent talks and workshops featured scholars from a wide range of disciplines—history, classics, art history, Tibetan and Buddhist studies, architecture, history of science—discussing their work with these and other technologies.

In the Public Interest

This series explores questions of who constitutes our contemporary publics and how these publics understand and advocate for their interests.

Legal Humanities

In partnership with Harvard Law School, the Mahindra Center has organized a range of events under the rubric “Legal Humanities” that explore intersections between the law, literature, film, ethics, history, hermeneutics, and other areas of humanistic inquiry.

Master Classes

Unlike our other programs which take long historical views or trace large thematic arcs, Master Classes provide an occasion to celebrate a meditative moment of genius: the genius of a complex, exemplary work slowly unfolding in the precise and passionate reading of a gifted interpreter. The “reader” attempts to catch the spirit of the work in a relatively short, shareable excerpt that allows for an exploration of the work’s fuller themes, forms, questions, and beliefs. There is an element of instruction and interpretation in Master Classes, but beyond those pedagogical aims, they allow for the pleasures of a slow and serious working-away at details of textual construction and attention that are often overlooked in broader and quicker surveys.

Medical Humanities

Interest in the medical humanities has intensified across the University in recent years. The Mahindra Humanities Center, reflecting these interests, has developed a new initiative to address some of the fundamental questions that have emerged within biomedicine that center on ethical, cultural, and humanistic aspects of health and disease, the body, and medical and scientific practices. The goal of this initiative is to bring together physicians, scientists, humanists, and interpretive social scientists to examine a series of critical questions about culture and values in the medical enterprise. In this respect, the initiative hopes to draw on a wide range of disciplines and perspectives to contribute to new understandings of patient-healer relationships; patterns of health and disease and their social determinants; and the meaning and impact of new medical technologies.

New Faculty Lunches

With the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Mahindra Humanities Center organizes Thursday gatherings at which new members of the Harvard faculty present their work and get to know colleagues from a wide range of fields. Lively conversations rather than formal lectures, these lunches have helped build intellectual communities beyond departments and disciplines. The food has also been a big hit: barbecue, Indian, Chinese, Mexican, Thai, and a variety of other cuisines have provided a welcome alternative to the usual Harvard sandwiches.

Norton Lectures

The Charles Eliot Norton Professorship in Poetry was endowed in 1925. Harvard’s preeminent lecture series in the arts and humanities, the Norton Lectures recognize individuals of extraordinary talent who, in addition to their particular expertise, have the gift of wide dissemination and wise expression. The term “poetry” is interpreted in the broadest sense to encompass all poetic expression in language, music, or the fine arts; past Norton Professors have included T.S. Eliot, Jorge Luis Borges, Leonard Bernstein, Czeslaw Milosz, John Cage, and Nadine Gordimer. The 2009-10 Norton Lectures, the first organized under the auspices of the Mahindra Center, were given by Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk. Pamuk’s lectures, “The Naïve and Sentimental Novelist,” were published as a book by Harvard University Press in 2010.

Tanner Lectures

The Tanner Lectures, established by the scholar, industrialist, and philanthropist Obert Clark Tanner, are held at Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, Berkeley, the University of Michigan, and the University of Utah. They are intended to advance and reflect upon scholarship and learning relating to human values. Tanner lecturers may come from the humanities, sciences, creative arts, or from leadership in public or private affairs.

Tenth Anniversary Observance of 9.11

The Mahindra Humanities Center's observance of the tenth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon reflected on the local, national, and global ramifications of 9/11. Through musical and dance performances, images, and readings, the observance explored themes of anxiety and security, imagination and empathy, survival and solidarity. It took place in conjunction with an installation in Harvard Yard: a series of posts bearing flowers and poems that connect with the themes of the observance.

The 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Mahindra Humanities Center marked the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with two events. With the Harvard University Committee on Human Rights Studies and the generous support of the Volkswagen Foundation, the Mahindra Humanities Center sponsored the conference “Sixty Years of Human Rights: Implementation and Innovation” in December 2008. Witness, in April 2009, represented the contribution of the arts and humanities to the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Church of What's Happening Now: New Art, New Artists

The Church of What's Happening Now: New Art, New Artists brings visual artists working at the cutting edge of their medium to Harvard. The series is designed to introduce Harvard students and faculty to the most compelling artists of our time. Artists are paired with a member of the Harvard faculty in a desire to foreground dialog and to open up the specific knowledge and experience produced in the visual arts to the discursivity of numerous disciplines in the Humanities.

The Environment Forum at the Mahindra Center

The Environment Forum is dedicated to exploring new work in the arts and humanities that reframes or reimagines the relationship of humanity to the rest of nature.

The Regional and the Global

In collaboration with one or more other Harvard centers or institutes, the Mahindra Humanities Center periodically sponsors a major conference, followed by a series of lectures and seminars, which take a single, vital regional cultural form as their point of departure. This initiative emerges out of a widespread sense of discontent with approaches to globalization that simply pit the local against the global. The regional is already a negotiation of national boundaries, territorial relationships, linguistic diversities, and cultural interactions representing a more heterogeneous reality than can be encompassed by conceptions of the local as fixed or self-contained, nationalist or nativist.

The Rita E. Hauser Forum for the Arts

Established with the generous gift of Rita E. Hauser, the Hauser Forum is broadly conceived to address “The State of the Arts” across the globe. The first Hauser Forum is a lecture by the acclaimed novelist Ian McEwan, on "The Lever: Where Novelists Stand to Move the World."

Volkswagen Fellowship Symposia

Placeholder text (and image) for Volkswagen Fellowship Symposium.

Writers Speak

Writers Speak brings significant contemporary writers to speak on campus, with the intention of fostering literary conversation.