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Matti Bunzl's Blog

Q & A with Chi-ming Yang
As the proud owner of a pug, I am very excited for our program with Chi-ming Yang on Saturday, Nov. 9, which explores 18th-century England's fascination with China—a craze that extended to both decorations and pets. I asked Chi-ming Yang to share a little background on her research; our conversation follows.  Much of your work addresses Europe's enduring fascination with Asia. What accounts for this persistent trope; and do you see changes in the meanings attributed to Asia... Continue Reading >>
Thinking CHF
There’s something new about this year’s Chicago Humanities Festival. And no, I’m not talking about the theme. That’s different every year, of course, lending each CHF its own unique character – with Animal promising to be the cat’s meow! What I mean with new are the categories we are using to organize our events. Here they are: I know, I know. It doesn’t sound like that big of a deal. But trust me, it’s huge! In fact, we conceive of them—and... Continue Reading >>
Animal: What Makes Us Human
  Are humans animals? The answer to this question is a perfectly confounding Yes and No. From a biological perspective, things couldn't be any clearer. Like all living creatures, we evolved over millions of years. We look like most other species (two eyes over a nose over a mouth), share large parts of our genes with all other mammals (and over 98% with chimpanzees, our closest relatives), and do all the things that characterize earth's fauna (from... Continue Reading >>
From Iraq to Afghanistan – Rajiv Chandrasekaran
I’m quite the political junkie and spend far too much time watching cable news. I know it’s a waste of time for the most part – after all, how much benefit can there be in getting the scandalous comment of the day dissected hour after hour by a set of rotating hosts? I guess it’s one of my guilty pleasures… Sometimes, though, cable news can be extraordinarily edifying. I remember one such moment. It was in the fall of 2006, and I was watching this show or another, when a guest was... Continue Reading >>
The Iconic City - A Visual Blog
This year’s CHF features two events conceived in conjunction with the Art Institute of Chicago exhibit “Film and Photo in New York”, an extraordinary survey of work from the mid-20th century by Morris Engel, Louis Faurer, Robert Frank, Helen Levitt, Paul Strand, and Weegee. One of the events is a lecture by University of Chicago linguist and anthropologist Michael Silverstein who will explore American dialects with a special focus on New York City. The other – the topic of this, our... Continue Reading >>
The Hip Hop Pioneer
Where to go to graduate school? It’s one of the decisions every budding academic makes, a daunting one, full of apprehension and insecurity. My case was no exception. I had discovered anthropology as a sophomore at Stanford, and when it came time to apply to PhD programs in the fall of my final year, the possibilities seemed all too vast. Should I go to a particular city or focus on the intellectual configuration of specific departments? What role should funding and teaching opportunities play?... Continue Reading >>
Scholarship that Matters
One of the things we pride ourselves at CHF is bringing scholarship that really matters to a larger public. That’s a rather tall thing to say, of course. Every year, America’s researchers publish thousands of books and hundreds of thousands of articles, and no-one could have a truly panoptic view of it all. And yet, there are mechanisms, both inside and outside the academy, that allow us to identify the scholarship that makes a true intervention and will endure far beyond our immediate era.... Continue Reading >>
A Barihunk at the CHF
America’s opera audiences love Nathan Gunn! For over a decade, the dashing baritone has been conquering hearts across the country. Yes, his vocal technique is impeccable – just this year, The New York Times’s Anthony Tommasini, doyen of American music critics, called Gunn “a model of knowing your own voice and using it wisely.” Billy Budd at the Metropolitan Opera But Gunn is also a consummate performer, a singing actor as much as an acting singer. He’s been clowning... Continue Reading >>
The Genius of Yo-Yo Ma
How to explain the genius of Yo-Yo Ma? The basic facts are easy: he is, quite simply, one of the most famous musicians of all time, a global figure whose list of accolades – the National Medal of Arts, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, honorary doctorates, and countless Grammys – puts him in a league of his own. And while his accomplishments could fill all kinds of blogs, a mere enumeration could never get to the heart of the matter. That lies, at least as I see it, in a unique... Continue Reading >>
The Frontiers of Anthropology
In the spring of 2004, my dear friend and fellow anthropologist Daphne Berdahl called me with exciting news. Her department – the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota – had just hired a young anthropologist as a new assistant professor. And Daphne was thrilled. Karen Ho, she told me, is the next generation of anthropology. Karen Ho Daphne didn’t think about it in terms of Karen’s age (although she was the youngest anthropologist on the Minnesota faculty... Continue Reading >>
Bel Canto - The Future of Opera
Doctor Atomic Opera is a total form of art, what Richard Wagner called a Gesamtkunstwerk. It combines music, theater, visual art, even dance, in ways its aficionados – and I’m certainly one of them – experience as the pinnacle of human creativity. When it all comes together, when it really, really works, it’s simply magic. Un Ballo in Maschera And yet, there is something worrisome about the genre. Sometimes, it can feel a bit static and worn, as if it’s... Continue Reading >>
From the Arc of Justice to the Other 1960s
The Chicago Humanities Festival is a classic non-profit. We do what we do, because we passionately believe in the power of intellectual exchange and its ability to transform society for the better. And we can do it because a wonderful group of patrons support our efforts year after year. Julie and Roger Baskes  Roger and Julie Baskes, two of Chicago’s great philanthropists, are members of this group. For the past decade, they have underwritten the annual Baskes... Continue Reading >>
A History of the World in 100 Objects - American Edition
Olmec Stone MaskHow do you write a history of humankind? That’s hardly an obvious question. After all, no individual text can possibly encompass the entirety of the human experience – it can’t even come close. Sure, there were any number of 19th-century scholars who were undeterred by such verities, leading to some massive multi-volume tomes. James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, for example, clocked in at an impressive (or daunting) twelve volumes. But that hardly made it comprehensive, no matter... Continue Reading >>
Liza Lou: Beading America
 Liza Lou I still remember my first encounter with the art of Liza Lou as if it was yesterday. It was at a show at the Krannert Museum of Art on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the winter of 2005. I was taking in one of the more intriguing art offerings I had seen in a while, a show called Over + Over: Passion for Process. It brought together about a dozen artists whose practice is grounded in painfully slow modes of assemblage. The curators linked the... Continue Reading >>
A Sneak Peek of Gay History
As a University of Chicago graduate student in the 1990s, I was fortunate to have a number of extraordinary mentors. First and foremost was my beloved dissertation advisor, George Stocking, the great historian of anthropology who was the reason I chose to come to Chicago for my PhD. George Stocking I was completely taken with Victorian Anthropology, his definitive account of the history of British anthropology. And in my initial hubris, I imagined that my dissertation would... Continue Reading >>
High Rise Stories
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, S.R. Crown Hall As Chicagoans, we are fortunate to live in one of the great architectural cities in the world. Not only that. It is a city defined, like few others, by one overarching aesthetic and functional principle: modernism. True, there are considerable differences between such masters as Daniel Burnham and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. But like the other architects who have made Chicago what it is (from Frank Lloyd Wright to Skidmore, Owings and Merrill... Continue Reading >>
Fall Festival Sneak Peek
The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind. Ever since we announced the theme of "America" for our fall festival, our phones have been ringing off the hook (not true, of course, cell phones don't have hooks...). We've heard from so many of our audience members who are excited about this year's program and the speakers we are bringing. Turns out, there are huge numbers of Adam Gopnik and Charles Mann fans out there – and then there's Grant Achatz, of course. So many of you have told me about... Continue Reading >>
The Twitterati
When I was in college, it was the local custom to assign all the undergraduates into one of two categories: techies and fuzzies. It will come as no surprise to those who know me that I was in the latter. Not only did I major in the ultimate humanistic discipline (what could be more pertinent, after all, than anthropology – literally the study of the human?), but I was supremely maladapted to handle any of the new electronic gizmos that were making the rounds in the... Continue Reading >>
Fall 2012: America
America. It’s a loaded word. It’s geography as well as terra firma; it’s history, memory, aspirations, a destination—a physical place as well as a repository of dreams and beliefs that tug at people from all over the world. But when we at CHF say America, what do we mean? As you have probably noticed, we are approaching a presidential election. In fact, it will occur right during our festival. Early November, after all, is our time of the year. But it happens to... Continue Reading >>
Marina Abramovic: Total Presence
It’s not often that I find myself sitting in church and loving every minute of it. Actually, having grown up Jewish and secular at that, I don’t find myself in church much at all. Sure, there’s the occasional wedding, to say nothing of the conscientious traipsing through the various instantiations of Europe’s ecclesiastical culture. But the fact remains: church is not really me. Well, that might change after the transcendent experience I had at First United Methodist Church at... Continue Reading >>