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Chicago Humanities Festival Blog

Tom Sachs
Of all the nerd maguses among recent art world phenoms, there may be none quite as uber as Tom Sachs. Tom Sachs Born in 1966 and raised in Westport, Connecticut, he must have been one of those kids completely entrameled in the world of model kits, remote-controlled racers, and out-back garage workshops: he still is.  After a stint at Bennington College, architectural studies in London, and then a couple years out west in Frank Gehry’s furniture shop, in 1990 he transplanted... Continue Reading >>
Walter Murch
Every spring, at some point in the semester as I am teaching my graduate Fiction of Nonfiction writing and reading class to the usual collection of journalism and poetry graduate students at NYU (my mission, to help foster a new generation of lyrical reporters and investigative poets), there comes a point in the proceedings where I have occasion to offer up my opinion (which given the rules of graduate education has the momentary force of law) that Walter Murch is the smartest person in... Continue Reading >>
Video Games and Education: Part One
When I tell people that I've been studying video games in graduate school, they often respond with a polite chuckle and a smile.  “Really?  I thought you were studying public policy,” they say. Really.  And I am. My academic specialties are U.S. History and Public Policy, but, over the last several years, I've taken to studying the social and psychological aspects of video game play.  When I first took an academic interest in video games a few years ago, there wasn't too much... Continue Reading >>
Social Media and the Arab Democracy Movement
When protests erupted in the Middle East this year, blogs, tweets and amateur videos rocketed through cyberspace. Live reports and commentary -- by amateurs and professional journalists alike -- fueled revolutions and fired imaginations, providing riveting details and a kind of gritty narrative power to events that seemed to turn an entire region topsy-turvy.  Broadcast networks, most notably Al Jazeera, picked up impromptu feeds that flowed from the Arab streets and helped spread them to... Continue Reading >>
Emily Osborn and the History of African Studies
Africa has long held a place of intellectual curiosity in the “West.” The Sub-Saharan part of the continent, in particular, has been an object of fascination, space of projection, and general site of “Otherness” for the European self. This is to say that the West has a long and rather dubious history of imagining what Africa is “really” like, from intense speculations to outright fantasies. It was not until the late 19th century that the study of Africa started to be undertaken with... Continue Reading >>
Somewhere Over the Rainbow
This blog post is part of a series profiling Academy Award-winning original songs. This fall, the Festival is producing a one-night extravaganza concert featuring all the original songs that have won an Oscar. Read more about the concert. When I announced to an office colleague that "Over the Rainbow" would be the next song for the Academy Award-winning Best Song blog, she cheerfully replied, “Oh! You have to do "Over the Rainbow". You’re gay. You can do a whole lot of things with... Continue Reading >>
O Superman, O Superwoman
With trance-inducing “ah-ah-ahs” and cushy layers of synth, Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” aurally transports its listener to a dreamy-digital state that might feel something like sleeping in a robotic womb. Turns out - this is a rather pleasant place to be. Upon its release in 1981, Laurie Anderson’s techno-filial anthem hit number two on British pop charts. Laurie Anderson was rocketed to international fame, where she has stayed ever since, constantly experimenting with our... Continue Reading >>
Secret Love
This blog post is part of a series profiling Academy Award-winning original songs. This fall, the Festival is producing a one-night extravaganza concert featuring all the original songs that have won an Oscar. Read more about the concert. Warner Brothers was a cheap studio in the Forties and Fifties. Ruled back then by Jack Warner, it wasn’t above producing inexpensive copies of others’ successes, particularly when it came to MGM’s lavish musicals. On Moonlight Bay and By the Light... Continue Reading >>
Michael Bérubé – The Best of the Big 10
When I arrived at the University of Illinois as a newly minted PhD in the fall of 1998, a figure towered over the intellectual landscape of the campus. It was Michael Bérubé, who had just been appointed the founding director of the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities. The IPRH, as it is called for short, was our version of a national phenomenon – the emergence of the interdisciplinary humanities institute. Michael Bérubé Across the country, these institutions... Continue Reading >>
Shakespeare by the Numbers
Last year, I wrote a blog about Ania Loomba’s lecture “Shakespeare and the Black Body” (check it out here). There, I said that no humanities festival would be complete without an event on the Bard. I meant it then, and I mean it now. With that, let me tell you what we have installed for tech•knowledgē. It’s a doozy – is that a term from Shakespeare…? This fall, we will welcome Michael Witmore to discuss his work on digital Shakespeare. Now what does that mean? Mike, as he is... Continue Reading >>
The State of the Humanities: Conversations with National Leaders
The Chicago Humanities Festival is the premiere event of its kind in the country. We take this position seriously. For 22 years, we have brought the world’s leading thinkers, writers, and artists to Chicago, providing an unparalleled forum for exchange, education, and edification. But it’s not just the creative types who populate the CHF stage. We regularly hear from key figures in the world of politics and higher education – the folks who set the larger parameters for the humanities in... Continue Reading >>
Peggy Hall-Heineman
If you are a Festival regular, you may have seen a woman with a clipboard standing at the CHF ticket desk, trailed by numerous high school students. She may have stood out to you for several reasons: the clipboard, her ubiquity, or the fact that her high school entourage represents an age demographic not usually in full force in the festival audience. And whether you’re new to the Festival or a long-time veteran, we want you to know her story. That woman with the clipboard is none other than... Continue Reading >>
Michael Taussig – Anthropology’s Shaman
At its best, anthropology confounds us. It confronts and defamiliarizes, using its global, comparative purview to bring us face-to-face with the exotic only to reveal our own strangeness. No contemporary anthropologist practices this maxim with greater verve than Michael Taussig. In a career spanning 40 years, the Columbia University Professor has produced some of the most startling and influential writings to ever come out of the discipline. Michael Taussig, One of... Continue Reading >>
The Big 10 at the CHF
While I’m not a Midwesterner by birth, I’m very much one by choice. Having grown up in Vienna, my first foray into the US took me to California, where I went to college. But I never felt at home there. Somehow, the place didn’t seem real. The weather was too perfect and the people around me too convinced that they were in the happiest place on earth. Maybe it’s the neurotic Viennese in me – but I need some doubt it my life, even a little bit of misery. University of Chicago ... Continue Reading >>
Outstanding Performance from A-Z
It’s the equivalent of spinning a globe, and with a blindfold on, letting your pointer finger glide along the globe until it can spin no further, then removing the blindfold, and booking a vacation to wherever your finger has just landed- completely surprising, definitely wild, and infinitely entertaining. I was exposed to The Encyclopedia Show by a friend; because, well, that’s what friends do, they bring you to incredible shows that change your perspective on performance art, from... Continue Reading >>
Sylvia Nasar's Grand Pursuit
Once upon a time it was the 1980’s, when Drexel Burnham roamed the earth, Apple actually fired Steve Jobs, and magazines actually made money and actually paid that money people to write for them. Sylvia Nasar and I were two of those people. I was writing plays, but paying my rent writing for Forbes. (ALL playwrights—and I mean ALL as in, “every single last one in the entire world that doesn’t have a trust fund” —must have a day job. And, “yes,” teaching and writing movies and for TV and putting... Continue Reading >>
A Short History of Guitar Noise
For as long as people have been making music, those people have been trying to make the music they make louder. A longer stick. A bigger rock. Hollow out that log. Yodel in a fjord. Steel strings on violins instead of gut. Church organ pipes the size of a redwood. Mr. Jolson, sing into this megaphone. All are technologies of loudness. As with so many technologies, the 20th century saw technologies of loudness, as it were, boom. Just as the A-bomb was the mid 20th century... Continue Reading >>
Historian David Staley
This blog post is by guest author David J. Staley, Director of the Goldberg Center at the Department of History at Ohio State University. Being an historian today is not like it was 20 years ago when I earned my PhD.  How we research  How historians access and use documents has been irrevocably altered. More and more documents (but far from every one) are being digitized every day, which is changing the way we engage in research.... Continue Reading >>
A Literary Superstar
  No matter your reading taste, it isn’t often that you encounter a writer who’s a living legend.  Jonathan Franzen is one of those writers – his reputation as a novelist and a thinker loom impressively in our literary landscape. His own relationship to his place in contemporary literature has at times seemed uneasy. Despite authoring two novels and a handful of essays, it wasn’t until The Corrections came out in 2001, just days after September 11, that he was catapulted to writerly... Continue Reading >>
Art by Telephone and Other Adventures in Conceptualism
Conceptual art is one of those terms that is thrown around a lot, but rarely explained or explicated. Sometimes, it seems to denote a specific art movement that originated in the late 1960s; at other times, it appears to cover all relevant art of the last forty years or so; in yet other contexts, it is said to have originated with Marcel Duchamp in the 1910s. Marcel Duchamp, Fountain (1917) As is sometimes the case when we talk about the cultural creations of our... Continue Reading >>

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