School of Historical Studies

Rethinking Barbarian Invasions through Genomic History

Patrick Geary
School of Historical Studies
November 13, 2013
Historians have debated for centuries the magnitude, nature, and impact of population movements from the borders of the Roman Empire into its heart between the fourth and seventh centuries. In recent years, geneticists have begun to attempt to provide clarity to these questions through the analysis of the biological data contained in the human genome.

When Truth Gets in the Way: Addressing Multiple Realities in Intrastate Conflicts

Michael van Walt van Praag
Visiting Professor, School of Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study
March 6, 2013

Most violent conflicts today are fought within states, and many are related to identity. They are, therefore, inextricably linked to how people perceive their ­history. How political leaders view and use history and historical narratives, often as the foundation for their claims, has a great impact on negotiations and can hold a peace process hostage.

In this lecture, Michael van Walt van Praag, Visiting Professor in the School of Historical Studies, offers a mediator’s perspective on ways to examine pertinent historical events and historiography in order to facilitate a change in the way negotiators relate to the other party’s history, as well as to their own. In so doing, he also considers the relation of modern international law and the nation-state concept to today’s conflicts.

(Ancient) History on Screen

Oliver Stone
Institute for Advanced Study
January 30, 2013

From the very beginnings of cinematography, themes from the ancient world and the Bible have provided directors and screenwriters with inspiration. The representation of ­antiquity in the movies, and more generally in pop culture, is now a ­stimulating field of research within classical studies. In the last decade, perhaps no film has attracted so much ­interest and debate among ­historians and classicists as Oliver Stone’s Alexander (2004). In this talk, Stone discusses his ­experience making this movie, its challenges, and, more ­generally, his approach to historical themes.

A panel discussion and a question-and-answer session follow the talk. The panel, chaired by Angelos Chaniotis, Professor of Ancient History and Classics in the School of Historical Studies, also includes two current Members, Nathanael Andrade, Assistant Professor of Ancient History at the University of Oregon, and Yannis Hamilakis, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Southampton, and the acclaimed director and film historian Gary Leva.

Up Close and Far Away: Artists, Memorialization, and Uganda’s Troubled Past

Sidney Kasfir
Professor Emerita, Emory University
December 10, 2012

In the past ten years, the term “heritage” in African art studies has gone from being a cliché used only by cultural bureaucrats to a burgeoning academic growth industry, brought into being by studies of collective memory or national trauma in relation to both historical and invented pasts. In this lecture, Sidney Kasfir, Professor Emerita at Emory University, asserts that one of the important ways heritage is given substance as an idea is through memorialization, both through public monuments and smaller-scale artworks. In Buganda, a long-embattled African kingdom, these works of art and architecture give substance to memories of greatness, on the one hand, and victimhood, suffering, and loss, on the other.

Recognition: Theme and Meta-Theme in Northern Renaissance Art

Mitchell Merback
Johns Hopkins University
October 23, 2012

Late medieval and Renaissance painters in northern Europe took pride in characterizing the forms of attention specific to the votive encounter. Amidst the hubbub of the Crucifixion, certain witnesses to the event are shown poised between acceptance and rejection of the dying man as the Christ of prophecy. These figures allowed beholders to measure their own response to Jesus’s paradoxical ­identity along a ­spectrum between seeing and blindness, between ­discipleship and reprobacy. Captured in the dawning of their comprehension, such characters ­embodied that ­passage from ignorance to knowledge that Aristotle, in The Poetics, called “recognition” (anagnôrisis). In this lecture, Mitchell Merback, Associate Professor of Art History at Johns Hopkins University, argues that to speak of a Christian poetics of disclosure in early modern art requires first understanding how recognition was ­elevated to a grand theme—and a galvanizing meta-theme—in the ­brilliantly naturalistic art produced north of the Alps.

This lecture is part of a series on art history cosponsored by the Institute for Advanced Study and the Department of Art and Archaeology at Princeton University.

Sperm Bomb: Art, Feminism, and the American War in Vietnam

Mignon Nixon
The Courtald Institute of Art
April 17, 2012

A blue mushroom cloud fills the page, its contour traced by the comet-like tails of shrieking heads whose gaping mouths spew out furious curses in a rain of profanity over needle-stiff bodies littering the ground. This lecture by Mignon Nixon borrows its title, “Sperm Bomb,” from Nancy Spero, who, in 1964, in response to the escalating American war in Vietnam, abruptly abandoned ­painting on canvas for more immediate means: gouache and ink liberally diluted with spit. Returning to the scene of war ­resistance and nascent feminism in the Vietnam era, Nixon reflects upon newly pressing questions of what art concerned with ­subjectivity brings to a situation of war.

This lecture was the final one in the series Art and Its Spaces, cosponsored by the Institute for Advanced Study and the Department of Art and Archaeology at Princeton University.

Celebrating Modern Democracy’s Beginning: The “British Club” in Paris (1789–93)

Jonathan Israel
Institute for Advanced Study
March 7, 2012

Prior to the Terror (1793–94), the French Revolution was generally viewed very positively by progressive constitutional thinkers and law reformers. On November 18, 1792, more than a hundred distinguished Anglo-American democrats, including several founders of modern feminism, gathered at the British Club in Paris to celebrate liberty, human rights, and the spread of democracy across the world—what they viewed as the assured democratic future of mankind. In this lecture, Jonathan Israel, Professor in the School of Historical Studies, explores the vast significance of the toasts drunk at this banquet and of the public address that was afterward presented to the French National Assembly. They illuminate the relationship between the French Revolution and modernity, the history of our own time, and the many ironies of the values and propositions that the “British Club” in Paris proclaimed to the world.

Our Words, and Theirs: A Reflection on the Historian's Craft, Today

Carlo Ginzburg
Professor Emeritus, University of California, Los Angeles
October 3, 2011

What is the relationship between the idiom of the observer (historian, anthropologist) and the idiom of the actors, dead or alive? This question, which has been addressed from widely different (and usually unrelated) points of view, provides an oblique approach to the cognitive, moral, and political implications of the historian’s craft today.