Humanities Book Club

An interdisciplinary panel of speakers will comment on the book and its broad significance prior to a general discussion with all attendees.

The Hall Center will provide a limited number of free copies of the book, to be read prior to the event by those who wish to attend and participate in the discussion.

Please stop by the Hall Center or e-mail Hall Center Program Coordinator Eliott Reeder at to confirm that you wish to attend the event and receive a free copy of the book.



Cuba: An American History
Ada Ferrer,
 Julius Silver Professor of History and Latin American Studies at New York UniversityTHU FEB 29, 4:00 PM
Hall Center Conference Hall

Lauded as a “page-turning masterpiece,” Ada Ferrer’s Cuba: An American History won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for History.  The book provides readers with a front-row seat as they witness the evolution of the modern Cuba, with its dramatic record of conquest and colonization, of slavery and freedom, of independence and revolutions made and unmade. Ferrer delivers a moving chronicle that demands a new reckoning with both the island’s past and its relationship with the United States. Ferrer explores the sometimes surprising, often troubled intimacy between the two countries.

Ferrer is the Julius Silver Professor of History and Latin American Studies at New York University, where she has taught since 1995. Ferrer was born in Cuba, leaving with her mother when she was ten months old, and grew up in a Cuban community in New Jersey.

Panel and discussion

An interdisciplinary panel of KU faculty members will comment on the book and its broad significance prior to the author’s response and a general discussion with all attendees. The Hall Center will provide a limited number of free copies of Cuba to be read prior to the event by those who wish to attend and participate in the discussion. Please stop by the Hall Center or email Program Coordinator Eliott Reeder at by Feb. 23 to confirm that you wish to attend the event and receive a free copy of the book.


(formerly known as Research On the Leading Edge)

Spring 2023 - Tiya Miles, Professor of History, Harvard University: "All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, A Black Family Keepsake"

In 1850s South Carolina, an enslaved woman named Rose faced a crisis, the imminent sale of her daughter Ashley. Thinking quickly, she packed a cotton bag with a few precious items as a token of love and to try to ensure Ashley’s survival. Soon after, the nine-year-old girl was separated from her mother and sold. Decades later, Ashley’s granddaughter Ruth embroidered this family history on the bag in spare yet haunting language— including Rose’s wish that “It be filled with my Love always.” Ruth’s sewn words, the reason we remember Ashley’s sack today, evoke a sweeping family story of loss and of love passed down through generations. Now, in this illuminating, deeply moving new book inspired by Rose’s gift to Ashley, historian Tiya Miles carefully unearths these women’s faint presence in archival records to follow the paths of their lives—and the lives of so many women like them—to write a singular and revelatory history of the experience of slavery, and the uncertain freedom afterward, in the United States.

The search to uncover this history is part of the story itself. For where the historical record falls short of capturing Rose’s, Ashley’s, and Ruth’s full lives, Miles turns to objects and to art as equally important sources, assembling a chorus of women’s and families’ stories and critiquing the scant archives that for decades have overlooked so many. The contents of Ashley’s sack— a tattered dress, handfuls of pecans, a braid of hair, “my Love always”—are eloquent evidence of the lives these women lived. As she follows Ashley’s journey, Miles metaphorically unpacks the bag, deepening its emotional resonance and exploring the meanings and significance of everything it contained.

All That She Carried is a poignant story of resilience and of love passed down through generations of women against steep odds. It honors the creativity and fierce resourcefulness of people who preserved family ties even when official systems refused to do so, and it serves as a visionary illustration of how to reconstruct and recount their stories today.

Fall 2019 - Holly Watkins, Associate Professor of Musicology, University of Rochester: "Musical Vitalities: Ventures in a Biotic Aesthetics of Music"

Redefining music as “the art of possibly animate things,” Musical Vitalities: Ventures in a Biotic Aesthetics of Music charts a new path for music studies that blends musicological methods with perspectives drawn from the life sciences. In opposition to humanist approaches that insist on a separation between culture and nature—approaches that appear increasingly untenable in an era defined by human-generated climate change—Musical Vitalities treats music as one example of the cultural practices and biotic arts of the animal kingdom rather than as a phenomenon categorically distinct from nonhuman forms of sonic expression. Musical Vitalities challenges the human exceptionalism that has allowed musicologists to overlook music’s structural resemblances to the songs of nonhuman species, the intricacies of music’s physiological impact on listeners, and the many analogues between music’s formal processes and those of the dynamic natural world. Through close readings of Austro-German music and aesthetic writings that suggest wide-ranging analogies between music and nature, Musical Vitalities seeks to both rekindle the critical potential of nineteenth-century music and rejoin the humans at the center of the humanities with the nonhumans whose evolutionary endowments and planetary fates they share.

Spring 2019 - Edouard Machery, Distinguished Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh: "Philosophy Within Its Proper Bounds"

In Philosophy Within Its Proper Bounds, Edouard Machery argues that resolving many traditional and contemporary philosophical issues is beyond our epistemic reach and that philosophy should re-orient itself toward more humble, but ultimately more important intellectual endeavors. The book assesses the main philosophical method for acquiring the knowledge that the resolution of these traditional and contemporary philosophical issues turns on: the use of thought experiments in philosophy. Canvassing the extensive work done by experimental philosophers over the last 15 years, Edouard Machery shows that thought experiments are an extremely unreliable method for gaining knowledge. Importantly, the dismissal of the incriminated traditional and contemporary philosophical issues is no cause for despair - many important philosophical issues remain within our epistemic reach. In particular, reorienting the course of philosophy would free time and resources for bringing back to prominence a once-central intellectual endeavor: conceptual analysis and engineering.

Fall 2018 – Ruben Espinosa, English, UTEP: “Shakespeare in the Shadows”

Dr. Espinosa is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Texas at El Paso, where he specializes in Shakespeare and early modern studies. He is currently working on a book-length project that employs critical race and ethnic studies to examine how the issues of race, language, ethnic identity, assimilation, and immigration not only inform our understanding of Shakespeare’s contemporary, cultural value in our diversified world, but also allow us to scrutinize the meaningful intersections of Shakespeare and Latinx identity and culture.

Spring 2018 – LaShawn D. Harris, History, Michigan State University: “Sex Workers, Psychics, and Numbers Runners: Black Women in New York City’s Underground Economy”

During the early twentieth century, a diverse group of African American women carved out unique niches for themselves within New York City's expansive informal economy. LaShawn Harris illuminates the labor patterns and economic activity of three perennials within this kaleidoscope of underground industry: sex work, numbers running for gambling enterprises, and the supernatural consulting business. Mining police and prison records, newspaper accounts, and period literature, Harris teases out answers to essential questions about these women and their working lives. She also offers a surprising revelation. Harris argues that the underground economy catalyzed working-class black women's creation of the employment opportunities, occupational identities, and survival strategies that provided them with financial stability and a sense of labor autonomy and mobility. At the same time, Harris shows, urban black women strove for economic and social prospects and pleasures, and in the process experienced the conspicuous and hidden dangers associated with newfound labor opportunities.

Fall 2017 – Or Rosenboim, Modern History, City University of London: “The Emergence of Globalism: Visions of World Order in Britain and the United States, 1939-1950”

Shedding critical light on this neglected chapter in the history of political thought, Or Rosenboim describes how a transnational network of globalist thinkers emerged from the traumas of war and expatriation in the 1940s and how their ideas drew widely from political philosophy, geopolitics, economics, imperial thought, constitutional law, theology, and philosophy of science. She presents compelling portraits of Raymond Aron, Owen Lattimore, Lionel Robbins, Barbara Wootton, Friedrich Hayek, Lionel Curtis, Richard McKeon, Michael Polanyi, Lewis Mumford, Jacques Maritain, Reinhold Niebuhr, H. G. Wells, and others. Rosenboim shows how the globalist debate they embarked on sought to balance the tensions between a growing recognition of pluralism on the one hand and an appreciation of the unity of humankind on the other.

Spring 2017 – Tara Zahra, East European History, University of Chicago: “The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World”

Between 1846 and 1940, more than 50 million Europeans moved to the Americas in one of the largest migrations of human history, emptying out villages and irrevocably changing both their new homes and the ones they left behind. With a keen historical perspective on the most consequential social phenomenon of the twentieth century, Tara Zahra shows how the policies that gave shape to this migration provided the precedent for future events such as the Holocaust, the closing of the Iron Curtain, and the tragedies of ethnic cleansing. In the epilogue, she places the current refugee crisis within the longer history of migration.

Fall 2016 – Michael Duneier, Sociology, Princeton University: “Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea”

In this sweeping and original account, Mitchell Duneier traces the idea of the ghetto from its beginnings in the sixteenth century and its revival by the Nazis to the present. As Duneier shows, we cannot comprehend the entanglements of race, poverty, and place in America today without recalling the ghettos of Europe, as well as earlier efforts to understand the problems of the American city.

Fall 2015 – Karla Holloway, English, Duke University: “Legal Fictions: Constituting Race, Composing Literature”

In Legal Fictions, Karla FC Holloway both argues that U.S. racial identity is the creation of U.S. law and demonstrates how black authors of literary fiction have engaged with the law's constructions of race since the era of slavery. Exploring the resonance between U.S. literature and U.S. jurisprudence, Holloway reveals Toni Morrison's Beloved and Charles Johnson's Middle Passage as stories about personhood and property, David Bradley's The Chaneysville Incident and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Manas structured by evidence law, and Nella Larsen's Passing as intimately related to contract law. Holloway engages the intentional, contradictory, and capricious constructions of race embedded in the law with the same energy that she brings to her masterful interpretations of fiction by U.S. writers. Her readings shed new light on the many ways that black U.S. authors have reframed fundamental questions about racial identity, personhood, and the law from the nineteenth into the twenty-first centuries. Legal Fictions is a bold declaration that the black body is thoroughly bound by law and an unflinching look at the implications of that claim.

Spring 2015 – Edward Baptist, History, Cornell: “The Half That Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism”

As historian Edward Baptist reveals in The Half Has Never Been Told, the expansion of slavery in the first eight decades after American independence drove the evolution and modernization of the United States. In the span of a single lifetime, the South grew from a narrow coastal strip of worn-out tobacco plantations to a continental cotton empire, and the United States grew into a modern, industrial, and capitalist economy. Until the Civil War, Baptist explains, the most important American economic innovations were ways to make slavery ever more profitable. Through forced migration and torture, slave owners extracted continual increases in efficiency from enslaved African Americans. Thus, the United States seized control of the world market for cotton, the key raw material of the Industrial Revolution, and became a wealthy nation with global influence.

Fall 2014 – Julian Go, Sociology, Boston University: “Patterns of Empire”

Patterns of Empire comprehensively examines the two most powerful empires in modern history: the United States and Britain. Challenging the popular theory that the American empire is unique, Patterns of Empire shows how the policies, practices, forms and historical dynamics of the American empire repeat those of the British, leading up to the present climate of economic decline, treacherous intervention in the Middle East and overextended imperial confidence. A critical exercise in revisionist history and comparative social science, this book also offers a challenging theory of empire that recognizes the agency of non-Western peoples, the impact of global fields and the limits of imperial power.