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Higgins School of Humanities Calander - Clark University

Spring 2017 Calendar of Events

Spring 2017 Calendar of Events [PDF]

Dialogue Symposium - What's So Funny?

Shared laughter confers an array of positive emotions—not just pleasure, but connection, acceptance,even pride. But beyond the circle of laughter, humor can wound through exclusion and exaggeration or by revealing hard truths. Humor demands precise calibration. Jokes an disparage marginalized groups or speak truth to power. This semester, our symposium asks how humor creates and fragments communities. What role does it play in disrupting, sustaining, and displaying power and identities rooted in race and gender? What larger cultural, social, and political roles does humor play? In short, what can we learn when we take jokes, comedy, and laughter seriously?

Now That's Funny: A Community Conversation about Humor
Thursday, January 26 @ 7pm
Higgins Lounge, Dana Commons 2nd Floor


Consider the easy and spontaneous laughter fueled by a joke among friends. How does it differ from the polite laughter that punctuates a job interview or the nervous laughter that frequently follows an inappropriate or offensive joke?


Exploring what is and is not funny reveals complex matters of power, respect, and intimacy. When was the last time you had a good laugh? What was so funny? What role does humor play in your relationships? Join us as we take up these questions in a community conversation facilitated by Jennifer Plante (Writing Center) and Amy Richter (Higgins School of Humanities).


This event is co-sponsored by the Higgins School of Humanities and Difficult Dialogues.


The Science of Laughter
Wednesday, February 1 @ 7pm
Higgins Lounge, Dana Commons 2nd Floor


How and why do humans laugh? Neuroscientist Sophie Scott (University College London) wanted to know so she turned her attention and research toward investigating the positive emotions often ignored in her discipline. While she was at it, she took on the additional challenge of becoming a standup comedian. In this talk, Scott will discuss the sometimes surprising science and evolution of laughter—an emotion with its roots in play and social bonding. What do brain studies reveal about laughter? What happens when laughter goes wrong?

This event is co-sponsored by the Higgins School of Humanities and the Frances L. Hiatt School of Psychology.

Cartooning: Sense, Nonsense, Applications
Tuesday, February 7 @ 4pm
Higgins Lounge, Dana Commons 2nd Floor

As an art form, comics have blossomed since the beginning of this century. And yet the power of this unparalleled communication tool remains underutilized. In this talk, cartoonists James Sturm and Caleb Brown will look beyond graphic novels and iconic characters to emphasize cartooning’s ability to communicate complex information quickly and effectively, share powerful and precise visual narratives, and engage readers of all ages, nationalities, and socio-economic backgrounds.

Sturm, cofounder of The Center for Cartoon Studies, will curate an accompanying exhibit on “applied cartooning.” The selected images will highlight the ways the medium itself is being used to innovate and problem-solve in medicine, business, education, and other fields. The exhibition will be on display through May 22.

This event is co-sponsored by the Higgins School of Humanities, Difficult Dialogues, and the Media, Culture, and the Arts Program.


Dark Humor and the African American Image
Thursday, February 16 @ 7pm
Higgins Lounge, Dana Commons 2nd Floor

Since the early 20th century, black artists have frequently been called to “represent” in racial terms—to produce reverent, positive images of blackness in order to counteract the experience of slavery and racism. By using dark humor—satire, visual puns, farce, absurdity, kitsch, and the bizarre—present-day black artists shake off this call. Scholar and curator Tiffany E. Barber will draw upon her recent exhibition, Dark Humor: African American Art from the University of Delaware, to consider the significance of humor in contemporary art. In this talk, she will discuss how contemporary black artists, such as Camille Billops, David Hammons, Barkley Hendricks, and Peter Williams, employ subversive humor to question the currency of cultural and racial stereotypes.


This event is part of the African American Intellectual Culture Series and is co-sponsored by the Higgins School of Humanities, the Office of the Provost, and the Department of Visual and Performing Arts.


Light in the Dark: A Talk on Writing and Humor
Thursday, February 23 @ 7pm
Higgins Lounge, Dana Commons 2nd Floor


Is it possible to fake your own death in the 21st century? With six figures of student loan debt, author Elizabeth Greenwood was tempted to find out. She set off on a foray into the world of death fraud, where for $30,000 a consultant can make you disappear, possibly forever. Along the way, she considered the role of humor in illuminating and exploring our darkest impulses. Reading from her recent book Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud (2016), Greenwood will introduce us to men and women desperate enough to lose their identities—and their families—to begin again. What drives our all-too-human desire to escape the lives we lead?


A book signing will follow. Copies of Greenwood’s book will be on sale at the event.


This event is co-sponsored by the Higgins School of Humanities and the Writing Center.

The Truth is Funny: An Improvisation Workshop
Wednesday, March 15 @ 7pm
Higgins Lounge, Dana Commons 2nd Floor

“The truth is funny. Honest discovery, observation, and reaction is better than contrived invention.” The words of actor Del Close have inspired countless improvisational comics. In this workshop, Dan Balel (Theatre Arts) and Gino DiIorio (Theatre Arts) will lead us in improvisation exercises and games to develop trust, reveal truths, and generate laughs.


This event is co-sponsored by the Higgins School of Humanities and the Theatre Arts Program.

BALLS: It Takes Some to Get Some
Thursday, March 16 @ 7pm
Higgins Lounge, Dana Commons 2nd Floor

For Chris Edwards, a former advertising creative director, changing his gender from female to male took balls…and a damn good sense of humor. How did he find the courage to come out at a company board meeting? To endure twenty-eight painful and extensive surgeries? To show up at his ten-year high school reunion? During a reading from his funny and poignant memoir Balls: It Takes Some to Get Some (2016), Edwards will share how humor helped him re-brand himself and gain acceptance from his family, friends, and colleagues at a time when the word "transgender" was almost non-existent.


A book signing will follow. Copies of Edwards’ book will be on sale at the event.


This event is co-sponsored by the Higgins School of Humanities and the Women's and Gender Studies Program.


THE LAST LAUGH: A Film Screening and Discussion
Tuesday, March 21 @ 7pm
Jefferson Academic Center, Room 320

Ferne Pearlstein's feature documentary, THE LAST LAUGH, proceeds from the premise that the Holocaust would seem to be an absolutely off-limits topic for comedy. But is it? History shows that even the victims of the Nazi concentration camps used humor as a means of survival and resistance. Still, any hint of comedy in connection with this horror risks diminishing the suffering of millions. So where is the line? If we make the Holocaust off limits, what are the implications for other controversial subjects—9/11, AIDS, racism—in a society that prizes freedom of speech?

THE LAST LAUGH weaves together interviews with influential comedians and thinkers (including Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman, Joan Rivers, Louis C.K., Chris Rock, Abraham Foxman, and Sha-lom Auslander) with an intimate portrait of Auschwitz survivor Renee Firestone and rare footage of cabarets in concentration camps.

Valerie Sperling (Holocaust and Genocide Studies/Political Science) and Amy Richter (History) will facilitate a conversation following the film.

This event is co-sponsored by the Higgins School of Humanities, the Holocaust and Genocide Studies Program, and Screen Studies.


Brother Jonathan Runs for President: American Humor, Vernacular Values, and the Rise of Trump
Tuesday, March 28 @ 7pm
Higgins Lounge, Dana Commons 2nd Floor


Challenges to America’s most sacred myths fuel the traditions of vernacular humor, which asserts faith in ordinary Americans and mistrust of elites. Spoof presidential campaigns by ostensibly ordinary citizens—heirs of Brother Jonathan, folklore’s quintessential American—have mocked the ideological contradictions of presidential campaigns whose vernacular values nonetheless yield elite results. Professor Judith Yaross Lee (Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University) will consider how nearly two hundred years of spoof campaigns in cartoon, video, newspaper features, and other formats highlight values and visions always at stake in the presidential race, but especially in the candidacy of Donald Trump.


Co-sponsored by the Higgins School of Humanities, the Department of History, and the Bland Fund of the Department of Political Science


Roots of Everything Lecture Series

Controlling Guns: Then and Now
Thursday, March 16 @ 4:30pm
Higgins Lounge, Dana Commons 2nd Floor

In the United States, much of the current debate around gun control focuses on the Second Amendment. But struggles between government efforts to regulate gun ownership and public gun culture date back to 16th and 17th-century England. When the English government tried to limit possession and use of guns to wealthy subjects, the policy was met with outrage and willful disobedience. In this talk, historian Lois Schwoerer (George Washington University) will examine the impact of gun ownership and regulation on both the government and private subject of early modern England. Clark University professor Mark Miller (Political Science/Law and Society) will offer commentary.

The Roots of Everything is a lecture series sponsored by Early Modernists Unite (EMU) — a faculty collaborative bringing together scholars of medieval and early modern Europe and America —in conjunction with the Higgins School of Humanities. The series highlights various aspects of modern existence originating in the early modern world and teases out connections between past and present.


This event is co-sponsored by Early Modernists Unite, the Higgins School of Humanities, and the Department of History.