Humanities Day opens classroom doors to campus and community

Humanities Day: It’s more than just buttons!

By Michelle Lee

“Immerse yourself,” the flyer reads. It is a silent bidding, and one cannot help but wonder what treasures the behest holds. Said advert is for the University of Chicago’s Humanities Day, a yearly spectacle whose numerous events make it almost impossible not to immerse yourself.

On October 23, the Division of the Humanities will host its 32nd annual Humanities Day celebration. With a core philosophy of showcasing the all-encompassing breadth of the Humanities, this year’s events are wide and varied in scope. Featuring speeches on topics ranging from castrati to the origins of Islam, those who attend will surely find something to pique their interest.

Kicking off the celebration will be a keynote address by Martha Feldman, a Mabel Greene Myers professor in the Humanities and chair of the department of music. Entitled “Castrato De Luxe: Blood, Gifts, and Goods in the Making of Early Modern Singing Stars,” Feldman will explore the unique role of castrati in early modern Europe.

Castrated at a young age to preserve their singing voices, the castrati were a strange brand of men both glorified for their talent and alienated by their sacrifice: For in a patriarchal society that placed great importance on inheritance, the castrati could not assume their rightful roles. Martha Feldman will examine this contradiction as well as the complex relationships formed between the singers. At the end of the presentation, there will be contemporary footage of singers attempting to recreate the castrati’s music to place the subject in a more modern context.

The address will take place in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel at 11 p.m. Following the lecture, organist Tom Weisflog will give a performance featuring masterworks by Sowerby, Vierne, and Widor.

Alongside Feldman’s lecture, Humanities Day will feature several specialized sessions, each covering a certain aspect of the humanities, ranging from philosophy and art history to Near Eastern languages and civilizations. Several speakers will preview books that have been or will be published. For example, W. J. T. Mitchell’s talk will explore the impact of 9/11 on visual and verbal culture, while Fred Donner will investigate the origins of Islam as a continuation of his recent publication, Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam.

Meanwhile at the Smart Museum, museum director Tony Hirschel will offer a tour of the new exhibit, Echoes of the Past: The Buddhist Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan. Likewise, the Oriental Institute will offer a tour of its exhibit, Visible Language: Inventions of Writing in the Ancient Middle East, which explores how the invention of writing transformed prehistoric cultures into civilizations.

Concluding the day’s celebrations will be Rochona Majumdar’s talk on Indian cinema, complemented by a film screening of Satyajit Ray’s Pater Panchali, or Song of the Little Road, at 3:30 pm.

Students, faculty, and Chicago residents alike are able to register for up to three sessions on the Humanities Day website.

The Division of the Humanities is throwing open its doors to all interested spectators in this once-a-year event. Don’t miss this chance to be educated and entranced by the colorful palette that are the Humanities. So, heed the call: Immerse yourself.