Each year Wesleyan hosts the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns, bringing together scholars, students, faculty and alumni in an intensive series of lectures and discussions. Past programs have focused on popular culture, on environmentalism, on ethics and on international problems of violence. I remember the series of talks on food, which really made me think more carefully about the intersection of politics and economics on my kitchen table. And Joss Whedon’s 2009 discussion of how film and TV projects get made was funny and insightful. This year’s Shasha program, which runs from April 8-10, will explore ideas of race and how they have evolved over time.
Ideas concerning race have a long history, and it’s a history that continues to have powerful reverberations on politics and culture today. The organizer of the program, Andrew Curran of Romance Languages at Wes, has written on the history of the idea of race in relation to concepts of human origins, with a particular emphasis on the age of Enlightenment. The keynote speaker, Nell Painter, Honorary ’96, who for many years was a distinguished member of the history department at Princeton, has written the influential The History of White People, which will be the basis for her remarks on Saturday night. A leading historian of the United States, Prof. Painter is also an accomplished artist. Other discussions will explore race and science, the vicissitudes of race-thinking in Latin America and in China, and the ways that the idea of race still affects our conception of the human.
The Shasha Seminar offers a distinctive way of diving deep into a timely subject area in the company of curious, thoughtful and engaged participants. Alumni and parents join with students and outside experts to create an exceptionally lively series of conversations. If you are interested in learning more about the program, or in signing up for it, you can find information here.