Discovery & Inspiration asks “What can we learn by talking to scholars about their research? What makes them so passionate about the subjects they study? What is it like to make a new discovery? To answer a confounding question?”
For over 40 years the National Humanities Center has been a home away from home for scholars from around the world—historians and philosophers, scholars of literature and music and art and dozens of other fields.
Join us as we sit down with scholars to discuss their work—to better understand the questions that intrigue and perplex them, the passion that drives them, and how their scholarship may change the ways we think about the world around us.
Janny Leung, “Language, Law, and the Limits of Digital Autonomy”
As more of our lives shift online, the question of how speech should be regulated in this digital space becomes increasingly relevant. In response, social media companies have set precedents for regulating language on their private platforms. However, these mechanisms are often designed in order to work in tandem with artificial intelligence-based algorithms that have not yet been fully developed, leaving them instead to be administered inconsistently by human content moderators.
In this podcast, Janny Leung, professor of linguistics in the School of English at the University of Hong Kong, addresses the ethical and legal questions that arise from these attempts to monitor and evaluate—and sometimes even to block—individuals’ language on social media. As she points out, the evolution of standards and practices around digital discourse has the potential to reshape the concept of free speech as we know it.
Christopher Moore, “Sôphrosunê and Self-Knowledge: An Ancient Greek Virtue and the Modern Condition”
Scholars have traditionally translated the ancient Greek virtue of Sôphrosunê as “temperance” or “chastity,” implicitly suggesting that it is concerned with forms of self-control in the face of desire or dramatic bodily sensations. As a result, this concept has often been downplayed and relegated to the forgotten corners of philosophical inquiry.
In this podcast, Christopher Moore, associate professor of philosophy and Classics at The Pennsylvania State University, restores and explains the complexities of Sôphrosunê for a contemporary audience. Instead of understanding this virtue as a means of moderating and restraining our behavior, we can recognize and celebrate its power to catalyze self-interrogation through an embrace of discipline.
Rachel Watson, “Evidence and Racial Discourse in Segregation-Era Literature”
When we read most novels, we assume that characters are the most important components of a story. However, in noteworthy American literature of the segregation era, it is often forms of evidence that structure novelistic worlds, making us recognize and question the ways that details of ordinary life can take on particular significance. In this podcast episode, Rachel Watson, assistant professor of American literature at Howard University, considers how the treatment of evidence in literature can help us to illuminate the simultaneous development of discourses around race, criminology, and crime science. She suggests that at its best, the crime genre can challenge readers by encouraging them both to question the world around them and to suspend widely held assumptions about identity and typology.
Ryan Emanuel, “Water in the Lumbee World: Indigenous Rights and the Transformation of Home”
Ryan E. Emanuel is a professor in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at North Carolina State University, and a citizen of the Lumbee Tribe. He works closely with Native American communities and institutions on research and outreach related to environmental justice, Indigenous rights, and broadening participation of Native Americans in higher education. He is an interdisciplinary environmental scientist who was trained to study water and ecosystems in an era of rapid global change.
His research has broadened to incorporate human dimensions of the environment, including historical and present-day connections between Indigenous peoples and their territories in and around North Carolina. Emanuel’s current project merges western scholarship in environmental science, public policy, and history with Indigenous knowledges to tell the stories of water in the Lumbee world.
Molly Worthen, “From St. Paul to Populist Politics: The Evolution of Charismatic Leadership”
Charisma is a concept we typically use to refer to individuals who fascinate, attract, and captivate us in some way. The word’s modern usage, however, obscures its origins in Christian doctrine. In such contexts, charismatic figures were understood to have a kind of divinely ordained authority and spiritual influence.
In this podcast episode, Molly Worthen, associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, explores the evolution of charisma in the popular consciousness and its role in various historical epochs and movements. From St. Paul to contemporary populist politicians, analyzing the ineffable allure of charisma can help us to understand how power has been produced and wielded in both religious and secular contexts.
Katherine Mellen Charron, “Women, Rural Communities, and the Struggle for Black Freedom”
When mapping the struggle for Black freedom and racial justice, historians have often emphasized the events and organizational efforts that occurred in urban areas, largely led by men. However, in order to take Black Power politics seriously in a more comprehensive fashion, we need to understand how they also emerged from and developed in rural American communities, where the voices and leadership of women were extremely influential.
In this podcast episode, Katherine Mellen Charron, associate professor of history at North Carolina State University, discusses her research into the legacies of local, community-based, rural Black women’s activism in North Carolina. By thinking about how Black Power politics, economics, and culture were affirmed and shaped by women outside of urban centers, we are better able to honor less historically visible forms of political engagement and innovation.