Past Tanner Lectures on Human Values

Rob Nixon, Ecology and Equity: Environmental Justice Revisited , 2024

Ecology and Equity: Environmental Justice Revisited (Part 1)

At a time of surging interest in environmental justice and the environmental humanities, Rob Nixon’s 2024 Tanner Lectures on Human Values explore the crossroads where those two fields engage with research findings from the ecological and behavioral sciences.

Breathing Room: Environmental Justice and the Great Outdoors

In 2005, Richard Louv sounded the alarm that children were trading too much outdoor time for indoor time on screens. His coinage—nature deficit disorder—has inspired myriad studies into the benefits of getting outside. That research reveals a so-called “green dividend,” the measurable physiological and psychological improvements that accrue from natural immersion. Yet such peer-reviewed studies typically ignore the way natural spaces are implicated in topographies of social power. How can we acknowledge the health advantages nature may afford, while also acknowledging that “losing yourself” in nature is not an equally accessible ideal? For many communities, immediate risk and historical trauma shadow the great outdoors, making the ‘green dividend’ a more fraught, ambiguous attainment.

Rob Nixon is the Currie C. and Thomas A. Barron Family Professor in the Humanities and the Environment at Princeton University. He is the author of four books, including Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Harvard), celebrated for its fundamental contributions to ecocriticism and the environmental humanities. Nixon is a frequent contributor to the New York Times, where he writes on environmentalism and on literature and culture from the global South. He has been awarded a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship, a MacArthur Foundation Peace and Security Fellowship, and a National Endowment for Humanities Fellowship. Nixon’s new book, Blood at the Root: Environmental Martyrs and the Defense of Life, is forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press.

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Ecology and Equity: Environmental Justice Revisited (Part 2)

The Wood Wide Web, Neoliberalism, and the Science of Forest Cooperation
Multiple contemporary bestsellers, from Robin Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass to Richard Powers’s The Overstory, celebrate the wonders of the Wood Wide Web, a term coined by forest ecologist Suzanne Simard in 1997. Simard’s research reveals how vast, hidden mycorrhizal networks connect trees, allowing them to redistribute resources vital for individual and collective flourishing. How can we explain the sudden, popular fascination with this hitherto arcane corner of ecological science? Could it be that neoliberalism’s dog-eat-dog ideology and surging inequality have left readers eager for alternative, more cooperative models of governance and being? Could it be that the widening chasm between the mega-rich and the socially abandoned has created an audience responsive to the Wood Wide Web as an allegory of survival-through-collaboration?

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Ecology and Equity: Environmental Justice Revisited (Part 3)

A panel discussion and breakfast. Panelists include Rob Nixon, Gerald Torres, and Nurfadzilah Yahaya.

Gerald Torres is Professor of Environmental Justice at the Yale School of the Environment, with a secondary appointment as Professor of Law at the Law School. A pioneer in the field of environmental law, Torres has spent his career examining the intrinsic connections between the environment, agricultural and food systems, and social justice. His research into how race and ethnicity impact environmental policy has been influential in the emergence and evolution of the field of environmental justice. His work also includes the study of conflicts over resource management between Native American tribes, states, and the federal government.

Nurfadzilah Yahaya specializes in history of Southeast Asia, Indian Ocean history, legal history, history of infrastructure, and environmental history. Her first book, Fluid Jurisdictions: Colonial Law and Arabs in Southeast Asia, demonstrates how colonial subjects entrenched European colonial legalities in British and Dutch territories in Southeast Asia by playing several jurisdictions against one another from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. Her current book project, “Overflow: History of Land Reclamation in the British Empire in the Twentieth Century,” lies at the intersection of environmental history, urban history, science and technology studies, legal history, and history of infrastructure.

Fei-Fei Li, Stanford University, What We See and What We Value: AI with a Human Perspective, 2022

2022 Tanner Lecture on Artificial Intelligence and Human Values

Fei-Fei Li of Stanford University will deliver the 2022 Tanner Lecture on Human Values and Artificial Intelligence this fall at the Whitney Humanities Center. The lecture, “What We See and What We Value: AI with a Human Perspective,” presents a series of AI projects—from work on ambient intelligence in healthcare to household robots—to examine the relationship between visual and artificial intelligence. Visual intelligence has been a cornerstone of animal intelligence; enabling machines to see is hence a critical step toward building intelligent machines. Yet developing algorithms that allow computers to see what humans see—and what they don’t see—raises important social and ethical questions.

Dr. Fei-Fei Li is the Sequoia Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University and Denning Co-Director of the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered AI (HAI). During her 2017–2018 sabbatical, Dr. Li was a vice president at Google and chief scientist of Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning at Google Cloud. She co-founded the national nonprofit AI4ALL, which trains K-12 students from underprivileged communities to become future leaders in AI. Dr. Li also serves on the National AI Research Resource Task Force commissioned by Congress and the White House and is an elected member of the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Dr. Fei-Fei Li’s talk is one of seven Tanner Lectures on Artificial Intelligence and Human Values, which is a special series of the Tanner Lectures on Human Values. The Tanner Lectures on Human Values are funded by an endowment received by the University of Utah from Obert Clark Tanner and Grace Adams Tanner. Established in 1976, the Tanner Lectures seek to advance and reflect upon scholarly and scientific learning relating to human values. The lectures, which are permanently sponsored at nine institutions, including Yale, are free and open to the public.


Wendy Brown, UC Berkeley, Politics and Knowledge in Nihilistic Times: Thinking with Max Weber, 2019

Tuesday, October 22
5 pm

Wednesday, October 23
5 pm

Thursday, October 24
Kathryn Lofton and Paul North in conversation with Wendy Brown
10:30 am

Press release
Event poster

Achille Mbembe, University of the Witwatersrand, Borders in the Age of Networks, 2018

Tuesday, March 27, “The New Global Mobility Regime”
Wednesday, March 28, “The Idea of a Borderless World”
Thursday, March 29, Michael Denning and Inderpal Grewal in conversation with Achille Mbembe

Mbembe is a research professor in history and politics at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER), University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. He holds a PhD in history from the Université de Paris I-Panthéon Sorbonne and a DEA in politics from the Institut d’études politiques de Paris. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he is the author of timely and path-breaking books such as On the Postcolony, Critique of Black Reason, and Politiques de l’inimitié. He has published extensively in fields as diverse as African history, politics and aesthetics, and critical theory. Translated in many languages including English, German, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian, his work is growing in influence worldwide. Worthy of the twenty-first century and the new demands placed on theory, it provides a new and startling perspective on the crises of our times. Mbembe holds many awards, including the 2015 Geschwister Scholl Preis for his Kritik der schwarzen Vernunft.

Tanner Poster

Rosi Braidotti, Utrecht University, Posthuman, All Too Human, 2017

Wednesday, March 1, “Memoirs of a Posthumanist”
Thursday, March 2, “Aspirations of a Posthumanist”
Friday, March 3, Rüdiger Campe and Joanna Radin in conversation with Rosi Braidotti

Rosi Braidotti is Distinguished University Professor and founding director of the Centre for the Humanities at Utrecht University. Her published works include Patterns of Dissonance: An Essay on Women in Contemporary French Philosophy (1991); Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory (1994; 2d ed. 2011); Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming (2002); Transpositions: On Nomadic Ethics (2006); La philosophie, lá où on ne l’attend pas (2009); Nomadic Theory: The Portable Rosi Braidotti (2011); and The Posthuman (2013). In 2016 she coedited Conflicting Humanities with Paul Gilroy.

Professor Braidotti has been an elected board member of the Consortium of Humanities Centres and Institutes since 2009. She is also an honorary fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and a member of the Academia Europaea. She has been awarded honorary degrees by the University of Helsinki and the University of Linkoping. In 2005, she was knighted into the Order of the Netherlands by Queen Beatrix.


Judith Butler, Interpreting Non-Violence, 2016

Wednesday, March 30, “Why Preserve the Life of the Other?”
Thursday, March 31, “Legal Violence: An Ethical and Political Critique”
Friday, April 1, A conversation with Judith Butler, Paul North, and Jason Stanley

Judith Butler is Maxine Elliot Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Program of Critical Theory at the University of California Berkeley. She served as founding director of the Critical Theory Program at Berkeley and is currently co-chair of an emerging International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs. Her published works include Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990); Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (1993); Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (1997); Precarious Life: Powers of Violence and Mourning (2004); Undoing Gender (2004); Who Sings the Nation-State? Language, Politics, Belonging (with Gayatri Spivak, 2008); Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (2009); Is Critique Secular? (with Talal Asad, Wendy Brown, and Saba Mahmood, 2009); Sois Mon Corps (with Catherine Malabou, 2011); Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism (2012); Dispossession: The Performative in the Political (with Athena Athanasiou, 2013); and most recently, Senses of the Subject (2015) and Notes toward a Performative Theory of Assembly (2015). Future projects include study of messianic gestures in Kafka and Benjamin, philosophical fictions in Freud’s work, and gender in translation. 

Butler has received the Andrew Mellon Award for Distinguished Academic Achievement in the Humanities, the Adorno Prize from the City of Frankfurt in honor of her contributions to feminist and moral philosophy, and the Brudner Prize from Yale University for lifetime achievement in gay and lesbian studies. In 2014, she was awarded the diploma of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters from the French Cultural Ministry and in 2015 she was elected a corresponding fellow of the British Academy and appointed to the International Board of the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt.


Dipesh Chakrabarty, The Human Condition in the Anthropocene, 2015

Wednesday, February 18, “Climate Change as Epochal Consciousness”
Thursday, February 19, “Decentering the Human? Gaia”
Friday, February 20, Roundtable discussion with Daniel Lord Smail, Harvard University; Wai Chee Dimock, Yale University; Michael Warner, Yale University
Moderator: Gary Tomlinson

Dipesh Chakrabarty is the Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor of History, South Asian Languages and Civilizations, and Law at the University of Chicago. He taught at the University of Melbourne and the Australian National University before moving to Chicago.

He is the author of many articles and books including The Calling of History: Sir Jadunath Sarkar and His Empire of Truth (2015, forthcoming), Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (2008; 2000), Habitations of Modernity: Essays in the Wake of Subaltern Studies (2002), and Rethinking Working-Class History: Bengal 1890-1940 (2000; 1989).

He is founding member of the editorial collective of Subaltern Studies, a founding editor of Postcolonial Studies, and a consulting editor of Critical Inquiry. Chakrabarty is currently working on a book on climate change and on a collection of essays on history’s relationship to the present. Chakrabarty was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004 and an Honorary Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 2006. He was recently named the recipient of the 2014 Toynbee Prize for his contributions to global history.


Bruno Latour, How Better to Register the Agency of Things, 2014

Wednesday, March 26, “Semiotics”
Thursday, March 27, “Ontology”
Friday, March 28, Roundtable discussion with Bruno Latour, Philip Gorski, Adam Tooze, and Joanna Radin, Moderator: Daniel Kevles


Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic and the Re-enchantment of Humanism, 2014

Wednesday, February 19, “Suffering and Infrahumanity”
Thursday, February 20, “Humanities and a New Humanism”
Friday, February 21, Roundtable discussion with Paul Gilroy, Hazel Carby, Kobena Mercer, and Michael Veal, Moderator: Jonathan Holloway 


Lisa Jardine, The Two Cultures: Still Under Consideration, 2012

Wednesday, April 11, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: C. P. Snow and Jacob Bronowski”
Thursday, April 12, “Science and Government: C. P. Snow and the Corridors of Power”
Friday, April 13, “Why Should Scientists and Humanists Talk to Each Other Anyway?”
A panel discussion featuring Lisa Jardine, Tamar Szabo Gendler, Daniel J. Kevles, Eric Dufresne, and David Marshall Miller


Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, The Ancient Quarrel: Philosophy and Literature, 2011

Wednesday, March 23, “Morality and Literature”
Thursday, March 24, “Metaphysics and Literature”
Friday, March 25, “Can a Novelist Write Philosophically?”
A panel discussion with Rebecca Newberger Goldstein Harry Frankfurt Michael Cunningham and chaired by Amy Hungerford


John Adams, Doctor Faustus and His Composition and Doctor Atomic and His Gadget, 2009

Wednesday, October 28, “Doctor Faustus and His Composition: Reflections on Thomas Mann’s Fictional Composer”
Thursday, October 29, “Doctor Atomic and His Gadget: Composing the American Mythology”


Steven Chu, The Epistemology of Physics and Scientific Revolutions and Golden Eras of Scientific Institutions, 2008

Wednesday, October 29, “The Epistemology of Physics and Scientific Revolutions
Thursday, October 30, “Golden Eras of Scientific Institutions


Santiago Calatrava, Wings and a Prayer and A Collection of Pearls, 2007

Wednesday, October 3,Wings and a Prayer”
Thursday, October 4, “A Collection of Pearls


Anthony Grafton, Rats’ Alley? The Humanities in the American University and Clio’s Catastrophe? History and the Humanities, 2006

Wednesday, October 18, “Rats’ Alley? The Humanities in the American University”
Thursday, October 19, “Clio’s Catastrophe? History and the Humanities”


Ruth Reichl, Why Food Matters, 2005

Wednesday, October 26, “Cooking Lessons: A Short History of Eating”
Thursday, October 27, “Stories We Tell: The Subtext of the Table”


Oliver Sacks, Journey Into Wonder: Reflections on a Chemical Boyhood and Awakenings Revisited, 2004

Wednesday, April 14, “Journey Into Wonder: Reflections on a Chemical Boyhood”
Thursday, April 15, “Awakenings Revisited”


Garry L. Wills, Henry Adams: The Historian as Novelist?, 2003

Tuesday, March 4, “Democracy”
Wednesday, March 5, “Esther”


Salman Rushdie, Step Across This Line, 2002

Monday, February 25 and Tuesday, February 26, “Step Across This Line”


Alexander Nehamas, A Promise of Happiness: The Place of Beauty in a World of Art, 2000

Monday, April 9 and Tuesday, April 10, “A Promise of Happiness: The Place of Beauty in a World of Art”


Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, the Noble Savage, and the Ghost in the Machine, 1999

Tuesday, April 20, “How the Mind Works”
Wednesday, April 21, “The Blank Slate: The Denial of Human Nature in Modern Life”


Marina Warner, Spirit Visions, 1999

Wednesday, October 20, “The Inner Eye: Figuring the Invisible”
Thursday, October 21, “Ectoplasm: Materializing the Impalpable”


Elaine Scarry, On Beauty and Being Just, 1998
Liam Hudson , The Life of the Mind, 1997
Peter Brown , The End of the Ancient Other World: Death and Afterlife between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, 1996
Richard Posner , Euthanasia and Health Care: Two Essays on the Policy Dilemmas of Aging and Old Age, 1994
Fritz Stern , I. Mendacity Enforced: Europe, 1914-1989 and II. Freedom and Its Discontents: Postunification Germany, 1993
Robertson Davies , Reading and Writing, 1991
Edward Luttwak , Strategy: A New Era?, 1989
John Pocock , Edward Gibbon in History: Aspects of the Text in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1989