Lecture Descriptions

"A Burning Controversy: Did Native Americans Modify the Landscape of New England?" - Dr. Larry McKenna

Climate Change Education

Thursday September 22, 7pm
Main Library Costin Room and YouTube Live

In 1984, William Cronon published his wildly influential Changes in the Land, an environmental history of New England’s landscape. Cronon richly and vividly describes how the forests of New England had been purposefully manipulated by Native Americans for thousands of years prior to contact with Europeans. I recall clearly my first walk through the Maine woods after reading the book, looking at the forest surrounding me with wonder, thinking that this apparently “natural” forest had, in fact, been manipulated by and for humans for centuries untold. But had it? A new crop of research-done by relative newcomers to the field-has begun to challenge the now well-accepted story that Native Americans used fire to clear land for habitation, agriculture and deer. The burning controversy over Native peoples’ use of fire is a fascinating story in itself, but also illustrates the surprisingly passionate and un-scientific way science actually gets done.

“Elizabeth Garrett Anderson: England’s First Woman Doctor” - Dr. Helen Heineman

Thursday September 29, 7pm

Main Library Costin Room and YouTube Live

Born in 1836, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson qualified to practice medicine despite great opposition. She was fired in her ambition by a visit to England by the American lady doctor Elizabeth Blackwell. In an era when the profession in England was entirely closed to women, the story of her life is one of remarkable tenacity and courage. More unusually, she married, and while her family and friends expected marriage to end her career, her husband did everything possible to help her continue her medical work. Her many achievements opened the field of medicine to women in England. This lecture will focus on her unusual marriage and the way in which she became the first woman to successfully combine a happy marriage, a family of three children,  and an extraordinary professional career.

“Africans' Experiences of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade” - Dr. Maria Bollettino

Thursday October 13, 7pm

Main Library Costin Room and YouTube Live

This talk will examine Africans' experiences of the trans-Atlantic and intra-American slave trades, from their initial capture in Africa to their final sale in the Americas, and how the routes of the trade helped to shape the African diaspora in the Atlantic world. This talk is a companion to last fall's lecture on the scope and scale of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but you don't need to have attended the first to attend this one.

“Why Make (Ancient) Art? From Bronze Age Bull-Leapers to Amerindian Body-Pots” - Dr. Benjamin Alberti

Thursday October 27, 7pm

Main Library Costin Room and YouTube Live

Art is ubiquitous in antiquity. It is one of the markers of our emergent humanity. In this talk, I address the question, Why make art? A common enough question to which there are a series of common enough responses: to express our inner selves, to brighten up an otherwise dreary existence, or perhaps to represent an idea inexpressible in language. Art undoubtedly does all these things. But what can ancient art, specifically, tell us? Here, I take two cases to think through other possible responses, fresco art from Bronze Age Knossos (1500 BCE) and anthropomorphic ceramics from Formative period Northwest Argentina (first millennium CE). What is revealed through the comparison is that artworks, far from simple expressions of belief or identity, were active participants in their respective communities. Though, importantly, who and what those communities consisted of – the targets for the art – were quite different. In the one case, the State and a privileged few; in the other, spirits. Ancient art, it turns out, can tell us not only what it means to be human but also who counts as a human in the first place.

"National Identity and Tone Poems: Composers Turn Inward for Musical Inspiration" - Ron Williams

Thursday November 3, 7pm

Main Library Costin Room and YouTube Live

In the later part of the 19th century romanticism, European composers turned inward for inspiration to folk dances and folk songs and unearthed treasures of nationalism. We will explore this period of music and discover gems in our own American heritage as well, for example, Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring…I guarantee you will leave the lecture humming familiar tunes!

“What Did the Midterms Tell Us?” - Dr. David Smailes

Thursday November 10, 7pm

Main Library Costin Room and YouTube Live

Midterm elections determine the membership of the entire U.S. House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate, but they can also tell us much more.  Join us for a discussion of the results of the midterm elections, including what those results might mean for the next two years of the Biden administration, the direction both political parties seem to be going and, finally, what all this means for the next presidential election in 2024. 


“The Agony and Bliss of the Creative Process” - Coco Berkman

Thursday November 17, 7pm

Main Library Costin Room and YouTube Live

Drawing is key for professional artist Coco Berkman. She makes many bad drawings and scribbles before she unearths an image that has a certain meaning and magic worthy of her undivided attention. Working with Japanese carving tools and printing on an etching press, her reductive linoleum prints take several months to complete. Coco is familiar with the great struggle most artists wrestle with when choosing to dedicate their lives to making “Art” and she has a few nuggets of wisdom and anecdotes to share with us about her creative process.

“Border Crossings: The Early Work of Irish Playwright Brian Friel” - Dr. Kelly Matthews

Thursday December 1, 7pm

Main Library Costin Room and YouTube Live

When Brian Friel died in October 2015, the New York Times eulogized him as “the Irish Chekhov,” noting his “distinctive blend of melancholy and humor.” The Guardian called him “the father of modern Irish drama.” Friel has long been acclaimed as Ireland’s leading contemporary playwright, having scripted 24 plays for Broadway and West End theatres, many of which depict pivotal moments in Irish history or Northern Irish political unrest. This talk will focus on Friel’s early work—his beginnings—in which lay the seeds of his prodigious career.