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Dangerous Ideas

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Spring 2020

Ideas matter. Concepts such as revolution, tradition, and hell have inspired social movements, shaped political systems, and dramatically influenced the lives of individuals. Others, like immigration, universal basic income, and the university play an important role in contemporary debates in the United States. All of these ideas are contested, and they have a real power to change lives, for better and for worse. In this one-unit class, we will examine these “dangerous” ideas. Each week, a faculty member from a different department in the humanities and arts will explore a concept that has shaped human experience across time and space.

Principal Instructor:

Lanier Anderson
J.E. Wallace Sterling Professor in Humanities
Senior Associate Dean of the Humanities and Arts

Course Coordinator:

Jeff Schwegman, PhD
Assistant Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences

Speakers and Topics

The University

James Campbell, History

James Campbell photo

James Campbell is the Edgar E. Robinson Professor in United States History. His teaching and research focus on African American history and the wider history of the black Atlantic. In recent years, he has also begun to explore “public history”: that is, the ways in which societies tell stories about their pasts, not only in textbooks and scholarly research, but also in historic sites, museums, memorials, movies, and political movements. He is the author or editor of several books, including Songs of Zion: The African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States and South Africa (1995); Slavery and the University: Histories and Legacies (2019); and Middle Passages: African American Journeys to Africa, 1787-2005, which was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in History. Campbell has also served as a historical consultant for numerous documentary films, public school curricula, and museum exhibitions, including the “Power of Place” exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture. If you enjoy his lecture for Dangerous Ideas, you might check out some of his other classes at Stanford, including History of South Africa and Nineteenth-Century America

Watch the video (SUNet required)

Migrants and Borders

Ana Raquel Minian, History

Ana Raquel Minian photo

Ana Raquel Minian is an associate professor of history, specializing in Latinx history, immigration, histories of incarceration and detention, and modern Mexican history. Her first book, Undocumented Lives: The Untold Story of Mexican Migration (2020), which has won numerous awards, uses private letters, songs, and oral testimony to reconstruct the experience and impact of circular migration between Mexico and the United States since 1970. She is currently working on a second book, tentatively titled “No Man’s Lands: A New History of Immigration Restriction,” as well as a history of immigration detention in the United States. You can learn more about her research in these interviews she gave for Public Radio International’s The World, for Univision, and at Yale University. In 2020, Minian was awarded the prestigious Andrew Carnegie Fellowship, which recognizes exceptional scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals. If you enjoy her lecture for Dangerous Ideas, you might check out some of her other classes at Stanford, including Mexican Migration to the United States, History of Prisons and Immigration Detention, and The History of Mexicans and Mexican Americans.

Watch the video (SUNet required)

Universal Basic Income

Juliana Bidadanure, Philosophy

juliana bidadenure photo

Juliana Bidadanure is an assistant professor of philosophy. Her research explores issues at the intersection of philosophy and public policy, especially inequalities between age groups and generations and the question of what it means to treat young adults as equals. She is currently working on a book entitled Justice Across Ages: Treating Young and Old as Equals. In addition, Bidadanure is the Research Director of the Basic Income Lab (BIL) at Stanford’s McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society. BIL convenes scholars, policymakers, business leaders, and foundations around the politics, philosophy, and economics of universal basic income policies. If you enjoy her lecture for Dangerous Ideas, you might check out some of her other classes at Stanford, including Universal Basic Income: The Philosophy Behind the Proposal, The Philosophy of Public Policy, and Ethics of Sports.

Watch the video (SUNet required)


Kathryn Gin Lum, Religious Studies

Kathryn Gin Lum photo

Kathryn Gin Lum is an associate professor of religious studies and, by courtesy, of history. Her teaching and research focus on the lived ramifications of religious beliefs, and she specializes in the history of religion and race in America. Her books include Damned Nation: Hell in America from the Revolution to Reconstruction (2014), The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Race in American History (co-edited with Paul Harvey in 2018), and a forthcoming study titled The Heathen World and America’s Humanitarian Impulse. You can also read more about her work on hell and American culture in a number of essays she has written for SalonStanford MagazineAeon MagazineReligion Dispatches, and The Wall Street Journal. Gin Lum received the 2016–2017 Dean’s Award for Distinguished Teaching in the School of Humanities and Sciences. If you enjoy her lecture for Dangerous Ideas, you might check out some of her other classes at Stanford, including Exploring American Religious History, Constructing Race and Religion in America, Religion and War in America, and Is Stanford a Religion?

Watch the video  (SUNet required)

Youth and Old Age

Alexander Nemerov, Art and Art History

Alexander Nemerov photo

Alexander Nemerov is the Carl and Marilynn Thoma Provostial Professor of Arts and Humanities in the Department of Art and Art History. A scholar of American art and visual culture, Nemerov writes especially about the presence of art, the recollection of the past, photography, and the importance of the humanities in our lives today. His many books include Soulmaker: The Times of Lewis Hine (2016), Wartime Kiss: Visions of the Moment in the 1940s (2013), and Acting in the Night: Macbeth and the Places of the Civil War (2010). In 2011 he published To Make a World: George Ault and 1940s America, the catalog of an exhibition he curated at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Nemerov's popular introductory art history course, How to Look at Art and Why: An Introduction to the History of Western Painting, regularly draws large crowds of students. Some of his other classes include The American West, American Photography Since 1960, and Caravaggio, Vermeer, and the Life of Paintings.

Watch the video  (SUNet required)


Marci Kwon, Art and Art History 


Marci Kwon is an assistant professor of art and art history specializing in the art and culture of the United States. Her research and teaching interests include the intersection of fine art and vernacular practice, theories of modernism, and Asian American art. She has published articles about time and craft in the Japanese internment camps, Isamu Noguchi's set design for Appalachian Spring, and the intersections of labor and painting in the work of Pittsburgh artist John Kane. Her book Enchantments: Joseph Cornell and American Modernism is forthcoming from Princeton University Press later in 2020. You can learn more about her research in these talks recorded for the Stanford YouTube channel and the Bill Lane Center for the American West. If you enjoy her lecture for Dangerous Ideas, you might check out some of her other classes, including Asian American Art, 1850–Present, Pacific Dreams: Art in California, and the Humanities Research Intensive.

Watch the video  (SUNet required)

Creative Agency in the Pandemic World

Mark Applebaum, Music

Mark Applebaum photo

Mark Applebaum is the Leland & Edith Smith Professor of Composition in the Department of Music. His solo, chamber, choral, orchestral, operatic, and electroacoustic work has been performed throughout North and South America, Europe, Africa, Australia, and Asia. Applebaum is the subject of multiple documentary films, such as Blue Dot Productions’ I Live for Art, and his TED talk “The mad scientist of music” has been seen by more than five million viewers. At Stanford, he has won multiple awards for outstanding teaching, including the 2003 Walter J. Gores Award. If you enjoy his lecture for Dangerous Ideas, you might check out some of his other classes, including Creative Agency in the Pandemic World (discussed in this recent interview), Rock, Sex, and Rebellion, and Musical Genius: Exemplars in the History of Organized Sound. Note: This short video, recorded at the onset of the quarantine in late March, is an excerpt from his full lecture for Dangerous Ideas, on the twin dangers of tradition and progress. Here, he speaks about how we might reframe our thinking to embrace the creative constraints imposed by sheltering in place.

Watch the video (SUNet required)


Ato Quayson, English

Ato Quayson photo

Ato Quayson is a professor of English and an internationally renowned scholar of postcolonial studies, disability studies, literary theory, urban studies, and African literature. Several of his books are now widely recognized as major classics in their fields, including Oxford Street, Accra: Urban Evolution, Street Life and Itineraries of the Transnational (named by The Guardian as one of the 10 Best Books on Cities in 2014), Aesthetic Nervousness: Disability and the Crisis of Representation (2007), and Strategic Transformations in Nigerian Writing (1997). In addition, he has also edited a number of anthologies and introductions, including The Cambridge History of Postcolonial Literature (2012) and The Cambridge Companion to the Postcolonial Novel (2015). Quayson is a Fellow of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Royal Society of Canada, as well as a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy. If you enjoy his lecture for Dangerous Ideas, you might check out some of his other classes at Stanford, including City, Space, Literature and Postcolonial Tragedy, as well as his new YouTube channel, Critic.Reading.Writing.

Watch the video  (SUNet required)

The Decline and Fall of Nations?

Caroline Winterer, History

Caroline headshot

Caroline Winterer is the William Robertson Coe Professor of History and American Studies, as well as former director of the Stanford Humanities Center. Her research and teaching focus on American history before 1900, especially the history of ideas, political theory, and the history of science. Some of her books include Time in Maps: From the Age of Discovery to Our Digital Era (2020), American Enlightenments: Pursuing Happiness in the Age of Reason (2016), and The Culture of Classicism: Ancient Greece and Rome in American Intellectual Life, 1780–1910 (2004). In 2013 she received an American Ingenuity Award from the Smithsonian Institution for her work mapping the social network of Benjamin Franklin. You can learn more about her work in this recent talk at the Commonwealth Club of California and in her 2017 TEDx Talk, “Think you know how to pursue happiness? Think again.” If you enjoy her lecture for Dangerous Ideas, you might check out some of her other classes, including the Humanities Research Intensive and a forthcoming seminar on The American Enlightenment

Watch the video (SUNet required)


Dan Edelstein, French

Dan Edelstein photo

Dan Edelstein is the William H. Bonsall Professor of French, as well as Professor by courtesy of History. His research focuses primarily on the literature, history, and political thought of eighteenth-century France. Some of his books include On the Spirit of Rights (2018), The Enlightenment: A Genealogy (2010), and The Terror of Natural Right: Republicanism, the Cult of Nature, and the French Revolution (2009). Edelstein is also an important figure in digital humanities research, which uses computational tools to explore historical and literary questions. You can read about his ambitious Mapping the Republic of Letters project in this article from the New York Times and in this story and video from the Stanford News Service. Edelstein has won multiple Stanford awards for outstanding teaching, including the 2006 Walter J. Gores Award and the 2011 Dean’s Distinguished Teaching Award. If you enjoy his lecture for Dangerous Ideas, you might check out some of his other classes, including CAPITALS: How Cities Shape Cultures, States, and People and Humanities Core: Great Books, Big Ideas -- Europe, Modern.

Watch the video (SUNet required)