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Northwestern University

The Debt Dialogues

The Kaplan Institute’s yearlong series explores debt from a variety of humanistic perspectives

Since the 2008 financial collapse, the subject of debt has emerged as a hot topic in the nation’s consciousness.

In an effort to inject the conversation with humanistic perspectives that transcend the oft-cited viewpoints of economists, and to broaden the discussion of debt to include other social and cultural topics, the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities presents The Debt Dialogues.

A yearlong series of 19 conversations about debt from distinguished scholars and artists from across various humanities fields — gender and sexuality studies, literature, art history, anthropology and more — The Debt Dialogues examine debt’s many faces.

“Debt is a timely issue today that has sparked interesting thought and study in all of its senses across a wide range of fields,” Kaplan Institute director Wendy Wall says. “Through The Debt Dialogues, we hope that a diverse group of people will come at the profound issue of what it means to owe something, and to do so by entertaining unfamiliar questions that broaden their horizons.”

More than two dozen departments and programs across Northwestern have joined forces with the Kaplan Institute to host conversations, a sign, Wall says, “of a capacious topic that people are eager to explore.”

The Debt Dialogues, which kicked off Oct. 5 with a program from art critic and author Yates McKee titled “Contemporary Art, #BlackLives Matter and the Decolonization of Debt Resistance,” feature programs from external scholars as well as Weinberg College faculty members, including:

  • Assistant Professor of English Kelly Wisecup, who will convene two different panels involving Native American scholars: an Oct. 27 discussion titled “Historical Debts: Trauma, Memory and Decolonization” and a spring event with Block Museum exhibiting artist Kristine Aono on reparations in Native American and Japanese-American context.
  • An April 13 program from Associate Professor of English Susie Phillips titled “Dallying with Debt: Credit Hijinks in Premodern England.”
  • German and Comparative Literary Studies faculty members Peter Fenves and Sam Weber are slated to participate in a spring 2017 panel discussion with Harvard University English professor Marc Shell on how the development of money spurred a revolution in philosophical thought and language.

The Debt Dialogues, made possible in part by the support of the Harris Lecture Fund, are free and open to the public.

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