← Back to Center for the Humanities & the Public Sphere

About Rethinking the Public Sphere

Rethinking the Public Sphere is the theme of a multi-year speaker series held at the University of Florida and organized by the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere beginning in fall 2019. It is presented here as part of the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere Collection.

This multi-year series responds to current challenges to the rational public debate first imagined by German critical theorist Jürgen Habermas in the mid to late 20th century. In the early 21st century, significant pressures stemming from structural racism, artificial intelligence, forced migration, attacks on journalistic freedom, and political monopolies, among other variables, have resulted in a public sphere under siege. Confronting this state of affairs, preeminent theorists from different humanities disciplines emphasize the use of affective, multi-media, and material methodologies to shed light on the institutions that define public life today and examine closely the practice of public inclusion in contemporary society. Over the course of multiple semesters, these speakers deepen our understanding of the sites and nature of public discussion and move us beyond current impasses to full and equal participation by different groups. In the process, this series identifies the tools to reclaim and retheorize the public sphere for the 21st century.

Further information follows:

Selected videos of presentations from this series. >

Part I: Race and the Promise of Public Participation

In 2019-2020, Part I of the series focuses on Race and the Promise of Public Participation. Drawing on research in history and philosophy, these three talks highlight demands for racial equality in the international and historical contexts of the public sphere. By focusing on different humanities case studies – museums, poetry, and memoir – these talks demonstrate how a critical attention to these sites and texts can reveal the hidden obstacles to full participation in the public sphere by diverse groups. In particular, these talks examine how museums deal with collective memories of past atrocities, how philosophy and poetry contribute to our moral imagination of racial equality, and what the analysis of personal memoir teaches about struggles for the right to vote.

Race and the Promise of Public Participation is sponsored by the UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, George A. Smathers Libraries, Office of Research, UF International Center, Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere (Rothman Endowment), Bob Graham Center for Public Service, Department of Political Science, Center for African Studies, Center for Gender, Sexualities, and Women’s Studies Research, Center for Latin American Studies, African American Studies Program, School of Art and Art History, Department of Philosophy, Samuel Procter Oral History Program, Department of History, UF Chief Diversity Officer, Rothman Family Chair in the Humanities (Jack Davis), Hyatt and Cici Brown Chair of History (Sean Adams)


Museums and Slavery: Engaging the Past and the Present in the Public Sphere

Ana-Lucia Araujo (Howard University)
Thursday, 24 October 2019, 4:00 pm, Smathers Library 100

(Online Video)

How have museums engaged the debates about human atrocities? This lecture explores the development of permanent exhibitions and museums dedicated in part or entirely to address the problem of slavery and the Atlantic slave trade in England, France and the United States, by examining the cases of the Nantes History Museum, Museum of Aquitaine, the International Slavery Museum, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Dr. Araujo contends that the official memory of slavery is shaped by other modalities of memory (collective, cultural, and public) but in various nations it also depends on government involvement in publicly and privately funded initiatives. Therefore, although official, these memories are not static. They remain dynamic like the societies where they emerge. The inclusion of slavery and the Atlantic slave trade in the museum exposes the nuanced approaches through which each country engages with its own black and white communities. It also reveals how each nation deals with its regional, national, and international pasts, where racism and white supremacy persist.

Ana Lucia Araujo is a social and cultural historian. Her work explores the history and the memory of the Atlantic slave trade and slavery and their social and cultural legacies. In the last fifteen years, she authored and edited over ten books, including Reparations for Slavery and the Slave Trade: A Transnational and Comparative History (2017). Her next book Slavery in the Age of Memory: Engaging the Past will be published in 2020. She is a member of the Board of Editors of the American Historical Review and a member of the editorial board of the journal Slavery and Abolition. In 2017, she joined the International Scientific Committee of the UNESCO Slave Route Project. Currently she is a full professor in the Department of History of the historically black Howard University in Washington DC.


‘A Coming Out Of Ourselves’: Knowing Our Place In Racial Injustice

Christopher Lebron (Johns Hopkins University)
Thursday, 14 November 2019, 5:30 pm, Smathers Library 100

(Online Video)

Racial injustice has remained a stubborn feature of American society. One reason for its persistence is that everyday Americans fail to understand the problem of racial injustice as a lived experience. In his talk, Dr. Lebron explores the uses of moral imagination to expand white Americans’ awareness of racial inequality but do so through an eclectic gathering of resources ranging from philosophy to black poetry. His argument is simple but urgent: doing better at supporting racial justice requires knowing both when you are racially wrong due to privilege but also knowing what counts as a racial wrong generally. The way to know these things better is to extend our sensitivities and social awareness to encompass the black experience in America.

Chris Lebron is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Johns Hopkins University. His first book, The Color of Our Shame: Race and Justice in Our Time (OUP 2013) won the American Political Science Association Foundations of Political Theory First Book Prize. His second book The Making of Black Lives Matter: A Brief History of an Idea (OUP 2017) offers a brief intellectual history of the black lives matter social movement. He is the winner of the 2018 Hiett Prize in the Humanities, which recognizes a “career devoted to the humanities and whose work shows extraordinary promise to have a significant impact on contemporary culture.” In addition to his scholarly publications, he has been an active public intellectual, writing numerous times for The New York Times‘s philosophy column, The Stone, and a wide variety of other publications including Boston ReviewThe NationThe Atlantic, and Billboard Magazine.


Anne Moody and Voting Rights in the Era of Black Power: After Coming of Age in Mississippi

Leigh Ann Wheeler (Binghamton University)
Thursday, 13 February 2020, 4:00 pm, Smathers Library 100

(Online Video)

Anne Moody is best known for her civil rights activism and her acclaimed memoir, Coming of Age in Mississippi (1968).  Until now, no one has known what happened in Moody’s life after her memoir ends in 1964.  This talk shows how Anne Moody’s thinking about civil rights evolved in response to her experiences in the South and then in the North.  It also shows how Black Power brought voting rights to Moody’s hometown of Wilkinson County, Mississippi.

Leigh Ann Wheeler is Professor of History at Binghamton University, a former editor of the Journal of Women’s History, and the author of two monographs: Against Obscenity: Reform and the Politics of Womanhood in America, 1873-1935 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004) and How Sex Became a Civil Liberty (Oxford University Press, 2013).  She was awarded an NEH Public Scholar Fellowship for 2019-2020 to work on her current project, the biography of Anne Moody.