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Harvard Professor to Speak on How Culture Changes the World

February 9, 2016

Harvard University Professor Doris Sommer will present UC Merced’s fourth annual Distinguished Lecture in the Humanities at noon Feb. 22 in the California Room on campus. Sommer’s talk, “The Work of Art in the World: Civic Agency and Public Humanities,” is the latest in a series of lectures presented by UC Merced’s Center for the Humanities.

Sommer is the Ira and Jewell Williams Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard, and she also serves as director of graduate studies in Spanish. She is the founder and faculty director of Harvard’s Cultural Agents Initiative, a network of academics, artists, educators and organizations who develop recognition of the arts and humanities as resources for positive change to real-world problems in the belief that, as Sommer says, “culture changes the world.”

The morning of the lecture, at 9:30 a.m. in the Bobcat Lair, UC Merced Professor Dalia Magaña will moderate a Q-and-A on bilingualism with Doris Sommer as part of the campus’s new Linguistics Initiative, which is funded by a seed grant from the center.

Sommer has published two books on bilingualism and will respond to questions on the excerpt “Invitation” from her book “Bilingual Aesthetics.”

Communication is at the core of both culture and meaningful change, which makes Sommer’s earlier work on bilingualism particularly relevant for our campus and community,” said Christina Lux, the center’s associate director.

Sommer will join two of the center’s previous Distinguished Lecturers — Anthony Appiah of Princeton University and David Palumbo-Liu of Stanford — in contributing essays to a book that will showcase emerging research in the humanities. The book will be edited by Lux and the center’s director, Professor Ignacio López-Calvo.

The Distinguished Lecture event is free and open to the public, but those wishing to attend must register online. The first 75 people to register will receive a free copy of Sommer’s latest book, “The Work of Art in the World.”

The book explores unrelenting art interventions all over the world, as well as the relation between art and activism,” López-Calvo said. “Sommer’s study provides numerous examples of how urban arts have dramatically improved cities and communities, and serves as a guide to encourage readers to emulate these engaged art strategies or to create new ones.”