Get out your planners (and wallets), because Chicago Humanities Festival is just around the corner. The annual Fall Festival runs October 27 through November 11, and its programming is built around the yearlong theme "Graphic!", which focuses on understanding the increasingly visual world in which we live. Many events are, unfortunately, already sold out (Eve L. Ewing on her new book and author Kristen J. Sollee on witchcraft and feminism are among these ultra-hot conversations) — but tickets are still available for plenty more (from $10-$20).
Here are six highlights to get you started on planning your festival weeks.
If you're concerned with our age of mass surveillance
We are being watched in more ways than we probably realize, thanks to the hidden vision of machines that increasingly scrutinize our private lives. Artist, geographer, and MacArthur Fellow Trevor Paglen will speak about his work to uncover and document the landscape of surveillance, which reveals the power structures embedded in what he describes as a new “invisible world of machine-machine visual culture.”
Paglen dove to the bottom of the ocean to photograph the architecture of the internet (NSA-tapped fiberoptic cables), tracked dozens of classified US satellites and captured their paths, and experimented with training neural networks to reveal the biases of their engineers. His most ambitious work, Orbital Reflector, is a mylar sculpture scheduled to launch into space this fall, a satellite designed to have only aesthetic value.
Details: 10/27 at 3 p.m., The Field Museum
For women who are mad as hell (and their allies)
The feminist journalist Rebecca Traister will speak about her new book, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, alongside scholar Brittney Cooper, whose own title, Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower, was released earlier this year.
Good and Mad could not have come at more timely moment. Less than a week before it hit shelves, the world watched as a powerful man raged in his defense against sexual assault allegations, brought forth by a woman who had just delivered a testimony with remarkable composure, despite being forced to lay bare her trauma and have it questioned by a panel of mostly white men. The Ford-Kavanaugh hearing was yet another reminder of how anger is one emotion women are historically not allowed to show. Traister extensively researches this history of female rage, from its suppression to its harnessing into a vital force behind revolutionary movements, including women’s suffrage, #BlackLivesMatter, and #MeToo. Women should embrace and trust their anger, she argues — and don’t need anyone’s permission to do so.
Details: 10/28 at 3:30 p.m., Pick-Staiger Concert Hall
If you're drawn to blood and bones
A popular spectacle in the Victorian era was the public dissection, during which anatomists sliced into a patient in the middle of an amphitheater (hence the term “operating theater”). Just in time for Halloween, medical historian Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris will speak about this early medical custom and the grisly practices of surgeons who didn't wash their instruments and hands, cut into patients who weren't anesthetized, and worked quickly to just get the job done.
Fitzharris’ investigation of this history is compiled in The Butchering Art, a book she published last year that centers on the British surgeon Joseph Lister. (It was also shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize). Lister's research furthered Louis Pasteur’s germ theory (that diseases are caused by invasive microorganisms) and led to the development of sterilization methods for the operating room.
A word of caution for this talk: People have allegedly fainted during Fitzharris’ previous lectures, so make sure you’re prepared for a journey into the brutal and graphic past of early medicine.
Details: 10/28 at 3:30 p.m., Galvin Recital Hall at the Ryan Center
If you're more than ready to celebrate an overlooked hero
The movement to commemorate Ida B. Wells, civil rights crusader and outspoken journalist, has gained steady momentum this year. Her belated obituary, published in May by the New York Times’ as part of its project to pay tribute to women left out of its obit section, cast an international spotlight on her life and achievements.
In July, Chicago’s city council approved the renaming of part of Congress Parkway to Ida B. Wells Drive; organizers also reached their funding goals to build the central piece of a monument to Wells near her former home in Bronzeville. It was a major milestone in a decade-long effort spearheaded by a committee that includes Michelle Duster, Wells’ great-granddaughter.
Duster will be present at this panel to recognize the legacy of her activist ancestor, alongside poet Eve L. Ewing, New York Times Magazine reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, and WBEZ reporter Natalie Moore. Beyond celebrating the life of this tenacious woman, the four will more broadly discuss the present-day fights against racial injustice.
Details: 11/2 at 7:30 p.m., Harold Washington Cultural Center
If you're dedicated to community-building
From lessons on archiving to a conversation on Chicago’s segregation, South Shore Cultural Center hosts an activity-packed evening for anyone who wants to become a more proactive member of their neighborhood, be it the South Shore or elsewhere.
Films made by residents of South Side communities, collected by the South Side Home Movie Project, will be on loop for the first portion of the event, and founder Jacqueline Stewart will discuss her work to build this predominantly black film archive. Artist Tonika Johnson is scheduled to speak at the same time on her project Folded Map, which bridges neighborhoods in the North and South Sides to explore issues of segregation and inequality. Finally, complementing Johnson's activist artwork is a discussion between Jahmal Cole and Amanda Seligman on the history and power of neighborhood block clubs, which Block Club Chicago cofounder Jen Sabella will moderate.
Details: 11/7 at 5:30 p.m., South Shore Cultural Center
If you're committed to a more accessible world
In 2010, Sara Hendren started compiling photos of accessibility icons that depict a person in a wheelchair and shared them on her website, Abler. She was searching, in particular, for images that showed a figure in motion — and finding such icons rare, ended up creating a new one with philosopher professor Brian Glenney. She has described it as “a symbol of [people’s] own wishes for agency and dimensional action in the world.”
Hendren encouraged others to paste this image over the original, static icon; the project is one of her many that consider the low- and high-tech designs that help us navigate our world, whether as able-bodied or disabled individuals. At CHF, Hendren will speak about how we can better our public spaces and work towards an inclusive future welcoming of all bodies. Dedicated to questioning normalized concepts of the body, her work is an invitation to challenge our understanding of assistive technologies.
Details: 11/11 at 1 p.m., Conaway Center at Columbia College