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Annual Stanford event highlights humanities authors

Rarely does one get the chance to interact with an array of top scholars and writers in one afternoon, but Stanford's annual event, "A Company of Authors," presents just such an opportunity. For one afternoon each year, students, faculty, and community members can attend a book salon type event, during which an array of writers associated with the University present their most recent works.

The seventh annual Company of Authors took place on Saturday, April 24th at the Stanford Humanities Center. Twenty-three authors were featured in a series of six panel discussions, during which presenters associated with Stanford read from their latest books and discussed their research. Free and open to the public, this event showcased the breadth of writing being done by Stanford humanities scholars.

Frances and Charles Field Professor of History, Emeritus Peter Stansky, who has organized and hosted A Company of Authors since its inception in 2004, describes it as “Stanford’s life of the mind at its best.” Based on the annual party at the Humanities Center that honors humanities faculty who have published books the previous year, the event has evolved and grown over the years. “The goal,” Stansky explained, “is to make the intellectual achievements of people associated with Stanford better known, to make the point that much of the work done at Stanford is not arcane and is of interest to the general public, that humanities should be shared by all.

Panels were organized thematically, gathering authors from different disciplines together to discuss history, literature, religion, and other “less technical material that the general public should better aware of,” says Stansky. From “Russia and Beyond” to “The Complexities of History,” the panel discussions brought a wide variety of experts to the table, creating a stimulating but also accesible atmosphere. Stansky added, “It presents the ‘real’ person behind the book. I also think it is important for the books to be sold!” All of the authors’ books were available for sale outside the event, and refreshments were served all afternoon as audience members gathered in Levinthal Hall for the six panel discussions.

The last session, featuring Dean for Religious Life Scotty McLennan, author and Stanford alum Susan Wels, and English Professor Terry Castle, brought together three unexpected characters – Jesus, Amelia Earhart, and Professor Castle herself. Analyzing these three distinct and seemingly unrelated figures, the “Heroes and Heroines?” panel demonstrated the interdisciplinary nature of the humanities.

“The Power of the Past and Present,” brought Professor Jack Rakove, and authors Stan Yogi and Elaine Elinson together to combine Rakove’s Constitutional expertise with Yogi and Elinson’s extensive research about slavery and civil liberties, providing new perspectives on American history and culture.

Next year, Stansky hopes to gather more members of the Stanford community for the event. He hopes that the undergraduate, graduate, and faculty members on campus will take advantage of the opportunity to experience firsthand the incredible work of the humanities departments at Stanford, to “broaden their horizons and find out what the Stanford faculty is doing.”