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The Byrn Lecture

Joseph Hutchins Colton. Colton's Map on Mercator's Projection [map]. In: Blake, W. (pseud Thomas, H. Prescott), The Volume of the World: Embracing the Geography, History, and Statistics of the Nations of the Earth. 1855 edition. Columbus, OH: J. & H. Miller, 1855.  (Public Domain)


Each year since 1986, the Vanderbilt History Department has invited a distinguished historian to address broad themes in world history, historiography, or the philosophy of history in the annual Byrn lecture. 

The Byrn Lecture is named in honor of educator John W. Byrn. Mr. Byrn earned his B.A. at Peabody College for Teachers (now part of Vanderbilt University) in 1927, and continued his education at Stanford University, where he earned his M.A. When he retired in 1969, he sought to promote the ideas of historian and philosopher Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975), and in 1986, made an endowment to the university in the form of this annual lecture. John Byrn attended each of the first three lectures of the new series before his death in September of 1988. The lecture consistently draws a significant audience from both within the University and the wider Nashville community. 

The Lectures Committee changes yearly and is in charge of coordinating the speaker for the current year.

Byrn Lecture Committee 2019-20 Co-Directors are:
Moses Ochonu (Co-Director)
William Caferro (Co-Director)

Byrn Lecture Committee 2018-19 Co-Directors are:
Jeff Cowie (Co-Director)
Moses Ochonu (Co-Director)

Byrn Lecture Committee 2017-18 Co-Directors are:
Jeff Cowie (Co-Director)
Ruth Rogaski (Co-Director)

List of Byrn Speakers 1986 - 2019:

2019 - Ulinka Rublack , University of Cambridge, "The Triumph of Fashion, 1300-1800."   

2018 - Mamadou Diouf, Leitner Family Professor of African Studies, Columbia University, "Saint Louis du Senegal: The Making of an Indigenous City in Atlantic World, from the French Revolution to WWI."

2017 -  Felipe Fernández-Armesto,University of Notre Dame,  "Change: How History Happens." 

2016 - Peter Coclanis, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, "Six Flags over Malacca/Melaka: Southeast Asian History in Global Context." Watch the video here.  

2015 - Chris Clark, Cambridge University, "How Europe Went to War in 1914: The Origins Debate Revisited." Watch the video here.

2014 - Joan Scott, Princeton University, “The Politics of Secularism.”

2013 - Dror Wahrman, Indiana University, “Invisible Hands: Self-Organization and the Genesis of Modern Order.”

2012 - Lauren Benton, NYU, “This Melancholy Labyrinth: Petty Despots, Rights, and the Global Empire of Law, 1800-1825.” Now at Vanderbilt University.

2011 - Sanjay Subrahmanyam, UCLA, “Before Orientalism: From Paris to Patna in the 17th Century.Watch the video here.

2010 - Louis Perez, University of North Carolina, “Cuba and the United States: From Cultural Affinity to Political Antagonism.”

2009 - Samantha Power, Harvard,  (cancelled)

2008 - Marcus Rediker, University of Pittsburgh, “The Floating Dungeon- A History of the Slave Ship.” 

2007 - Kenneth Pomeranz, UC Irvine, “Chinese Development and World History: How Far Can the ‘East Asian Model’ Stretch?”

2006 - Frederick Cooper, NYU, “Empire and Inclusion: Citizenship, Nationality, and Difference in Post-War French Africa.”

2005 - Linda Colley, Princeton, “The Difficulties of Empire: Present, Past, and Future.”

2004 (fall) - Robin Blackburn, Essex University, “Haiti’s Contribution to the Age of Revolution.”

2004 (spring) - Dipesh Chakrabarty, University of Chicago, “Globalization and Discredited Pasts: Romantic Nationalism as History and Memory.”

2003 - George Fredrickson, Stanford, “The Historical Construction of Racism: White Supremacy and Anti-Semitism.”

2002 - Edward Muir, Northwestern, “Learning to Trust the Neighbors: The Meaning of Community in Medieval and Renaissance Italy.”

2001 - Paul Lovejoy, York University, “Ethnic Designations of the Atlantic Slave Trade.”

2000 - Lynn Hunt, UCLA, “Tracing the Origins of Human Rights.”

1999 - Joseph C. Miller, University of Virginia

1997 - William Cronon, Wisconsin-Madison, “Kennecott Journey: An Introduction to Environmental History.”

1996 - David Brion Davis, Yale University

1995 - Caroline Bynum, Columbia University, “Love for the Body in the Middle Ages.”

1993 - Peter Gay, Yale University, “The Re-Enchantment of the World: Thoughts on Romanticism.”

1992 - Orlando Patterson, Harvard University, “The Socio-historical Sources of Anglo-American Freedom and Individualism.”

1991 - Natalie Z. Davis, Princeton University, “Women on the Margins: Two Seventeenth-Century Figures in Quebec and Suriname.”

1990 (fall) - David Landes, Harvard University, “The Time of Our Lives: Social Time and Modernization.”

1990 (spring) - Dominick LaCapra, Cornell University, “Representing the Holocaust: Reflections on the Historians’ Debates.”

1989 - Hayden White, Stanford University, “Event, Character, and Plot in Historical Narrative.”

1988 - Wiliam H. McNeill, University of Chicago,  “Toynbee Revisited.”

1987 - Immanuel Wallerstein, SUNY Binghamton, “The Bourgeoisie as Concept and Reality: From the Eleventh Century to the Twenty-First.”

1986 - Michael Kammen, Cornell University