Vermont Humanities

First Wednesdays Videos

A person in a kayak rowing on a lake in front of a rock face with green folaige on it
First Wednesdays

Browse recordings of our First Wednesdays public humanities lectures from our current and previous seasons. Please note that it can sometimes take several weeks for a recorded talk to be made available for viewing after the event.

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From the 2022-2023 Season

Poet Richard Blanco

Poetry Reflections with Richard Blanco

Selected by President Obama as the fifth inaugural poet in US history, Richard Blanco is the first Latino, immigrant, and gay person to serve in such a role. Born in Madrid to Cuban exile parents and raised in Miami, the negotiation of cultural identity characterizes his four collections of poetry. Join him as he discusses his work and life with a panel of students from Hartford High School.

An animal-decorated youth wheelchair sits on a beach at low tide

A History of Disability

Disability, as part of the human condition, has always been with us. But considering disability to be negative is a new concept, shaped by recent history. Professor of philosophy, author, and disability activist Patrick Standen unravels the complicated, fascinating, and controversial history of the concept of disability.

Cover of The People's Tongue with red and blue like the United States flag

The People’s Tongue: Americans and the English Language

Longtime First Wednesdays favorite Ilan Stavans discusses his new book, an anthology that tells the story of how the English language has been transformed in the United States. The People’s Tongue features essays, letters, poems, songs, speeches, stories, jeremiads, manifestos, and decrees across history, from Sojourner Truth and Abraham Lincoln to Henry Roth and Zora Neale Hurston and beyond.

Aerial view of Montpelier, Vermont

From Red State to Blue State: Vermont’s Political Transformation

For 100 years—from the 1850s to the 1950s—Vermont was the most Republican state in the nation. But today it is the most Democratic. Journalist Chris Graff considers some factors behind the switch from “red to blue,” including interstate highways, the arrival of IBM in Vermont, and the reapportionment of the Vermont House.

a volunteer conservationist hold hula hoops and stands in a forest wearing a mask

Biodiversity, Conservation, and Civic Participation in Paraguay

South America’s Atlantic Forest is one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Cristhian Fretes Ojeda, technical trainer for Peace Corps Paraguay, discusses how civic participation is leading the effort to conserve crucial natural areas like the Atlantic Forest and the Gran Chaco, which span several South American countries.

Cover of "Run!" by John Lewis

John Lewis and RUN!

In this presentation for Vermont middle and high school students, Andrew Aydin, co-author of The March Trilogy with civil rights icon John Lewis, describes the creation of the next book in the series, RUN! Aydin also relates becoming an author, how he became involved in politics, and his experiences working with Congressman Lewis. He’s joined by a panel of students from Rutland Union High School.

Soldiers and sailors statue in Barre, Vermont

Are Your City’s Monuments Worthy? Take the Quiz!

Many communities recently have questioned the value of long-standing monuments. These debates can strike at the heart of history and memory. Seeking dialogue instead of a shouting match, author Raffi Andonian suggests four simple questions for communities to consider as they evaluate historic sites, famous figures, and public monuments.

An Arizona street with tents lined along each side

What is Trauma Informed Journalism?

Trauma-informed journalist and essayist Lori Yearwood explores what it means to be a trauma-informed journalist when reporting on difficult topics. Having experienced homelessness herself, she suggests key ideas to keep in mind as journalists engage with populations who face dire situations and systemic poverty.

A group of animated characters walk through a snowy landscape

Adapting Traditional Stories into Mainstream Literature

Author David A. Robertson examines his middle grade fiction fantasy novels, The Misewa Saga, and discusses what role traditional stories played in the development of the series. In this January of 2023 virtual event presented by the Norwich Public Library , he explains how he honored the richness, intent, and themes of those original stories.

A man in a red kayak rows on lake champlain

The Making of “No Other Lake”

In 2021, UVM student Jordan Rowell kayaked the 120-mile length of Lake Champlain. Over a two-week journey, Rowell and local filmmaker Duane Peterson conducted interviews to better understand the challenges facing the lake and to explore our relationship with natural resources in the era of climate change. The pair shares excerpts from their short documentary film and discusses its creation.

Author Bill McKibben speaks from a lectern in front of a white wall, wearing a green gray zip up fleece and glasses.

Where Do We Stand? A Report from the Climate Battle

Author and activist Bill McKibben— the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and leader of the climate campaign group 350.org— shares an overview of the climate crisis and what changes need to be made to save the planet. McKibben spoke at Norwich Congregational Church, United Church of Christ on December 7, 2022, presented by the Norwich Library.

Author Andrew Liptak presents a white disassembled Star Wars Stormtrooper outfit to a group of onlookers at a library

The History of Cosplay

Cosplay— the practice of dressing up as a character from a movie, book, or video game—has a long history within science fiction and fantasy fandom. In recent years, it’s become a mainstream phenomenon. Andrew Liptak, author of Cosplay: A History, describes how cosplay has evolved from a niche activity of convention-goers in the mid-20th century to wide popularity today.

The Making of the Graphic Novel: 1177 BC The Year Civilization Collapsed

In this First Wednesdays event at the Brownell Library on November 2, 2022, author/illustrator Glynnis Fawkes reads from and discusses her latest work-in-progress and describes how the storytelling elements of comics—panel design, pacing, research, and narrative—are employed in creating non-fiction graphic novels. She also reviews the comic she contributed to the Vermont Reads 2022 book, The Most Costly Journey (El Viaje Más Caro).

a path leads out on to a rock ledge that overlooks a bay or ocean at sunset

Arribada, A Novel

Author and Middlebury professor Gloria Estela Gonzalez Zenteno discusses her new novel Arribada, about a woman pushed to confront her role in environmental and social injustice, and a well-to-do family’s realization that their comfortable position rests on crimes against the natural world, their town, and their loved ones.

A green hill spotted with small colorful doors for Hobbit homes

Tolkien and Goddess Worship

In this First Wednesdays event recorded on November 2, 2022 at the Rutland Free Library, UVM lecturer Chris Vaccaro explores J.R.R. Tolkien’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and his occupation with female divinities such as Varda, Yavanna, Melian, Luthien, and Galadriel in his work. Vaccaro compares these divinities with goddesses within Greco-Roman, Celtic, and Norse mythologies and considers Tolkien’s influences.

A drone sits in a hangar looking out on a desert and mountain as a man in a jumpsuit walks towards it.

Dirty Work with Author Eyal Press

In his award-winning Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America, journalist Eyal Press examines the morally troubling jobs that society tacitly condones, and the hidden class of workers who do them. Press, a contributor to The New Yorker and The New York Times, discusses his reporting for the book, which won the 2022 Hillman Prize for book journalism and appeared on numerous “best books of 2021” lists.

A postcard illustration of the Rudyard Kipling Estate in Brattleboro, VT at sunset

Five Hard Questions about Kipling in Vermont

On his farm overlooking Brattleboro, Rudyard Kipling wrote the Jungle Book and many of his Just So Stories, and began to draft his great novel, Kim. Christopher Benfey, author If: The Untold Story of Kipling’s American Years, answers hard questions about Kipling’s time in this country, including whether he should be considered partly an American writer.

Reflections on Writing and Illustration

Vermonter Jason Chin has written and illustrated many acclaimed children’s books, including Grand Canyon, Redwoods, and Your Place in the Universe. He received the 2022 Caldecott Medal for illustrating Watercress by Andrea Wang. In this presentation at The Brownell Libary on October 5, 2022, he describes his passion for nature, science, and art,  and discusses the impact of his work with young people.

A colorful graffito of Miles Davis playing trumpet with bright colors and shapes surrounding him

The Electric Period of Miles Davis

The ever-changing music that Miles Davis recorded from 1969 to 1975 angered and bewildered many critics and fans, who accused the trumpeter of “selling out.” In this First Wednesdays event from October 2022 at the Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro, jazz archivist and poet Reuben Jackson shares how recordings from Davis’ “Electric Period”—including 1974’s Get Up With It—prove otherwise.

From the 2021-2022 Season

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her judicial robes wearing a white necklace

The Legacy of “The Notorious RBG”

Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a feminist superhero who could still do a plank at 87 and who survived pancreatic cancer long beyond expectations. Dartmouth history professor Annelise Orleck examines the life of the brilliant jurist who remained fiercely progressive, unapologetically liberal, and committed to equality to the end, and who loved her status as a pop culture idol.

Disability and the Poetry of Natural and Supernatural Worlds

Three poets—Eli Clare, Judy Chalmer, and Toby MacNutt—reflect on the ways disabled poets write about natural and supernatural spaces. In this wide-ranging discussion, they consider how poetry invites us into an embodied experience, and how supernatural poetry can expand or question traditional understandings of the “natural.”

John Killacky with glasses and his hand on a cane.

Leaving the World of the Temporarily Abled

Artist and legislator John R. Killacky shares his journey of overcoming paralysis from spinal surgery complications 25 years ago. He also reflects on how reentering the world in a disabled body radically changed his perspective in his artistic practice as well as in his advocacy for artists with disabilities.

From Little Jerusalem to the Lost Mural: Preserving Jewish and Immigrant Heritage

In 1885, a group of Lithuanian immigrants settled in Burlington’s Old North End, where they transplanted their religious traditions and culture. Archivists Aaron Goldberg and Jeff Potash describe the “Lost Mural,” a rare survivor of the lost genre of European painted synagogues, and tell the story of conserving the mural in Burlington.

Woman in black and white photo touching her hair and looking down

Vermont Hairwork: Connecting Past and Present

19th century Americans often saved or exchanged locks of hair, constructing jewelry or keepsake wreaths of their kinship networks. In more recent decades, hair has become a powerful political medium. Middlebury professor Ellery Foutch shares the research about hair-based works in local collections and explores the meanings of hair in American culture, past and present.

Young Black Muslim woman in a black head scarf

Thinking Race, Religion, and Gender: Muslim Women and Islamophobia

UVM professor Ilyse Morgenstein Fuerst examines how race, religion, and gender affect the lives of Black Muslim women in the US. Exploring this diverse community helps illuminate how intersectionality functions, but also how one’s identity shapes religious practice and the experience of discrimination.

Middle-aged man in World War Two uniform with helmet

War Reenactors: Who Gets to Tell History?

Artist Ed Gendron shares and discusses images from his photo project about World War II reenactors in the United States. Gendron later produced Playing Soldier, a feature-length documentary on the same topic. “The re-enactors assert that ‘history is a personal thing,’ says Gendron. “And for them, it may be quite true.”

Dancer with arms spread wide, wearing a striped leotard

A Life in Art and Activism

Artist, legislator, and former director of the Flynn Center in Burlington, John R. Killacky draws on commentaries from his book Because Art to relate his experiences as dancer in New York in the late 1970s and ’80s, the maelstrom of the culture Wars of the 1990s, and his work advocating for artists with disabilities.

Thanksgiving turkey on table with other traditional holiday foods

Why We Eat What We Eat at Thanksgiving

How did America’s most iconic food holiday come to include green bean casserole? What did the Wampanoag people and the Pilgrims really eat in 1621? Susan Evans McClure, executive director of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, serves up the story of Thanksgiving foods and how they help us understand our American identity.

Image of boat under green water with a rope tied around the bow

History in Hot Water: Climate Change and the Shipwrecks of Lake Champlain

Lake Champlain is home to hundreds of well-preserved shipwrecks that help tell the story of our region. But climate change is altering the lake’s underwater cultural heritage. Susan Evans McClure and Christopher Sabick from the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum consider the impact of historical objects changing before our eyes.

Climate advocate Elizabeth Yeampierre

The Path to Climate Justice is Local

Puerto Rican climate justice leader Elizabeth Yeampierre has helped pass climate legislation at all levels, including New York’s progressive Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. In this talk she describes how intergenerational BIPOC activists are changing the landscape of national climate priorities by speaking up for themselves and their neighborhoods.

Young man holding an American flag jumping between rocks in a river

Are “We the People” Up to the Task?

In the United States, all power is derived from the people. While this sounds noble in theory, can we expect the American public to have the wits and self-control to meet the demands of climate change? Constitutional scholar Meg Mott explores the paradox of self-governance when the natural foundations of life itself are changing.

From All First Wednesdays Seasons

An animal-decorated youth wheelchair sits on a beach at low tide

A History of Disability

Disability, as part of the human condition, has always been with us. But considering disability to be negative is a new concept, shaped by recent history. Professor of philosophy, author, and disability activist Patrick Standen unravels the complicated, fascinating, and controversial history of the concept of disability.

Dancer with arms spread wide, wearing a striped leotard

A Life in Art and Activism

Artist, legislator, and former director of the Flynn Center in Burlington, John R. Killacky draws on commentaries from his book Because Art to relate his experiences as dancer in New York in the late 1970s and ’80s, the maelstrom of the culture Wars of the 1990s, and his work advocating for artists with disabilities.

A group of animated characters walk through a snowy landscape

Adapting Traditional Stories into Mainstream Literature

Author David A. Robertson examines his middle grade fiction fantasy novels, The Misewa Saga, and discusses what role traditional stories played in the development of the series. In this January of 2023 virtual event presented by the Norwich Public Library , he explains how he honored the richness, intent, and themes of those original stories.

Image of painting of couple dancing

American Modernism

Video: Citing examples from the works of Georgia O’Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, Stuart Davis, Charles Sheeler, and others, former Head of American Paintings at Christie’s and Sotheby’s James Maroney provides an overview of American art from 1913 to 1949 and explains its importance and beauty.

Approaching Islam, Approaching Difference

Video: The Qur’an states that God created differences not only as a test for humanity but also as a path toward self-knowledge. Marlboro College professor Amer Latif considers how the Qur’an frames the perennial problem of living more harmoniously in a diverse world.

Soldiers and sailors statue in Barre, Vermont

Are Your City’s Monuments Worthy? Take the Quiz!

Many communities recently have questioned the value of long-standing monuments. These debates can strike at the heart of history and memory. Seeking dialogue instead of a shouting match, author Raffi Andonian suggests four simple questions for communities to consider as they evaluate historic sites, famous figures, and public monuments.

Young man holding an American flag jumping between rocks in a river

Are “We the People” Up to the Task?

In the United States, all power is derived from the people. While this sounds noble in theory, can we expect the American public to have the wits and self-control to meet the demands of climate change? Constitutional scholar Meg Mott explores the paradox of self-governance when the natural foundations of life itself are changing.

Image of man with bullhorn

Arguing about Civility

Video: Middlebury political scientist Sarah Stroup focuses on two questions for both local and national discourse: What topics are suitable for public discussion? And how can we facilitate productive disagreements?

a path leads out on to a rock ledge that overlooks a bay or ocean at sunset

Arribada, A Novel

Author and Middlebury professor Gloria Estela Gonzalez Zenteno discusses her new novel Arribada, about a woman pushed to confront her role in environmental and social injustice, and a well-to-do family’s realization that their comfortable position rests on crimes against the natural world, their town, and their loved ones.

a volunteer conservationist hold hula hoops and stands in a forest wearing a mask

Biodiversity, Conservation, and Civic Participation in Paraguay

South America’s Atlantic Forest is one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Cristhian Fretes Ojeda, technical trainer for Peace Corps Paraguay, discusses how civic participation is leading the effort to conserve crucial natural areas like the Atlantic Forest and the Gran Chaco, which span several South American countries.

Image of children walking in parade

Bread and Roses, Too

Video: Acclaimed children’s book author Katherine Paterson discusses her novel of historical fiction that tells the story of the 1912 “Bread and Roses” strike in the Lawrence, Massachusetts textile mills through the eyes of an Italian-American girl and a runaway boy.

Image of EB White with dog

Celebrating E. B. White

Video: From Charlotte’s Web to his exquisite essays in The New Yorker, E. B. White remains the master’s master of elegant prose, sophisticated wit, and graceful irreverence. Drawing on his stories, essays, poems, and letters, Dartmouth professor Nancy Jay Crumbine celebrates White’s versatility and enormous legacy.

Vermont Humanities*** October 18, 2018