Popular lecture series centers on Western Heritage texts
The Hannibal Lecture Series is a popular lecture series at Carthage in which professors present a talk and lead a discussion about a current Western Heritage text.
A dozen people attended the very first Hannibal Lecture In 2008. Now the lectures are among the most popular regular events on campus. Students and faculty pack the Niemann Media Theatre in Hedberg Library for the discussions, which have spawned book clubs, a benefit gala and even Hanni-feasts.
“We have many smart colleagues and the lectures are an opportunity to learn from them,” said Seemee Ali, assistant professor of Great Ideas and English at Carthage. Prof. Ali started the Hannibal Lecture series with Michael McShane, a professor of Great Ideas and philosophy.
Each lecture is given by a Carthage faculty member or guest professor, and focuses on a text discussed in Carthage’s core Western Heritage program.
“It seemed that with so many people reading the same books — all Carthage freshman have to take Western Heritage — you had the makings of creating an intellectual culture,” Prof. Ali explained. “At many schools, professors and students don’t talk about things. Professors just go to their classes, teach and leave.” Gatherings like Hannibal Lectures allow students and professors to talk about something they have in common. “There is a vibrant conversation that keeps going from year to year, in and outside of the lectures.”
Profs. Ali and McShane got the idea for the lecture series while viewing a painting at the Art Institute of Chicago that depicted the Carthaginian General Hannibal crossing the Alps into Rome. “That was the very first year that we were here,” Prof. Ali recalled. “It must have been the week before classes started. We just decided that we were going to have a lecture series. I gave the first lecture; it was on Homer’s Odyssey. Since then, our colleagues have been very generous about volunteering to put together lectures.”
Professors give the lectures because they want to — and students attend for the same reason. Prof. McShane said that they discouraged other professors from offering extra credit to their students for attending the lectures. He said the series is popular because it’s completely voluntary.
“Some dedicated people have been bringing students into Carthage who are self-motivated,” he said. “And the professors excite students to read. We wouldn’t be able to do this if the Western Heritage program didn’t exist.”