Ifsahan is Half the World

Isfahan embodies the greatness of imperial Persia. In the early 16th century, the Safavid dynasty made Persia the homeland of the Shiite vision of Islam. In 1598 the Safavid Shah Abbas the Great moved his capital to Isfahan in the center of the country, and rebuilt the city with broad avenues, elaborate gardens, majestic bridges, a magnificent royal palace, and stunning mosques. Under this enlightened monarch, music, literature, and miniature painting flourished, and Isfahan became world-famous for the beauty of its carpets and textiles. His successors continued to build magnificent palaces, mosques, and schools. They established a flourishing tradition of support for the decorative arts, notably calligraphy and miniature painting. Isfahan’s era of glory lasted into the nineteenth century.

Friday, May 14


Lecture Safavid Iran: Friend or Foe?
The newly established Safavid Shiite regime suffered birth pangs comparable to the adjustments of contemporary Europe to the culture of the Renaissance. The Safavids and European monarchs collaborated against the Ottoman empire which had already conquered large parts of Europe and threatened to expand eastward into Iran as well. Prize-winning historian Abbas Milani (Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, and Professor of Political Science, Stanford University) paints in deft, colorful strokes an image of Iranian society in this golden age and the role it played in international politics, focusing on the capital city of Isfahan as the perfect metaphor for the aspirations of Safavid royalty, particularly Shah Abbas.

Performance Dances from the Isfahan Region
Classical and folk dances from the Isfahan region performed by Ney Nava dance troupe, led by Shida Pegahi.

Saturday, May 15, 2004


Lecture The City of Isfahan and Its Glorious Architecture
“Isfahan nesf-e jahan” said the Safavids; “Isfahan is half the world,” and its architecture comes close to justifying this famous couplet. In moving the capital of Persia to Isfahan, Shah Abbas set out to create a glorious showplace of art, culture, and religion, to which travelers, ambassadors, and merchants from Europe and Asia would eagerly travel. Its beauty still remains as a center of exquisite art and architecture for the world to admire. Dr. Johanna Movassat (Lecturer in Art and Art History, San Jose State University), a popular lecturer on Asian architecture, is married to an Iranian and considers Isfahan her “second home.” Her lecture will include consideration of the key role of Shah Abbas in the planning of his imperial city.

Lecture Miniature Paintings of the Safavid Period
Miniature painters fostered by the Safavid court produced dazzling works of art that often broke new ground in their restricted genre. Isfahan’s artists, often using a single hair of the paintbrush, produced works of unsurpassed delicacy and detail, though simple in their themes and content: a princess bathing in a secluded stream; a king holding court. Carel Bertram (San Francisco State University) will analyze the aesthetics of Persian miniatures and explain their narrative function.

Performance Classical Iranian Music from the Isfahan-Shiraz Region
Performed by Mr. Mahmoud Zoufonoun and ensemble. Mr. Zoufonoun is probably the leading expert on classical Iranian music in the United States. His ensemble will play selected classical pieces and offer a demonstration of the authentic instruments on which they perform. Mr. Zoufonoun’s pupil, Professor Manuchehr Ghiassi of Santa Clara University, will discuss the function and structure of the music.

Lecture The Imagined Embrace: Christians and Jews Under the Safavids
The Safavid Dynasty proclaimed Twelver Shiite Islam as the state religion, and its rulers embarked on a rigorous campaign to convert muslims and non-muslims of Iran to Shiism. What was the status of religious minorities in Safavid Iran? How were Christians, Jews, Sunnis and Sufis treated? Did the state have an interest in favoring one against another? Professor Jaleh Pirnazar, (Near Eastern Studies Department, UC Berkeley) will address these questions through an examination of contemporary texts.

Lecture Carpets, Textiles and Other Applied Arts of the Safavids
Persian carpets are prized for their exquisite designs and colors, and carpets from Isfahan above all. But the Safavids excelled in metalwork, ceramics, and other areas of the applied arts as well. No one is better qualified to discuss the Safavid accomplishments in these fields than renowned art historian Walter B. Denny (University of Massachussets at Amherst), a dynamic lecturer and a consultant to numerous museums and private collectors.

Panel Discussion
All participants address audience questions.


Carel Bertram, Humanities, San Francisco State University

Walter Denny, Art History, U Massachusetts Amherst

Abbas Milani, Political Sciences, Stanford

Johanna Movassat, Art History, San Jose State University

Jaleh Pirnazar, Persian Literature, UC Berkeley


Lens Culture: The Impact of Photography on Modern Life

Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco

Without photography, today’s world would be unrecognizable. From public museums to personal memories, from medicine to the movies, from newsrooms to NASA, photographic imaging has, over the past two centuries, become indispensable to understanding ourselves and our universe. Like jazz and the computer, photography (including cinema) became, over the past century, a universal language. From the commonplace to the commercial, from the artists to the scientists, photography flowed seamlessly into world culture long before the word “globalization” came into use.


Sandra Phillips, Senior Curator of Photography, SF Museum of Modern Art, introduces the day’s program.

Lecture  Ahead of Their Time: Thirty-Eight Photographers of Genius at the Getty 1839-1969
Weston Naef, Curator of Photographs, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, will discuss photography as an art since its invention in 1838: a cavalcade of genius from the photographic innovators of the earliest days to those of our own era.

Lecture  Our Universe Will Never Again Be the Same
Dr. John Grunsfeld, NASA scientist and astronaut who repaired the Hubble in space will discuss how photography has transformed our understanding of the space/time continuum and the unbelievable results of the Hubble Telescope still coming in.

Demonstration  Mammoth!
Tracy Storer, operator of one of the few 20” x 24” Polaroid cameras in the world, will photograph two members of the audience, drawn by lot. The special role large scale photography has played, from Egypt in the 1850s, to digital scanning, to the self portraits of Chuck Close, will be discussed.

Lecture  Entertaining the World
Dr. Elizabeth Daley, Dean, USC School of Cinema-Television, University of Southern California, explores the idea that the soul of every civilization is laid bare by the stories it tells in the context of today’s universal language – and preeminent storytelling medium – film.

Lecture  Re-presenting Reality
Drawing on his 45 years as a photographer and author, William Carter suggests that photographs project what is inside ourselves; he will show how all our photos are shaped by private memory, public history, and pervasive values.

Panel Discussion
Audience questions will be addressed by the distinguished panel.


From Liberation to the New Wave: France in the Postwar Era, 1945-1962

Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco

Moderator: Julia Trilling, (Former Professor of Architecture/Urban Studies at Harvard University, Currently Senior Research Specialist at UC Berkeley)

Friday, February 20, 8:00 – 10:00 pm


Lecture  The Remaking of Postwar France: From the Fourth Republic to de Gaulle
In this keynote lecture, Irwin Wall (Professor of History Emeritus, UC Riverside) will describe and analyze the rise of France from its postwar devastation to a renewed position of power and prestige in the diplomatic world of the 1960s, when Charles de Gaulle dared to challenge the basic premises of American cold war policies.

Performance  Saluting Parisian Bebop of Bud Powell and Kenny Clarke
The Larry Vuckovich Trio and guests (Larry Vuckovich, piano; Stjepko “Steve” Gut, trumpet; Isla Eckinger, bass; and Omar Clay, drums) will perform a collection of jazz and bebop standards, showcasing the evolution of music taking place in Paris after World War II.

Saturday, February 21, 10:00 am – 4:30 pm


Lecture  French Postwar Culture and the Critique of Everyday Life

Two historical processes dominated Postwar France: the loss of France’s colonies and its adoption of more American-style patterns of consumption in the midst of an accelerated state-led modernization effort. Kristin Ross (Professor of Comparative Literature, New York University) will examine how decolonization coincided, then, for the French, with what some social theorists were called a new “colonization of everyday life.”

Lecture  The New Look: Haute Couture in Postwar France
In a country recovering from the privations of war, the rich fabrics and full flaring skirts of French designers, such as “New Look” originator Christian Dior, held great significance as a cultural symbol of luxury and prosperity. Melissa Leventon, former curator of textile arts at the DeYoung Museum, will discuss postwar French fashion, including the work of Chanel, Dior, Balenciaga and Yves St. Laurent.

Performance  L’air de Paris
The Baguette Quartette will offer a taste of Café music as was performed in Postwar Paris.

Lecture The French Economy and the New Europe: Between Market and State
In the first two decades after the Liberation in 1944, Paris once again became one of the preeminent cultural capitals of the world, exporting trend-setting fashion, filmmaking and literary style to the United States and a revived Europe. John Zysman (Co-Director, Berkeley Roundtable on the International Economy, UC Berkeley) will explore the postwar revival and modernization of the French economy.

Lecture  The Cannes Film Festival, Cosmopolitanism and the Quatre Cents Coups
The key to the Cannes Festival’s success in 1950s France resided in its promotion as chic, hip and cosmopolitan as opposed to merely French. At the same time, the Festival also launched two of the most exported French products of the era: Brigitte Bardot and the French New Wave (Nouvelle Vague). In this lecture, Vanessa Schwartz (Department of History, University of Southern California) will describe the important role played by Cannes in creating an international film culture after the war.

Panel Discussion 
From liberation to the new wave: Is there a lasting impact of postwar french politics and culture? Julia Trilling moderates.

Presented in cooperation with the Consul General of France, the Alliance Francaise de San Francisco, and the Mechanics’ Institute Library.


Melissa Leventon, Curatrix
Kristin Ross, Comparative Literature, NYUniversity
Vanessa Schwartz, History, USC
Julia Trilling, Design, UC Berkeley and NYUniversity
Lary Vuckovich musician
Irwin Wall, History, UC Riverside
John Zysman, Political Science, UC Berkeley

20th anniversary
20th anniversary

Humanities West 20th Anniversary Celebration

Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco

Join us to celebrate Humanities West with a selection of short lectures and performances by favorite past presenters. HW Founder and harpsichordist Elaine Thornburgh performs pieces from Humanities West’s first program, “Venice in Glorious Decline,” and works by Frescobaldi and Caccini. HW co-founder Theresa Nelson and Susan Rode Morris sing Barbara Strozzi’s “I Baci”. Historian Theodore Rabb (Princeton University) lectures on Charles V: Europe’s Last Emperor, uncovering the story of the end of one kind of Europe and the beginning of another. Mitchell Schwarzer (California College of the Arts) explores how we experience architecture. HW Advisory Council member and Harlem Renaissance lecturer Olly Wilson (UC Berkeley Emeritus) performs stride piano.

Toast to Humanities West at a reception in the Green Room. Enjoy libations and continued entertainment in the company of Humanities West supporters and friends. Winners of the Anniversary Fund Drive Raffle will be drawn.


Dance Through Time, performers
Susan Rode Morris, vocals
Theresa Nelson, vocals, Humanities West
Theodore K Rabb, History, Princeton
Mitchell Schwarzer, Visual Studies, Architecture, CA College of the Arts


St. Petersburg’s 300 Year Legacy

Moderator: Jack Kollmann, Lecturer, Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, Stanford University

Friday, October 10


Lecture: St. Petersburg Themes: Autocracy, Power,  and Culture

Norman Naimark (Professor, Department of History, Stanford University) will look at the 300-year history of St. Petersburg from the perspective of a number of unifying themses. In both its Imperial and Soviet manifestations, the city has suffered fearsome tragedies and oppression, yet produced poetry, literature and music of brilliance and world renown. This lecture will explore these themes and their apparent disjuncture.


This performance will give the audience a sampling of music inspired by St. Petersburg or written by the City’s greatest composers. Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Prelude Opus 3, #2 Minor played by piano soloist Sergei Polusmiak will begin the program. The Russian Chamber Orchestra, led by Music Director and Conductor Alexander Vereshagin, will then perform “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Modest Mussorgsky. The Orchestra and pianist Dimitry Kogan will then accompany soprano Svetlana Nikitenko singing a selection of songs, including Liza’s Aria from “Pique Dame” (“Queen of Spades”) by Tchaikovsky (based on the poem by A. S. Pushkin), Marfa’s Aria from “Tsar’s Bride” by Rimsky-Korsakov, and “The Nightingale” by Alexander Alyabyev.

Saturday, October 11


Lecture: Peter the Great and the Founding of ‘Sanktpiterburkh’

What prompted Peter the Great to choose St. Petersburg’s location: the swampy Baltic delta of the Neva River, which belonged to Sweden at the time? Why did he turn to West Europe for the design and architecture of his new imperial capital city? Why did he deliberately turn his back on traditional Russian architecture? In this slide-illustrated lecture, moderator Jack Kollmann will discuss Peter’s motives and goals, and the lasting legacies of his reign for St. Petersburg architecture.

Lecture: Catherine’s Legacy, The Hermitage

One of the world’s largest and finest collections of art is housed in buildings that are works of art in themselves—the architectural complex known as the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg. In this lecture, Roberta Shaw (Fromm Institute) will give us a brisk tour of the Hermitage, beginning with a brief account of the history, architecture and interior decoration of the Winter Palace and other sections of the museum. Then we will survey highlights of the collection, savoring selected works of art and discuss the fascinating stories of how some of the pieces came to reside in this palatial setting.


Artists from Dance Through Time will demonstrate and perform the earliest forms of ballet as they were invented and developed in turn of the century Russia.

Lecture: Musical Greats

Educated in St. Petersburg under the Irish composer John Field, Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka is commonly regarded as the founder of Russian nationalism in music and some identify him has the founder of Russian music itself. An older contemporary, Piotr Tchaikovsky, is regarded as the most prolific of Russian composers, and certainly the better known outside Russia. In this lecture, Richard Taruskin (Professor, Department of Music, University of California, Berkeley) will compare the two composers and contrast their individual legacies to Russian music and music development as a whole.

Lecture: The Myth of St. Petersburg: From Pushkin to Brodsky

For every educated Russian, the thought of St. Petersburg inevitably evokes Pushkin’s “Bronze Horseman,” a “Petersburg tale,” as Pushkin called it, about the majesty and the hazard of life in the Venice of the North. For Russian poets, writers and artists ever since, “Bronze Horseman” has been both a challenge to the imagination and the corner stone of their own vision of the city and its meaning for Russian history. The telling and retelling of this “urban legend” over a century and a half offers a unique insight into the way St. Petersburg has shaped the identity and consciousness of the Russians. Gregory Freidin (Professor of Slavic Cultures, Stanford University) will examine the literary myth of St. Petersburg as it evolved and was recast from Pushkin’s time to the late twentieth century.

Panel discussion

All participants join a panel discussion moderated by Jack Kollmann.


Dance Through Time

Gregory Freidin, Slavic Literatures, Stanford

Jack Kollman, Center for Russian etc, Stanford

Norman Naimark, History, Stanford

Russian Chamber Orchestra

Roberta Shaw, Fromm

Richard Truskin, Music, UC Berkeley