Event Report: DKU Library Author Talks & Colloquium: Jay Winter | Duke Kunshan University

Event Report: DKU Library Author Talks & Colloquium: Jay Winter

From December 5th to 9th, 2019, DKU was honored to have invited Dr. Jay Winter, the Charles J. Stille Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University, to give us inspiring and insightful lectures on history.

On the 5th of December, as part of the DKU Library Author Talks series, Dr. Winter was interviewed by students from HIST110 about his book Dreams of Peace and Freedom: Utopian Moments in the 20th Century. In the opening remark, Dr. Winter was introduced by Professor Kolleen Guy, Associate Professor of History, and Chair of the Division of Social Science. Professor Guy uses Dr. Winter’s book as a textbook in HIST110, which works as the central material. Next, Dr. Winter shared his ideas in a brief talk about the purpose of writing this book and his understanding of the characteristics of contemporary history.

In the interview, Dr. Winter answered the questions posed by three represented students. In these questions, he used the example of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference to explain the idea of “minor utopias”, which was a central concept mostly mentioned in the book. He is cautious about judging a utopia as a success or failure arbitrarily as he thinks that “men make history but not in the way they think they do, not under the conditions of their choosing.  It is too early to judge these utopias”. In a world facing the global challenges that we are today, it is surely important to look back upon those grand utopias and mirror their characteristics. Raising the story of Nelson Mandela, he drew the attention back to dreams of peace and freedom in the contemporary world and cleared his definition of peace, “A man has the right through his whole life for not experiencing any war or violence”. For students who haven’t read this book before, they were also inspired by the discussion over its content during this precious event and raised valuable questions in the last Q&A section.

Dr. Winter’s speech and his concept of “minor utopia” have greatly inspired us. Whatever the outcome, the romance and the perseverance of utopians leave us with the most precious thing: “memory”. These emotions and memories will keep our younger generation sensitive and expectant of the issues of the times. After all, even if "peace and freedom" is an unreachable “utopia”, as long as there are people in the world who believe in it, we have the hope and possibility to approach it.

On the 9th of December, in the event co-hosted by DKU Academic Affairs, Dr. Winter gave another speech named Culture History and the First World War in Film, Text, and Museum. Laying emphasis on the growing power of visual medium in historical education and promotion, he introduced his extra ordinary work on designing the WWI museum and writing a historical documentary.

In his talk, Dr. Winter first shared his idea on the history subject. As a practical subject, history not only offers a wide career possibility but also give intellectual inspiration. Being a historical professional, in Winter’s perspective, also means taking the responsibility to satisfy the public curiosity on history with the professional knowledge in the academy. Then Dr. Winter briefly introduced the memory boom since the 1960s which was caused by the rapid development of higher education at that time, answering the vital question why past worth remembering as well as explaining the frontier concept “transnational-history and visual history. Thanks to the internet revolution, now the power of visual materials in transmitting history is much stronger than text material. While delighted by these great technical improvements, he also expressed his concern about critically analyzing the creditability of visual materials. His interesting experience of designing the museum about WWI and the anecdotes of making the documentary “The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century” really amazed listeners. Students profoundly marveled at how dynamic and eloquent he is and were filled with admiration. Lastly, Dr. Winter stressed the sacred responsibility of scholars both as a historian and as a citizen. That is to persistently pursue and protect the true history from any manipulation.

Attendees were lucky enough to listen to Dr. Winter read from the introduction to his books, but for anyone who was unable to attend, you can borrow his books from DKU Library, with Dr. Winter's signatures for the DKU reading community:

DKU Library sincerely thanks Dr. Winter for his insightful lectures, and thanks Professor Kolleen Guy and for all the support of the event. To see who is next in our Author Talks series and find out about other Library events, visit the Library page on DKU Engage.

About the author:

Jay Winter is the Charles J. Stille Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University. He is a specialist on World War I and its impact on the 20th century. Winter is the author or co-author of 25 books, including Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History; The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century; Rene Cassin and the rights of man, and most recently, War beyond words: Languages of remembrance from the Great War to the present. In addition he has edited or co-edited 30 books and contributed 130 book chapters to edited volumes. Winter was also co-producer, co-writer, and chief historian for the PBS/BBC series The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century, which won an Emmy Award, a Peabody Award and a Producers Guild of America Award for best television documentary in 1997.  He has received honorary doctorates from the University of Graz, the University of Leuven, and the University of Pariss.

To read more Professor Winter's works at DKU Library, please go to:

Author: Michelle Mo & Albert Zhang

Photo: Shengyue Zhu