First Wednesdays Schedule


The Friends are pleased to bring you  the First Wednesdays Humanities Lecture Series, organized through the Vermont Humanities Council with the sponsorship of National Life Group Foundation and the Vermont Department of Libraries. Lectures are free of charge and are held on the first Wednesday of the month, October through May. Unless otherwise noted, these events take place in the Ilsley Public Library meeting room at 7 PM.

Without the sponsorship of the Friends of the Ilsley Library, our library would have to find other funding to continue these programs. Please consider supporting the Friends of the Ilsley Library.


2016-2017 calendar:

THURSDAY October 6 : Michael Puett & Christine Gross-Loh

The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life Confucius_Sculpture_Nanjing-web

Michael Puett, Professor of Chinese History in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard, and journalist Christine Gross-Loh are co-authors of The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life, a New York Times and international bestseller. Dr. Puett’s course on the subject is one of the most popular at Harvard, drawing over 800 students because, students say, it literally changes their lives.  Dr. Pruett and Ms. Gross-Loh will tell us how. Location: Dana Auditiorium, Middlebury College.


November 2: James Maroney

Memoirs of an Art Dealer


Former Head of American Paintings at Christie’s and Sotheby’s James Maroney shares stories of his experiences in the art world of the 1970s when American art was beginning to come into its own.




December 7: Amy Hungerford

Wallace Stevens and the Art of the Empty Mind

abstract-316144_1280-webIn the early 20th century, Wallace Stevens set out to clear away a Romantic view of nature and see the world freshly in his distinctly modern poetry. Inspired by experimental movements in the visual arts coming from Europe, and cultivating a lush poetic language, he nevertheless imagined that an empty mind was required in order to perceive the world.  In this lecture, Amy Hungerford, Professor of English and Dean of Humanities at Yale, will demonstrate how Stevens’ poetry lends us his eyes and his singularly open mind as readers today. Underwriter: Tapia & Huckabay, P.C.


January 4: Annelise Orleck

What If Poor Women Ran the World?

poorWomen072116Labor historian Annelise Orleck tells the story of nine African-American union maids in Las Vegas during the 1970’s who challenged welfare cuts and built a long-lasting, vibrant anti-poverty program run by poor mothers.



February 1: Jane Chaplin

The Invention of History

135115501_dc0e8026fc_o-webWe take history for granted, but it owes its inception and survival to two extraordinary individuals. Herodotus (ca. 484-424) was the first person we know who attempted to explain an event, the Persian Wars, by placing it in a chronological sequence of human, rather than divine, actions. His near contemporary, Thucydides (ca. 455-400), applied this powerful new mode of explanation to the great war of his own time, that between Athens and Sparta. In this lecture Professor Chaplin looks at the two historians, their contributions to the development of historiography, and their changing fortunes in the modern world.


March 1: Michael Arnowitt

Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and the Music of 1911

stravinsky072116Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring is widely considered the most influential composition of the twentieth century. Pianist Michael Arnowitt examines this landmark work, and other pieces written in 1911 by Ravel, Schoenberg, Bartok, and Rachmaninov. Location: The Town Hall Theater, 68 S. Pleasant Street, Middlebury. Underwriter: A Friend of the Series


April 5: Carol Berry

Vincent Van Gogh and the Books He Read

Self-portrait, 1889

Vincent Van Gogh loved to read, and his letters reveal that his paintings and drawings were inspired by the books he had read as well as by people, nature and other painters’ work.  This lecture will reveal the profound influence that the works of Harriet Beecher-Stowe, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Emile Zola, and others had on Van Gogh’s life and art.


May 3: Ilan Stavans

Don Quixote of La Mancha: The Novel that Invented Modernity

DonQuixote072116Celebrated literary critic and author Ilan Stavans considers the impact of the masterful Don Quixote on the eve of the 400th anniversary year of Cervantes’s death.