2012 lectures to bring returning guests, new inspiration to Amp

Patrick Hosken | Staff Writer

Chautauqua’s 2011 Season brought a multitude of speakers, ideas and experiences to the Amphitheater. Authors and historians shared the stage with spies, health workers and economists. Some lecturers made “A Case for the Arts,” while others focused on “The Path to the Civil War.”

Next summer, audiences have the chance to see nine weeks of new talks, each day an opportunity to learn, to grow and to be inspired. The 2012 Chautauqua morning lecture series kicks off on June 25 with a guest who’s no stranger to the Amp — writer Roger Rosenblatt.

Every day at 10:45 a.m., Rosenblatt will sit down with fellow writers, all part of Week One’s theme, “Roger Rosenblatt and Friends on the Literary Arts.” Rosenblatt, in his third weeklong collaboration with the Institution, will speak with Norman Lear, creator of television classic “All in the Family,” cartoonist Jules Feiffer, author Meg Wolitzer and authors Derek and Sissela Bok. Also joining Rosenblatt onstage will be children’s author Emma Walton Hamilton and her mother, actress Julie Andrews, with whom Hamilton has published more than 20 books.

Sherra Babcock, director the Department of Education, said Rosenblatt’s visits always are a delight for the loyal Chautauqua audiences.

“The interviews that he conducts are not anywhere near what anybody would call typical,” she said. “They’re wide-ranging, about writing and about craft and about how one thinks to write, so it’s going to be a fascinating week.”

Week Two brings another celebrated guest to the Institution: Jim Lehrer, former anchor for “PBS NewsHour.” Lehrer also has served as a debate moderator during election season, tying into the week’s theme of “The Lehrer Report: What Informed Voters Need to Know.” Lehrer will spend the entire week at Chautauqua, Babcock said.

Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., will begin the week with a talk outlining the basic issues in play during next year’s presidential election season.

“Inspire. Commit. Act.” titles Week Three’s theme, an exploration into how people become inspired and stay inspired enough to act on that impulse. Babcock said the week’s speakers will include remarkably accomplished individuals as well as scholars who study inspiration.

“There are a lot of us who are inspired, but not as many of us who do anything about that,” Babcock said. “What is it that moves somebody from the idea to the commitment to do something to actually doing it?”

In the Institution’s second partnership with National Geographic Society, Week Four brings a theme with a lot of ground to cover in “Water Matters.” This week, experts will lecture about the importance of water in today’s expanding world. Marine biologist Sylvia Earle will speak on ocean and Global Water Policy Project founder Sandra Postel will cover freshwater.

National Geographic senior editor Don Belt will address the politics of water, including how some nations fight to control scarce quantities. Photojournalist Brian Skerry will present his unique portfolio of underwater photography.

Babcock said special focus also will be given to Chautauqua Lake. In addition to holding interactive events for children at Boys’ and Girls’ Club, the Institution will offer some Special Studies classes for children and families.

Week Five focuses on Pakistan — specifically, “Straddling the Boundary Between Asia and the Middle East.” This week continues a theme of exploration into countries that many Americans may not be very familiar with, begun this season with the “Iran: From Ancient Persia to Middle East Powder Keg” theme of Week Six.

Babcock said the May death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan confirmed her belief that Pakistan was a country with enough unanswered questions to make it an interesting topic for a week of lectures, though the decision to tackle it was made before bin Laden’s death.

“We just kept realizing Pakistan needs to be done by itself, and the week on Iran  confirmed that,” Babcock said. “It’s a country about which we know very little, and we’re going to know more after next summer.”

For Week Six, Chautauquans will get a dose of the 21st century with the “Digital Identity” theme, a topic that seeks to address technology’s positive and negative impacts on modern life. Sherry Turkle, a sociologist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will speak on these effects. Turkle has studied people’s relationships with — and sometimes addiction to — technology, especially computers. Also confirmed to speak is Braden Allenby, a Lincoln Professor of Engineering and Ethics at Arizona State University and an expert on nanotechnology.

Babcock said she sees the draw of this week’s lectures to a more computer-experienced crowd, especially younger Amp patrons.

“We hope this week will attract a younger, technologically savvy group of listeners in the Amp — our next generations,” she said.

In a series that will probe deep in the world of ethics, Week Seven’s “The Ethics of Cheating” seeks to peer into the so-called gray areas surrounding dishonest practices. Moving past the use of the term “cheating” in an academic sense, the week will host speakers to elaborate and perhaps shed some light on the difficult truth that cheating isn’t always wrong, Babcock said.

“How do we grapple with the idea that sometimes we benefit from cheating?” Babcock said. “And, what do we say about that?”

Week Eight will spotlight another ambiguous subject: “Radicalism.” Like questions of digital identity, questions of radicalism sprout up regularly as each new radical action occurs. However, like the growing role of technology, it’s hard to define whether this new radicalism is a positive or negative end, Babcock said. Speakers during Week Eight will address these issues in an attempt to differentiate between the many differing definitions of the word “radical” worldwide.

To round out the 2012 lecture season, Week Nine’s theme comes courtesy of a longtime Chautauquan, Nancy Gibbs, essayist and executive editor for Time. The final week’s lectures will cover “The Presidents Club,” which Babcock said has the sub-headline of “Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity.”

There are many fascinating stories inside the lives of the U.S. presidents, especially among their families, Babcock said.

“We’re going to be looking at the history of the presidency and how they relate to each other, and how there have been some very surprising stories,” Babcock said.

Gibbs and fellow author Michael Duffy will speak on these stories, in addition to a handful of other historians and possibly even some presidential family members.

The lectures are scheduled for one week before the Republican National Convention and two weeks before the Democratic National Convention. They also come just over two months before the 2012 presidential election in November.