Public Lectures Series
Lectures are free and open to the public. Lectures are in McCosh 50 and begin at 6:00 p.m. unless otherwise noted. Click here to see location.
Lectures Home » Spencer Trask Lectures
About This Series

Founded in 1891 with a gift of $10,000 from Spencer Trask of the Class of 1866, and supplemented by an additional $10,000 from his estate, for the purpose of securing the services of eminent men to deliver public lectures before the University on subjects of special interest.” The vagueness of this wording is consistent with that of the Catalogue of the College of New Jersey of 1891-1892, but between 1937-1938 and 1970-1971 the policy of the Committee on Public Lectures was to “select lecturers on this foundation who will emphasize the importance of the humanities.”

Lecturers have included Niels Bohr on “The Structure of the Atom” (1923-1924); Arnold J. Toynbee on “Near Eastern Affairs” (1925-1926); T. S. Eliot on “The Bible and English Literature,” (1932-1933); Bertrand Russell on “Mind and Matter” (1950-1951); and Margaret Mead on “Changing American Character” (1975-1976). Trask was a successful financier and one of Thomas Edisonís original backers. He was killed in a railroad accident in 1909.

Speakers in this series

Susan Estrich University of Southern California

Sex and Power: The State of Women in America
Thu, 27 Mar 2003 | Spencer Trask Lectures

Svante Pääbo Director, Dept. of Genetics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig

Genomic Approaches to Human Origins
Wed, 15 Oct 2003 | Spencer Trask Lectures

Alan Wolfe Professor, & Director of The Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life Boston College

America's Two Visions: The Good and the Great How Conservatives Came to Think Small The Liberal Retreat from Ambition
Tue, 09 Nov 2004 | Spencer Trask Lectures

Robert W. Lucky Telcordia

Broadbanding America: What, Why, and How
Tue, 16 Nov 2004 | Spencer Trask Lectures

Joan Didion Cosponsored by the Spencer Trask Lectures and the Program in the Study of Women and Gender: Symposium on Women Art and Politics in the 20th Century

Keynote Speech: Writing Politics
Fri, 01 Apr 2005 | Spencer Trask Lectures

Paula Vogel National correspondent Atlantic Monthly

The Playworld and the Empire: The Twenty-first Century and the American Playwright
Tue, 25 Oct 2005 | Spencer Trask Lecture

Sir Tim Berners-Lee Founder of the World Wide Web

The Future of the Web
Wed, 05 Apr 2006 | Spencer Trask Lecture

Joan Breton Connelly Associate Professor of Fine Arts; Director, Yeronisos Island Excavations, New York University

Visual Space/Ritual Space and the Agency of the Greek Priestess
Thu, 08 Feb 2007 | Spencer Trask Lecture

Pasquale Scaturro Leader, First Nile Descent Expedition (2003-2004)

The Exploration of the Great Rivers of Africa (NOTE: 4:00 p.m., Friend Center 101, simulcast Computer Science 104)
Sun, 15 Apr 2007 | Spencer Trask Lecture (cosponsored by Department of Rare Books and Special Collections)

Richard Ford Novelist

Extra-Literary Influences: The Things That Help, The Things That Hurt
Wed, 18 Apr 2007 | Spencer Trask Lecture

Paula Fredriksen Aurelio Professor of Scripture, Boston University

Sin: The Early History of an Idea (NOTE: Three lectures October 9, 10, 11; in McCosh 10)
Tue, 09 Oct 2007 | Spencer Trask Lecture, cosponsored by Princeton University Press

Paula Fredriksen Aurelio Professor of Scripture, Boston University

Sin: The Early History of an Idea (NOTE: McCosh Hall 10)
Wed, 10 Oct 2007 | Spencer Trask Lecture

Paula Fredriksen Aurelio Professor of Scripture, Boston University

Sin: The Early History of an Idea (NOTE: McCosh 10)
Thu, 11 Oct 2007 | Spencer Trask Lecture

Carlos Fuentes Novelist

A Panoramic View of the History of Mexico (NOTE: McCosh Hall 10)
Thu, 18 Oct 2007 | Spencer Trask Lecture

Carlos Eire Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies, Yale University

A Brusque History of Eternity (NOTE: Three lectures November 6, 7, 8; in McCosh 10)
Tue, 06 Nov 2007 | Spencer Trask Lecture, cosponsored by Princeton University Press

Carlos Eire Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies, Yale University

A Brusque History of Eternity (NOTE: McCosh 10)
Wed, 07 Nov 2007 | Spencer Trask Lecture, cosponsored by Princeton University Press

Carlos Eire Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies, Yale University

A Brusque History of Eternity (NOTE: McCosh 10)
Thu, 08 Nov 2007 | Spencer Trask Lecture, cosponsored by Princeton University Press

Krista Tippett Founder and host of American Public Media's "Speaking of Faith"

Reading from "Speaking of Faith" followed by panel discussion (NOTE: 7:00 p.m.)
Tue, 05 Feb 2008 | Cosponsored by the Spencer Trask Lecture Fund, the Center for the Study of Religion, and the Department of Anthropology

Robert Hass Poet

Poetry Reading (NOTE: 4:30 p.m. in McCormick 101)
Fri, 22 Feb 2008 | Spencer Trask Lecture, cosponsored by the Department of English and the Princeton Environmental Institute

Robert Alter Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature, University of California, Berkeley

The Bible and American Fiction (NOTE: Three lectures April 8, 9, 10)
Tue, 08 Apr 2008 | Spencer Trask Lecture, cosponsored by Princeton University Press

Robert Alter Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature, University of California, Berkeley

The Bible and American Literature
Wed, 09 Apr 2008 | Spencer Trask Lecture, cosponsored by Princeton University Press

Robert Alter Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature, University of California, Berkeley

Topic to be announced
Thu, 10 Apr 2008 | Spencer Trask Lecture, cosponsored by Princeton University Press

Mario Vargas Llosa Novelist

Onetti and the Shadows of Faulkner and Borges
Tue, 22 Apr 2008 | Spencer Trask Lecture

Philippe Descola Professor of Anthropology, College de France; author of The Spears of Twilight: Life and Death in the Amazon Jungle

Towards a Monist Anthropology (NOTE: 4:30 p.m. in McCosh Hall 10)
Wed, 05 Nov 2008 | Cosponsored by the Department of Anthropology and the Spencer Trask Fund.

Special Event, Tribute to Odetta Panel Discussion and Concert

"A Tribute to Odetta" concert and "Odetta, Folk Music, and Social Activism" panel discussion (NOTE: panel discussion 4:30–6:30 p.m. in McCosh 10; concert at 8:30 p.m. in Richardson Auditorium) Free ticket for concert required: See http://www.princeton.edu/africanamericanstudies/news/events/odetta.xml for ticket information.
Thu, 09 Apr 2009 | Cosponsored by the Center for African American Studies, the Program in American Studies, the Program in Women and Gender, the Departments of History, Music, and Religion, the Humanities Council, the Centers for Human Values and the Study of Religion, the Lewis Center for the Performing Arts, the James Madison Program, Graduate School Office of Academic Affairs and Diversity, Princeton Theological Seminary, the Vice President for Campus Life, the Office of Religious Life, and the Spencer Trask Fund of University Public Lectures

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Novelist, Half of a Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus

The Danger of the Single Story
Tue, 20 Oct 2009 | Spencer Trask Lecture (NOTE: THIS EVENT HAS BEEN POSTPONED. NEW DATE IN FALL 2010 TO BE ANNOUNCED.).)

Alfred Brendel Pianist

Character in Music (NOTE: 8:00 p.m. in Richardson Auditorium, Alexander Hall. Free ticket required--TICKETS NO LONGER AVAILABLE. THERE WILL BE A WAIT LINE AT THE EVENT FOR ANY AVAILABLE SEATING.
Mon, 09 Nov 2009 | Cosponsored by the Spencer Trask Fund, Lewis Center for the Arts, Department of Music, Princeton University Concerts, and the Department of German

Javier Marias Spanish novelist, Tu rostro mañana (Your Face Tomorrow)

A Reading from Marias's Works Followed by a Conversation with Professors Angel G. Loureiro and Michael Wood
Tue, 01 Dec 2009 | Cosponsored by the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and the Spencer Trask Fund. (NOTE: McCormick 101 at 4:30 p.m.)

Simon Winchester author, The Map That Changed the World and The Professor and The Madman

The Man Who Loved China (webcast)
Thu, 11 Feb 2010 | Spencer Trask Lecture (NOTE: McCosh Hall 10)

John Waters Film director

This Filthy World
Thu, 25 Mar 2010 | Cosponsored by the Lewis Center for the Arts/Performance Central and the Spencer Trask Lecture Fund

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Novelist

The Writer as Two Selves: Reflections on the Private Act of Writing and the Public Act of Citizenship (webcast)
Wed, 20 Oct 2010 | Spencer Trask Lecture

Errol Morris documentary filmmaker

The Ashtray (webcast)
Mon, 15 Nov 2010 | Spencer Trask Lecture

Chip Kidd Art director and graphic designer

SIGNALS GraphicChipDesignKidd (webcast)
Tue, 30 Nov 2010 | Spencer Trask Lecture

Patti Smith Singer, songwriter, poet, and visual artist. Winner of 2010 National Book Award for Nonfiction

Picturing Robert: Remembering a friendship and artistic relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe (NO TICKETS REQUIRED. ADMISSION TO MCCOSH 50 WILL BE FIRST-COME, FIRST-SERVED)
Tue, 07 Dec 2010 | Spencer Trask Lecture

Steve Martin Comedian, writer, actor

Stand Up: My Rise and Collapse (NOTE: Free ticket required.)
Thu, 08 Dec 2011 | Spencer Trask Lecture

Dava Sobel and Diane Ackerman

The Art of Science Writing (NOTE: 7:00 p.m.)
Fri, 27 Apr 2012 | Spencer Trask Lecture