Sally A. Miller Lecture

The Sally A. Miller Lecture features a distinguished scholar of the humanities each year and is the Center's flagship outreach progam. Visiting scholars speak on European or Global topics in history and related disciplines. Joseph G. and Sally A. Miller endowed the lecture series in 1998 as part of the Sally A. Miller Humanities Center within the Department of History.

2024 Miller Lecture

Singing Like Germans: Black Musicians in the Land of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahams

The 2024 Miller Lecture was on April 10

In this talk, Dr. Kira Thurman will explore the rise in popularity of African American classical musicians in interwar Germany and Austria. Singing lieder by Schubert, Brahms, and other German composers, they challenged audiences’ expectations of what a Black performer looked and sounded like in the Jazz Age. Audiences labeled singers such as Marian Anderson and Roland Hayes “negroes with white souls,” and marveled at their musical mastery. If the listener closed his or her eyes and listened, these African American musicians, many remarked, “sounded like Germans.” How had they managed to accomplish this feat? By exploring the German reception of Black concert-singers, Thurman’s talk finds a new way to answer the question, “Can someone be Black and German?” by instead asking another: “What has it meant to be Black and to perform German music?”

Kira Thurman is an associate professor of History, German Studies, and Musicology at the University of Michigan. Thurman's writings on music, the Black diaspora, and German-speaking Europe have been published in academic journals such as the Journal of the American Musicological Society, German Studies Review, and the American Historical Review. A firm believer in public engagement, Thurman has also written for outlets such as The New Yorker and the New York Times. Her book, Singing like Germans: Black Musicians in the Land of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms was named one of the best books of 2021 by NPR. It has won seven prizes, including Marfield Prize (National Award for Arts Writing) and the George Mosse prize from the American Historical Association.


Past Miller Lectures

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    Prof. Karen Spierling, Denison University (2023)
    “Scandal in the Reformation: How to Shock your Neighbor in 16th-century Geneva”
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    Prof. Gregg Mitman, University of Wisconsin (2022)
    “Empire of Rubber: Scenes from Firestone’s Scramble for Land and Power in Liberia”
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    Prof. Rachel Chrastil, Xavier University (2020)
    "How to Be Childless: A History and Philosophy of Life Without Children"
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    Prof. Molly Warsh, University of Pittsburgh (2019)
    "Empire Beneath the Waves: Pearls and the Violence and Beauty of the Early America”
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    Prof. Ethan Katz, University of Cincinnati (2018)
    "Empathy, Coexistence, and Identity Politics in Trump's America: What Can We Learn from the Shared History of Jews and Muslims in France?"
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    Prof. Geoff Eley, University of Michigan (2017)
    “Fascism Then and Now”
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    Prof. Lester Tomé, Smith College (2016)
    ”Black-and-White Pas de Deux: Performances of Racial Democracy and Spectacles of Interracial Eros in the National Ballet of Cuba”
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    Prof. Abosede George, Barnard College (2015)
    “Girl Saving Projects and the Conditions of Universalism in Colonial Nigeria and the Present”
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    Prof. Alice Conklin, Ohio State University (2014)
    “French Colonial Racism and the Display of ‘Primitive’ Artifacts in Interwar Paris”
  • Smith
    Prof. Leonard Smith, Oberlin College (2013)
    “Rethinking Sovereignty at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919”
  • Ahmida
    Prof. Ali Ahmida, University of New England (2012)
    ”Libya from Dictatorship to Revolution: A Historical and Comparative View”
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    Prof. Frances Hasso, Duke University (2011)
    “The Governance Bargain between Women and States in the Middle East”
  • Ames
    Prof. Roger T. Ames, University of Hawai'i (2010)
    “Confucian China in a Changing World Order”
  • Pratt
    Mary Louise Pratt, New York University (2009)
    “Language and Globalization: Toward a Geolinguistic Imagination”
  • Parker
    Prof. Geoffrey Parker, Ohio State University (2008)
    “Climate and Catastrophe: The World Crisis of the 17th Century”
  • Cole
    Prof. Juan Cole, University of Michigan (2007)
    “Napoleon in Egypt, Bush in Iraq: The Sorrows of Liberal Empire"
  • jrmcneill
    Prof. J.R. McNeill, Georgetown University (2006)
    “Empires of Energy”
  • ames
    Prof. Erik Midelfort, University of Virginia (2005)
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    Prof. Ilan Pappe, University of Haifa (2004)
    “Myths of Israel”
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    Prof. Marianna Torgovnick, Duke University (2003)
    “Memory and the Holocaust in Mass Culture”
  • Denby
    David Denby, The New Yorker (2002)
    “The Western Canon in a Time of Terror
  • Muir
    Prof. Edward Muir, Northwestern University (2001)
    “Manners and Civility”
  • Darnton
    Prof. Robert Darnton, Princeton University (2000)
    “Poetry and Police”
  • McNeill
    Prof. William McNeill, University of Chicago (1999)
    “The West and the World”