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The banjo as an iconic American instrument has been part of a wide range of musical traditions. Historian Laurent Dubois will trace the instrument’s origins during a talk at 4 p.m. Wednesday, September 20.

Dubois kicks off the UT Humanities Center sixth annual distinguished lecture series. His presentation, “On the Trail of the Banjo: America’s African Instrument,” will be in the Lindsay Young Auditorium of the Hodges Library.

The event is free and open to the public.

During his talk, Dubois will focus on the earliest known descriptions of the banjo from 17th– and 18th-century Caribbean and North America. He also will offer an explanation for the banjo’s adaptability and enduring power as a creator of both sound and symbolism. A musician will play the banjo during the presentation.

Dubois is professor of romance studies and history and director of the Forum for Scholars and Publics at Duke University.

Other dates, speakers, and topics for the 2017–18 series are:

  • October 2—Dena Goodman, “Building a Successful Life and Career in the Wake of the French Revolution.”
  • October 16—Robert Campany, “The Culture of the Night: Dreams and Meaning-Making in Late Classical and Early Medieval China.”
  • October 30—Robert Weems Jr., “The Evolution of the Trillion Dollar African American Consumer Market.”
  • November 9—J.D. Vance, “Hillbilly Elegy: A Culture in Crisis”
  • January 17—Sarah Kay, “Singing with the Stars”
  • February 5—Anne Kinney, “Confucius’ Mary Magdalene Moment”
  • March 26—David Potter, “The Empress Theodora and the Management of Empire”


Joan Murray (865-974-4222,