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SSU 114 — Stanford Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series

Quarter: Fall
Day(s): Wednesdays
Course Format: Live Online (About Formats)
Duration: 4 weeks
Date(s): Oct 4—Oct 25
Time: 5:00—6:10 pm (PT)
Refund Deadline: Oct 6
Unit: 0
Grade Restriction: NGR only; no credit/letter grade
Tuition: $200
Class Recording Available: Yes
Status: Open
Live Online(About Formats)
5:00—6:10 pm (PT)
Oct 4—Oct 25
4 weeks
Refund Date
Oct 6
0 Unit
Grade Restriction
NGR only; no credit/letter grade
This fall, we are pleased to present our Stanford Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series (formerly known as "Stanford Monday University"), which will feature four Stanford faculty members delivering talks on their engaging areas of research. In this four-week-long course, neuroscientist David Eagleman will offer a primer on how students can maintain a flexible, healthy brain—something that’s critically important, especially as we age. Christopher Gardner, a nutrition researcher at Stanford School of Medicine, will explore another dimension of health—that is, how we can use “precision nutrition” to optimize our diet and overall well-being. Shifting from medicine to geopolitics, historian Ian Morris will present a talk, “Geography and the Destiny of the West,” where he will consider why the global balance of power is rapidly shifting and what this change means for Western nations. And, literature professor Elaine Treharne will show how nations invent their history by deciding what culture—art, books, monuments—they preserve, or neglect to preserve. Along the way, she will highlight medieval books and ancient monuments covered in her research. Each professor will present for 45 minutes, to be followed by a Q&A session with students.


Session 1: Wednesday, October 4, 5:00 - 6:10 pm (PT)

Culture, Memory, and the Uses of the Past

Elaine Treharne, Roberta Bowman Denning Professor of Humanities; Professor of English; Senior Associate Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, Stanford

Sustaining a culture’s past through the preservation of its heritage, including art, books, monuments, and textual objects, is an intentional process involving many choices, financial outlay, and expertise. What gets preserved often shapes how the past is understood; a culture’s record dictates whose voices are heard and whose are silenced, who is valorized and who is forgotten, and how national or regional identities are created. During her lecture, Professor Treharne will describe her recent research into the formation of the past by discussing a selection of British medieval books and ancient monuments. She will show how we can make visible the presences of people who have been overlooked until now; how we can use the aesthetic of the mundane to reclaim objects, monuments, and communities whose traces have been undervalued. To appreciate the endeavors of those who have gone before us provides valuable insight into the present, allowing us to reassess what really matters and to prioritize future decision-making.

Session 2: Wednesday, October 11, 5:00 - 6:10 pm (PT)

Keeping a Flexible Brain

David Eagleman, Adjunct Professor, Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Stanford School of Medicine

Because of the miracle of brain plasticity, much of our behavior and thinking becomes automatized: from driving a car to our ways of responding to people and situations. But a healthy, flexible brain requires constant challenge from novelty. Professor Eagleman will take you on a tour of the subconscious to answer some of the deepest questions of who we are, and then back up to the conscious mind to explain why seeking novelty is so critical to brain health.

Session 3: Wednesday, October 18, 5:00 - 6:10 pm (PT)

Geography and the Destiny of the West

Ian Morris, Jean and Rebecca Willard Professor of Classics, Stanford; Senior Fellow, Stanford Archaeology Center

In the last 300 years, new technologies and forms of organization allowed nations around the shores of the North Atlantic to dominate the world in ways without parallel in history. In the last 75 years, however, newer technologies and organizations have changed the meanings of geography in ways that are drawing the world’s center of gravity eastward. Professor Morris will ask what we can learn from long-term history, looking back all the way to the Ice Age, about how this shift will unfold in the future. He will identify a two-way relationship between how geography drives societies’ development and how societies’ development drives what geography means. Geography is destiny, but it’s up to us to decide what to do about it.

Session 4: Wednesday, October 25, 5:00 - 6:10 pm (PT)

Precision Nutrition: From Mediterranean to Microbiome

Christopher Gardner, Rehnborg Farquhar Professor of Medicine, Stanford School of Medicine; Director of Nutrition Studies, Stanford Prevention Research Center

In the past five years, there has been a surge of interest in the possibility of optimizing individual health through dietary approaches that impact the gut microbiome. You have likely heard of prebiotics and probiotics, but do you know the difference? You may also have heard the term “personalized or precision nutrition.” This term suggests that individual differences in metabolism or the microbiome might explain why two people trying to follow the same diet end up with different successes and failures (e.g., weight and health). Professor Gardner has conducted many studies on this topic with world-renowned Stanford microbiologists Justin and Erica Sonnenburg, including Mediterranean vs. ketogenic, vegan vs. omnivore, plant-based alternative meat vs. red meat. In this lecture, he will provide insights and take-home messages on these topics with an engaging blend of humor and evidence-based science.

Textbooks for this course:

(Recommended) Elaine Treharne, Perceptions of Medieval Manuscripts: The Phenomenal Book (ISBN 978-0192843814)
(Recommended) David Eagleman, Livewired: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain (ISBN 978-0307949691)
(Recommended) Ian Morris, Geography is Destiny: Britain and the World, a 10,000-Year History (ISBN 978-1250872197)
(Recommented) Justin Sonnenburg, Erica Sonnenburg , The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-term Health (ISBN 978-0143108085)