Michael Bess to deliver inaugural lecture as Chancellor’s Professor of History

Michael Bess, the first Chancellor’s Professor of History at Vanderbilt University, will deliver his inaugural lecture Oct. 4 on the impact of rapid advances in science, medicine and technology on human identity.

The title of Bess’ lecture is “Icarus 2.0: Genetics, Computers and the Quest to Build a Better Human.” It will be held at 4 p.m. in the Flynn Auditorium of Vanderbilt Law School.

Bess will discuss the ethical and social implications of new technologies for human biological enhancement, issues that he continues to explore for a forthcoming book. His project received major funding from the National Human Genome Research Institute to conduct the preliminary research.

“If I won the lottery and had all the leisure time in the world, this is a subject that is so fascinating to me that it’s what I would be spending my time doing anyway,” he said.

Bess’ research looks at how new technologies that are designed to improve human physical and mental capabilities play an increasingly intrusive role in people’s lives. He says that these innovations – in the fields of pharmaceuticals, prosthetics/informatics and genetics – raise profound questions about what it means to be human.

Bess, who began teaching at Vanderbilt in 1989, also has done extensive research on 20th century European history. He has taught graduate and undergraduate classes on World War II and 20th century Europe and Western civilization along with special seminars on environmentalism, the boundaries of human identity and utopian thought.

His books include Choices Under Fire: Moral Dimensions of World War II (Knopf) and The Light-Green Society: Ecology and Technological Modernity in France, 1960-2000 (University of Chicago). He is working on a book titled Artificial Persons: Shifting Boundaries of the Human in the Age of Robots and Clones.

Bess has been awarded the Ellen Gregg Ingalls Award for Excellence in Classroom Teaching and the Vanderbilt Chair of Teaching Excellence.

The Chancellor’s Chair in History was given by an anonymous donor to help ensure that research and teaching in the humanities continue to flourish at Vanderbilt University.

Live video of the lecture, which is free and open to the public, will be available on VUCast at www.vanderbilt.edu/news.

Media Contact: Ann Marie Deer Owens, 615-322-NEWS

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