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Faculty Book Talks

Past Book Talks

The Library invites you to join Pitt faculty authors from various disciplines as they share their research and  discuss their recently published books.
Q & A will follow. Refreshments will be provided. This series is free and open to the public.

Book Talks are held in the Spring and Fall semesters. All talks will be held from 4:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m. in the Thornburgh Room on the 1st floor of Hillman Library.


September 25

Calum Matheson
Desiring the Bomb: Communication, Psychoanalysis, and the Atomic Age

A timely interdisciplinary study that applies psychoanalysis and the rhetorical tradition of the sublime to examine the cultural aftermath of the Atomic Age.

Every culture throughout history has obsessed over various “end of the world” scenarios. The dawn of the Atomic Age marked a new twist in this tale. For the first time, our species became aware of its capacity to deliberately destroy itself. Since that time the Bomb has served as an organizing metaphor, a symbol of human annihilation, a stand-in for the unspeakable void of extinction, and a discursive construct that challenges the limits of communication itself. The parallel fascination with and abhorrence of nuclear weapons has metastasized into a host of other end-of-the-world scenarios, from global pandemics and climate change to zombie uprisings and asteroid collisions.

Desiring the Bomb: Communication, Psychoanalysis, and the Atomic Age explores these world-ending fantasies through the lens of psychoanalysis to reveal their implications for both contemporary apocalyptic culture and the operations of language itself. What accounts for the enduring power of the Bomb as a symbol? What does the prospect of annihilation suggest about language and its limits? Thoroughly researched and accessibly written, this study expands on the theories of Kenneth Burke, Jacques Lacan, Sigmund Freud, and many others from a variety of disciplines to arrive at some answers to these questions.

Calum L. Matheson undertakes a series of case studies—including the Trinity test site, nuclear war games, urban shelter schemes, and contemporary survivalism—and argues that contending with the anxieties (individual, social, cultural, and political) born of the Atomic Age depends on rhetorical conceptions of the “real,” an order of experience that cannot be easily negotiated in language. Using aspects of media studies, rhetorical theory, and psychoanalysis, the author deftly engages the topics of Atomic Age survival, extinction, religion, and fantasy, along with their enduring cultural legacies, to develop an account of the Bomb as a signifier and to explore why some Americans have become fascinated with fantasies of nuclear warfare and narratives of postapocalyptic rebirth.

October 10

Julian Gill-Peterson
Histories of the Transgender Child

A groundbreaking twentieth-century history of transgender children. With transgender rights front and center in American politics, media, and culture, the pervasive myth still exists that today’s transgender children are a brand new generation—pioneers in a field of new obstacles and hurdles. Histories of the Transgender Child shatters this myth, uncovering a previously unknown twentieth-century history when transgender children not only existed but preexisted the term transgender and its predecessors, playing a central role in the medicalization of trans people, and all sex and gender.

Beginning with the early 1900s when children with “ambiguous” sex first sought medical attention, to the 1930s when transgender people began to seek out doctors involved in altering children’s sex, to the invention of the category gender, and finally the 1960s and ’70s when, as the field institutionalized, transgender children began to take hormones, change their names, and even access gender confirmation, Julian Gill-Peterson reconstructs the medicalization and racialization of children’s bodies. Throughout, they foreground the racial history of medicine that excludes black and trans of color children through the concept of gender’s plasticity, placing race at the center of their analysis and at the center of transgender studies.

Until now, little has been known about early transgender history and life and its relevance to children. Using a wealth of archival research from hospitals and clinics, including incredible personal letters from children to doctors, as well as scientific and medical literature, this book reaches back to the first half of the twentieth century—a time when the category transgender was not available but surely existed, in the lives of children and parents.

November 7

Robert Ruck
Tropic of Football: The Long and Perilous Journey of Samoans to the NFL

How a tiny Pacific archipelago is producing more players—from Troy Polamalu to Marcus Mariota—for the NFL than anywhere else in the world, by an award-winning sports historian

Football is at a crossroads, its future imperiled by the very physicality that drives its popularity. Its grass roots—high school and youth travel program—are withering. But players from the small South Pacific American territory of Samoa are bucking that trend, quietly becoming the most disproportionately overrepresented culture in the sport.

Jesse Sapolu, Junior Seau, Troy Polamalu, and Marcus Mariota are among the star players to emerge from the Samoan islands, and more of their brethren suit up every season. The very thing that makes them so good at football—their extraordinary internalization of discipline and warrior self-image—makes them especially vulnerable to its pitfalls, including concussions and brain injuries.

Award-winning sports historian Rob Ruck travels to the South Seas to unravel American Samoa’s complex ties with the United States. He finds an island blighted by obesity, where boys train on fields blistered with volcanic pebbles wearing helmets that should have been discarded long ago, incurring far more neurological damage than their stateside counterparts and haunted by Junior Seau, who committed suicide after a vaunted twenty-year NFL career, unable to live with the demons that resulted from chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Tropic of Football is a gripping, bittersweet history of what may be football’s last frontier

If you're Pitt faculty who has recently published and would like to schedule a book talk for your own publication, 
please contact Jeff Wisniewski at