Gift from Randy and Melvin Berlin to bring leading public intellectuals to campus

Beginning in 2014, the Division of the Humanities at the University of Chicago will welcome leading scholars, writers and creative artists from around the world through the new Randy L. Berlin and Melvin R. Berlin Family Lectures.

The new series will bring to campus individuals who are making fundamental contributions to the arts, humanities and humanistic social sciences. Each visitor will give an extended series of lectures with the aim of interacting with the university community, and developing a book for publication with the University of Chicago Press.

Intellectual property scholar and former University of Chicago Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig will deliver the inaugural Berlin Family Lectures, beginning on Oct. 16. Over the course of five weeks, Lessig will discuss the theme of institutional corruption.

Acclaimed writers Amitav Ghosh and Mario Vargas Llosa, the winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature, will speak in academic years 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, respectively.

The series will be curated by David Nirenberg, the Roman Family Director of the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society and the Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Professor of Medieval History and Social Thought.

“The individuals delivering these first Berlin Family Lectures have all had a profound impact on how we think about our world,” said Nirenberg. “Randy and Melvin Berlin believe in the ongoing importance of deep engagement with the most fundamental creations of humanity, whether textual, musical or artistic. They have endowed a lecture series designed to celebrate in perpetuity the creative power not only of the humanities, but of the human.”

The annual lecture series is named for the Berlins, the local philanthropists and longtime University supporters, in honor of their $3 million gift to UChicago. Randy Berlin, AM’77, is a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School and a member and past chairperson of the Division of the Humanities’ Visiting Committee. Melvin Berlin is chairman emeritus of Berlin Packaging LLC.

“The humanities provide a powerful lens for exploring the richness of human civilization and experience,” the Berlins said. “By engaging the most talented humanistic thinkers of our time, we hope that the Berlin Family Lectures will excite the broader University and Chicago community to think critically about our enduring values, make us aware of the possibility of alternative perspectives and extend our understanding of human nature."

A 2008 gift from the Berlins allowed the Department of English to establish a professorship focused on the study of the novel, currently held by Maud Ellmann. The Berlins also provided support for the recent “Forms of Fiction: The Novel in English” conference at the University, which featured lectures by A.S. Byatt and Tom McCarthy.  

“This gift is just one of many ways Randy and Melvin Berlin have demonstrated their belief in the value of the humanities as an essential part of the intellectual life of the University of Chicago. I am grateful for their generosity and vision, and I am confident that our University community and friends in the city will be enriched by the Berlin Family Lectures and by the publications for generations to come,” said Martha T. Roth, dean of the Division of the Humanities and the Chauncey S. Boucher Professor in Near Eastern Languages and the Oriental Institute.

About Lawrence Lessig, Amitav Ghosh and Mario Vargas Llosa:

Lawrence Lessig is the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School, director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, and founder of Rootstrikers: a network of activists leading the fight against government corruption. He has authored numerous books, including Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Our Congress-Money-Corrupts-Congre, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, Free Culture and Remix.

Lessig serves on the boards of Creative Commons, AXA Research Fund,, the advisory boards of the Sunlight Foundation, the Better Future Project and Democracy Café. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Association, and has received numerous awards, including the Free Software Foundation’s Freedom Award, Fastcase 50 Award and being named one of Scientific American's Top 50 Visionaries.

Lessig holds a BA in economics and a BS in management from the University of Pennsylvania, an MA in philosophy from Cambridge and a JD from Yale. He was a professor at the University of Chicago Law School from 1991-1997. Prior to rejoining the Harvard faculty, Lessig was a professor at Stanford Law School, where he founded the school’s Center for Internet and Society. He clerked for Judge Richard Posner on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and Justice Antonin Scalia on the United States Supreme Court.

Amitav Ghosh was born in Calcutta and grew up in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. He studied in Delhi, Oxford and Alexandria and is the author of The Circle of Reason, The Shadow LinesIn An Antique LandDancing in CambodiaThe Calcutta ChromosomeThe Glass PalaceThe Hungry Tide and the first two volumes of The Ibis Trilogy: Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke.

The Circle of Reason was awarded France’s Prix Médicis in 1990, and The Shadow Lines won two prestigious Indian prizes the same year: the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Ananda Puraskar. The Calcutta Chromosome won the Arthur C. Clarke award in 1997 and The Glass Palace won the International e-Book Award at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2001. In January 2005, The Hungry Tide was awarded the Crossword Book Prize: a major Indian award. His novel, Sea of Poppies, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2008 and was awarded the Crossword Book Prize and the India Plaza Golden Quill Award.

Ghosh’s work has been translated into more than twenty languages, and he has served on the jury of the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland and on the jury of the Venice Film Festival in 2001. Ghosh’s essays have been published in the New Yorker, the New Republic and the New York Times. His essays have been published by Penguin India: The Imam and the Indian and by Houghton Mifflin USA: Incendiary Circumstances

He has taught in many universities in India and the USA, including Delhi University, Columbia, Queens College and Harvard. In January 2007, he was awarded the Padma Shri, one of India’s highest honors, by the president of India. In 2010, Ghosh was awarded honorary doctorates by Queens College, New York and the Sorbonne, Paris.

Along with Margaret Atwood, he was also a joint winner of a Dan David Award in 2010. In 2011, he was awarded the International Grand Prix of the Blue Metropolis Festival in Montreal. 

Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa is a Peruvian-Spanish writer, politician, journalist and essayist. He is one of Latin America’s most significant novelists and essayists, and one of the leading writers of his generation. His works are viewed as both modernist and postmodernist. He writes across an array of literary genres, including literary criticism and journalism. He has lectured and taught at universities in the U.S., South America and Europe.

Vargas Llosa has written more than 30 works of nonfiction, plays and novels, including: The Time of the Hero (La ciudad y los perros), The Green House (La casa verde), Conversation in the Cathedral (Conversación en la Catedral), and The War of the End of the World. In 1995, he was awarded the Miguel de Cervantes Prize: the most prestigious and remunerative award given for Spanish-language literature. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2010 and in the same year received the Degree of Letters from the City College of New York, where he also delivered the President’s Lecture. His works have been translated into more than 45 languages.

In 1976, Vargas Llosa was elected president of PEN International, the worldwide association of writers and oldest human rights organization, and in 1977 he was elected as a member of the Peruvian Academy of Language. Vargas Llosa has been politically active throughout his career, running for the Peruvian presidency in 1990. In 2011, Vargas Llosa was raised into the Spanish nobility by King Juan Carlos I, with the hereditary title of Marqués de Vargas Llosa. In 2012, he was named one of the “10 Most Influential Ibero-American Intellectuals” of the year by Foreign Policy magazine, and received the Carlos Fuentes International Prize for Literary Creation in the Spanish Language.