60-Second Lecture Series back on the clock

60-Second Lecture

In a world full of 140-character Tweets and sound bite-driven politics, cutting down an hour-long lecture into minute-long remarks might sound like another worrying sign of the times. But if your objective is to get people to stumble upon a bit of knowledge that they might not have otherwise considered, adopting the style of a carnival barker can be a winning approach.  

Since the summer of 1999, Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences (SAS) has organized a series of outdoor, public talks known as 60-Second Lectures that give professors only a minute (or slightly longer) to explain a core idea from their fields of expertise. The lectures, aimed to catch passers-by as they head to lunch, are hosted by Dennis DeTurck, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, and have featured faculty from 22 of the 26 departments at SAS.

“I think the series is a really valuable way to connect to members of the Penn community so I’m happy, as dean, to be a part of it,” DeTurck says.

On Wednesday, Sept. 19, the Fall 2012 60-Second Lectures began with a talk from Mary Frances Berry, a Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and a professor of history, titled “What Would the Founders Think?: Political Polarization and the 2012 Election.”


Dennis DeTurck, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences and host of the 60-Second Lecture Series.

For those who miss the outdoor lectures (or who may have blinked), videos of the talks are quickly posted to YouTube, Facebook, and iTunesU. A new-and-improved archive of these videos is also available on SAS’s recently redesigned website. Over 65 of the lectures are accessible, searchable by title, speaker, and department. The archive stretches back to 2002 and features DeTurck’s own lecture, “Down with Fractions!”

The one-minute lectures begin promptly at 11:55 a.m. at Stiteler Plaza at 37th Street and Locust Walk (or in the Judith Rodin Lounge in Fisher Bennett Hall in case of rain). Two more talks are currently scheduled for the fall:

On Wednesday, Sept. 26, Kok-Chor Tan, an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy, will present “Injustice and Personal Pursuits.”

On Wednesday, Oct. 3, Carol Muller, a professor in the Department of Music, will discuss “For the Love of Online Learning.” Her talk is connected to another successful outreach effort she is involved with: the online learning platform Coursera. Muller’s “Listening to World Music” Coursera class had over 35,000 students in its first offering. 

Another series of 60-Second Lectures will return in the Spring semester.

Originally published on September 20, 2012