Donald R. Benson Memorial Lecture

Donald R Benson
Donald R. Benson
March 30, 1927 - March 30, 1998

This annual lecture fund honors Donald Benson, a former ISU English Professor, who had long-term interest in the relationships among the three intellectual disciplines of literature, science and the arts.

Professor Donald Benson came to Iowa State University’s Department of English in 1958 and was Chairman of the department from 1972 to 1978. He remained teaching until 1993 and died, after struggling with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, in 1998.

Over the years he taught a wide range of courses from Freshman English through Chaucer, to British Literature of the Renaissance to Milton, on to Modern Fiction and Technical Writing. He eventually became interested in the interconnections between Literature and Science and the Visual Arts. With his colleague, Karl Guiasda, he developed and taught a two semester graduate course called “Science and Literary Imagination.” Students responded enthusiastically saying that it was the most challenging experience in their graduate work.

He began publishing with a ground breaking article on the novelist, Joseph Conrad, “Constructing an Ethereal Cosmos: Late Classical Physics and Conrad’s Lord Jim.” He prepared and published a paper entitled “The Reconstruction of Space in Kandinsky’s Aesthetics Theory,” for the very first Symposium on Literature and Science, and later for the same organization, “The Spatial Paradigm: Teaching Students to Read Literature and Science.”

To submit a nomination for the Benson Lecture, see the guidelines here. Applications are due December 16, 2022.

Donald R. Benson Lecture Archive

  • 2024 Dr. Hunter Vaughan, Associate Professor, University of Cambridge, Beyond Ecocriticism: Environmental Humanities in the Age of Climate Crisis
  • 2023 Dr. Hester Blum, Professor of English at Penn State University, Polar Erratics: A Humanist in the Arctic and Antarctica
  • 2022 Ray Young Bear, American Poet and Artist, A Literary Experiment with ESP and the Missing: Gimmick or Creativity? 
  • 2020, 2021 No Lecture due to COVID-19 Pandemic
  • 2019 Tracy Miller, Associate Professor of Art and Architectural History at Vanderbilt University, Rethinking Creativity: Generative Design in the Architecture of Medieval Chinese Buddhism
  • 2016 Dick Termes, Artist, Spherical Paintings and the Art of Illusion
  • 2015 Max Page, Professor of Architecture and Director of Historic Preservation Initiatives at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, The Arc of Memory: Building a Progressive Historic Preservation Movement
  • 2013 Ann Taves, V. Cordano Professor of Religious Studies at the University of California Santa Barbara, Extra-Ordinary Experiences and the Emergence of New Visionary Movements: Mormonism & the Golden Plates
  • 2012 Elliott West, Distinguished Professor of History of the American West and American Indian at the University of Arkansas, The West Before Lewis and Clark: Three Lives