The University Lecture

Since 1950, the University Lecture has offered members of the BU community and the general public an opportunity to hear from distinguished faculty about the outstanding and often groundbreaking research and scholarship in which they are actively engaged.

University Lecturers represent a vast array of disciplines and research topics, yet share a common commitment to excellence in scholarly inquiry and discovery. The annual lecture provides an opportunity to highlight the work of a distinguished scholar and engages both the University community and the broader public in the vibrant intellectual life of Boston University.

To nominate a BU faculty member for this honor, please complete this form. Nominations should be submitted by April 1, 2016 via e-mail to or by mail to the Office of the Provost, One Silber Way, 8th floor.


2015 University Lecture

Sacred Waters: Historical Ecology, Power, and the Soul of the Blue Nile

Presented by James C. McCann, Professor of History and Associate Director for Development at the African Studies Center

Monday, November 2, 2015 at 7 p.m.
Tsai Performance Center
685 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts
Admission is free. The public is cordially invited.
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James C. McCann is Professor of History and Associate Director for Development at the African Studies Center at Boston University. Professor McCann’s research and teaching interests include agricultural and ecological history of Africa, Ethiopia, and the Horn of Africa, field research methods in African studies, the agro-ecology of tropical disease, and the history of food/cuisine in Africa and the Atlantic world.

He is the author of six widely acclaimed books including, most recently, The Historical Ecology of Malaria in Ethiopia: Deposing the Spirit (2015), alongside dozens of articles and reviews in premier journals spanning issues of famine, agriculture, cuisine and environmental history. His 2010 book Stirring the Pot: A History of African Cuisine won a 2011 “Best in the World” award from Paris’ Gourmand Magazine, while 2006’s Maize and Grace: A History of Africa’s Encounter with a New World Crop received the George Perkins Marsh Prize for Best Book in Environmental History.

Professor McCann was a 2012–2013 John S. Guggenheim Foundation Fellow and in 2012–2013 was a Fulbright Fellow in Ethiopia (during which he wrote his latest book). He was named the 2014 Distinguished Scholar by the American Society of Environmental History and elected as a Fellow of the Ethiopian Academy of Science.

The recipient of numerous prestigious federal and private foundation grants to support his research, Professor McCann has been invited to lecture or consult for a host of international universities and foreign aid organizations, including OXFAM, UNICEF, and American Jewish World Service, and to give testimony before England’s House of Commons and the U.S. Congress.

Professor McCann served for five years as Principal Investigator of a Rockefeller Foundation research project in collaboration with the Harvard School of Public Health, exploring the agro-ecology of the cultivation of maize and malaria transmission in Africa. His current project on historical watershed ecologies with the Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future involves the establishment of an ecological science of CHANS (Coupled Human and Natural Systems).

Past Lectures


A Bionic Pancreas for Type 1 Diabetes:  The Long-Awaited Alternative to the Ever-Elusive Cure
Presented by Edward Damiano


The D-Lightful Vitamin D for Health
Presented by Michael Holick


The Ponzi Scheme Puzzle: The Stories Behind Some of the Biggest Liars in History
Presented by Tamar Frankel


The Wonderful Things of Punt: Excavations at a Pharaonic Harbor on the Red Sea
Presented by Kathryn Bard


Not a Note Too Many: Beethoven, McCartney, & Miles 2010
Presented by Jeremy Yudkin


Aeroecology: The Next Frontier
Presented by Thomas H. Kunz


Biology by Design
Presented by James J. Collins


Illusions of Managing History: The Enduring Relevance of Reinhold Niebuhr
Presented by Andrew J. Bacevich


Blood Wedding: The Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in History and Memory
Presented by Barbara Diefendorf


American Bioethics after Nuremberg: Pragmatism, Politics, and Human Rights
Presented by George Annas


Macbeth and the Show of Kings
Presented by William C. Carroll


Crossing the Watershed: Biological and Other Worlds in the Post-Genomic Era
Presented by Charles Delisi