When historian Daniel J. Boorstin noted in 1962 that “a celebrity is a person known for his well-knownness,” he was implying that true fame lacks significant meaning. After decades of following the stars from TV to YouTube, perhaps today we have a different understanding of celebrity’s ability to generate and transmit values, from Lady Diana’s ethical royalty to Beyoncé’s African-American feminism. But how is it that stars like these carry such personal significance in our lives and such influence in the public sphere? And how do celebrities—and fans—negotiate the boundaries between privacy and fame? This Writing Seminar examines the meaning of celebrity and how it relates to our social lives. We begin by using theories about charisma to shed light on Kanye West’s self-fashioning as a hip-hop star and iconoclastic genius. Then, taking Albert Einstein as our case study, we make sense of how public figures can become enduring icons that transcend their initial professional spheres. For the research paper, students investigate the political, economic, or cultural influence of a celebrity figure or phenomenon of their choosing. Possible topics include Oprah Winfrey’s transformation from local talk show host to national icon, animal celebrities like Fiona the Hippo, and Amelia Earhart's heroic exploits

Arthur Sasse, Albert Einstein, 1951 (Sasse/AFP).