Working Groups, 2016–2017

Working Groups sponsored by the Whitney Humanities Center gather faculty and graduate students for reading and discussion on topics proposed by the groups themselves. They typically meet once or twice a month. The following groups will be meeting in 2016–2017.

This workshop has existed at Yale since the late 1980s and concentrates on discussions of religion’s role in American history and culture from the colonial period to the present. Graduate students give most presentations, but sometimes a professor describes a current project or the group discusses an important new article or book. The workshop is open to anyone in the Yale community who wishes to attend—faculty and students alike—and meets once a month during term.

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This working group meets bimonthly to discuss reading selections centering on ancient Japanese myths, historical episodes, and songs/poems hearkening back to an eroding oral tradition, centering on texts such as the Kojiki, Nihon shoki, and Fudoki. Some example themes are canon studies and peripheral texts, the function of myth, oral and written narrative, historical uses of myth, and myth and modernity. We will also study the peculiarities of writing in the time before the establishment of native script. Creative approaches to the texts are encouraged, including creative writing or work through or in translation.

This group organizes workshops each semester designed to support the interdisciplinary study of ancient philosophy at Yale. The usual format is a paper followed by a period of open discussion. Knowledge of classical languages is not required to follow the presentations and participate in the discussions; all original texts are discussed in English translations provided by the speakers. Reading groups are also held for those who do know Greek and Latin.

This group takes up the work of writers whose projects could be described as “atheological”—not in that these authors were atheists, but rather in that they sought to radically reconfigure the conceptual landscape mapped out by the received categories of Western theological traditions. The selection of texts is wide-ranging, including not only the work of “paradigmatic” figures such as Georges Bataille but also that of writers with more ambiguous relationships to traditional religion such as Simone Weil. Our future direction is open-ended—reading options range from apophatic mystics to contemporary queer theorists and beyond—and so those interested in the group are encouraged to develop their own senses of how our work can continue to develop, and of how it can be made more fully interdisciplinary (including through broader engagement with visual and other forms of art). All texts are in English or in English translation. At least one session per term will be dedicated to the writing of workshop participants.


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This working group looks at international avant-gardes—across cultures, time, and media, and across genres and forms of cultural production. We combine theoretical readings, art theory, and philosophy with studies of avant-garde practices—including poetry, visual arts, film, performance, and online cultural productions.

Our aim is to look at the plurality of practices that refashion or respond to historical and neo-avant-gardes—and to the paradoxes of an alternative “avant-garde tradition.”

Many in the group work on cultures often marginalized by the dominant Western European and Anglo-American historical avant-garde narrative: we hope to enrich the narrative and speak to each other from the margins through this project.

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This working group brings together graduate students from classics, religious studies, and those in pre-modern studies more generally. The group will reflect on the history of classical philology to trace and problematize the emergence and institutionalization of classics as a discipline. What ruptures and what continuities can we see when we examine the history of philology and classics? What is the praxis of classical philology? How has philology been critiqued by philosophies of hermeneutics and literary criticism? How is philology a “shared” heritage? What are modern conceptions and re-conceptions of classics and philology? The group will meet fortnightly with specific readings to answer these questions.

This working group aspires to enrich Dante scholarship at Yale through a series of informal encounters aimed at fostering interdisciplinary exchange. Works in progress, completed papers, presentations, and dissertations will provide the group with substantive starting points for discussion.

This working group focuses on digital humanities, a still emerging practice involving the use of information technology-based resources and methods in the scholarly activities of the humanist.

Digital humanities encompasses an array of convergent practices that explore a world in which scholarship is not exclusively produced in print but is created and distributed through new digital technologies. This group will consider the expanding practices, vocabulary, and research methods germane to digital humanities across disciplines.

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This working group aims to improve participants’ knowledge of and facility with the tools of digital humanities, especially as they relate to the codicology, textual editing and archiving of medieval and early modern manuscript materials. It seeks also to expand participants’ familiarity with the materials in Yale’s collections, and to encourage engagement with these works in research projects.

In workshops organized by the group, participants are introduced to some central issues in digital editing, and are assigned in groups to a digitized text. Each session involves working on the paleographic and codicological challenges of the chosen manuscript, as well as lessons on TEI encoding, led by graduate students as well as DH faculty. Participants, usually working in groups, practice making collective editorial decisions, dividing the work of transcription and commentary, and undertaking the process of transcribing and tagging text according to TEI protocols. Each participant completes a TEI transcription task; these transcriptions are combined and linked to the images on the Beinecke website. A basic digital “edition” is the final goal of each session.

No prior knowledge of manuscript studies or digital editing is required—all skill levels are welcome!

This working group fosters interdisciplinary collaboration on disability-related topics. Our meetings generally comprise open and informal discussion of pre-circulated readings, films, or current events relevant to the disability community and its advocates. Past conversations have explored themes of labor, law, sexuality, and popular media, and we are excited to expand our scope. We acknowledge that conceptions and classifications of disability are culturally constructed and historically contingent. Therefore, we impose no monolithic definition of disability and instead explore diverse sensory, physical, developmental, and psychological variations. All members of the Yale community are welcome; please inform us of any accessibility requests so we may better include everyone.

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This group promotes the study and discussion of the works of various European philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Relevant works include, but are not limited to, those of Descartes, Malebranche, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Reid, and Kant.

Papers are made available for participants to read beforehand whenever possible. The usual session format is to have the author begin with an overview of his or her work, followed by a brief exchange between the author and the official commentator of the paper. We then open things up for general discussion (which occupies the bulk of the two-hour meeting). All are welcome.

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The primary goal of this working group is to encourage an interdisciplinary conversation about the recent critical work being done by scholars of the literature, history, culture, and art of the “long” eighteenth century (1660–1830).

During the 2016–2017 academic year, we will meet on a monthly basis. Most of our time will be spent reading and discussing newly published scholarly works that relate to the larger field of eighteenth-century studies in some way. One of the greatest challenges facing scholars at any stage in their career is the need to keep up to date with the expanding critical literature in their chosen field.

We hope that this working group can act as a resource to make this a more manageable and fulfilling task. In addition, once or twice a semester, we will invite speakers from within the Yale community to give a talk or present a work in progress to the group that relates to some aspect of the eighteenth century. All are welcome to participate.

This interdisciplinary group explores and experiments with kinds of theoretical and critical writing beyond the increasingly standardized modes of the journal article and the monograph. What is the relationship between textual form and substantive insight? How can formal innovation in “theoretical” or “philosophical” (rather than “poetic” or “literary”) writing expand the scope of the thinkable and broaden the conceptual resources available for academic research? We meet twice per month. Most sessions will focus on specific texts that carry out such experiments in form, from Friedrich Nietzsche to Maggie Nelson and beyond. Other sessions will allow participants to present their own experiments in form and to receive feedback on such work. 


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This working group is an interdisciplinary forum dedicated to the illumination and interrogation of the cultural production, political formations, and historical processes that characterize the long nineteenth century (1789–1914) and exert significant influence into the twenty-first century. The group examines recent scholarship related to the nineteenth century, presenting speaker workshops (presentations of works in progress by Yale faculty, graduate students, and visiting scholars) and collaborative discussions of recently published scholarship. The working group will be of interest to students and faculty in a number of departments, especially in the humanities and social sciences.


This working group responds generally to the ever more insistent call for creative methodological border-crossing and collaboration within the humanities and social sciences, and more specifically to the disciplinary challenges of Slavic Studies in the post-Soviet world of shifting geographic, political, social, and cultural borders. Bringing together graduate students and faculty, the group workshops recent interdisciplinary research in the study of Slavic languages, culture, and history, and also explores the professional demands of interdisciplinary scholarship and pedagogy. We meet approximately four times per semester, alternating speaker workshops (presentations of works in progress and new publications by Yale faculty, graduate students, and visiting scholars) with professional seminars (meetings on recent developments in the field and on issues of professionalization).

This working group is part of a broader initiative undertaken by Yale’s Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures to explore interdisciplinarity in contemporary Slavic Studies.

This working group will meet monthly to discuss theoretical and historical readings in the fields of race, gender, and class politics. The first trio of readings will focus on Frantz Fanon; the second will look at various writers in the field of materialist feminism/social reproduction theory; and the third will engage with a number of the specific issues that arise from the previous readings, including incarceration, pedagogy, and gender and work.

Created in 1999, this working group promotes the reading and discussion of texts in the field of Marxism and Marxist cultural theory. Our meetings are every other Tuesday at 7 pm in Room 116 of the Whitney Humanities Center (53 Wall Street, New Haven). New members are always welcome and we are open to any and all disciplines—students and faculty from multiple fields attend regularly. 

Readings are selected by the group at the beginning of each semester and made available to group members a week before the meeting. Anyone is free to suggest a reading, provided that he or she is willing to present it to the group. Themes of recent interest include the legacy and fate of postcolonial theory; socialist feminism; black Marxist thought; autonomist Marxist traditions; financialization; critiques of neoliberal temporality; Marxism’s relationship to queer theory and affect theory; Marxist readings of Native history; Marxist theories of the state; and Marxist literary and art criticism. We also frequently adjust our reading to respond to recent political and intellectual events, such as the Arab Spring; the emergence of Occupy Wall Street; the victory of SYRIZA in Greece and related political developments in Europe; and the death of Stuart Hall. 

We have also organized summer reading groups and in the past summers have read Marx’s Capital and the Grundrisse, and, most recently, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

Medieval Britain was a site of encounter between languages and peoples for nearly a thousand years, and the scholarship that seeks to understand it mirrors this diversity in its subjects and approaches. This interdisciplinary working group provides a monthly venue for graduate students working on any and all aspects of Medieval Britain to share work in progress with an audience of their peers and select faculty visitors. Presenters receive rigorous feedback through a formal response and open discussion.

This reading group aims to improve participants’ knowledge and facility with Medieval Latin (c. 650–1500). It focuses in particular on understanding Medieval Latin’s development from Classical Latin, and the relationship between ecclesiastical Latin and later, humanist forms of Latin. Basic knowledge of Latin is required, but experience in any form of Latin is enthusiastically welcomed!  

In the group, we also try to expand participants’ familiarity with different genres of Latin composition—from the practical legal texts and papal bulls that governed everyday medieval life to the prose and verse literary works that inflected Western thought. Each meeting begins with a mini-lesson on some point of grammar or linguistics relevant to the text under examination. Students with particular interests are invited to propose texts for the group to study. The organizer prepares a reading copy of the text for group members each meeting. 

The Medieval Song Lab (MSL) brings together scholars in Connecticut and nearby who are interested in medieval song. Both “medieval” and “song” are taken in their broadest reasonable sense, to include sacred and secular music from before c. 1400. The lab hosts at least three events per semester that focus around the discussion of pre-circulated papers. We also organize informal singing from medieval notation. Flexibility of format and focus as well as interdisciplinary membership—the MSL draws faculty and students from music, French, English, Italian, and comparative literature departments as well as performers—help make the Lab a fun and productive environment in which members can share their work, develop new research ideas, and foster a sense of community.

This working group aims at exploring the multifaceted concept of memory across all regions of modern Europe. In the interest of promoting a regeneration of memory studies at an academic level, the group provides scholars from all disciplines with a venue to discuss current research and work in progress. Monthly events include paper presentations, dissertation workshops, film screenings, as well as other opportunities to connect with fellow scholars at various stages of research in an informal setting.

This group provides a forum for presenting and discussing graduate student and faculty work in all areas of moral philosophy, from metaethics to applied ethics, and in the surrounding areas such as political philosophy, moral psychology, and philosophy of law. A hallmark of the working group is our commitment to bringing together people who approach moral philosophy from different disciplinary perspectives and might not otherwise come into contact with each other’s work. Papers will be available for participants to read beforehand whenever possible. The workshop format will consist of a paper presentation, followed by Q&A and discussion.

This reading group aims to improve participants’ knowledge and facility with the Old English language (c. 650–1100) and to advance their understanding of this language’s development within the broader context of the medieval Germanic languages.  No prior knowledge of Old English is needed—begin any time!

In the group, we try to expand participants’ familiarity with less commonly studied Old English texts—both poetry and prose—and to engage meaningfully with the critical traditions of those texts. Students with particular interests are invited to propose particular texts for the group to study.

The Pre-Modern Gender and Sexuality Working Group (PMGS) provides a forum for sharing, discussing, and presenting work related to gender and sexuality in an interdisciplinary setting that is dedicated to the study of pre-modern (defined as prior to c. 1750) societies and cultures. PMGS invites students and academic fellows from all departments and disciplines to engage with colleagues who have a shared interest in gender and sexuality as a lens through which to examine pre-modern societies. Discussions also address issues of sources, methods, and frameworks particular to the pre-modern period. Our meetings, at which refreshments are served, typically take place once a month on Fridays between 12 and 1:30 pm. They focus on:

- Presenting and discussing our own work within the framework of our studies at Yale (such as the writing of the prospectus and the drafting of syllabi, dissertation chapters, and seminar papers);

- Presenting and discussing works in progress for conferences and publications;

- Reading and discussing important theories and theorists, seminal or otherwise useful and interesting articles and books, and exploring how they have been and can be applied to the pre-modern period.

PMGS maintains a collection of resources related to the study of pre-modern gender and sexuality on the Classes*v2 server. Please contact us for access.

This working group takes an interdisciplinary approach to examining people’s relationships with and reactions to new technologies and scientific developments. It examines humanistic issues related to advances in science and technology through historical, anthropological, scientific, and utopian/dystopian texts, among others. Through readings, workshops, films, art, and discussion, attention is focused on enthusiasms and concerns about relationships with technological and scientific progress. The group may also explore what is meant by “progress,” what it means to be human, and how reflecting on these issues sheds light on significant themes in Western thought. The group occasionally meets jointly with the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics and the Yale Law School Information Society Project.

This working group promotes scholarship in sound studies and auditory culture. In recent years, sound has become an object of interest for scholars from widely varying disciplinary backgrounds. Sound studies, broadly construed, calls on the resources of humanists and scientists from across the university to investigate sound in all of its historical, cultural, scientific, and technological aspects. This group considers topics including the ontology of sound, the social nature of sonic exchange and the formation of aural publics, the spatial manifestation and technological mediation of sound, histories of listening, sonic art, soundscapes, and noise. Each session typically includes a brief presentation and discussion of pre-circulated readings.

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The working group in literature and theory is meant to foster the interdisciplinary study of literary texts with reference to developing configurations in contemporary theory. The group focuses on German texts but maintains a strong comparative component, enlisting texts from numerous literary and philosophical traditions. In biweekly meetings, faculty and student participants discuss emergent paradigms in literature, critical theory, and social forms. At the beginning of the Fall semester, the working group will choose a topic or theme for the coming academic year.

The program for the coming year will include a reading list, schedule, and research agenda. This forum is open to all interested participants throughout the Yale community; knowledge of German (or other foreign languages) is not necessary: all texts are made available in English and discussion is in English. The reading list and program will be made available on Classes*v2; we will also use the Classes*v2 list to distribute information regarding related external events, conferences, and guest speakers at Yale.|

2016-2017 Topic: The Body

When we speak about the body, what are we speaking about? Is speaking about “the body” a way to approach an understanding of the act of perception or the experience of being embodied? Or does talking about “the body” only serve to reify the model of mind-body dualism put forward by Descartes? Beginning with an examination of the Cartesian notion of the body as a complex machine, our project will examine the problem of the body from various theoretical and disciplinary perspectives, with careful attention to the body as it appears in literature. As a text that demands to be read and interpreted, the body offers literature an opportunity to reflect on the aesthetic and political relation between life and literature and the tenuous boundary between self and world.

The Yale Cuneiforum meets fortnightly to read unpublished cuneiform tablets. It began in September 2013 and has met regularly during the 2013–2014, 2014–2015, and 2015–2016 academic years. Cuneiform script, the world’s oldest known script, is particularly ambiguous, and on many occasions texts can only be deciphered through repeated examination. Consequently, reading cuneiform tablets in a group, where many perspectives can be simultaneously canvassed, is particularly profitable.

Both students and professors, as well as visiting scholars, take part in this working group. While for beginners the Cuneiforum is an opportunity to see—and participate in—cutting-edge research, for seasoned scholars the forum provides a welcoming stage for presenting work in progress and receiving valuable feedback. At the same time, it encourages both students and more advanced scholars to read texts outside their area of expertise. The stalwarts of the Cuneiforum are the faculty and students of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations; however, last year’s meetings also attracted scholars from Harvard and New York. Scholars from disciplines outside of Assyriology are very welcome, since the decipherment of texts often benefits from specialized knowledge that the cuneiformist does not usually possess.

The Yale Cuneiforum’s website lists the group’s activities:

The Yale Media Research Seminar (YMRS) is an initiative to investigate the modes of existence of media and to revisit pivotal moments throughout the history of media. The aim of YMRS is to bring together people of various departments and to create an open forum to question what media has been and what it will become. We are interested in establishing a dialogue between the various places at Yale where media studies plays an important role, ranging from Film Studies to the literature departments, the School of Architecture, the Department of the History of Art or Anthropology, just to name a few.

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