Working Groups, 2022–2023

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 American Classicisms working group investigates the role played by the classical traditions of Greece and Rome in the institutions, intellectual life, and popular culture of the Americas from the seventeenth century onwards. It asks how Americans accessed, constructed, mobilized, and appropriated knowledge about ancient societies — oftentimes to the exclusion of others.  

We are interested in receiving both abstracts for formal presentations of relevant work, and proposals for leading more informal discussions with the group.  We especially welcome participants from the fields of African-American Studies, American Studies, Art History, Classics, Comparative Literature, English, History, Religious Studies, and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

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.

Our website: http://history.yale.edu/academics/working-groups/american-religious-history-workshop

The Working Group in Ancient Philosophy (WGAP) organizes workshops each semester designed to support the interdisciplinary study of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy at Yale. The usual format of its two-hour-long meetings is a paper presentation 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.

The Approaches to Recent and Contemporary History (ARCH) working group is for graduate students across disciplines to explore and evaluate methods and theories pertaining to the study of the recent past. Founded by historians in diverse regional subfields who study a wide variety of themes and topics from the 1960s through the present, this group is an intellectual community for scholars confronting the challenges related to researching the contemporary moment from the historical perspective.

The group is guided by the following questions: How do you periodize the recent past? How do you write a history of the present and the recent past? What unique opportunities and obstacles are posed by studying the recent past? What strategies from other disciplines and what sources can historians of the contemporary moment integrate into their research methods? What, in turn, do historians have to contribute conceptually and methodologically to other, more present-oriented disciplines in the humanities and social sciences? What responsibility do historians have to the living subjects of the histories they write? How can and should historians position themselves to be engaged in current political debates? What does “presentism” mean for a historian working on the recent past?

This working group promotes the study of Arabic philosophy at Yale. It addresses itself equally to philosophers, Arabists, and Islamicists as well as to students and scholars of Classics, and Medieval, Renaissance, and Judaic studies. The speakers are asked to present original texts in English translation, so that knowledge of Arabic is not required to follow the presentation and participate in the discussion.

The Asian and African Philosophy Reading Group discusses primary and secondary sources from philosophical traditions beyond Europe. We welcome both experts and the curious; all readings and discussions are in English. Our primary sources survey responses to philosophical questions and themes from various times and places across our regions of interest. In Fall 2022, we will begin by focusing on weakness of will, and we will consider approaches from ancient Chinese, Chinese Buddhist, medieval Arabic, and medieval Jewish traditions. Our secondary sources complement primary readings, with the goal of bringing into dialogue these traditions with Western analytic thought. In total, there will be about 40 pages of reading per session. Discussions emphasize close readings of primary texts and our scholarly reflections in response to secondary texts and take place over lunch (provided!) every other Friday.

The Dante Working Group is a student led association centered around the study and the promotion of the work of Dante Alighieri among other graduate students and the Yale community in general. The activities of the DWG in the past years varied from series of conferences with Dante Studies scholars from inside and outside our university, to a weekly reading group of the Comedy in the original Italian with an aid of an English translation. Our aim is to use our resources at best in order to provide graduate students in the Humanities and beyond with a space other than the classroom in which beginning or deepening the understanding of Dante and his works.

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.

For more information, please visit www.yale.edu/sempy

The Hittite Workshop is dedicated to the study of Hittite, the earliest attested Indo-European language. We will work through Theo van den Hout’s The Elements of Hittite, which provides a sound introduction to the Hittite language. Over the course of the fall semester, we will work through the ten chapters of van den Hout’s The Elements of Hittite. In the spring of 2023, we will start with a review of the fundamentals of Hittite grammar and then will continue with the reading of intermediate Hittite texts (including, but not limited to, historical annals, literature, and ritual-texts) depending on the interests of participants. This group will be of interest to anyone interested in the Ancient Near East, Classics, and historical linguistics, but it is open to all!

This working group provides a biweekly space for the discussion of recent as well as classic scholarship by humanists pertaining to all areas of the law, its histories, and problems of jurisprudence and legal interpretation, as they intersect with cultural texts, practices, and representations. Because we range across time periods and our interests traverse traditional disciplinary boundaries, we welcome literary critics, historians, political theorists, academic lawyers, and more. In 2022-23, we plan to pursue two broad strands of inquiry: 1) genealogies of legal personhood, the investigation of which includes (but will not be limited to) some of the ways definitions of legal personhood have overlapped with various property regimes; 2) rights discourses, particularly insofar as they bear upon legal entities denied—or only partially granted—the status of personhood (e.g. slaves, non-human animals, artificial intelligence). Some attention might be given as well to law-and-performance and the place of Roman law in recent political philosophy. Discussions will also address the challenges and methodological difficulties facing humanists engaged with the scholarly study of law.

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, via Zoom. 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. We read both classic texts of Marxist thought and more recent work, depending on the group’s interests. Themes of recent interest include the legacy and fate of postcolonial theory; socialist feminism; black Marxist thought; autonomist Marxist traditions; financialization; 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 relevant political and intellectual events, the emergence of Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter; the deaths of Stuart Hall and John Berger; the reemergence of left populism; the coronavirus pandemic; and the centenary of the Bolshevik revolution.

We occasionally organize summer reading groups to tackle larger reading projects; in past summers we have read Marx’s Capital and the Grundrisse and Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

Email List: https://mailman.yale.edu/mailman/listinfo/marxismandculture

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 regular venue for graduate students working on the textual cultures of Medieval Britain, focusing in particular on English literary texts, 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 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. All meetings are pre-read: papers will be made available for participants roughly a week beforehand. Our meetings are 2 hours long and consist of a short (10-15 min) presentation followed by discussion. Please feel free to contact the co-organizers if you’d like to present your work or if you’d like to be added to our mailing list.

The Opera Studies Today Working Group aims to bring into dialogue scholars and practitioners of opera and other musical multimedia from across and beyond campus. We address recent trends in opera and opera studies, with a particular eye towards new compositions, genre-bending performative musical media events, and current stagings. We will also investigate the possibilities and relevance of opera studies vis-à-vis these recent practices. Meetings occur approximately on a monthly basis and take a variety of formats, including the discussion of pre-circulated readings, the presentation of work-in-progress, conversations about recent productions, or screenings of incisive stagings. The Working Group also serves as an anchor for the annual YOST (Y | Opera | Studies Today) symposium, the first of which was launched in May 2019 (see http://dev.operastudies.yale.edu). To receive emails about meetings and events, join our email list by visiting https://mailman.yale.edu/mailman/listinfo/operastudies.

Ever since its earliest known writings, philosophy, in the course of its own pursuits, has engaged with the built environment, addressing it as a backdrop for an argument, a metaphor for an idea, a source of information, a trigger for reflection, and increasingly as a subject in itself. The heyday of these ventures occurred during a highly prolific, diverse, intense, and consequential interdisciplinary exchange with avidly curious architects and urbanists in the late 20th century, with effects that continue to reverberate in the way these disciplines work today. But architects are not always the authors of built works, and even when they are they remain but one element, albeit an important one, of the systems that shape the massively impacting ever-present setting of our everyday lives that is the built environment. Now canonical authors in architectural theory like Walter Benjamin, Martin Heidegger, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard, and many others spoke of modern designs as well traditional homes constructed by their owners or local guilds, and of rooms, roads, railways, bridges, streets, gardens, temples, museums, prisons, towers, monuments, cemeteries, shopping arcades, urban fabrics, and even ruins, reading them with a variety of idiosyncratic outlooks that brought forth all kinds of illuminating and influential insights.

What should we talk about today? How does philosophy contribute to an understanding of the built environment? And how does the built environment as a topic inform contemporary thinking? What is there to be said and gained from these discussions by those who shape the built environment, not just architects, planners, and landscape designers, but others too, like engineers, scientists, lawmakers, speculators, activists, artists, and all of us users of these spaces? As these domains change along with the word within and upon which they operate, so do the potentials for their interactions. What are, or ought to be, the important debates concerning the built environment in the present and immediate future, and what role does philosophy play in them? What new ideas, approaches, authors, and works might illuminate them?

The Philosophy and the Built Environment Working Group tackles these questions on a monthly basis. Each session dives into a particular topic drawn from discussions on what these should be, why, and how to pursue them. Participants are invited to focus on material they themselves proposed in advance, ranging from reading to projects, with the support of special guests knowledgeable on the issue. All those interested in taking part, regularly or dropping by for specific sessions, are encouraged explore tentative new ideas in an informal, intellectually stimulating and disciplinarily diverse setting.

The Pre-Modern Environmental Humanities Working Group (PMEH) is dedicated to exploring the ways the environmental humanities can be used to understand pre-modern societies and cultures (pre-1750 CE). We want to have a place where we can think about methods for understanding past environments, the relationship between pre-modern studies and environmental humanities, and the role of pre-modern studies in conceptualizing the current climate catastrophe. Once a month, participants will meet to discuss previously circulated readings related to scholarship on pre-modern environments and cultures. The group is open to anyone interested in the pre-modern world and the environment, including those from Anthropology, Classics, Forestry and Environmental Studies, History, Medieval Studies, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and Renaissance Studies.

This working group proposes the reassessment of a term that lies at the heart of the study of each and every discipline in the humanities: Culture. We will dedicate the first weeks to a consideration of the historical and conceptual consolidation of “cultural studies” as a scholarly discipline in the early 20th century while tracing the underlying explicit and implicit premises regarding the scope and potence of the elusive phenomenon at its core. The reading selection will approach the emergence of “culture” as an object of study from various directions: philosophy, aesthetics, sociology, anthropology, psychoanalysis, religion, and arts (possible authors include Darwin, Cassirer, Simmel, Weber, Durkheim, Freud, and Plessner). We will then turn to post-1945 readings (Adorno and Horkheimer, Blumenberg, Bachelard) and to more recent scholarship (for example Bal, Barad, Haraway and Descola), asking for the formative, and, at times, negative role of ‘Culture’ as an object of study and a figure of though from the late 20th to the present. In so doing, we seek to create an interdisciplinary space to think about the preconditions of “Culture(s)” and to reflect on possible ramifications for our own research projects and wider disciplinary expectations.

While the hegemonic narrative of secularization has long been contested across disciplines for more than one generation, the field of literary studies seems reluctant to launch critical response. This working group seeks to problematize the deep-seated secularist presumptions, both theoretical and methodological, in the study of East Asian Literatures. On the one hand, it (re)visits the questions of the field broadly defined as “Religion and Literature,” in both modern and pre-modern contexts. On the other, it explores the interpretive and methodological possibilities that East Asian literatures might bring to the contemporary discussions of secular modernity and the post-secular. How do “religious” texts complicate our understanding of literature, in terms of genre, narration, hermeneutics, etc.? How do literary texts (re-)define what religion could possibly be? What is the relationship between the texts traditionally labeled as “religious” and those categorized as “secular”? What does it mean to challenge ideological secularism in a non-European context? 

Our working group meets regularly throughout the year. Each meeting starts with a brief presentation (10-15 minutes) followed by discussion. In the attempt to probe the interstices between literary and religious studies, we welcome participants from all Humanities and Social Sciences.

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.

Sound interesting? Join our e-mail list by visiting http://mailman.yale.edu/mailman/listinfo/soundstudies.

The working group is an effort to interpret Brazilian aesthetics of 20th and 21st centuries under a global perspective, turning away from an essentialist framing and encompassing the complexities, crossings, and relations that compose and modify Brazilian sociocultural landscape. The group discussions will be oriented towards five axes: transmedia, transborder, transdisciplinary, translingual, transaction. We are interested in the diversity of Brazilian aesthetic / artistic production. Our group meets on-line twice a month.

2022-23 Topic: Between the Humanities and Social Sciences: German Theory in the 1960s

The various larger and smaller debates of the pivotal moment of 1960s West Germany remain highly relevant to our own time, offering themselves to archeological rediscovery and reconsideration of intellectual strengths and shortcomings, lost threads and upshots. The German 1960s demands to be reread, for example, in connection to recent discussions in, for example: the history of science; “postcritique”; the digital humanities and computational literary scholarship; the attendant renewed interest in methodological questions, including, from the side of the humanities, the history and future of textual study; the divide between “continental” and “analytical” philosophy; the current global political situation (which again puts extreme pressure on the humanities and social sciences to define their specific contributions, their implicit and explicit political stances, the equitability and accessibility of their institutions); the desire (certainly not universal) to reverse the methodological hardening of the fronts between the philosophical, philological and hermeneutic humanities vs. the data-driven social sciences.

The primary and secondary readings will be decided collectively by the group. However, possible authors and topics might include: Adorno, Arendt, Blumenberg, Gadamer, Gehlen, Habermas, Heidegger, Horkheimer, Husserl, Jauss, Koselleck, Löwith, Luhmann, Szondi, Taubes, Weber; the research group Poetik und Hermeneutik, secularization, logical positivism, the “positivism dispute” (Positivismusstreit), 20th-century sociology, philology and literary criticism, philosophical anthropology, philosophical hermeneutics, phenomenology, theories of technology, polemics and controversies.

The “Yale Cuneiforum” is a group that meets twice a month to read unpublished cuneiform tablets. It first met in September 2013, and has met regularly during the 2013/2014, 2014/2015, 2015/2016, 2016/2017, 2017/2018, 2019/20, 2020/21 and 2021/22 academic years. Cuneiform script, the world’s oldest known script, is a particularly ambiguous one, 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 & Civilizations, however, during last year’s meeting scholars from London and New York also read texts at the Cuneiforum. 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 meetings are listed on the Yale Babylonian Collection’s website under http://babylonian-collection.yale.edu/colloquia/yale-cuneiforum