Working Groups, 2019–2020

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 2019–2020.

This working group investigates the role played by the classical traditions of Greece and Rome in the institutions, intellectual life, and popular culture of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America. Taking as its starting point Caroline Winterer’s foundational monograph The Culture of Classicism (2002), the working group asks how early Americans to their own ends accessed, constructed, mobilized, and appropriated knowledge about these premodern societies—often to the exclusion of others. Salient case studies emerge from—but are not limited to—the democratizing impulses of the Founding Fathers, the philosophical underpinnings of the Transcendentalists, the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Phillis Wheatley, the travel literature of Mark Twain and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and the Neoclassical stylings of Hiram Powers and Harriet Hosmer. Furthermore, within the formation of American universities and liberal arts curricula in this period, we examine the professionalization of Classics as an academic discipline and interrogate the rhetorics, postures, and practices of American classicists both as they ventured trans-Atlantic contributions to an international Altertumskunde and as they responded to the political and social conditions of their lived moment.

Drawing on resources and histories local to Yale University and its New England setting, the working group is committed to bringing evidence from an array of media—texts, paintings, sculpture, photographs—under the scrutiny of scholars with diverse expertise. Our aim is to build an interdisciplinary community that can tackle methodologically demanding projects under headings like Reception Studies, Intellectual History, or the Sociology of Knowledge.

The working group meets once monthly to discuss a schedule of shared readings. Additionally, each semester it will organize a local excursion to introduce participants to material, visual, or archival evidence. (Two candidates for the 2019–2020 academic year are the Wadsworth Athenaeum and the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, CT.) Participants will have an opportunity to share ongoing work at a year-end roundtable. Prior knowledge of ancient languages and Greco-Roman materials, while helpful, is not necessary. We especially welcome contributors 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.

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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.

In honor of the Bauhaus centenary, Shira Miron (German) and Henry Balme (Music) are initiating a working group meeting on a weekly basis during the Fall semester of 2019. Each session will be devoted to a theme, including but not limited to form; materials; the role of color and geometry in the curriculum; utopia(s) and new forms of social organization; aestheticization of daily life; contributions by women; questions of unity and exchange between art forms; industrial design and materials; Bauhaus and globalization; functionality and simplicity; historiography; performance at the Bauhaus; Bauhaus and Weimar politics; the legacy of the Bauhaus in the United States after 1933. One session will be devoted to an excursion to the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation in Bethany, Connecticut. Meetings start in the first week of the semester and end with the Thanksgiving break. Reading knowledge of German required.

This working group aims to promote the growing community of scholars involved with Dante studies. Its intention is to continue expanding the interdisciplinary dialogue that has flourished for the past ten years. We run our informal meetings in order to provide the participants with a venue to discuss current research and work in progress. To this end, we organize different monthly events, which appeal to a variety of audiences within the Yale community. These events also guarantee the participants exposure to different perspectives on Dante, at various stages of research, and with different goals.
In addition, the group holds informal lunch meetings and talks featuring professors from other universities as well as hosting the annual Yale Dante Lecture.

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 working group session.
No prior knowledge of manuscript studies or digital editing is required—all levels of skill are most welcome to participate!

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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This working group aims to think comparatively about the historical connections between diverse forms of colonialisms and modernity/modernities, with particular attention to the complex and troubled role of “religion” in various configurations of the modern. Rather than assuming a single trajectory or set of connections between colonialism, modernity, and religion, we aim to learn from and to interrogate a variety of disciplinary assumptions around these themes. The project thus depends upon a diverse set of participants and perspectives from across the humanities and social sciences. All are welcome!

This reading/working group meets fortnightly each semester to discuss classical or contemporary works in left-wing literary, cultural, political, and economic theory or readings of importance to such topics. Ecumenical and internationalist in its commitments, the group is open to all interested in the humanities or beyond. Our goal is to promote a robust, informed, and considered culture of left-wing analysis and debate on the interlocking crises of twenty-first-century global capitalism, these crises now as evident at the centers of the world-system as they always were on the peripheries, and pressing on the fields of education and culture as all others. Those involved will meet each September to agree on a syllabus of readings; regular participants will be expected to offer one presentation annually of one of the agreed readings. Presentations will be short, no more than 20 minutes, and ought typically to involve a short descriptive and introductory overview of the selected work, a brisk summary of its major theses, and some lively questions or provocations to open up group discussion.

We welcome new members and encourage people to come for individual meetings they find of interest.

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. 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, such as the Arab Spring; the emergence of Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter; the victory of SYRIZA in Greece and related political developments in Europe; the death of Stuart Hall; the success of left-wing politicians like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn; 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.

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.

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 meets biweekly to read and discuss Japanese poetry of the modern period, primarily Meiji (1868–1912) and Taishō (1912–1926) eras, as well as early Shōwa (1926–1989). The focus is both on waka and its relationship to the premodern waka tradition—and on blank verse and its engagement with synchronic modernisms in Europe. Poets might include Ishikawa Takuboku, Kanbara Ariake, Kitahara Hakushū, Miyazawa Kenji, Yosano Akiko, and others. Readings in Japanese; discussions in English. Participants need not prepare for the sessions. The texts—and glossaries where needed—are provided. The participants take turns in reading the poems aloud; informal translation and discussion of content and form follow. All members of the Yale community with knowledge of Japanese at the upper-intermediate level and above are welcome to join. 

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.

This 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 toward 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 To receive news about meetings and events, join our email list by visiting

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 group brings together graduate students and faculty committed to researching the regimes of mass incarceration, mass ICE immigration detention, policing, border security, and surveillance, in relation to the long histories of transatlantic slavery, US settler colonialism, and overseas empire. We are committed to research building toward abolitionist futures, including work on prison education, re-entry, restorative justice and social movements, and we aim to support the scholarship and organizing of currently and formerly incarcerated people.

This group will meet biweekly or more often depending on the demand. The main purpose of the group is to facilitate the research of primary materials in the variants of vernacular and Sinitic idioms of premodern Japan (bungo; sorobun; kanbun). All graduate students conducting research in these languages can participate and suggest readings for the group. Participants must attend at least one session helping out another student before they can propose a reading they want to be helped with. Since the primary goal of the group is mutual help within the community, regular attendance is strongly encouraged.

This working group focuses each term on the work of a single author (or coauthor collaboration) within contemporary critical theory and related fields. We meet several times per semester for close-reading discussion of texts and for more wide-ranging conversation about how selected work relates to broader developments in the arts, humanities, and social theory. The selection of texts and authors is designed to coordinate with the new intensive critical theory guest lecture / seminar program hosted by the German Department in conjunction with the WHC.

This group provides a forum for faculty and graduate students across the disciplines who are interested in concepts, institutions, texts, artifacts, and practices at the nexus of religion and modernity. The aim is to understand as well as to revise understandings of the worlds named by the two terms. The workshop is open to anyone in the Yale community and will meet roughly once a month during term. Meetings will consist of a discussion of some pre-circulated reading.

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 fosters 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 finalize the readings for the coming academic year.  The program 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 discussions are in English. The reading list and program will be made available through regular announcements on canvas; this site will also be used to distribute information about related external events, conferences, and appearances by guest speakers at Yale.

2019–2020 Topic: Poetology and Philology in Romanticism

The importance of German Romanticism as a literary and philosophical movement can hardly be overstated. Engaged in a vast array of intellectual fields, it was a transformative movement in the history of European thought with reverberations still being traceable in twentieth- and twenty-first- century culture and politics.

While it is hard to determine the borders or the shared center of this often contradictory movement, the philosophical, literary, and poetological gestures the authors were engaged in continuously challenged traditional separations of theory and literature. Along with these experimental textual practices, poetology—the reflective treatment of the forms of writing —gains a special importance for thought. At the same time, language and philology become main points of interest for the Romantic movement: a newly broadened consideration of language brings about a reassessment of its role in thinking. No longer considered a secondary instrument for thinking, language and its historical development become a major object for Romantic writing.

While this turn to questions of language and philology is quite often situated in the nationalistic project of Romanticism, it displays nevertheless an empathic engagement with questions of multilingualism. Inherent to it was a sense for the plurality of languages and genres, as well as for the problem of (un)translatability.

The aim of the working group will be to understand the relationship between poetological and philological thought, as it was formed in Romanticism. How is the interest in language intertwined with the dissolution of the distinct separation between theory and literature? How did the general investigation of the nature of language inform the poetics of Romanticism? How did poetological conceptions impact philology? How did the philological investigation of language and languages influence the formation of political thought? And what can this intertwining of poetology and philology still offer for the present and future of thinking?

Materials could include Friedrich Schlegel, Friedrich Hölderlin, Friedrich Schiller, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Friedrich Rückert, Friedrich de la Motte-Fouqué, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, Friedrich Wilhelm von Humboldt, Friedrich von Hardenberg (Novalis), Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Johann Gottfried Herder, Johann Georg Hamann, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Heinrich Heine.

This working group is intended to begin the necessary work to establish a Black Studies Consortium based out of the Eastern United States. The group will meet regularly to establish a foundation for what we intend will become an infrastructure for Black Studies that aims to foster collaborative research and regional partnerships, as well as build on an international network of scholars throughout the Atlantic coast region.

This group meets twice a month to read unpublished cuneiform tablets. It began in September 2013 and has met regularly during the subsequent 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