Working Groups, 2017–2018

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 2017–2018.

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.

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 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 nine 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 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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Taking Walter Benjamin’s diagnosis of fascism –– the “aestheticization of politics” –– as its point of departure, this working group proposes to study the movement’s various manifestations through the lens of the aesthetic. What defines a distinctly “fascist” concept of aesthetics, in theory and in practice? What does such an inquiry reveal about the nature of fascism and its enduring appeal? To begin to answer these questions, we will consider historical examples from Italy, Germany, and Japan alongside more recent cases, such as the appearance of a new “digital fascism” and the reemergence of the Far Right. Informed by theoretical texts of Adorno, Agamben, Benjamin, and others, and drawing upon a diverse body of source material that includes architecture, film, and the visual arts, we will seek to diagnose and dissect the aesthetic tropes at the heart of fascism’s ideological constructions, fantasies, and delusions.

This working group brings together graduate students seeking to write histories that foreground global connections and interruptions. United by a desire to work in a group defined by a commitment to understanding global dimensions of historical problems, we welcome participants from all regional areas. Our working group aims not only to provide opportunities to see new connections between areas, but to exchange and challenge the analytic vocabularies rooted in regional histories too often compromised by a commitment to an inevitable nation-state.

Our group is particularly interested in exploring problems whose full dimensions become visible only through understanding transnational vectors. Some historical problems—such as the development of radicalized capitalism—inevitably entail this kind of analysis. We also welcome local or grassroots histories that excavate alternatives to a universal global modernity. Related to this is a desire to emphasize connections between the Global South that challenge ideas of a global core and periphery. From integrating different scales of analysis in a published article to the challenges and rewards of multinational archival research, global history poses unique methodological and writing challenges. This working group also aims to serve as a place for critical discussion and advice-sharing about how to do global history.


This working group will bring together scholars whose research touches some aspect of mass incarceration, prisons, policing, crime and punishment, prisoners’ rights, social movements, state surveillance, detention, and violence. Using a historical framework, we will explore what scholars have called the carceral state chronologically and thematically. Our goal is to create an intellectual space in which to examine and debate the historical origins and social, political, and cultural implications of mass incarceration.

Starting in the spring term 2018, this group brings together motivated students from various departments to study Hittite, the oldest Indo-European language preserved in writing—the cuneiform script. Hittite represents a challenge for everyone—whereas Assyriologists normally read cuneiform used for writing languages outside the Indo-European language family (Sumerian is an isolate language, Akkadian is a Semitic language), students familiar with Indo-European languages have mostly never worked with cuneiform script. To fill this gap and foster interdisciplinary interaction, the aim of the group is to engage in a shared self-tutorial based on our varied backgrounds.
Everyone is welcome to join us for our bi-weekly meetings as well as for a workshop with a guest lecturer that will be announced in due time. No previous knowledge of either cuneiform or Hittite in particular is required.

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.

Internet cultures have rapidly emerged and transformed our world in the past quarter of a century, as human beings have seemingly overnight learned to use and depend on computer networks for various kinds of work, military operations, pursuits of scientific knowledge, religious proselytizing, political organization, searches for mates and social communities, illegal activities, and infinite varieties of play. The very size of this “cultural production” defies understanding, and for a long time it has also defied systematic study. The Internet remains underexplored within the humanities as a subject of both research and teaching. Our working group is part of a larger initiative to explore the ways in which Internet cultures (histories, networks, practices) might be studied and taught.

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.

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.

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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 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.

This working group brings together students and faculty across the humanities, and particularly the language disciplines, whose research is invested in the critical study and theory of poetics. Our discussions will consider recent critical trends in poetics— including sound studies, phenomenological approaches, and historical poetics—as well as the poetic theories of movements such as Transcendentalism and Russian formalism. As a basis for these discussions, we will read major historical works of verse and statements of poetic theory, together with critical texts that analyze these works and their implications for our understanding of poetic form.  

The group meets regularly on a bimonthly basis to discuss 2–3 texts. These texts will be selected in accordance with the interests of our members. The group will also host one event per semester featuring outside speakers or critical work in progress by members of the group.

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 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.

2017–2018 Topic: Imagining and Constructing Space
This reading group will explore how spatial features in literature and theory reflect and constitute various understandings of subjectivity. Every literary, philosophical, or political attempt to describe and construe human existence is buttressed by a spatial paradigm in which aesthetics, ethics, and politics are able to take shape. We will look at how spatial terms such as nature, wilderness, environment, landscape, and city organize subjective experience. Materials could include Büchner’s “Lenz,” Thoreau, Nietzsche, Kafka, Planet Earth, Norwegian “Slow Television,” Orson Welles’s The Trial, nineteenth-century landscape painting, Le Corbusier, and architectural theories and practices. Questions to keep alive while exploring various cases of these spatial imaginations could include: How do differing conceptions of the natural world figure in the constellation of human space? How do different media and genres enable and narrow imaginative and creative spatial possibilities? Does it make sense to speak of democratic space, and if so, in what way? What would it look like? Can and should we differentiate between aesthetic, ethical, and political subjective space? If “the environment” is a regnant spatial paradigm for the natural world, what baggage does it carry and what problems does it face and produce in the era of climate change? How must we revise our account of subjectivity if it is always spatial in some fashion?

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 faculty reading group is devoted to the concept and practice of world aesthetics. The immediate impetus behind this book club is the recent wave of translations and reconsiderations of theoretical and comparative aesthetics from around the globe—including early- to mid-twentieth-century European figures such as Andre Jolles, Hans Blumenberg, and Georges Simondon, but also texts such as The Rasa Reader edited by Sheldon Pollock, Shahab Ahmed’s What Is Islam?, recent comparative studies of love poetry in early modern Europe and the Ottoman empire, and the work of the Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro. We take these publications as an inspiration for a broader historical and geographical reexamination of the genealogies, stakes, and canons of contemporary aesthetic theory. This seems to us like a pressing question on its own terms, and also like a great opportunity to bring together diverse ladder and nonladder faculty from the humanities and social sciences.

The Yale Cuneiforum meets fortnightly 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 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: