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.
Working Groups, 2022–2023
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.
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 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 have varied from a series of conferences with Dante Studies scholars from inside and outside Yale to a weekly reading group of the Comedy in the original Italian with the help of an English translation. Our aim is to use our resources to provide graduate students in the Humanities and beyond with a space other than the classroom in which to begin or deepen 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
Yale’s Global Philosophy Reading Group invites you to join for its inaugural year! We plan to meet from 1:00-2:30 PM in HQ (precise room TBD) about six Fridays per term, with light refreshments provided. Together, we will discuss primary sources in translation and analyze English-language scholarship on global philosophical traditions, for about 20-40 pages per session. Hopefully, these discussions will allow us to add detail to our mental maps of philosophy and reflect on our own hermeneutic decisions. Occasionally, we will also invite scholars of global philosophical traditions to Yale for guest lectures.
The Fall 2022 theme is weakness of will: the phenomenon when someone intentionally acts against their better judgment. We will organize the Spring theme near the end of Fall term. If you are interested, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org to join our mailing list.
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. In spring 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!
The Iranology Working Group aims to be a space in which to study the languages and literatures surviving from the Iranian branch of the Indo-European language tree, such as Persian (Old, Middle, New), Avestan, Parthian, Sogdian, Bactrian, among others, intending as well to build connections to adjacent disciplines such as Achaemenid, Sasanian, or Zoroastrian Studies, Iranian and Central Asia Studies, and others.
We intend to be a reading and research group focused on the contemporary critical and philological scholarship around these languages, particularly but not limited to sociolinguistics, historical morphology, and to the specific issues of transmission that pertain to small corpus languages. We aim also to provide a context for groups aiming to study and to read them at an informal level.
Meetings are open to students, faculty, and staff alike, they are held monthly and may take various forms, but for 2022–23 we expect them to take the shape of pre-circulated secondary literature readings presented either by a member of the group or by an invited speaker.
The Labor and Film Working Group presents an opportunity to consider film and moving image-genres explicitly thematizing or operationalized within the workplace or forms of labor. The depiction of the laboring subject on screen is fraught with myriad socio-historical concerns, and the working group aims to explore these intersections between the depicted work and themes such as the classification of labor and the question of “domestic work;” filmmaking practice as work or the labor surrounding cinematic production; the cinematic forging of, and investigation into postcolonial identity; issues of modernizing technology and the development of the city; unemployment; gendered, racialized, and sexualized workplace dynamics; migration; and, indeed, the historical development of the very concept of who is considered a “worker” and what is considered “work.” These questions also help to outline labor as a throughline in longstanding discussions of aesthetic and theoretical questions about film’s representational and social capacities as a medium.
This working group meets twice a month to discuss scholarship, a relevant film, or occasionally, participants’ works-in-progress; readings and media are made available and circulated a week before scheduled meetings, or arranged to be viewed on a planned day and time. Each meeting consists of a short presentation of the reading or screening of the media followed by open discussion. The group also plans to host public film screenings related to or in conversation with readings. The Labor and Film working group welcomes members from any and all disciplines.
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.
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 Latin Reading Group (MLRG) has existed at Yale for several years. Its primary functions are to help students to practice the reading skills necessary for research in the medieval and early modern worlds and to prepare for the Medieval Latin reading exam. Readings are proposed by the group’s participants and come from genres as diverse as schoolbook exercises, theological commentaries, saints’ lives, historiography, and poetry. Most of the time is spent reading and translating, as well as discussing the peculiarities of Medieval Latin. Students of all Latin skill levels and learning backgrounds are welcome to attend.
Meetings will be held weekly on Wednesday afternoons in HQ for the duration of Fall 2022.
The Medieval Song Lab brings together scholars in Connecticut and nearby interested 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 weekly 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. For more information and event listings, see https://songlab.yale.edu/.
The working group is an effort to interpret Brazilian aesthetics of the 20th and 21st centuries with a global perspective, turning away from an essentialist framing and encompassing the complexities, crossings, and relations that compose and modify the 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 online twice a month.
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 discuss pre-circulated papers, which will be made available for participants roughly a week beforehand. Our meetings are two 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 as 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 Working Group in Post-Kantian European Philosophy seeks to promote the study of texts and themes in the post-Kantian philosophical tradition(s). The group encompasses various strands of 19th- and 20th-century European thought, with emphasis on German idealism, Marxisms, the existential and phenomenological traditions, and critical theory. The working group provides a forum for cross-departmental conversation and collaboration, and a space for the discussion of thinkers that figure prominently across diverse disciplines and methodologies, including, but not limited to, Comparative Literature, English, French, Germanic Languages and Literatures, Philosophy, and Religious Studies.
The group hosts 2-3 speakers a semester to present their research, as well as a monthly works-in-progress colloquium for Yale graduate students, postdocs, and faculty. Interested participants from all disciplinary backgrounds are welcome.
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 thought from the late 20th century 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 disciplines.
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.
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.
Yale Cuneiforum meets twice a month to read unpublished cuneiform tablets. It first met in September 2013 and has met regularly ever since. 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 and 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