Working Groups, 2018–2019

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 2018–2019.

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 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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In this working group, we will study the cinematic reception of ancient Greek and Roman literature, history, and culture. Throughout the year, we plan to organize 6-8 screenings of movies concerned with the motifs, characters, plots, and histories of Greco-Roman literature, each followed by a small workshop to discuss the ways in which the cultures of the ancient Mediterranean have appeared in cinema across time periods, languages, genres, and political projects. Greco-Roman themes have been evident in cinematic production from the early days of film to today; this is represented by the range of films we might discuss, subject to the interest of our participants: from Pasolini’s classic Medea (1969) to the recent controversial blockbuster 300 (2006), and from Indian depictions of Alexander the Great in Sikander (1941) to Roman revivalism in Italian fascist propaganda in Scipione l’africano (1937). We are open to, and actively invite, the participation of undergraduate and graduate students as well as faculty members of all disciplines interested in thematizing some of the issues involved in the deployment of Greco-Roman literature, both in the development of the visual motifs and signals of “classical antiquity,” and in the ideological construction of an idealized classical antiquity—seen as the precursor, predecessor, and legitimating originator of “western civilization.”

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 racialized 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.

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 which 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.

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 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.

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 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. In Fall 2018, therefore, we will be focusing on the work of Fred Moten and Stefano Harney to prepare for and expand upon their planned weeklong joint visit to campus. Similarly, Spring 2019 will be devoted primarily to the work of Alenka Zupančič.

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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Theorizing the Contemporary is a post-Marxist working group, sponsored by the journal Social Text. Our aim is to convene an interdisciplinary group of scholars to consider the relevance and applicability of Marxist theory to the cultural conditions of the present. We understand post-Marxism as a nondoctrinal, open-ended endeavor that builds upon the immense theoretical and political legacy of Marxism while continuing the search for new paradigms and approaches that are adequate to the analysis of contemporary capitalism. In keeping with the approach of the sponsoring journal, we will prioritize analyses that attend to differences of race, gender, indigeneity, sexuality, and nationality as well as class.

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 bi-weekly 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.

2018–2019 Topic: City Living, City Thinking: 100 years after Weimar

The Weimar Republic is remembered today for its political turmoil and the creative burgeoning of avant-garde and modernist movements. But it was also a moment in which philosophers, writers, artists, and critics began to reckon with the consequences of an industrialized, capitalist, and urbanized society, and began to understand that the habitus of modern life itself was changing. This working group will examine the interrelation of the social, architectural, and literary/critical orders of the Weimar Republic and late Wilhelmine Germany to ask how philosophies of sociality, theories of alienation, and poetic form grew out of new urban landscapes and infrastructures, and look forward to contemporary theory to investigate the legacy of these discursive practices. How were architecture and urban planning shaped by new conversations about public and private space, fears of new forms of media and transportation, and the growing sense of a collapse in bourgeois life? How did newspaper columnists and writers reflect on these changes and invent new written forms for the world around them? How did marginalized populations and political agitators seek to integrate themselves into this new cityscape, and through what eyes did they see it? Materials could include Georg Simmel, Siegfried Kracauer, and Walter Benjamin; Rosa Luxemburg; Gabriele Tergit; Vicki Baum; architectural theory, including August Endell’s The Beauty of the Metropolis, Siegfried Ebeling’s Space as Membrane, Manfredo Tafuri and Francesco Dal Co, and Bernard Tschumi.

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.

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 be deciphered only 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, past meetings have 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: