Working Groups, 2020–2021

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 2020–2021.

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 pre-modern societies—often times 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. 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.

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 aims to provide a forum for the discussion of classic and ongoing work in poetics and a space for intensive readings of poetic texts. In the coming year, we envisage exploring the intersection between poetry and philosophy, including works by Heidegger, Hölderlin, Baudelaire, Adorno, Celan, and Benjamin, as well as texts from the Chinese, Japanese, and other poetic traditions that go beyond the canon of European and American poetry and philosophy. Participants will meet at the beginning of the 2020–2021 academic year to establish a schedule of readings and presentations. Fundamentally comparative in its orientation, the group intends to bring together graduate students and faculty from across the university whose work touches upon poetry and literary or critical theory; we also hope to invite speakers and participants from other universities to participate virtually or in person. To the extent possible, all texts will be provided in English and the original language to facilitate broad participation.

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 working group will meet regularly during the 2020–2021 academic year to discuss topics related to the field of East Asian cinema. Though specific East Asian national cinemas and film cultures have long been central to Cinema and Media Studies, this group aims to discuss new approaches to the field that take into account the crisis of national boundaries under globalization, as well as the complex and understudied relations that have historically existed among East Asian film cultures. The group aims to build dialogue among faculty and graduate students whose interests relate to different areas of East Asian cinema and whose work often crosses national and/or disciplinary boundaries. The topics of meetings may include Asian film industries prior to Japanese imperialism; recent research on pre-1945 imperial film culture (in Japan, Manchuria, Korea, Taiwan, Shanghai, and beyond, as well as pre-war film cultures independent of Japan and Hollywood); Asian new waves; East Asian science fiction films; landscape and nature in East Asian cinema; animals and East Asian myths in film; violence in East Asian cinema (especially Hong Kong, Korean, and Japanese films); the tradition of Asian special effects cinema (in contrast to Hollywood effects); East Asian disaster films; Sinophone and other film festivals based in Asia and their relation to the Cold War; and the position of East Asian cinema in international film culture and academia today. The group plans to center meetings on readings and films decided in advance by the group, as well as hold screenings and post-screening discussions. We recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic may make in-person meetings impossible during part or all of the academic year, in which case meetings will be held online.

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, via Zoom or 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, 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.

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Medieval Britain was a site of encounter between languages and peoples for nearly a thousand years, and the scholarship that seeks to understand it mirrors this diversity in its subjects and approaches. This interdisciplinary working group provides a regular venue for graduate students working on the textual cultures of Medieval Britain, focusing in particular on English literary texts, to share work in progress with an audience of their peers and select faculty visitors. Presenters receive rigorous feedback through a formal response and open discussion.

This group provides a forum for presenting and discussing graduate student and faculty work in all areas of moral philosophy, from metaethics to applied ethics, and in the surrounding areas such as political philosophy, moral psychology, and philosophy of law. A hallmark of the working group is our commitment to bringing together people who approach moral philosophy from different disciplinary perspectives and might not otherwise come into contact with each other’s work. All meetings are pre-read: papers will be made available for participants roughly a week beforehand. Our meetings are two hours long and consist of a short (10–15 minute) 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 emails about meetings and events, join our email list by visiting

This working group provides a space to discuss contemporary criticism about the theory and practice of poetics. We split our time between discussion of published work and presentations and workshops of new work by faculty, visiting scholars, and graduate students. Some key topics for the coming year will include the global contexts of anglophone poetry, the racialization of poetry and poetic form, ongoing debates in lyric theory and historical poetics, and the relation between poetics and formalism. We encourage anyone in the Yale and New Haven community to join us (by Zoom this year) and to propose readings or workshops.

Organizers: Ben Glaser, Tim Kreiner, Naomi Levine (Spring), Jessica Modi

The Pre-Modern Gender and Sexuality (PMGS) working group 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 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 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.

This group meets twice a month to read unpublished cuneiform tablets. It began in September 2013 and has met regularly since then. 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, scholars from London and New York have 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