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, 2021–2022
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 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. 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.
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 is a biweekly forum where graduate students and faculty from a range of departments at Yale come together to discuss both recent and classic scholarship in our interdisciplinary field, to read and view creative expressions from the Caribbean (and the diaspora) ranging from literature to performance art and music, and to welcome colleagues to share and receive feedback on work in progress. Besides the regular biweekly meeting, which usually comprises a pre-set reading or a paper workshop, the group organizes talks and events with scholars and artists from in- and outside of the Yale community. Our language of daily operation is English, but in our work we do our best to honor the geographic and linguistic complexity of the Caribbean region and the diaspora as a whole.
The Dante Working Group (DWG) is an interdisciplinary colloquium that meets approximately once a month throughout the academic year. Since its inception in 2007, it has served as a forum for exchanging ideas, sharing research, and promoting Dante scholarship at Yale. The group draws on the expertise from a broad range of disciplines and includes faculty members, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, undergraduates, and occasional visitors to Yale from other universities.
Events have ranged from informal presentations of graduate student works in progress to colloquia with distinguished faculty within and beyond Yale to film screenings, “Dante marathons,” and other extracurricular events in conjunction with the Italian Department’s undergraduate course on Dante (ITAL 310).
After a brief hiatus in 2020, the DWG looks forward to relaunching this Fall (’21) in honor of the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death. While we hope to revive a number of events from years past, we also look forward to branching out in ways that will appeal to graduate students across a range of disciplines, periodizations, and levels of expertise—a series of guided reading sessions of the Comedy in an informal (virtual and/or in-person) setting, e.g.
This working group will meet regularly during the 2021–2022 academic year of 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 of the academic year, in which case meetings will be held online.
This working group draws inspiration from the great Dictionary of Untranslatables (in French in 2004; English translation 2014), edited by Barbara Cassin and involving scholars such as Étienne Balibar, Jacques Lezra, and Emily Apter. Cassin’s dictionary is devoted to terms crucial to philosophical thought, but rather than offer a handbook of reified definitions, it “explores the networks to which [a given] word belongs, and seeks to understand how a network [of philosophical concepts] functions in one language by relating it to the networks of other languages.”
The Global Media Terms working group aims to do something similar for key terms in film and media studies. Questions that might be asked of each term or concept could include: which problems does a term solve in a given language, and which problems might it create? What kind of work on language is performed in each instance? How do film and media terminological “networks” relate to other networks both within a specific language and across languages? How do the linguistic features of specific languages inflect these migrating terms?
The workshop will begin by establishing a list of terms to investigate, including perhaps: apparatus, information, spectator, auditor, document, medium, cinema, technology, montage, inscription, color.
This working group provides a biweekly space for the discussion of recent and classic scholarship by humanists in all areas of the law, its histories, and problems of jurisprudence and legal interpretation, particularly 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 2021-22, we plan to pursue two principal strands of inquiry: 1) genealogies of legal personhood, the investigation of which will include (but will not be limited to) some of the ways in which it has overlapped with various property regimes; 2) rights discourses, particularly insofar as they bear upon legal entities denied—or only partially granted—the status of legal personhood (e.g. slaves, non-human animals, artificial intelligence). Discussions will also address the challenges and methodological difficulties facing humanists engaged with the scholarly study of the law.
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 (join our email list below for the link). 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, Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism, 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.
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 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 generally occur monthly 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.
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 and to propose readings or workshops.
Organizers: Ben Glaser, Tim Kreiner, Naomi Levine (Spring), Jessica Modi
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 email list by visiting http://mailman.yale.edu/mailman/listinfo/soundstudies.
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 first met in September 2013 and has met regularly since then. 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 & 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 http://babylonian-collection.yale.edu/colloquia/yale-cuneiforum