Month: January 2017

NEH and NEA cuts, UCHI engagement

Dear UConn community,
As reported in the national media recently, the NEH and NEA are in danger of being eliminated or gravely cut.  We write to remind all that at UCHI we are committed to producing knowledge, critical dialogue, and facilitating access to ideas, all principles fundamental to the study of the humanities and arts. Our own programming attempts to reflect the broad scope and diversity of ideas in conversation at UConn. We are also open to suggestions about strengthening and promoting dialogues about the importance of the arts and humanities on campus and beyond.
In that vein, we would also encourage all to contact your elected officials and show support for the NEH and NEA. All of our scholarship and institutions are stronger for the opportunities these institutions provide. Their loss would be devastating, and potentially permanent. Here is one such link:
Many thanks.
Michael Lynch, Director, UCHI
Alexis Boylan, Associate Director, UCHI


Postponed due to inclement weather, What’s at Stake? U.S. Rights and Responsibilities during Political Conflict.

Tonight’s event – “What’s at Stake?” – will be postponed due to inclement weather; a new date will be announced soon.

As Donald Trump begins his presidency, please join students and scholars for a thoughtful exchange on this unique moment in American political history. “What’s at Stake?” is a space for reflection, contemplation, and conversation that is respectful of diverse viewpoints.

This event is free and open to the public.


7:00 p.m. The Stakes of U.S. Politics, Law, and Citizenship

– Bethany Berger, Wallace Stevens Professor of Law

– R. Kent Newmyer, Professor of Law and Emeritus Professor of History

– Douglas Spencer, Associate Professor of Law and Public Policy

– David Yalof, Professor and Head of Political Science

– Moderated by Jeffrey Shoulson, Professor and Director, Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life

7:45 p.m. The Stakes of American Media, Culture, and Race

– Maureen Croteau, Professor and Head of Journalism

– Melina Pappademos, Associate Professor of History and Director of Africana Studies

– Cathy Schlund-Vials, Professor of English and Director of Asian and Asian American Studies

– Christopher Vials, Associate Professor of English and Director of American Studies

– Moderated by Davita Silfen Glasberg, Interim Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

8:30 p.m. Student-Led Discussion

This event will be Sign Language interpreted.

Laurel Hall is accessible to persons with disabilities and persons who are wheelchair users. Assistive listening devices (ALD) are available upon advance request.

For individuals requiring an ALD or other accommodations, please contact Maryann Markowski at (860)486­‐3639 or, by Thursday, January 26 to help us to ensure availability. Please understand that failure to provide adequate notice may result in accommodations not being available.

We encourage you to visit the Center for Students with Disabilities website to review accessible parking and building (entrances, elevators, restrooms) information, which can be found at: (parking information) and (building information).

Live stream the event at:


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (primary), Africana Studies Institute, American Studies, Asian American Studies Institute, Communication Department, Judaic Studies, UConn Master Calendar

Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Daniel Silvermint

silvermintWhat is your academic background and what is your current position in UCHI/at UConn/Your Home Institution?
I received my Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Arizona in 2012, with a dissertation that developed a theory of oppressive burdens, and asked whether victims owed it to themselves to resist.  Although my background was in political science and political philosophy, struggling with the agency and obligations of victims made a feminist philosopher out of me.  After Arizona, I was a GRIPP/RGCS postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University from 2012-2013.  I then joined the University of Connecticut in 2013 as an assistant professor, jointly appointed in Philosophy and the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program.
What is the project you’re currently working on?
The project is called Complicit Identities: The Ethics of Looking Out For Yourself.  While my earlier work focused on the obligation to resist oppression, this project investigates cases where victims stray into complicity simply because of who they are or what they aim to do in life.  None of these choices are inherently wrong, but they end up contributing to oppression because of the prior existence of stereotypes, unfair burdens, and other background pressures.  An example of a complicit identity is when a gay man or a person of color ‘passes’ as straight or white in order to escape oppressive treatment, but only escapes that treatment in virtue of participating in the very system that constraints them and others like them.  What should we say about such passing?  Is it wrong because it’s a form of deception or inauthenticity?  Does it reinforce stereotypes by removing counterexamples from the public’s view, or harm one’s fellow victims by opting one out of the fight against oppression?  These are the most common judgments you hear about passing, and I think they all miss the mark.On my view, passing and more traditional forms of resistance actually share an aim: they’re both attempts to improve one’s life or circumstances in the face of oppression.  But whereas resisting victims attempt to improve their well-being by undermining, changing, or escaping the oppressive system that constrains their well-being, passing victims keep those constraints in place, and make the most advantageous trade-off they can under the circumstances.  Passing might allow a person to advance her plans and projects, or to cultivate worthwhile connections, or to gain access to valuable goods, but at the expense of her security as she worries about discovery, or her sense of belonging as relationships with family and community fray, or her self-respect as she struggles with how she obtained those goods.  The trade-offs vary, but the strategy depends on making such a trade-off: giving up what you can live without to have the life you want.  Passing victims are thus complicit in their own oppression, benefiting from a system that’s still ultimately harmful to them.  But while that makes passing a limited strategy for improving one’s life, it doesn’t necessarily make it wrong.  These victims aren’t failing themselves.  They’re looking out for themselves in circumstances they shouldn’t even be in, and more often than not, they’re successful.  If we want to engage seriously with questions of victim agency, then we have to move beyond simple dichotomies of good resistance and bad complicity.  We need a new ethics of looking out for yourself.

How did you arrive at this topic?
Honestly, it was the realization I described in the last question.  Victim agency was more complicated than I was appreciating — maybe even too complicated for the straightforward principles and clean verdicts of academic philosophy.  I began my research talking about obligations to self, and why resistance was important for victims.  But the more I examined these cases, the more I understood that we don’t actually get very far by talking about resistance.  Of course it’s good.  The problem is that, for victims, complicity can also be good.  It can often unlock all the same benefits as resistance, and do so with diminished risk and fewer potential costs.  So we can’t just dismiss complicity as mere selfishness or an insensitivity to the demands of justice.  It’s a strategy for dealing with oppressive burdens, not a way to avoid dealing with them.

As you can imagine, I gradually stopped writing about resistance, and the focus of my research changed.  And while I was coming to this realization, ‘passing’ was the example I kept coming back to.  Partly because it presents a fascinating, messy, real-world dilemma for ethical systems.  Partly because it’s so timely, with many recent cases receiving national attention.  Partly because there are so many applications, like understanding so-called ‘reverse passing’ and the possibility of trans-race identities, reaching careful conclusions about how to navigate daily life with an ‘inauthentic’ identity, and making sense of invisible disabilities like mental illness.  And partly because, well, navigating the pros and cons of passing is personal for me.  (You should never 100% trust an academic whose research focus is passing.)

What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?
We badly need an ethics of looking out for yourself.  The trick is, the phrase ‘looking out for yourself’ has both negative and positive connotations.  It can be a term of reproach for individuals that shirk their obligations or opt out of a shared struggle against oppression.  But it can also be a term of praise for people that take care of themselves in circumstances that threaten their well-being, and for those who strive to live the life they want despite the burdens they face.  Complicit Identity cases are challenging because these individuals ‘look out for themselves’ in both senses of the phrase, upending simple verdicts about the importance of resistance and the impermissibility of complicity.  So while my project presents a framework for understanding victimhood and passing that moves beyond familiar, misguided debates about deception and authenticity, I hope it can also say something about a dilemma we all face: how to balance what we owe ourselves with what we owe others in times of injustice.

Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Anna Mae Duane

duane.photo2-What is your academic background and what is your current position in UCHI/at UConn/Your Home Institution?

I’ve been teaching in  the UConn English Department since 2004. I write and teach in Childhood studies, American literature, African American Studies and Disability Studies.


-What is the project you’re currently working on?

A book called Strange Place Blues: Growing up in a Slave Nation.


-How did you arrive at this topic?

I came across an 1822 skit where a nine-year old African American boy chastises another little boy for tardiness as part of a public examination at the The New York African School and I was hooked.  On one level, this was a very small moment–just a school performance with two young kids talking about the importance of schoolwork. Really, it’s not terribly different that something you might find at a school assembly today. But once I started investigating, it became clear how this small moment had incredibly large implications. Much of the ideology underlying the American Revolution, and the concept of citizenry it engendered, depended on the capacity for citizens to be born equal, and to come to rationality through education. Thus the question of whether black children could partake in education was vital. These small children were exemplars, held up as evidence by both anti-slavery forces. Their school performances were covered by local newspapers, and their schoolwork held up at national conferences as evidence of African American equality, and of slavery’s deep injustice.
My book explores the work of the school by tracing the lives and works of two of its most famous almuni, James McCune Smith and Henry Highland Garnet. James McCune Smith was the first African American to earn a medical degree and Henry Highland Garnet was the first African American to address Congress. In particular, I focus on how they imagined the black child in their lives and work as they wrestled with questions of national belonging, of education, and of possible futures. I’m also keenly interested in how these political figures were deeply influenced by the experiences of black children who came into their own lives, whether it was their own children, New York city orphans, child fugitives from slavery, or in one case, a young African held up as a scientific specimen. Ultimately, I argue, that finding ways to cultivate and celebrate children as political and cultural actors was central to the work of black abolitionism, and later black political thought,  in ways we haven’t really engaged as fully as we need to.


-What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?

We’re in a moment where the very meaning of education is under stress. We are struggling to define what it is supposed to accomplish, and by extension, what we imagine a good citizen should know.  Both students and educators often feel overwhelmed by definitions that they had very little input in creating, and that might feel alien to what they really want to learn. My project seeks to learn from African American children themselves as they worked–and ultimately thrived– within systems that didn’t believe that they could ever become citizens in the first place.   In doing so, I hope to open up new ways of appreciating the capacity of children to be active participants in their own education, and to be political advocate


Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Jeffrey R. Egan

Egan2-What is your academic background and what is your current position in UCHI/at UConn/Your Home Institution?

 I have studied at the University of Connecticut since 2005, first as an undergraduate and presently as a PhD. Candidate in the History Department. My dissertation research has brought me to archives all around southern New England, and my work has been supported by the Graduate School of the University of Connecticut, the Massachusetts Historical Society and, currently, the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute.


-What is the project you’re currently working on?

At present, I am writing my dissertation, which is entitled: Watershed Decisions: The Environmental History of Boston’s Quabbin Reservoir, 1880-1940. My project studies the expansion of the Boston metropolitan waterworks and the building of the largest reservoir in the northeastern United States. To create this artificial lake, the state of Massachusetts decided to eliminate four towns and expel over 2,000 people from their homes in the Swift River Valley. The dissertation tells the human story of these valley residents building their communities during the late-nineteenth century, grappling with the threat of eviction during the 1920s, and memorializing their former towns after construction was complete. To this I add the environmental story of a landscape transformed, first by rural farmers and mill owners and then by engineers tasked with permanently altering the valley to satisfy Boston’s ever-growing demand for water.


-How did you arrive at this topic?

I arrived at this subject a few years ago, after my advisor, Robert Gross, gave me an overview of this curious story. He had heard the popular retelling of the building of the Quabbin Reservoir while living in western Massachusetts during the 1970s, and he wondered if an academic study of this event would make for a suitable dissertation. After a preliminary investigation, I found that my work could add to the ongoing academic conversations about the meaning of rural land use, urbanization, conservation, and scientific land management during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. When environmental historians consider the meaning of conservation and displacement, they usually tell stories about the development of the American West, such as the decline of the bison or the eviction of Native Americans from federal lands. Opposing visions of how humans should relate to their environments are typically found at the heart of these dramatic episodes. Yet, my historical evidence suggests that implementing conservationist policies and scientific land management schemes played out differently in rural Massachusetts. Here protestors used conservationist logic to defend their claims to the land, suggesting that these natural resources belonged to the people of the valley and that Boston was mismanaging its own water supply. When this complaint of waste and inefficiency proved unfounded, the residents of the Swift River Valley acquiesced to the logic that their sacrifice would serve the greater good of the Commonwealth state. The environmental thought of people in this rural section of Massachusetts had much more in common with that of Boston’s urban planners than the available academic literature allows.


-What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?

The story of the creation of the Quabbin Reservoir is one of broad interest in Massachusetts. Several novels, children’s books, and local histories have been written on the subject, and the newspapers and magazines in the state have rediscovered this human and environmental drama every two or three years since construction began during the 1930s. In western Massachusetts, where Daniel Shays raised his insurrection at the dawn of the American republic, this story of Boston “abusing” and “dispossessing” the people of the rural Swift River Valley looms especially large in the popular imagination. I hope that my thorough and rigorously researched study can give the people of Massachusetts an historically accurate and well-written account of this event. People living outside of this region might look to my study for insights into the meaning of rural life at the turn of the century and the human and environmental change brought about by the growth of cities during the twentieth century.

Encounters: Declaration of Independence 2/4/17 and Bill of Rights 3/4/2017

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Feb. 4 – Encounters: Declaration of Independence

Reception: 3:00pm, Hartford Courant Room
Discussion: 3:30pm-5:00pm
John Trumbull: Visualizing American Independence. Please join us for a discussion about the Declaration of Independence at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. Our discussion will take place in the galleries of the special exhibition “John Trumbull: Visualizing American Independence,” which examines the Revolutionary War through the eyes of artists, most notably John Trumbull (1756–1843). Trumbull, born in Lebanon, Conn., served in the Continental Army and created a series of historical paintings.Read the Declaration of Independence in advance:
RSVP helpful, but not necessary to

See photos of our recent event on the Humility and Conviction in Public Life facebook page

 March 4 – Encounters: Bill of Rights


Join the conversation as we discuss the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution. The Bill of Rights was created in response to calls from Congressional representatives (such as Connecticut’s Roger Sherman) for greater constitutional protection of personal freedoms and rights of American citizens. It outlines specific prohibitions on governmental power. The amendments include the right of free speech, protections against unreasonable search and seizure, and a speedy and public jury trial.

We invite members of the public to read the amendments and participate in a discussion at the Library’s Hartford History Center. We’ll explore issues that confront us every day, and how we can better understand our rights.

Read the Bill of Rights here:

Lunch will be served; participants must register in advance.
RSVP by calling 860-695-6367 or by email:

Encounters: A Forum for Public Discussion

What’s in a name? The creation of the United States of America made us a democracy and a republic. That creation story and the players in it are very much with us. “Hamilton,” is one of the biggest Broadway hits and presents founders Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr as flesh and blood men. With their flashes of brilliance and crippling personal deficits they invent a new government.

Politics has occupied public attention for the past year as we elected a new U.S. president. A deeper dive into documents created by our founders is especially timely.

The Hartford History Center at Hartford Public Library, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, and the University of Connecticut’s Humanities Institute, are launching a community engagement partnership with a new discussion series called Encounters. The partners will provide discussion leaders to engage in topics aimed at strengthening our ability to know ourselves and one another through respectful and challenging dialogue. This February and March, Encounters will focus on the fundamental documents that define our democracy.

For more information


Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Robert T. Chase

Chase-What is your academic background and what is your current position in UCHI/at UConn/Your Home Institution?

Trained as a specialist in twentieth century history and race, I am interested in examining the intersection of social, legal, and political history, African American and Chicano/a history, and the study of civil rights and social justice. I received my PhD in 2009 and my dissertation won the University of Maryland’s EB and Jean Smith award for best dissertation in political history. Previously, I was the public historian for the College of Charleston’s Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, where I organized a large conference on Black Power. I am currently an assistant professor in the Department of History at Stony Brook University (SUNY) where I am completing revisions on my book manuscript, Civil Rights on the Cell Block: Prisoners’ Rights Movements and the Construction of Carceral States (UNC, Chapel Hill). I am also presently co-editing an anthology entitled Sunbelt Prisons and Carceral States: New Histories of Immigration Detention/Deportation, Incarceration, and Resistance (UNC, Chapel Hill).


-What is the project you’re currently working on?

My forthcoming manuscript, Civil Rights on the Cell Block: The Prisoners’ Rights Movement and the Construction of Carceral States (UNC, Chapel Hill), addresses the contemporary crisis over criminal justice reform by posing three historical questions: 1) how did the United States come to have the world’s largest carceral state; 2) what have been the sources of resistance to America’s carceral state in the post-civil rights era (1965 to present); 3) what is the political relationship between the two?

My book will be the first study of the southern prisoners’ rights movements of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s and the subsequent construction of what many historians now call the era of mass incarceration. This project is therefore a regional study of civil rights cases across the American South, but the book’s narrative is centered on the social movement that resulted in the landmark case Ruiz v. Estelle, which was a massive omnibus lawsuit that demanded that Texas outlaw the practice of having inmates act as openly armed guards. This southern trustee/guard system was a hierarchical racial regime that constituted a vicious sex trade in which convict guards were given the tacit approval from the prison administration to use their power to rape other inmates and engage in the buying and selling of inmate bodies as a sexual commodity that signified cultural standing and societal power. As a regional model, the Ruiz case inspired prisoners across the South to wage a historically mindful public campaign for visibility that sought to convince the courts and the wider public that southern prisoners suffered terrible abuses as twentieth century “slaves of the state.”

My manuscript shows that this inmate civil rights rebellion, while successfully ending the existing system, failed to make conditions in Texas prisons more humane. As a result, the new Texas prison regime — one that utilized paramilitary practices, promoted privatized prisons, endorsed massive prison building programs and tolerated gang-related warfare — established a new prison system that reaffirmed its law and order focus while sublimating the legal and human rights of prisons. This new “Sunbelt” carceral approach, I conclude, became exemplary of national prison trends.


-How did you arrive at this topic?

When I started this research in the early 2000s, there were relatively few historical studies of twentieth-century prisons and almost none of the prisoners’ rights movement. Despite the development of a “long civil rights movement” historiography, I found that the literature simply did not discuss the ways in which what we now call mass incarceration has turned the gains of the civil rights revolution into another age of racial disparity.


-What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?

First, historians need to explain how and why the vast expansion of state power as expressed in the massive prison buildup of the 1980s and 1990s occurred without much public debate. Conservative backlash theories have provided one such explanation, but locating the growth of the prison simply in reactionary “law and order” politics fails to adequately explain how it is that the places where the prisoners’ rights movement scored the most victories, namely the South and Sunbelt states, have come to dominate the major trends of the modern-day carceral state. The question of legal success for prisoners’ rights in the South, on the one hand, and yet nearly simultaneous massive prison build-up in Sunbelt states, on the other, is a major historical problem that my forthcoming book will address.


Second, the history of resistance to carceral states reveals that regional, state, and local histories are integral to the shape of mass incarceration. By demonstrating how a variety of prisoners’ rights movement resisted mass incarceration, I make the argument that regional histories and different state prison practices constructed not a single carceral state but a variety of carceral states across the American prison landscape.


When activists, policy makers, and reformers attempt to curb mass incarceration, they must seek redress not only at the federal level through national legislation but perhaps more importantly they must encounter the ways in which policing and mass incarceration are governed at the local and state level where the American state is indeed strong. One suggestion that my forthcoming book offer is that social justice movements against mass incarceration should continue to focus as much attention on changes in local and state government as the civil rights movement once did when it sought civil rights as a matter of national and federal intervention. To dismantle this encompassing thicket, we must utilize the spade of history to reveal just how deep we must cut to reach the roots of intertwining carceral states.


On Friday, January 20th come join the members of the UConn community as we stand up for the values of human rights, justice, and solidarity.  Together, we will mark the inauguration of the next chapter in American history by embodying the kind of community we aspire to be–inclusive, indivisible, equitable, and democratic–and share the words, poems, thoughts, performances, and insights that will sustain us as we work together.

  For more information follow the link