Month: November 2017

UConn at the Northeast Conference on British Studies

This year’s Northeast Conference on British Studies (NECBS), held at Endicott College, was well attended by members of UCONN’s Early Modern Studies Working Group. Graduate students and faculty from both the History Department and English Department presented at the conference. This included a panel with three participants from UCONN (find a full list of UCONN participants and panel/paper titles below titles below). Professor Brendan Kane (UCONN) organized the program for the conference, which took place on October 13th and 14th. During the proceedings, the NECBS confirmed him as the new organization president. Around fifty or sixty people attended, resulting in a very collegial atmosphere. While a full schedule can be found online, the conference featured a wide variety of panels with Early Modern Topics, including a panel on Early Modern West Africa chaired by John Thornton, and a panel on Dutch/British exchanges in the Late Tudor and Early Stuart periods.

Shannon McSheffrey (Concordia University) gave the keynote presentation on her new book, Seeking Sanctuary: Crime, Mercy and Politics in English Courts, 1400-1550. McSheffrey’s talk explored how people accused of crimes in England used church land as santuary. The accused would often live in exile until family members could garner them a pardon. Members of the nobility, engaged in a violent honor culture, regularly took advantage of sanctuary. Much of McSheffrey’s presentation focused on the importance of the Knights Hospitaller in the process of granting sanctuary. Due to their association with mercy in English life, criminals regularly sought out members of the order for sanctuary.

While the conference was obviously focused on the British Isles, the panels reflected a transnational and transatlantic approach to Early Modern history. As an Early Americanist, I was particularly excited to find panels and papers dealing with Africa, the West Indies, North America, and mainland Europe. I would recommend to the conference to any Early Americanist seeking to broaden their geographic scope or interested in taking a transatlantic approach. Next year, NECBS will be hosting the North American Conference on British Studies in Providence.


UCONN Participants:

Hilary Bogert-Winkler (PhD. Candidate, History): “‘Too like the sons of Israel’: Royalism, Exile, and Israel during the Interregnum”

Nathan Braccio (PhD Candidate, History): “Willing exile: The choice to move to the spatial/social periphery in 17th-century New England”

Clare Costley King’oo (English): “Henry VIII, Joan Fish, and A Supplicacyon for the Beggers (1528/29)”

Edward Guimont (PhD Candidate, History): “Indian political leverage in the Commonwealth of Nations, 1947-64”

Robert Howe (PhD Candidate, History): “We may have of them whatsoever we will desire”: The Sovereign’s Stripping of the Abbeys in Scotland

Brendan Kane (History): “Léamh: Learn Early Modern Irish – a digital guide to reading and paleography, c. 1200-1650”

by Nathan Braccio (PhD Candidate, History)




You SHOULD…Read:The Outermost House


“People should read, or re-read, Henry Beston’s 1928 classic, The Outermost House. Set among the dunes of outer Cape Cod, Beston’s essay traces a year of changing seasons, visiting coastal species, and mild reflections on modern life. Since its publication, the book has emerged as a principle contribution to the canon of American nature writing.
With Americans at each others throats, and vandals disassembling the pillars of American civilization for their own private gains, why should anyone read this ninety-year-old book?

Well, I see a few reasons. First and foremost, its beautifully written, and we need beauty now more than ever. Beston was born to a French Canadian mother and Irish father who met, married, and settled down in the US. He grew up fluent in both French and English, and after volunteering to fight in World War I, spent a few years kicking around France and teaching at the Sorbonne. During that time, Beston began developing a writing style that wove into his prose the cadences and tonalities of verse. When applied to the rhythms of surf, sand, sea, and sky, his style musically brings out the cyclicality and beauty of non-human life.

Which raises the second reason people should read it. If ever there was a time when we need to step out of the chaos of human concerns, this is it. Contemporary nature writing has a reputation—earned or not—for self-indulgence. In the worst instances, the non-human world provides merely a foil for authors’ lyrical flourishes and introspections that, frankly, I can’t stand. Beston has none of that. His focus is the world around him, not thoughts within him. His relationship to his coastal environs emerges clearly in his writing, to be sure. But he is most concerned with the natural cycles that humans don’t follow, the environmental changes we rarely see, and the calmness that living according to those clocks brings.
Indeed, in re-reading this book this term, I found that Beston removed the noise of modern life. In it’s place, he highlighted the sounds that keep us connected to the real world. He reminded me that American-ness is more defined through our relationship to our non-human world, than through the inanities of day to day distractions, diversions, and diatribes. From the cacophony he brought out the symphony—and it’s a sound we all could use more of.”

-Matthew McKenzie
Associate Professor, History, American Studies, and Maritime Studies

Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Rebecca Gould

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

I have a BA from the University of California Berkeley in Comparative and Slavic Literatures (double major). After I received my degree, I spent two years living in Tbilisi, Georgia, during when I embarked on the research that went into my first book Writers and Rebels: The Literature of Insurgency in the Caucasus (Yale University Press, 2016), which examines anticolonial poetry and prose during the tsarist and Soviet periods. My PhD dissertation (Columbia University, 2013) deals a literary genre from a much earlier period: the medieval Persian prison poem. I am very lucky to have recently joined the University of Birmingham, where, as a Professor of Islamic World and Comparative Literature, I am able to bring together my wide-ranging interests in the Islamic Studies and Comparative Literature, from the medieval period to the postcolonial present.


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

My current book project is tentatively entitled Narrating Catastrophe: Forced Migration from Colonialism to Postcoloniality. This work tells of an aspect of the colonial encounter in the Caucasus that Writers and Rebels ignores. Both this and my first book were inspired by the experience of living in Tbilisi, Georgia, from 2004-6, among Georgian intellectuals and Chechen refugees. When I engaged with the history of the peoples I was living with and learning from, I began to notice two ways in which the past was remembered. The first way, of glorifying and sanctifying anticolonial violence, became the focus of Writers and Rebels. The second approach to the past that I noticed involved memorializing narratives of forced migration from the Caucasus to Ottoman lands (during the tsarist period) and Central Asia (during the Soviet period), such that forced migration became a recurring trope within popular culture. This repeated story of forced migration that dominates the literatures of the Caucasus is the subject of Narrating Catastrophe.  The term for this story, hijra, refers to the migration of the prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina as well as to subsequent migrations, both forced and voluntary, within Islamic history.



-How did you arrive at this topic?

In Narrating Catastrophe, I explore the many meanings of forced migrations across the Islamic world, with a particular focus on the Caucasus. The more immersed I became in Caucasus narratives of displacement, the more clearly I saw that these narratives intersect with other narratives from elsewhere in the Islamic world, including the nakba (catastrophe) among Palestinians and the expulsion of Spanish Muslims during the Reconquista, which is also referred to as hijra. Although these events are obviously distinct, they are united by their narrative connection to early Islam. Needless to say, the connection I refer to is more narratival than historical, but as a scholar of Comparative Literature, it is precisely the imaginative links that extend across continents and which have persisted across centuries that I find fascinating.


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

To start with the most obvious: as a scholar of the Islamic world, I believe that the world I work on has a special contribution to make to policy debates. By viewing Islamic history through the prism of hijra—rather than through more violent idioms, such as that of jihad—I offer readers a means to engage with core Islamic narratives outside the polarizations that circulate in the media accounts that are the primary source for popular understanding of Islam. Another area in which this project stands to make an impact is on how we understand migration. Generally, migration is viewed from the perspective of the interests and norms of the host country. What would migration looked like if viewed from the perspective of the migrant? Narrating Catastrophe offers one answer to this question. Like Thomas Nail, whose recent book The Figure of the Migrant (Stanford, 2015), reveals how the migrant condition applies to all of us, my use of the hijra narrative showcases the general relevance of this concept and its attendant histories across the Islamic world. Rather than offer an historical account, I am developing a political theory around Islamic migration, based primarily on literary narratives from the Caucasus. The final area of impact is to do with the Caucasus itself. To my mind, the Caucasus is one of the most understudied, yet most fascinating regions of the world. It combines Muslim, Christian, and other religions traditions in close proximity to each other and is unsurpassed in terms of its linguistic and cultural diversity. Throughout my work, I have developed the idea of the Caucasus as a marginalised crossroads, meaning a geography that nearly always finds itself on edges of power and yet which maintains a kind of centrality to European and Islamic culture. By immersing my readers in an intertextual tradition that they surely will not have encountered before, I hope to enable them to think differently about migration and mobility, and from perspectives they have not contemplated before.

Publishing Now! – Ray Ryan

Ray Ryan, Senior Commissioning Editor of English and American Literature at Cambridge University Press, will be speaking about publishing and new shifts and changes in the industry. He is author of Ireland and Scotland: Literature and Culture, State and Nation, editor of Writing in the Irish Republic: Literature, Culture, Politics, 1949-1999, and co-editor of Ireland and Scotland:
Culture and Society, 1700-2000 and The Good of the Novel.

This talk is generously co-sponsored by UCHI, the English Department, Asian and Asian American Studies Institute, and the CLAS Dean’s Office.

You SHOULD…Read: The Adivasi Will Not Dance

“You must read The Adivasi Will Not Dance, a collection of ten short stories by Hansda Sowendra Shekhar, winner of the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar, 2015 (The National India Academy of Letters Award, 2015). Shekhar collected stories of Santhal tribes (scheduled tribes of India are pre-nation state indigenous communities) while working as a medical officer in a remote part of the Jharkhand state, a newly formed state in India with large Santhal population. Each story reveals the territorial interstices of Santhali life in India. The third story November is the Month of Migrations is a brutal, raw, and harsh description of how Talami (a young Santhal girl) had to exchange sexual favors with a police officer in return of two cold breads and Rs 50.00 (90 cents). Santhali community members called the story pornographic and burnt effigies of Sowendra Shekhar. In response to the protests, the Jharkhand government has banned the book. As I sat in the early September warm breeze in my Storrs-Masfield backyard and leafed through the bright turquoise blue covers, Sowendra’s writing transposed me into the forests of West-Bengal and Jharkhand (where I grew up & often traveled on winter vacations to the Santhal areas). The stories narrate struggles of Mangla Murmu the troupe-master of a performing group who would not dance for the President of India and is brutally beaten down on the ground, while another one narrates the story of Bikram-Kumang who is asked to hide his Santhali roots by his Hindu upper-caste landlord. The book will take you on a journey of indigenous communities in India, and reveals how generations of Indian tribes live with the ravages of colonization.”

-Debanuj Dasgupta,
Assistant Professor, Department of Geography and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions With Laura Wright


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

I earned a BA in theatre and a BA in English at the University of Montana and completed my MA at UConn.  I am currently a PhD candidate in the English Department at the University of Connecticut and a Draper Dissertation fellow at UCHI.


What is the project you’re currently working on?

I am completing my dissertation, “Prizing Difference: PEN Awards and Multiculturalist Politics in American Fiction.” In this project, I examine the Poets, Essayists, Novelists (PEN) organization and map the contested national and international politics of book prizes. In particular, awards such as the PEN/Faulkner have determined the scope of what has become an identifiable twentieth- and twenty-first century American literary canon. Focused on Latinx, African American, Asian American, and Jewish American writers “Prizing Difference” considers multiple hierarchies of power, the material factors of publishing, and the evolving politics of “multiculturalism” in the US academy.


How did you arrive at this topic?

There were two moments that really launched my thinking on this topic. I have had a long-standing interest in canon formation (adjudicating what “counts” and what doesn’t in American Literature) and my committee asked me a question specifically on this topic in my PhD exams.  In attempting to answer the question, I struggled to define “canon.”  There were too many variables in play to settle on a stable definition that scholars, teachers, students, and readers could agree upon.  Is Toni Morrison a great African American novelist or a great American novelist?  What are the political and cultural consequences of these different designations?  Book prizes helped me negotiate this difficulty by offering a fixed list of winners that constitute a particular idea of the American novel as determined by the prize committee.


The idea that book prizes can form canons was reinforced the next time I took a trip to my public library.  In browsing the shelves, I noticed that the library has stickers that help identify the genre of a novel.  For instance, a space ship sticker helps readers readily locate science fiction while a sticker of a magnifying glass indicates detective fiction.  One of these stickers, to my surprise, used a blue ribbon to categorize books as “Prize Winners.”  This suggested that prize-winning novels might have significant commonalities between texts, forming a new genre of their own.


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

Book prizes offer a way of discerning “what counts” as American Literature historically, but also as recently as this year.  Without the vantage of a lengthy publication history or repeated encounters with a particular work in a classroom setting, book prizes help us identify significant cultural texts.  Additionally, these prizes form a critical link between the public and the university.  People (myself included) often select reading material based on the endorsements of a particular prize.  I argue that by thinking through the engagement between prizes and politics, we can gain a better understanding of our cultural values, particularly around racial identity.

Léamh: Learn Early Modern Irish Officially Launches

From October 3-5, 2017, Celticists, historians, and literary scholars from both sides of the Atlantic gathered at UConn for “Re-Reading the Revolution: A Conference Launching Léamh: Learn Early Modern Irish (lé”. The purpose of the conference was four-fold: to launch the Léamh website for the public; to work together on some translations for the site; to bring together Celticists, historians, and literary scholars in one room to discuss how scholarship could be deepened through the greater use of Celtic language sources; and to examine what that could look like through a series of papers and roundtables about the mid-seventeenth century conflicts in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

The conference began with “One Day, One Text,” which brought together Celtic language scholars and learners to translate several texts for the Léamh website. Participants gathered both digitally and in-person at the UConn Hartford campus to learn about the Léamh site and to do some “hands on” work with it. The group worked on ‘Eireóchthar fós le cloinn gColla,’ which will be added to the site for public use at a later date. October 4 was dedicated to a series of research panels as well as the official launch of the Léamh website. The research panels—“Ireland and an Ghaeilge in an age of Revolution, 1630-1660,” “Wales and y Gymraeg in an age of Revolution, 1630-1660,” and “Scotland and an Ghàidhlig in an age of Revolution, 1630-1660”—presented a series of papers that demonstrated just how dynamic scholarship that incorporates Celtic language sources can be.

The final day of the conference consisted of roundtables focused on the themes of “culture and society,” “ideas, religion, and memory,” and “transnational perspectives.” Here panelists presented their views on the state of the field and how Celtic language sources can contribute to current scholarship, and then the floor was opened up for everyone in the room. There ensued lively conversations and speculations about where the field is headed, what new questions scholars can/should be asking, and how these issues affect graduate education and professionalization.

We’d like to thank everyone who participated in the conference, and invite you all to check out the Léamh website.

Together Event

When: 9:00AM – 12:00PM

What: Initiative on Campus Dialogues “Office Hours”

Where: Humanities Institute Seminar Room, Babbidge Library, 4th Floor

Organizers: Initiative on Campus Dialogues

Interested to offer a dialogue on confronting racism in your classroom, but wish to know a little more about process, possibilities and potential pitfalls? Drop in on the Humanities Institute’s Initiative on Campus Dialogues (ICD) “office hours” where participants in ICD will be available to walk through different dialogic approaches, share their experiences discussing difficult questions, workshop strategies for running a structured conversation in the classroom, and generally do what they might to answer your questions. Those confirmed for the day include the following:

  • Hilary Bogert-Winkler (PhD Candidate, History; ICD)
  • Sian Charles-Harris (PhD Candidate, NEAG; ICD Fellow)
  • Gina Devivo-Brassaw (Associate Director for Community Outreach Programs, Services, and Initiatives)
  • Richard Frieder (ICD Fellow)
  • Brendan Kane (History; ICD)
  • Cynthia Melendez (PhD Candidate, International Studies-Latino Studies)
  • Dana Miranda (PhD Candidate, Philosophy; ICD)


When: 7:00PM – 8:45PM

What: Confronting Racism Together: A Model Dialogue

Where: Dodd Center, Konover Auditorium

Organizers: Brendan Kane, Humanities Institute; Glenn Mitoma, Dodd Center

Description:  Join UConn leaders as they take part in a public dialogue exploring their experiences with racism. Dialogue is one of the most powerful tools we have in confronting racism. But actual dialogue – as opposed to debate, deliberation or conversation – rarely occurs. In part that is because it can be challenging: the bravery it takes to speak honestly and unscripted, and the discipline to listen with empathy and be present, can be difficult in a world so crowded with stimulus and distraction.  Confronting racism, however, requires such bravery and discipline, such honesty and presence. It also needs people who through their public truth-telling can inspire others to truly dialogue over racism. Please join us as members of our community take part in this important conversation, facilitated by Valeriano Ramos of Everyday Democracy. Participants are drawn from across the University:

  • Sulin Ba (Associate Dean, School of Business)
  • Kazem Kazerounian (Dean, School of Engineering)
  • Ian McGregor (PhD Candidate; Curriculum and Instruction, NEAG)
  • Joelle Murchison (Chief Diversity Officer)
  • Mark Overmyer-Velazquez (Director, UConn Hartford Campus)
  • Jeremy Teitelbaum (Provost)
  • Irma Valverde (USG President)


You SHOULD…Confront Racism in the Digital Realm

“You Should…Confront Racism in the Digital Realm”


A teach-in moderated by Professor Anke Finger and featuring Professors Kelly Dennis, Anne Mae Duane, Bhakti Shringarpure and Ph.D. candidate Matt Guariglia.


The “You Should…” pulls from a new program UCHI started to make the humanities more personal and urgent ( and “Confront Racism” is the theme of the Metanoia this year.


Join us for a dialogue about social media activism/racism (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and online racism, online activism and connections to civil responsibility, courage, and action— basically the potential and pitfalls, in other words, of our life online. How does one recognize and take action against racism online? Are there tools or methods that have been effective? Can we use social media for cultural change?


Nov 8, noon – 2pm, UCHI Conference Room


For more on UConn’s 2017 Metanoia see: (