Month: February 2018

Publishing NOW : Ken Wissoker

Ken Wissoker, Duke University Press
April 4, 2018, 3 pm

Ken Wissoker is the Editorial Director of Duke University Press, acquiring books in anthropology, cultural studies, and social theory; globalization and post-colonial studies; Asian, African, and American studies; music, film and television; race, gender and sexuality; science studies; and other areas in the humanities, social sciences, media, and the arts.  He joined the Press as an Acquisitions Editor in 1991; became Editor-in-Chief in 1997; and was named Editorial Director in 2005. In addition to his duties at the Press, he serves as Director of Intellectual Publics at The Graduate Center, CUNY in New York City.

He has published over a thousand books which have won over 100 prizes.  Among the authors whose books he has published are Stuart Hall, Donna Haraway, Achille Mbembe, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Jack Halberstam, Charles Taylor, José David Saldivar, Lisa Lowe, Lauren Berlant, Brian Massumi, Arjun Appadurai, Sara Ahmed, Fred Moten, Chandra Mohanty, and Cherríe Moraga.  He has written on publishing for The Chronicle of Higher Education and in Cinema Journal, and writes a column for the Japanese cultural studies journal “5.”  He speaks regularly on publishing at universities in the US and around the world.


If you require an accommodation to participate in this event, please contact Humanities Institute staff
(Jo-Ann Waide/Nasya Al-Saidy) by email at or phone (860) 486-9057 by March 29, 2018

Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Nancy Shoemaker



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

I’ve been at UConn for almost twenty years now, in the History Department. I had a few short-term jobs after I got my Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 1991 and was very happy to be hired at UConn in 1998. I’ve been a professor of history here since 2005. My field of specialization is Native American history. I’ve published books and articles on various topics in Native Studies, from family and demographic history to women’s history to what has been a major interest of mine over the years, the history of race and racism. My last book was about New England Native men who worked in the nineteenth-century American whaling industry. It was the best research experience I ever had. I loved learning about what are now considered obscure places all over the world—Norfolk Island, St. Helena, the Marquesas—and I’ve since expanded how I describe my current academic interests to include maritime history and the history of the U.S. and the world, especially the U.S. and the Pacific. I have just completed another book, which is not out yet but I hope in a year or two. It is about Americans in nineteenth-century Fiji.

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

My new book project—the one being funded by the Humanities Institute—is about the history of soap from the seventeenth century up to the present, more particularly about the history of how soap is made and about soap’s raw ingredients, so about the production of soap more than about its consumption, though I will deal a little with its consumption since obviously the two are related. This research is a big step away from anything I’ve previously done since it is more explicitly world history. I would also categorize it as environmental history since my focus will be on the extraction of the many oils used in soap—mostly tallow, olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, whale oil–and how these geographically distinct materials came to conjoin in an ordinary household product.  Soap is what I call a “global composite.” The world is represented in every bar of soap, and yet the chemical process that creates soap obscures from view what it’s made of and consequently also obscures the environmental, social, and global impacts spawned by the mass manufacture of soap that began in the seventeenth century and mushroomed every century thereafter.

-How did you arrive at this topic?

The history of soap probably seems a big move away from my earlier work in Native American history, but my interest in soap emerged out of the Native American whaling project so there is a connection. One of whale oil’s biggest uses was as an ingredient in soap. I didn’t think much about this early on. But there came a day when I decided that I needed to find some whale-themed gift to give to all the people helping me–archivists, people who wrote reference letters for me, and so on. I could not find anything attractive and affordable until after months of searching, I stumbled across the possibility of making my own soap, which I then learned how to do. I then made a sperm whale stamp based on one I found in a Native American whalemen’s voyage journal, which I stamped onto every bar of gift soap. My journey from complete ignorance about soap to producing it in my kitchen using exotic materials from around the world that I ordered online and were brought to my door by Federal Express and UPS is one I want to share with readers. The sense of wonder when I opened and sniffed a bottle of myrrh essential oil or got my hands greasy in a big tub of palm oil (certified as sustainably produced by the online supplier, but who knows for sure?) also made me want to know the history behind the sourcing of these materials.

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

We take soap for granted. It is completely naturalized as a feature of most people’s daily routines, and yet not many people know how soap is actually made, what it’s made from, and who makes it. It is also considered highly virtuous for its cleansing and sanitizing properties. Behind this seemingly innocuous consumer product is a vast global workforce and an environment transformed to produce the oils that make soap possible. I like to think that people’s intimate relationship with soap would make them interested in finding out more about it. When Americans, for instance, worry about their global and environmental impact, they think about Nike sweatshops or global warming and the buzz about these big problem issues that make it into the general media seem all about finding easy fixes to prevent labor exploitation and catastrophic environmental degradation. By making people more aware of how something so ordinary as soap has engendered massive changes in global social relations and human relationships to their environments, I would be promoting awareness of how global interconnections and human dependence on oils are so complete and complex, there are no easy fixes. Soap is not the only global composite. We are surrounded by them. However, soap was one of the earliest and became one of the most entrenched as integral to human existence.

Publishing NOW : A conversation with Dan Gerstle and Adina Berk

March 19th, 4pm,
A conversation with Dan Gerstle, Senior Editor, Basic Books  and Adina Berk, Senior Editor for History, Yale University Press


Adina Popescu Berk
Senior Editor for History, Yale University Press

I acquire in all periods and subfields of American and European history. I look for projects that challenge and change the historiographical conversation, as well as projects that address and inform essential questions in the public sphere and that seek to bring a historian’s perspective to a broad readership. I am particularly interested in projects that conceptualize American history broadly and place the United States in a global context. Themes and topics of particular interest are the way environmental factors and climate crises have shaped societies, the history of empires and the resistance to empires, the history of economic and financial development, connections between the United States and Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America, the history of borderlands, histories of human migration, the rise of the right, African American history, Latino history, and Native American history. At Yale I am building on a distinguished history list including, among many other leading historians, recent prize-winners Manisha Sinha, Benjamin Madley, Steve Pincus, Carlos Eire, Pekka Hämäläinen, Martha Hodes, and many others.


Dan Gerstle
Senior Editor, Basic Books

Dan Gerstle joined Basic Books in 2013 from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and acquires mainly in history, politics, current affairs, and the social sciences. The books he has edited and published include the 2017 Lincoln Prize–winning Thunder at the Gates by Douglas Egerton, Engines of Liberty by ACLU National Legal Director David Cole, Jefferson by John B. Boles, Locked In by John Pfaff, and Toussaint Louverture by Philippe Girard. Forthcoming titles include next works from historians Manisha Sinha, Walter Johnson, Matt Sutton, Jeremy Popkin, and Jared Farmer; and from journalists Bhaskar Sunkara, Joan Biskupic, and Andrew McCarthy. Dan holds a BA from Princeton University and an MA in American Studies from Yale University.


You SHOULD…Read: “The Black Jacobins”




“Reading C.L.R. James’s brilliant account of the Haitian Revolution could not come at a more appropriate time. Written in 1938, The Black Jacobins remains arguably the most powerful historical narration of a revolutionary struggle that continues fundamentally to affect us today. It traces the history of the army of rebellious slaves in the French colony of Saint Domingue (Haiti) as is defeated the imperial armies of France, England, and Spain, finally declaring the independent nation of Haiti in 1804.


In the late 18th century, Saint Domingue was the “Pearl of the Antilles,” the richest colony in the world, the centerpiece of France’s mercantile empire, and the greatest individual market for the transatlantic slave trade—all of this resting on the labor of half a million enslaved men, women, and children. In 1791, inspired by the French Revolution, they revolted under the leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture, who embodied the revolutionary fervor of his people and who forms the central tragic-heroic figure of James’s dramatic narrative. James’s riveting account tracks the tension between the empowering influence of the French Revolution’s call for “liberty, equality, brotherhood” on the slaves, and the slaves’ own agency in driving the Haitian Revolution forward against seemingly insurmountable odds.


James’s great insight in The Black Jacobins was to demonstrate the centrality of the Haitian Revolution to any understanding of the imperialist and racist bases of modern capitalism. By tracing how the slaves were first enthused by France’s revolutionary rhetoric, then came into conflict with its commercial and class underpinnings, James probes a structural dynamic of race and class, of freedom of commerce versus freedom of humanity, that continues to impact our own societies today.


James wrote The Black Jacobins on the eve of World War II as a defiant call to resisting racism, fascism, and all forms of oppression. Today, eighty years later, the history he recounts of a people who steadfastly claimed their humanity, and the form in which he recounts it, give us potent tools to do the same.”


-Robin Greenley,
Associate professor of Art History


Publishing NOW: Christine Smallwood

Christine Smallwood, Harper’s Magazine
March 8, 2018, 4 pm


Christine Smallwood is a writer and critic living in New York. Her reviews, essays, and short stories have been published in Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, The New YorkerBookforumThe Paris Reviewn+1, and Vice. She holds a PhD in English Literature from Columbia University and is a core faculty member of the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research.

You SHOULD…Read: “In the Heart of the Sea”

“You should read In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, by Nathaniel Philbrick


If you have ever read or even heard of the novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville; if you have ever had an inkling of interest in New England history; or if you have ever wondered about life at sea and what would happen if you were actually ship-wrecked, then you should read In the Heart of the Sea.


But why read an historical account of the 1820 whale attack on the whaleship Essex and everything that came afterwards when Melville’s Moby Dick is already a classic? Because, in the words of our very own Mark Twain “truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.”  In the Heart of the Sea tells a story so fantastic, so sensational, that it can only be a work of non-fiction.


But that is not what will keep you turning the pages. What will keep you reading into the wee hours of the night is the way Philbrick describes the harrowing events of what followed for four more months after the Essex crew was shipwrecked. Philbrick provides not only a description of the events, but an account of how the sailors – most of whom eventually perished – physically and psychologically responded to their desperate circumstances, from the extreme thirst and hunger brought on by severe dehydration and starvation, to the crippling fear of knowing that the likelihood any of them being rescued was extremely remote.


Why read In the Heart of the Sea?  Because, quite simply, as a work of non-fiction, it can fill in the details that the classic novel never could.”

-Katrina Higgins,
Director of Advising

Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Ruth Glasser

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

I have a B.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of Wisconsin and a Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale.  I probably gravitate towards interdisciplinary programs because I’ve never been sure what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Still don’t.

In non-Humanities Institute civilian life I am an Assistant Professor in Residence in the Urban and Community Studies Program and am based at UConn’s Waterbury campus, where I’ve been since 2002.  Between Yale and UConn I worked as a freelance public historian on a variety of books, curriculum projects, exhibits, documentaries, and other more community-based history projects mostly focusing on Puerto Rican and Latino history.   At UConn, the community engagement has continued with service learning projects for students in the history and urban studies courses I teach.

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

The working title for my book project is “Brass City/Grass Roots: The Persistence of Agriculture in Industrial Waterbury, 1870-1980.”  I’ve been working in a variety of archives around the state and conducting oral history interviews as well as reading massive piles of secondary literature on topics ranging from gardening to garbage, thanks to the Humanities Institute.

-How did you arrive at this topic?

It’s an odd story since it has nothing to do with my usual Puerto Rican/Latino research.  Really the project emerged organically [pardon the pun] from my students’ and my involvement with a Waterbury organization called Brass City Harvest, that has been working since 2007 to create new sources of fresh food and jobs for the city through community gardens, greenhouses, a mobile produce van and more recently, a soon-to-be-completed food hub where area farmers can process their produce for sale.  I was teaching an intro course in which we considered food deserts and food justice as contemporary urban issues.  My students began to do service learning projects with Brass City Harvest and I joined the board for a while.  The executive director asked me to do some research for a little exhibit on farming in Waterbury’s relatively recent past.  I had had no idea about the local farming sector, and when I started talking to people and uncovering sources the project seemed worthy of something more lasting than the original exhibit, so that’s how the book came about.

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

As Sue Pronovost, the executive director of Brass City Harvest said when she asked me to do the exhibit, it’s hard to convince people that it’s possible to grow things in a city like Waterbury when they don’t realize that it’s happened before.  This project will hopefully reknit together past and present and future by showing that people did raise, process, and market food in Waterbury not too long ago so it is entirely possible for it to happen again.  The food sector could be an important part of Waterbury’s revitalization as well as a way to improve its public health and sense of community,

In a more general way, I hope to historicize the topic of urban agriculture, which is mostly talked about in academic and popular literature as an entirely contemporary phenomenon.  But the story of Waterbury’s agricultural past is not unique, and there are many more such stories to be told about cities and towns which supposedly were 100 percent industrial until industry left.  I hope to be part of an ongoing academic and popular conversation about how and why cities used to support their food sector, when, how and why they withdrew that support, and how they can support it again.  In our era of deindustrialization, we need to look at ways to economically and socially revitalize our cities and there are many lessons to be learned from the past.

You SHOULD…Read: “Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows”



“One of my Saturday afternoon pleasures is to browse the new fiction section at my local public library.  Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows beckoned even as I was skeptical of yet another immigrant narrative, albeit of a young Sikh woman in London.  But I was in for a hilarious surprise.  Nikki, a Sikh English woman, is a law school dropout and rebel, who tends bar at a dive with sexist Russian coworkers a racist regular, a white Briton.  But against her better judgment, when she visits the gurudwara (a Sikh temple) in Southall to post a matrimonial ad for her prim and obedient older sister that things take an interesting turn.  While there, she sees an ad seeking an English teacher for Punjabi widows at the temple and despite having no teaching experience applies for and gets the job.  Only to find out that the widows, who range from 45-65, have no interest in learning English but in telling explicit and detailed stories about their sexual desires and fantasies. The uproariously funny and poignant stories reveal the complexities and contradictions of gender, immigration, love, sex, age, and violence of both the Punjabi and English communities and the different forms of isolation they experience in each.  Something that many of us are feeling in the US right now.”

-Manisha Desai,
Head of Sociology and Asian and Asian American Studies


Book Details

Balli Jaswal



Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Eleni Coundouriotis


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

I am a Professor of English with an appointment also in our Program in Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies, housed in the Department of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages. I have also been involved for many years with the Human Rights Institute and much of my teaching and research is around human rights. My education was in Comparative Literature and I specialize in the novel, in particular on how novelists engage problems of historical narration. Most of the primary texts I engage with are from postcolonial literatures, especially Anglophone and Francophone African literatures.


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

My current project has a tentative title of “The Hospital and the State.” It brings together a number of interpretative essays on contemporary works that focus on the hospital as a setting and use this setting as way to explore state failure. The project asks questions about the nature of political action and responsibility and where these rest in countries that have suffered significant brain drain, including the departure of many writers and intellectuals. The topic of the hospital seems to engage expatriate writers and this is intriguing to me. In this project, I also return to questions that have engaged me in earlier work concerning the writing of history. How do diasporic writers engage political and historical questions about their countries of origin? What does this distance mean to them and why do they repeatedly create characters who take on leadership roles in those countries?


-How did you arrive at this topic?

This is a hard question to answer because I feel that I am still arriving at my topic… Book projects take some time to become fully coherent. Indeed, by the time that happens, the book is finished! However, the easy answer to this question is in part through teaching courses in contemporary Anglophone fiction where this convergence of texts that focused on hospitals became apparent to me. I was also invited to participate on a panel on “Literature and the State in Africa” and first developed my ideas around this convergence for that occasion. However, the project now includes works by writers outside Africa, most notably Amitav Ghosh and Michael Ondaatje. My interests in human rights, and humanitarianism more particularly, have kept me engaged with scholarship on global health and the history of hospitals in Africa. The project is also an extension of my thinking on the narration of war, which was the topic of my previous book. Many of these novels take place during or after war.


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

In so far as the topic will focus on ideas around leadership and political agency, I hope that it can help spur a conversation about how we conceive these. My work always seeks to complicate our understanding of how historical narratives come to gain currency and takes up the challenge of decentering our perspective. Disseminating the work of writers from the Global South is additionally part of my effort to change a larger public understanding.