Month: March 2018

You SHOULD…Read: “The Fifth Season”

“You should read …

N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. To identify this book as “fantasy” or “post-apocalyptic,” while accurate, would also be wholly inadequate. At its core, The Fifth Season is a novel about power, oppression, and the costs—physical, emotional, and psychological—of living in a world that denies your humanity so thoroughly that you cannot even recognize it in yourself.

In brief, the story involves a tectonically unstable world in which one small group of people possess the power to sense and control these tectonic shifts. When a massive earthquake shakes this fragile land, it initiates a “fifth season” of ash and death, forcing characters to make difficult choices about how to survive. This summary makes the novel seem primarily environmental in its concerns, but Jemisin is after more than a warning about the dangers of massive ecosystem collapse. At its core, The Fifth Season is a study of fear as a method of social control, determining who is “us” and who is “other,” who is a person and who is merely a tool. Jemisin’s nuanced world-building is designed not to impress with its innovation, but rather to bring us into a deeper understanding of how histories are forgotten and rewritten over time and how caste systems are built over generations. Like all good fantasy, the allegory of own world is clear, but at the same time the fictional world offers us the opportunity to explore with new eyes, exposing our own biases and assumptions. Jemisin draws us into her characters with remarkable skill, vividly evoking the difficulties of loving and trusting when your life is marked by fear and abuse. In the end, we must ask which poses a greater threat to these characters’ survival: the land itself, unstable and deadly, or a society that asks nothing less than the sacrifice of our own humanity. ”


-Lindsay Cummings
Assistant Professor of Dramatic Arts
CRT Dramaturg
University of Connecticut

Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with James Beebe

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

I am Professor of Philosophy, Director of the Experimental Epistemology Research Group, and member of the Center for Cognitive Science at the University at Buffalo (SUNY). My Ph.D. is in philosophy, but I have extensive training in psychology as well. Most of my research has been in a field known as ‘experimental philosophy,’ where I perform empirical studies of how laypeople and experts in fields outside of philosophy think about questions of perennial philosophical debate—e.g., questions about the nature of knowledge, evidence, and rationally justified belief.


What is the project you’re currently working on?

I am currently writing a book entitled The Limits of Skepticism that examines skeptical philosophical traditions in both the ancient and the modern worlds in an effort to understand what distinguishes healthy, constructive doubt from crude denialism. The book considers which kinds of skepticism and doubt should be taken seriously, how far skeptical doubts can be pushed before they collapse, and how illegitimate challenges to our knowledge can be rebutted. As part of my research on skepticism and doubt, I am studying how experts from a variety of fields (environmental science, astrophysics, chemistry, biology, economics, psychology, sociology, anthropology, public policy) approach persistent disagreement within their disciplines and how much doubt (if any) they think members of the general public should have about their fields when specialists within it are known to disagree.


How did you arrive at this topic?

In the highly polarized political climate of the U.S., there is a great deal of disagreement among members of the general public, yet this disagreement does not seem to lead people to question their convictions as often it probably should. However, when there is a small amount of disagreement among experts in some field (e.g., in climate science, education, economic policy, healthcare), this disagreement is often leveraged into strong reasons for doubt about certain claims by people who have various personal interests at stake concerning those claims. So, the question of which kinds of doubts we should have about which issues seemed like an important topic to be working on.


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

Because the information age seems to have entered a post-truth stage, in which we are flooded with as much misinformation as information, private citizens must exercise greater discernment in distinguishing reliable from unreliable sources of knowledge and balancing their convictions and doubts. I hope that insights drawn from various philosophical traditions around the world and from the opinions of scientific and public policy experts can help us understand what an intellectually virtuous response to peer disagreement and conflicting expert testimony can look like.

You SHOULD…Look At: The “Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage”

“You SHOULD…Look at the “Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World” from the New Bedford Whaling Museum


With the omnipresence of digital culture, we often tend to think of our society as a predominately visual culture. The 1848 “Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World,” a 1,275-foot-long painting performed as a giant moving scroll, reminds us that visual communication did not begin with the advent of projected photographic images in the late 19th century.


You can experience the entirety of this recently restored work online, at Now part of the collections of the New Bedford Whaling Museum in Massachusetts, this work by Benjamin Russell and Caleb Purrington was performed across the United States in the latter half of the 19th century, part of a burgeoning and popular culture of panorama performance. The moving panorama is an aspect of global traditions of painting and performance with antecedents in Chinese, Indian, Javanese, Persian, and various European cultures. This dynamic, spirited means of telling the important stories of a community–religious, political, social, historical, personal–combines a succession of images with texts and music, allowing audiences to be reached by a multi-media experience.


Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick, was said to have seen this panorama before he wrote his classic novel about whaling and American life. Like Melville’s book, the New Bedford panorama shows us an epic voyage on a whaling ship from New Bedford south to Cape Horn, and then into the whaling fields of the Pacific. Like Melville’s novel, the panorama is much more than an examination of a profitable extractive industry, showing us as well how Americans viewed the world, other peoples (in Latin America, the Pacific, and along the Northwest coast of North America), and how the United States might be beginning to think of its economic and political role in the modern world.


The “Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World” can give us a direct sense of what 19th-century Americans experienced when they attended one of the most popular performance forms of the time.”


-Dr. John Bell
Director, Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry
Associate Professor, Dramatic Arts Department

You SHOULD…Read: The Making of Black Lives Matter

“‘What you should read, see, and hear?’ You should read The Making of Black Lives Matter: A Brief History of an Idea (Oxford University Press, 2017) by political theorist, Christopher J. Lebron, because he reminds us that the philosophical underpinnings of the #BlackLivesMatter movement predate the contemporary movement.  Analyzing the treatment of “Black” people over time, Lebron submits a historical framing of Black political thinkers’, activists,’ and letterpersons’ understandings about Black people’s rights (and the lack, thereof) in American society.  This treatment, Lebron notes, prompted Black Americans’ rhetorical, oratorical, lettered, and physical activism to articulate and assert Black people’s equal humanity, rights, and protection in different eras of American political history. Thus, Lebron outlines the tradition of Black resistance oriented in the long-standing Black freedom struggle to contest racial discrimination and systemic inequality in various forms (in addition to contemporary struggles against police brutality).  Lebron elucidates this longitudinal activism by examining political thought and expressions of Black men and women, such as Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, Audre Lorde, Anna Julia Cooper, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who establish foundational arguments about Black Americans’ humanity, (in)justice, and liberation for various iterations of “Black,” intersectional identities (class, gender, sexuality, and ethnicity, for example).”

-Shayla C. Nunnally
Department of Political Science & Africana Studies Institute
University of Connecticut


Publishing NOW : Viet Thanh Nguyen


Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel The Sympathizer is a New York Times best seller and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Other honors include the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction from the American Library Association, the First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction, a Gold Medal in First Fiction from the California Book Awards, and the Asian/Pacific American Literature Award from the Asian/Pacific American Librarian Association. His other books are Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award in General Nonfiction) and Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America. He is the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and Professor of English, American Studies and Ethnicity, and Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California. He has been interviewed by Tavis Smiley, Charlie Rose, Seth Meyers, and Terry Gross, among many others. His current book is the bestselling short story collection, The Refugees. Most recently he has been the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundations, and le Prix du meilleur livre étranger (Best Foreign Book in France), for The Sympathizer. He is a critic-at-large for the Los Angeles Times and a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times.

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s thoughts on reading, diversity and Excel spreadsheets:

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 April 5, 2018