Month: October 2018

You SHOULD…Read: The Anatomy of Fascism

 

“To help navigate these incredibly dark times and put them into historical perspective, you should definitely read Robert Paxton’s The Anatomy of Fascism.  I meet people all the time who want to learn more about fascism, but don’t know where to begin.  The pile of books that have been published on the subject could form its own mountain, and the sheer range of options can be overwhelming.  I’ve had to take a big bite out of this mountain for my own research, and I can say that if you have time to read just one book on the subject, it should be this one.

I like it because of its accessibility and avoidance of jargon, its broad scope, and because it is attuned to the contemporary relevance of his subject.  As such, he’s not afraid to say that fascism lives on in present day.  Published in 2004, Anatomy of Fascism was not conceived with the current crisis in mind, which makes it less topical and more powerful in my view.  But I like it most of all because it’s argument is solid.  Paxton doesn’t pull any cheap shots to make his subject topical.  Instead, like a good historian, he honors the specificity of pre-WWII European politics and culture, and lets his readers draw their own conclusions.

Paxton, now retired from Columbia University, argues that fascist movements can’t be defined by their political platforms – these change as values change, and fascist states shifted their policies quite often anyway.  A steadier indicator of a fascist movement is its “mobilizing passions” – that is, the emotional triggers and underlying desires that fire up its political base (you’ll have to read the book to find out what these triggers are).  Further, he argues that fascist movements rely on the enablement of traditional conservatives: if an aging conservative establishment had not given Hitler and Mussolini the keys to the kingdom, their movements would have likely died on the vine.  With an eye to the present, Paxton writes, “Fascists are close to power when conservatives begin to borrow their techniques, appeal to their ‘mobilizing passions,’ and try to co-opt the fascist following.”

 

 

-Christopher Vials,
Associate Professor of English & Director of American Studies
University of Connecticut

 

 

You SHOULD…Listen: to Running for the Drum

 

“You should listen to Buffy Ste. Marie’s 2009 album Running for the Drum.

It’s not her most recent, or her most acclaimed (though it won a coveted Juno award). It’s not her most innovative (in my completely uneducated opinion, that accolade belongs to 2016’s Power in the Blood, which had me looking for Bjork in the liner notes. She wasn’t there. Neither were liner notes, actually, because it’s not 1988 anymore, but you know what I’m saying). But I think it’s the best album this prolific artist has given us to date.

Running for the Drum comes out of the gate hard and righteous. “No No Keshagesh” was on constant repeat in my house for a while (“keshagesh” is a Cree word meaning “greedy guts”, and the song lives up to every expectation you just had). The second half softens up with “America the Beautiful” (not exactly the version you’re expecting, but perhaps the version you need). As always, Buffy delivers truth to power and a celebration of indigeneity layered with love, anger, sorrow, pride, and longing. Granted, I’ve got Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” on my playlist (and I am not ashamed), so I may not be the sharpest music critic on campus. But you really should give Running for the Drum a listen.”                        

 

-Barbara Gurr,
Associate Professor in Residence,
Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program,
University of Connecticut

 

 

 

 

New Site Launched

We are proud to announce the launch of our new website. Built on the the university Aurora service, this new version of our site sports a modern look, faster loading times, and works on all mobile and tablet devices.

Four Questions with Adrian Stegovec

Adrian Stegovec

1. Tell us a bit about the project you are working on at UCHI.

 A sentence like “She introduced you to me”, where the pronouns “you” and “me” co-occur, isn’t that easy to form in many languages. In fact, in some languages it is downright impossible for certain pronouns to co-occur in a sentence. This is, for example, the case in French, where speakers don’t accept the sentence “Elle te me a présenté, with the meaning of the English one from earlier, as well as other similar sentences with the wrong combinations of co-occurring pronouns. As part of my project, I investigate the patterns that arise with possible and impossible combinations of co-occurring pronouns across different languages, examining over 100 languages spanning different language families from all over the world.

It turns out that there is surprisingly little variation in the attested kinds of impossible combinations. The co-occurrence of pronouns is always restricted depending on their person – that is, whether they are 1st (“I”, “we”), 2nd (“you”), or 3rd person (“he”, “she”, “they”) - but never depending on their grammatical number or gender. Furthermore, all restrictions conform to the same abstract pattern and vary from language to language in a handful of predictable ways. This is surprising, given that such restrictions are often found in unrelated languages, separated from each other both historically and geographically - indicating that the pattern is not the result of a historical transfer or geographic contact. In my project, I explore the idea that this phenomenon can reveal to us important clues about the universal mental mechanisms we use to create and interpret language.

2.What drew you to this topic and what exciting developments are you anticipating?

I think what drew me to the topic was the same thing that originally drew me to linguistics. It’s just fascinating that in spite of how different individual languages may seem from one another, there exist patterns underlying the differences which we can uncover by approaching language in a scientific way. In that respect, I’m just happy that I found a topic that is at the same time quite narrow – looking at one very specific phenomenon – and has implications for one of the main problems linguistics deals with.

Although I have already made a lot of preliminary findings – for example, the cross-linguistic patterns mentioned earlier, and I have some ideas of where to take the project next, I can’t completely anticipate what all the details of my analysis will be and what else I will uncover as I work towards them. I think that is the truly exciting bit.

3. What are you looking forward to in regard to this year at UCHI?

I’m looking forward to an environment where I can engage with ideas and questions that I would otherwise not get in a linguistics-only setting. I  think it is important to know how to communicate your ideas to broader audiences, so this year will be a perfect opportunity to hone those skills, see where the topics I work on fit in the broader context of the humanities, get feedback from experts in fields I’m not that familiar with, and learn about the exciting topics they are working on. Hopefully, I can return the favor by also offering a linguist’s perspective on non-linguistic topics.

4. Many people wonder what value the humanities and humanities research has in today’s world. What are your thoughts on what humanities scholarship “brings to table?”

The fields that comprise the humanities are so varied that they each bring something unique to the table. Because of that, I’m not comfortable giving an opinion on the humanities as a whole and I’ll focus only on linguistics. Almost everyone has an opinion about language - either the language or languages they speak or what language is in general, and almost everyone also doesn’t know what linguistics is or what a linguist does.

But there’s much to be gained from the study of language, even though most people take it for granted. Linguists have uncovered a lot over the last 50-60 years, but we’re still just scratching the surface. For example, we’re only now starting to seriously explore the neurological and evolutionary side of language. Think also of the technological progress made with automatic translation and voice assistant software. In spite of how advanced these technologies may seem, we’re still far from making computers speak and understand language on par with humans. Consider that, as the voice assistant with the most supported languages, Apple’s Siri currently “speaks” 20 languages. We estimate that there are around 7000 languages spoken in the world today, and the databases required to train such software, given its current limitations, are practically impossible to compile for the vast majority of those languages. In contrast, a child learns their native language without really breaking a sweat, regardless of the language, and working with a very limited input compared to their computerized competitors. Whatever our children are doing, it’s radically different from what Siri’s teams of programmers are doing. The next big steps in the development of such technologies won’t come without first better understanding language itself.

Linguistics has the potential to be a bridge between the humanities on one end and engineering and the natural sciences on the other. Aside from this, I think that being aware of the complexity and the diversity of the world’s languages, and that language can be studied like any other natural object, can help people view the world more critically. If language, which comes to us so easily, is so complex that we are still working on fully understanding it, then perhaps other things we take for granted are worth a second though.

You SHOULD…Read: Ready, Player One

 

“Read like a curious teenager; read for delight.  Read Ready, Player One and everything else.

 

I mean here the embrace of reading, not because a novel or work of non-fiction is “essential,” but because it on some or all levels brings us joy to be reading it.  And by that I don’t mean that it’s necessarily a cheery read (Game of Thrones is not a feel-good series although it feels good to read it).  I’m an English PhD (read cultural critic), so I get that discomfort (formal, personal) is valuable, but I’ve come to see that for me the great power of reading is that, once we give ourselves over to it completely, we read and read and read and read and the sum of it all matters, even if a given book is a formulaic best seller (and those often shed light on “now” in unexpected ways). So mix it up: read The Girl on the Train and all of Louise Penny, and the Wayward Pines trilogy, and Wolf Hall, and Ender’s Game, and everything by David Eggers, David Mitchell, Jonathan Franzen, Neal Stephenson, Gaiman, LeGuin, McCaffrey, Murakami and Neil de Grasse Tyson.  And everything else.”

 

-Susanna Cowan, PhD

Director, Summer & Winter Programs
University of Connecticut

 

 

Early Modern Studies Working Group Fall Guest Lecture: Jane Hwang Degenhardt

The UCONN Early Modern Studies Working Group invites you to a guest lecture by JANE HWANG DEGENHARDT, “The ‘Kindness’ of Humans: Empathy, Race, and Kind in The Tempest and The Shape of Water” on November 1st, at 12:30 PM in the UCHI Conference Room. A lunch will precede the talk, which is open to the public. Please invite colleagues and students who might be interested. Please RSVP for the lunch at earlymod@uconn.edu

 

The “Kindness” of Humans: Empathy, Race, and Kind in The Tempest and The Shape of Water

Pairing Shakespeare’s Tempest and Guillermo del Toro’s film The Shape of Water, this talk focuses attention on the kinds of criteria by which we come to distinguish who is human from who is not. Both of these works provide us with an ambiguously hybrid being who strains the definition of the human and in turn helps to shore up a more stable but relationally-constituted ideal for what the human should and should not be. In seeking to define a relationship between humanity and humaneness, which privileges kindness, compassion, and empathy for others, both play and film project a limit case that demonstrates how the category of the human is fundamentally bounded, exclusionary, and relationally-determined. This talk demonstrates the need for a human rights approach that moves beyond the distinction of the human while at the same time avoiding the assumptions of a post-human movement that implicitly reaffirms a normative or universalized conception of humanity and denies the ways that metaphysical orders of being are determined through a logic of race. We cannot embrace an approach to social justice that moves beyond the ontology of the human race without first acknowledging the mutually exclusive constitution of human and race.

 

Jane Hwang Degenhardt is associate professor in the department of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is the author of Islamic Conversion and Christian Resistance on the Early Modern Stage (2010) and co-editor of Religion and Drama in Early Modern England (2011). She is currently completing a book entitled Fortune’s Empire: Chance, Providence, and Overseas Ventures in Early Modern English Drama that explores evolving understandings of “fortune” in relation to English global expansion.  She is also beginning a new project on the concept of “the world” in the plays of Shakespeare. Provisionally titled Shakespeare in the World / The World in Shakespeare, this study considers how Shakespeare as a global phenomenon might be used as a vehicle for devising more ethical worldviews that resist the violence–racial, gendered, epistemological, and material–of globalization.

Professor Degenhardt’s talk is made possible through the support of the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute, and is co-sponsored by the University of Connecticut English Department.

Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Amy Sopcak-Joseph

  1. Tell us a bit about the project you are working on at UCHI.

I will finish drafting and editing my dissertation, “Fashioning American Women: Godey’s Lady’s Book, Female Consumers, and Nineteenth-Century Periodical Publishing.”  The title “Lady’s Book” is misleading – it was actually a monthly magazine published in Philadelphia.  At its peak popularity, it combined elements of modern media that are familiar to us, as if we crossed a literary magazine with a fashion magazine such as Vogue and a domestic tastemaker like Martha Stewart.  The Lady’s Book was one of the most popular periodicals in the mid-nineteenth century, and my study combines its business history with cultural analysis.

 

 

  1. What drew you to this topic and what exciting developments are you anticipating?

 

As an undergraduate at Dickinson College, I double-majored in English and history.  I took a number of courses that were cross-listed between the two departments, and I loved looking at nineteenth-century women’s literature as primary sources.  I realized later that I could have been an American Studies major, but as none of my advisors saw themselves in that interdisciplinary field, I was never steered in that direction.  When I came to UConn for a Master’s degree in history many years ago, I took a seminar in the history of the book that introduced me to a field in which I was already doing work without ever realizing it. ‘Book history’ is a misnomer that includes the study of the creation, dissemination, and reception/uses of all kinds of texts, not just books.  My interest in book history and gender analysis led me to tackle the Lady’s Book as a dissertation topic.  Scholars have been digging into the Lady’s Book since the development of women’s history in the 1970s and 1980s.  But my lens is broader than that of previous studies, because I consider the material text – the form in which readers received and interacted with the magazine at home – as an important part of the magazine’s content.  I argue that the advertisements in the magazine, which scholars have not analyzed, help us to understand how middle-class womanhood and consumerism were inextricably linked by mass print culture in the antebellum period.

 

  1. What are you looking forward to in regard to this year at UCHI?

As any academic will attest, I feel like having the time and space to think and write for an entire year, without teaching obligations, is the ultimate luxury.  I will miss being in the classroom, because teaching my own courses in American history and talking about primary sources with students has shaped my thinking about the Lady’s Book’s historical context.  But, I am looking forward to working in a community of scholars, getting to learn about their work – and commiserating over rough writing days!

 

 

  1. Many people wonder what value the humanities and humanities research has in today’s world. What are your thoughts on what humanities scholarship “brings to table?”

As an alum of a small liberal arts college, I think the value of the humanities is in its capaciousness: that it encompasses a range of fields.  Humanities scholarship is about curiosity about the world around us, and right now there is much to be curious about.  Why do people do what they do, believe what they believe?  How do people solve problems – or how did they do so in the past?  Thinking of higher education institutions as meant to prepare citizens very narrowly for one field that will lead to one kind of job seems to me to limit one’s curiosity and perspective.  If we want to foster innovative thinking and entrepreneurship, shouldn’t we highlight, rather than downplay, the humanities?

 

To this end, some of the most rewarding conversations that I have had with students have been with pre-med and nursing majors who have found value in humanities courses that help them to understand how complicated human relationships are/have been.  Rather than a hindrance or filler, humanities courses and scholarship can prepare us for the complexities of working with a wide range of people – useful to all kinds of majors since most people plan to have careers that include working with other humans.