“You should hear Songs in the Key of Life, by Stevie Wonder. In 1975, Wonder had considered leaving the music industry, moving to Ghana and working with children with disabilities. At only 25 years old, he had already released 17 albums, sold millions, and won dozens of awards, including Grammys for Album of the Year (1974 and 1975). After some prodding from friends, family, fans (and the biggest record contract for any artist in history), he returned to the studio to record. In the midst of the dominance of the carefree hedonism of disco, the double LP, was released in September 1976 to critical acclaim. Like his previous work, this LP proved to be a beautifully discursive exploration of the human condition. Wonder assembled a group of artists from different genres and filled the album with an aural style and literary brilliance that was organically balanced with social commentary and festive jaunts about mistakes of our youth. “Isn’t She Lovely” is as infectious and fun as songs get. “Sir Duke” is classic Wonder. With more hit singles than any Wonder LP ever, it’s a challenge to justify focus on one song, but Wonder’s highpoint is one of the best love songs ever, “As.”
Songs became Wonder’s best-selling album of all time. It won Grammy Album of the Year among three other Grammys. Auteurs from Prince to George Michael have praised it as the best album ever made. The list of awards and honors is too long to put here. When you hear it, know that it offers us many ways for its consumption. Focus on the sonic, and isolate the various instruments and vocals from Herbie Hancock or Minnie Riperton. Concentrate on the enthusiastic flow of Wonder on some songs, the playful laugh, improvisation, or prattle on another. Appreciate the jazz inflections on R&B vocals. Listen to tales of love, God, struggle and joy. It is a lush, incredible example of exceptional talent and a reminder of how important it is to encourage the creation of wonderous art. ”
– Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar
Director of the Center for the Study of Popular Music
Professor of History
“You should have a reading and listening jam session, engaging bell hooks’ Paulo Freirean-inspired critiques of structures and systems of power in Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope (2003) while absorbing the liberatory sounds of the Wynton Marsalis Quintet’s “Free to Be” (2004). In ensemble, these two works offer at once intensely personal and collaborative learning frameworks for creative action. In Teaching Community hooks interrogates how our gendered, sexualized and racialized bodies intersect and operate in the context of historically segregated educational institutions. Yet, she insists that when working in solidarity with and in diverse communities beyond the university, “democratic educators” can foster a pedagogy of hope. Similarly, as a cultural form born from resistance to oppression and as an expression of freedom, jazz music –as exquisitely interpreted by Marsalis in “Free to Be”– functions through three interconnected elements. It grounds us in the historical pain and blues of inequality and discrimination; it celebrates individual creativity and strength in improvisation; and it promises that, if we intentionally and empathetically listen to and collaborate with each other, the music and experience will swing!”
Professor of History and Latino & Latin American Studies
University of Connecticut – Hartford
Today’s post is brought to us by Edward Guimont, a PhD candidate in the History Department.
On October 25-28, 2018, the annual meeting of the North American Conference on British Studies (NACBS) was held in Providence, Rhode Island. NACBS is the umbrella organization of historians of Britain resident in Canada and the United States, and consists of six regional affiliate groups. The annual meeting is hosted by a different regional affiliate every year, on a rotating basis. In 2018, the affiliate hosting was the North East Conference on British Studies (NECBS), whose current president is UCHI faculty member Brendan Kane. Due to its location, a number of UConn History Department doctoral candidates attended NACBS, participating in a variety of panels.
Brendan chaired and commented on the panel “Everything Old is New Again: Refugees, Climate Change, and Rebuilding in Early Modern Britain and Ireland,” while History Department associate professor Janet Watson commented on the panel “Historicising Selfhood.” Hilary Bogert-Winkler, History Department doctoral candidate, presented her paper, “What’s in a Name? Identifying Members of the Church of England, 1640-1662,” as part of the workshop panel “Populations: Counting, Classifying, Moving, and Managing Groups of People.” I presented my paper “Colonialism from the Cretaceous: Living Fossils as Imperial Justification” as part of the panel “Journey to the Liminal State: Travel Abroad and the Interpretation of Mythic History,” a panel which I also organized.
This was the first conference in which I organized a panel of my own. In the past, applying to conference as an individual had resulted in me sometimes being placed into panels which could be described as thematically dissonant. Creating my own panel, however, allowed me to choose historians whose work not only fit my own, but who I already admired and whose work I knew would complement my own research. As such, their comments would be particularly useful when revising the chapter from my dissertation that I drew my paper from.
In addition, Brendan, Hilary, fellow History Department candidates Robert Howe and Kristen Vitale, and myself all worked on the local arrangements committee. This gave me newfound appreciation for the amount of labor which goes into a conference such as this to enable the presentations to take place without a hitch. This included, but was far from limited to, manning the registration table to handling last-minute registrations, finding room numbers, printing additional programs, and handling tech support. I would encourage all who participate in conferences to work the tables (metaphorically as well as literally) at least once in order to gain a full appreciation of the labor involved in conferences by the support staff. I feel this is as important to becoming a rounded academic as organizing a panel.
On the topic of panels, NACBS offered an extremely diverse range of subjects. My area of expertise is modern Britain, with a focus on the British Empire in approximately the first half of the twentieth century. I found plenty of presenters who shared my general area of focus, but many more who went beyond it – from a queer interpretation of James Bond, to a nineteenth century search for Alexander the Great’s relics in Central Asia, to paranoid pre-World War I fantasies of German invasion of Britain. Even though these panels were completely outside of my area of focus, each one I attended – in addition to being of great interest – gave me ideas, big and small, to incorporate into my own work, whether my dissertation or plans for future research. This is the greatest benefit of a major conference like NACBS – by being exposed to work from your field, outside of your individual focus, you can gain insights into conceptual arenas you did not even know you were ignorant of beforehand.
It is precisely this aspect that exposes the fallacy of comparing conferences and higher education in general to a marketplace of ideas. It is the exact opposite: information is freely exchanged in an environment where all participants, from tenured professors to first-semester students, are on an equal setting, and all benefit as a result.
November is a busy month for the Early Modern Studies Working Group. On November 1st, we hosted a talk by Jane Hwang Degenhardt, titled “The ‘Kindness’ of Humans: Empathy, Race, and Kind in The Tempest and The Shape of Water.” Degenhardt is an associate professor in the department of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Thirty-five people attended the talk including faculty and grad students from three departments and several undergraduates. The talk was followed by a robust Q&A.
Next week, the group will be hosting its two regular events: Transcribathon and the Cross Cultural Interactions Reading Group. Transcribathon will meet at 10am on Wednesday in the UCHI collaborative space, where we will be honing our paleography skills by continuing to transcribe John Ward’s mid-1600s diary. The reading group meets at noon in the UCHI conference room, where we will be discussing another chapter from Black Africans in Renaissance Europe. The chapter, by T.F. Earle, is titled “Black Africans versus Jews: Religious and Racial Tension in a Portugese Saint’s Play,” and can be found on the HuskyCT page for the Early Modern Studies Working Group.
If you are interested in any of our activities and not yet on our e-mail list, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.