Month: February 2019

Four Questions with Dexter Gabriel

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

My current project, Jubilee’s Experiment: The British West Indies and American Abolitionism, examines the ways in which the emancipated British Caribbean colonies entered into the debates over abolition and African-American citizenship in the United States from the 1830s through the 1860s. It analyzes this discourse as both propaganda and rhetoric, created by abolitionists, black and white, and African-Americans more generally, in antebellum America.

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

This was a public discourse, taking place in newspapers, pamphlets, manuscripts, speeches, and even public spectacles. The most prominent of these were annual memorials of British Emancipation. These were held every August 1, primarily in the Northeast. It was coming across a poster for one of these events that first drew me to the topic, as I wanted to know why thousands of American abolitionists and reformers were celebrating the end of slavery in the British West Indies. What did it mean to them? Why did they think it important? What were they hoping to accomplish? As part of my project, I’m working on digitally mapping these August First commemorations as they took place throughout New England. It will be interesting to see what information they provide about attendants, mass mobilization, and social movements in the nineteenth-century.

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

First, I’m looking forward to getting work done on the manuscript. I’m grateful that the fellowship will allow me the space and time needed towards that goal. I’m also looking forward to engaging with the other scholars in residence, and the chance to work, dialogue, share and exchange ideas within a vibrant intellectual community.

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 humanities remain a fundamental part of a liberal arts education. It helps us explore the human experience and provides a better understanding of both our own society and the world we live in. Within my own work, research into the history of slavery and emancipation helps us understand how people in the past grappled with the immense moral issues of their day—and perhaps offer some insight into how we might do the same in our time.



You Should…Read: Heavy: An American Memoir

"You should. . . read Kiese Laymon’s Heavy: An American Memoir (Scribner, 2018)

There are so many reasons you should read Kiese Laymon’s intensely personal story, but let’s start with this: writing so alive it jumps off the page and double-dares you to stay up all night with it.  You should take that dare, but you should also take it seriously.  Addressed to his brilliant, complicated, professor mother, Laymon’s memoir recalls in vivid, often excruciating detail his own experience occupying a large black body in Mississippi—the more to abuse, terrorize, demonize, and shame. The path to adulthood, for Laymon, thus becomes a literal exercise in learning to disappear: as he continues his education in Ohio and Indiana, and goes on to become a professor himself in upstate New York, he starves and runs himself to exhaustion in an effort to become unassailable. We can guess before we know that it’s a futile endeavor because we see the evidence strewn everywhere: the tear gas canisters lobbed over the border at people seeking asylum provide merely the latest proof that ours is a nation still soaking in a hate-fueled white supremacy that just can’t break its habit of inflicting harm upon brown, black, AND LGBTQ bodies.  But Laymon’s book offers far more than further evidence of the racism and violence that makes his story a peculiarly American tale. This courageous book is steeped in a politics of love that will help readers develop just the sort of “radical moral imagination” Laymon’s own mother fostered in him and which we will all need if we are to learn how to “talk, listen, organize, imagine, strategize, and fight fight fight” with and for vulnerable children everywhere."

- Kathy Knapp
Associate Professor
Department of English
University of Connecticut

Four Questions with Jason Chang

Jason Oliver Chang

  1. Tell us a bit about the project you are working on at UCHI.
    This project has allowed me to learn a great deal about Asian maritime history and has taught me how little I know. My initial interest in Asian sailors who came to the U.S. but did not become immigrants has opened up a broad inquiry across the Indian Ocean, the archipelagos of southeast Asia and the coastal regions of the South China Sea going back to the seventeenth century.
  2. What drew you to this topic and what exciting developments are you anticipating?
    I was very much seduced by the concept of sailors as being estranged from the national and international order, but sailors are difficult to study because they do not leave many records. More importantly, I have found sailors and the maritime world not all together separate from terrestrial and continental histories, but deeply intertwined but often shadowed from each other.
  3. What are you looking forward to in regard to this year at UCHI?
    I’m looking forward to finding out how wrong I was about my maritime subject. With a great deal of new research from India, UK, China, Singapore, New Zealand, and the Middle East, I know my earlier conceptions will be altered and that is exciting.
  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?”
    One thing this project has taught me is how regionally diverse, complex, and interlinked seemingly mundane lives can be when put together comparatively. This realization underscores, for me, the enormous value of exploring subjectivity, cultural production, and epistemology in power relations. Not only because it is important to understand the dynamics between the hegemon and subaltern but also to account for, acknowledge, and ward against the erasure of ways of being, ways of signifying, and ways of knowing by those who struggle to be recognized.

The William Benton Museum of Art featured in the Boston Globe

It’s streets lined with shops, galleries, boutiques, and eateries, the quaint old whaling village of Mystic has long been a Bostonian’s go-to day trip. If you did the aquarium last time, try the Mystic Museum of Art. By the banks of the Mystic River, the community art hub houses a permanent collection, rotating exhibits, and, through Dec. 22, a Holiday Gift Market. Shop sailor knot bracelets, ornaments, wine stoppers, pottery, handcrafted soaps, handcrafted jewelry, prints, and the like. Free admission. 9 Water St., Mystic, 860-536-7601.

Lauren Daley can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @laurendaley1.

Upcoming Events: Talk by Professor James Rice, “‘Early Modern’ and ‘Indigenous’ Histories”

The Early Modern Studies Working Group has a few exciting events in the next few weeks.

On March 7th, we are please to announce that Professor James Rice will be giving a talk titled “‘Early Modern’ and ‘Indigenous’ Histories.” The talk begins at 1pm and will be preceded by a lunch at 12:15. The talk will explore the intertwining questions of periodization, theories of historical causation, and identity. The ways in which scholars have traditionally periodized the ‘Early Modern’ match up with certain important turning points in Native American history, and that’s not a coincidence. Yet any attempt at marking the beginning and end dates of the Early Modern also serves to elide important continuities in Indigenous histories – elisions with significant consequences for the politics of today.

Professor Rice is the chair at the Tufts History Department and the Walter S. Dickson Professor of English and American History. His major publications are Tales from a Revolution: Bacon’s Rebellion and the Transformation of Early America (2012) and Nature and History in Potomac (2009). Currently, the Early Modern Cross Cultural Interactions Reading Group is reading Tales from a Revolution on Tuesday’s between 12-1 in the UCHI conference room. All are welcome to join.

On February 21st we will be holding our first transcribathon meeting in the UCHI conference room at 11am. As always, we will be transcribing John Ward’s diary along with a guest transcription. All are welcome.


You Should…Watch: Now Those Days Are Gone

Now Those Days Are Gone Duke Riley 2017 Seashell Mosaic on wood

"This beautifully detailed work of art measures three and half feet tall and fourteen feet long, using thousands of shells to depict the USS Kansas. The Kansas was a Connecticut-Class Battleship built in New Jersey and launched in 1905 to become a part of the, so called, Great White Fleet. This fleet, order by President Theodore Roosevelt, consisted of several other battleships that circumnavigated the globe making various military and diplomatic stops to display U.S. naval power in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War. This victory lap around the world sought to celebrate White American racial superiority as the fleet made stops in the recently occupied Caribbean and Pacific Island colonies. The delicate seashell construction contrasts vividly with the brutally destructive power of the battleship with canons, guns, and torpedoes. The warm colored shells in the sky suggest a maritime sunset with radial embellishments in the upper corners. The radiating rays seem to indicate a ubiquitous presence invoking the circumnavigation of the Great White Fleet. Riley’s use of the artwork’s title, now those days are gone, within the piece draw greater attention to multiple inflections of the phrase and it’s relationship to the U.S. imperial power. On the one hand, the phrase invokes a nostalgia for nationalist imperialism, yet the tender construction of the piece reverses this meaning to show it’s fragile nature. The nostalgic interpretation also points to a contemporary decline of U.S. global power and the dangers of reasserting such a position now. Alternatively, the title might indicate that such small battleships, as the Kansas, were immediately eclipsed by the larger, faster, and more deadly Dreadnaught class of battleships. In this interpretation, the days of small battleships are gone, ironically reflected in the tender material of the seashells replaced by behemoth war machines growing ever larger. In the multiple meanings which this artwork puts in play, it also signals a possible future without battleships. One without the racial ideologies and imperial economies which fuel seaborne violence."

- Jason Oliver Chang
Associate Professor of History and Asian American Studies
Director, Asian and Asian American Studies Institute
University of Connecticut

Four Questions with Dorit Bar-On

1. Tell us a bit about the project you are working on at UCHI.
We humans are not the only minded creatures in the world. Nonhuman animals, too, can have various affective and cognitive states of mind. But (as far as we know) we are the only creatures who speak their mind. The question of interest to me is how that could come to pass. My project is a philosophical investigation into the origins of linguistic meaning, integrating conceptual tools and theoretical insights from linguistics, comparative psychology, biology of communication, and cognitive science (among other fields).

2. What drew you to this topic and what exciting developments are you anticipating?
I have always been interested in language – its nature and structure, and its connection to mind. In more recent years, having learned about extensive research into animal communication, I became interested in continuities and discontinuities between nonhuman animal communication and human language and the time-old question of how language could have evolved from animal communication.

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

I am planning to complete a manuscript in progress titled Expression, Communication, and Origins of Meaning

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?”

Based on my experience of talking to people from diverse disciplines over the past 10 years, I see the kind of thinking cultivated in the humanities – broad yet detail-oriented, integrative, attentive to connections of ideas and similarities in patterns of thought – as immensely useful no matter the discipline or inquiry. Humanists’ common intellectual practice of ‘standing back’, taking stock, and adopting a broader perspective can have a transformative effect on any field of research.

You Should…Read: If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk film image

"You should read James Baldwin's 1974 novel If Beale Street Could Talk and view Barry Jenkins's 2018 film adaptation of Baldwin's novel.

A deeply affecting love story, Baldwin's novel centers on a young couple, Tish and Fonny. When the novel opens, Fonny is in jail accused of a crime he did not commit and Tish reveals she is pregnant. The romance is infused with an all-too-timely critique of systematic racism in the American criminal justice system. As he often did, Baldwin broke conventions and sparked controversy with this novel, choosing to tell the story from the perspective of its young black female protagonist. Poet and activist June Jordan wrote a scathing review of Baldwin's appropriation of the young black female voice.  A daring, complex, and thought-provoking work of sustaining black love, If Beale Street Could Talk demonstrates Baldwin's continued relevance in these times.

Director Barry Jenkins has now adapted Baldwin's novel to the screen, following up his Academy Award-winning Moonlight (recently recommended here by my colleague Professor Melina Pappademos).  You should read the book and watch the film, because although the film is largely faithful to the book, even a filmmaker as skilled as Jenkins leaves a lot on the page.  Those who view the film only will miss some of the work's thematic power (as well as a major element of the story's finale).

You'll also be voting with your entertainment dollars for more such adaptions of Baldwin's work and the work of other African American writers.  We've recently seen a flurry of successful film adaptations of African American literature: the adaption of August Wilson's Fences starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, Steve McQueen's adaptation of Solomon Northup's Twelve Years a Slave, and last year's The Hate U Give based on the Young Adult novel by Angie Carter, just to name a few.   The success of Beale Street -- Regina King has already won a Golden Globe for her performance as Sharon Rivers -- and Raoul Peck's Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro may promise more cinematic representations of Baldwin's work.  And I could easily list several dozen other works in the African American literary canon that would make excellent and timely material for feature-length film treatment.

There are other movies that will get much more attention, but you should see If Beale Street Could Talk.  It's a superhero movie."

- Shawn Salvant
Associate Professor of English and Africana Studies
University of Connecticut

You SHOULD…Watch: The Movies of Feng Xiaogang


“For more than two decades, the movies of veteran Chinese filmmaker Feng Xiaogang entertained the Chinese-speaking world. He created a new genre of commercially successful Chinese New Year Celebration Films (Hesui Pian). Newsweek called him the Chinese Steven Spielberg, but he does not easily fit into any classification. His movies, unlike Hollywood productions, are based on Chinese social and cultural trends, reflecting fast-changing popular tastes in the People’s Republic of China. Born in Beijing, Feng Xiaogang speaks and acts in a straightforward manner, like a northerner. As a filmmaker, he believes in freedom of artistic expression, tackling sensitive topics and challenging official and cultural norms.

His early comedies and melodramas made him famous. They cover diverse topics to which people can relate. Big Shot’s Funeral (2001) is a satire about commercialization of funeral; Cell Phone (2003) is about extra-marital affair exposed by modern mobile phone technology; If You Are the One (2008) is about a rich bachelor having a difficult time finding a lover. Feng Xiaogang’s later movies cover more serious topics, such as the Chinese Civil War of 1945-49 in Assembly (2007), the devastating Tangshan earthquake of 1976 in Aftershock (2010), and, most recently, interpersonal relations within the People’s Liberation Army dance troupe during the Cultural Revolution in Youth (2017). The secret of his success lies in his ability to be ahead of his time, as well as in his long-term collaboration with such prominent writers as Wang Shuo and Liu Zhenyun, and with actors Ge You and Fan Bingbing, who star in his movies.”


-Victor Zatsepine
Associate Professor of History
University of Connecticut