Author: Della Zazzera, Elizabeth

20 Years of Fellows: Debapriya Sarkar

As part of our 20th anniversary celebrations, we've checked in with former fellows to gather reflections on their fellowship years, to get an update on their fellowship projects, and to see what they are working on next. Read them all here.

headshot of Debapriya Sarkar2019–20 Faculty Fellow Debapriya Sarkar is Assistant Professor of English at the UConn. Her research interests include early modern literature and culture, history and philosophy of science, environmental humanities, and literature and social justice. She has co-edited, with Jenny C. Mann, a special issue of Philological Quarterly called “Imagining Early Modern Scientific Forms” (2019). Her work appears or is forthcoming in English Literary Renaissance, Shakespeare Studies, Spenser Studies, Exemplaria, and in several edited collections. Her current project, Possible Knowledge: The Literary Forms of Early Modern Science, traces how literary writing helped to re-imagine the landscape of epistemic uncertainty at the time of the Scientific Revolution. She is the recipient of the Huntington’s 2021–22 Fletcher Jones Foundation Fellowship.


What was your fellowship project about?
While at the UCHI, I was working my first book, Possible Knowledge: The Literary Forms of Early Modern Science. In this project, I study speculative habits of thought—such as hypothesis, conjecture, prophecy, and prediction—that were at the core of Renaissance poetics, fascinating writers from Spenser, Bacon, and Shakespeare to Milton and Cavendish. I call these ways of thinking “possible knowledge,” and I use them to show how poesie (a general early modern term for literature) helped to re-imagine the landscape of epistemic uncertainty at the time of the so-called Scientific Revolution.

Would you give us an update on the project?

The book is forthcoming from The University of Pennsylvania Press in 2023.

How did your fellowship year shape your project, or shape your scholarship in general?

The fellowship year was instrumental in shaping the final contours of my argument. During my year at the UCHI, I was working through a lot of the conceptual issues that ultimately appear in the book’s introduction. Given that my book studies the relations between literature and science, and engages with the works of historians and philosophers of science, it was extremely helpful to have the chance to discuss these ideas with colleagues in those fields—these discussions helped me to address questions of methodology and audience that have become very important in the final version of the project.

Would you share a favorite memory from your time as a UCHI fellow?

My favorite memory from the UCHI is definitely the weekly gatherings of the fellows—these events produced so many interesting, and unexpected, exchanges of ideas! I especially recall the serendipitous nature of forming connections across our diverse experiences and interests—both scholarly and beyond—as one of most rewarding and exciting things about my time there.

What are you working on now (or next)?

I am completing the final revisions for my book, and I am starting a new project on the intersections of early modern ecocriticism, critical race studies, and postcolonial theory—in this project, I ask how early modern literary and cultural artifacts can help us think about the long, entangled histories of environmental and racial justice.

Our theme for UCHI’s 20th anniversary year is “The Future of Knowledge.” What would you say are some of the challenges facing the future of knowledge? And what do you think is most exciting or promising about the future of knowledge?

One challenge facing the future of “knowledge” is to confront the significance and scope of the term itself—our understanding of what constitutes knowledge, and what methods are the most appropriate ways of knowledge-production (the so-called objective scientific method, let’s say), are inevitably shaped by our training, our positionality as scholars and students, and the resources available to us. For instance, how might questions in the history of science and environment shift if we centered the insights of Critical Indigenous Studies? I would be interested in thinking through such shifts in our own scholarly practices—to think of knowledges, rather than knowledge as a universal idea. This challenge is, perhaps paradoxically, one of the most exciting things about the topic: as an early modernist, it has been eye-opening to see how the import—and universality—of the term “Scientific Revolution” has been challenged and complicated by scholars working on women’s knowledge practices, Islamic science in the pre-modern period, etc. We thus already have models to rethink the meaning of what constitutes varied bodies of knowledge—by delving into the long, and global histories, of these questions, we can make the future of knowledge(s) as capacious as they have been in the past.

The Political Theory Workshop Presents Natasha Behl

THE POLITICAL THEORY WORKSHOP PRESENTS

India’s Farmers’ Protest: An Inclusive Vision of Indian Democracy

Natasha Behl, Arizona State University
with commentary by San Lee, Political Science, UConn
March 21, 2022 from 12:15–1:30pm, Oak 408 and Zoom

India, the world’s largest democracy, has been experiencing a democratic decline. Since coming to power in 2014 and winning reelection in 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party have become increasingly illiberal and authoritarian. The rule of law has deteriorated, rights and liberties have been curtailed, and scholars and the media have been silenced. If electoral constraint, constitutional design, judicial independence, and a free press haven’t slowed India’s march toward illiberalism, what can? In November 2020, India’s farmers began a highly organized protest against the government. How has this protest protected Indian democracy from further degradation? Has it radically altered India’s political future? The farmers’ protest provides an alternative vision of democracy, one rooted in radical egalitarianism. Protesting farmers have actualized the spirit of dissent enshrined in the Indian constitution by holding the current government accountable to it.

Natasha Behl is associate professor in the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Arizona State University (ASU). Her book, Gendered Citizenship: Understanding Gendered Violence in Democratic India, was published with Oxford University Press and received the American Political Science Association’s 2021 Lee Ann Fujii Award for Innovation in the Interpretive Study of Political Violence. Her research has been published in the American Political Science Review, PS: Political Science and Politics, Feminist Formations, and Politics, Groups, and Identities. At ASU, she was awarded the Outstanding Teaching Award, the Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award, ASU’s Excellence in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Award and Social Impact Award. She has written for The Washington Post and Economic & Political Weekly and given a TEDx Talk

With generous support from the UConn Humanities Institute, Africana Studies, Anthropology, El Instituto, OVPR, Philosophy, POLS, and Sociology.

Questions? Email jane.gordon@uconn.edu

Born on the Water, Raised on the Word

Born on the Water, Raised on the Word: Invoking, Learning, and Remembering Silenced Histories Through Literature, with Grace Player, Sian Charles-Harris, and Dominique Battle-Lawson. March 23, 2022, 4:30pm, Austin Building Room 217

The Humanities Institute and the Neag School of Education present

Born on the Water, Raised on the Word

Invoking, Learning, and Remembering Silenced Histories Through Literature

A panel presentation with
Grace Player, Sian Charles-Harris, and Dominique Battle-Lawson

and responses by
Julianna Iacovelli, Aarushi Nohria, Erica Popoca, and Samantha vanValkenburg

March 23, 2022, 4:30–6:00, Stern Lounge (Austin Building, Room 217)

Registration required.

The first forty students to register will receive a free copy of The 1619 Project: Born on the Water, by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson, with illustrations by Nikkolas Smith. All registrants are invited to attend Nikole Hannah-Jones in conversation with Manisha Sinha, March 30, 2022 at 2:00pm in the Student Union Theater.

Fellow’s Talk: Shardé Davis on #BlackintheIvory

2021–22 UCHI fellow's talk. #BlackintheIvory: Amplifying the Voices of Blackademic Truthtellers about Anti-Black Racism. Assistant Professor, Communications, Shardé Davis, with a response by Sarah Willen. March 23, 2022, 4:00pm. Live. Online. Registration required.

#BlackintheIvory: Amplifying the Voices of Blackademic Truthtellers about Anti-Black Racism

Shardé M. Davis (Assistant Professor, Communication, UConn)

with a response by Sarah S. Willen (Anthropology, UConn)

Wednesday, March 23, 2021, 4:00pm
Live. Online. Registration required.

A Black professor is walking down the hallway and mistaken for a custodial staff person. A Black student is told that she only received her medical scholarship because of her race. A Black research scientist is physically blocked from the university mail room, and the police are called, even though she has her university ID on her.

In June 2020, Dr. Shardé M. Davis created a Twitter hashtag #BlackintheIvory to document the racism experienced by Blackademics. Thousands used the hashtag on various social media platforms to share their stories, demonstrating that racism in the academy knew no disciplinary bounds. Indeed, Blackademics at all career points and across multiple decades have encountered systemic racism in the academy.

In this talk, Dr. Davis will discuss the concurrent struggles and triumphs of being Black in the Ivory and how Blackademics (faculty and graduate students) are standing in their right as “truth tellers” to talk back and resist the racist systems that have historically oppressed them. Dr. Davis will detail the story of the #BlackintheIvory Twitter hashtag as well as provide an overview of the book as well as its purpose and goals.

Dr. Shardé M. Davis is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication and Faculty Affiliate of various research institutes at the University of Connecticut. Her research examines the way Black women leverage communication in the sistah circle to invoke collective identity, erect and fortify the boundaries around their homeplace, and backfill the necessary resources to return to white/male dominant spaces in American society. These ideas have been published in over 40 peer-refereed articles and invited book chapters, and are best represented in her theory, The Strong Black Woman Collective. Her research was formally recognized with the 2018 American Postdoctoral Fellowship from the American Association of University Women and the 2019 Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship. In addition to her program of research, Dr. Davis created the viral Twitter Hashtag #BlackintheIvory, which extended a timely opportunity for Blackademic TRUTHtellers to share personal instances (and engage in necessary conversations) about anti-Black racism in academia. She is also the inaugural recipient of the 2021-2022 Faculty of Color Working Group Fellowship funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to edit a new book for #BlackintheIvory that is set to publish in 2023 by the University of North Carolina Press.

Sarah S. Willen is Associate Professor of Anthropology at UConn and Director of the Research Program on Global Health and Human Rights at the university’s Human Rights Institute. A critical medical anthropologist with a strong phenomenological bent, she has published widely on topics ranging from the sociopolitical dynamics and lived experiences of illegalized migration and human rights activism, to everyday understandings of deservingness, dignity, and flourishing in Israel/Palestine and the U.S. She is author or editor of four books, five special issues, and many articles and book chapters, including the multiple award-winning monograph, Fighting for Dignity: Migrant Lives at Israel’s Margins (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019). Sarah is Principal Investigator of ARCHES (the AmeRicans’ Conceptions of Health Equity Study), a three-year, interdisciplinary study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Co-Founder of the Pandemic Journaling Project—the focus of her UCHI talk and project.

Access note

If you require accommodation to attend this event, please contact us at uchi@uconn.edu or by phone (860) 486-9057. We can request ASL interpreting, computer-assisted real time transcription, and other accommodations offered by the Center for Students with Disabilities.

20 Years of Fellows: Asha Bhandary

As part of our 20th anniversary celebrations, we've checked in with former fellows to gather reflections on their fellowship years, to get an update on their fellowship projects, and to see what they are working on next. Read them all here.

Headshot of Asha Bhandary2010–11 Dissertation Research Scholar Asha Bhandary is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Iowa. She is a political philosopher and feminist ethicist whose work incorporates the human need for dependency care at the level of the foundational assumptions, premises and concepts in the liberal tradition. In her published work, which includes her monograph, Freedom to Care: Liberalism, Dependency Care, and Culture (Routledge) she advances a theory of distributive justice for caregiving arrangements that is structured by the liberal values of autonomy and transparency. It defends the importance of an abstract understanding of caregiving arrangements with her concept the “arrow of care map” as a way of tracking distributive inequalities by categories including race, gender, ethnicity, class status.


What was your fellowship project about? Would you give us an update on the project?

As the CLAS Dean’s graduate fellow at UCHI, I was working on my dissertation, which then became my first book, Freedom to Care: Liberalism, Dependency Care, and Culture (Routledge, 2020). The book was the subject of an author-meets-critics session at the 2020 Central APA, a journal symposium in the Critical Review for International Social and Political Philosophy, and several lectures at academic conferences as well as bookstores, including the internationally renowned series Live from Prairie Lights. What I developed during my fellowship year was really one of the cornerstones of the book’s argument. I established that care has to be included as one of the circumstances of justice, working within a framework of liberal political theory. I showed that care has the same or greater value than the other things that are included as circumstances of justice—protection from attack, income and wealth—thereby demonstrating that care is one of these foundational needs. In doing so, I united the existing care ethical literature, which asserts the value of care, with the literature in liberalism that establishes the idea of distributive justice as a system of fair cooperation for everyone.

This cornerstone later became an article that was published in the Journal of Philosophical Research, with a response by Jan Narveson, a well-known libertarian, and with my response to him. It was that variety of interlocutor I had in mind when I developed that argument—someone who doesn’t necessarily believe that care should be included in our accounts of what is most fundamental to society in our accounts of justice—the person who thinks that maybe care is a private concern, or that it’s properly the domain of women, or that it just occurs naturally—I was arguing against them.

I continued to develop this project, and to write the book as an assistant professor. The result, my monograph, Freedom to Care, sets forth a new form of liberalism that is an anti-oppression liberalism that incorporates care as well as the facts of group-based oppression into the justificatory structure of liberalism. This form of justification acknowledges that what theorists know is going to be informed by what real people in the world assert as valuable. But, when we’re trying to decide on the parameters for a fair system of social practices, we cannot solely rely on what people assert in our actual conversations. We also need to engage in the kind of abstract theoretical exercise that is the philosopher’s expertise, which creates the possibility of a “metalucidity” (that is Jose Medina’s term to characterize the ability to understand the norms that structure the world around us) about how our assumptions are informed by existing inequalities. To get distance from those existing inequalities, I use a version of John Rawls’ idea of the original position as a modeling device.

How did your fellowship year shape your project, or shape your scholarship in general?

Last month, I completed a semester as a Fellow-in-Residence at a similar research institute at the University of Iowa called the Obermann Center. And my experience at the Humanities Institute at UConn definitely contributed to my interest in applying for that fellowship. At both Institutes, I found that I was in dialogue with other people who genuinely care about their scholarship—who are deeply immersed in it, and engaged in a specific academic debate but who are also interested in discussing it with people outside that debate. As a graduate fellow at UCHI, it was wonderful to be a member of that kind of community as a graduate student. I was one of, I think, two graduate students in our cohort, and then the rest of the fellows were faculty. When you’re in a position like that, you learn so much by absorbing how other people are going about their projects. In terms of how it shaped my scholarship, being part of that interdisciplinary group of scholars helped me learn to articulate my work in a language that is understandable to people who aren’t just at the interior of the debate. For philosophers, that’s really important because it helps us test whether what we’re doing matters. Being able to talk about your work in more general terms applies pressure to the ideas, because you have to think about what other people are talking about and what they value and how to translate the work that you’re doing into language that’s going to make sense to people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Of course, this is always a huge challenge for academics, because we’re working in highly specialized areas, within which we’re contributing to specialized debates. Moving back and forth between that specialized debate, where we’re making a really specific refinement in a concept, and then talking about the work more broadly is difficult. I think that being a fellow at the Humanities Institute helped me begin to gain this skill at a very early stage of my career.

Would you share a favorite memory from your time as a UCHI fellow?

Again, the context for this is that as a graduate student, I was very early in my career. I remember an interaction with one of the senior scholars that led me to conclude that she was totally Boss. In a conversation during her office hours, she told me that that if she had to leave her writing for household responsibilities, (maybe she had a baby, I don’t quite remember) she would wait until her writing reached a logical stopping point, and her husband just had to wait. Those insights about how female intellectuals manage micro-interactions are incredibly valuable early in one’s career.

What are you working on now (or next)?

I just published a co-edited volume called Caring for Liberalism (Routledge 2021) and I’m going to be speaking at a panel related to it at the Pacific APA in Vancouver this April. I’m also working on a response to critics for another symposium on Freedom to Care, which will be in the journal Dialogue: The Canadian Philosophical Review. This summer, I will be one of the Distinguished Visiting speakers at the NEH Summer Institute Philosophical Perspectives on Giving, Receiving, and Conceiving Care. Right now, my new writing is for an article for the journal philosophies that is connected to my next monograph,
provisionally titled Being at Home: Liberal Autonomy in an Unjust World.

In it, I’m thinking about how to conceptualize autonomy when you begin from the subject position of a woman of color. To do so, I am combining personal narratives with philosophical analysis to yield a plural account of autonomy. Self-sovereignty is one part of autonomy; that’s the "this is my domain, don’t mess with me," component. Then there’s an authenticity component: Who are you really? How can you act in a way that’s true to who you really are? In addition, I am also thinking about the way affordances in the world are informed by racialized entitlements, which also brings me into bioethics. This new project is an extension of the theory in my first monograph, where I look at caregiving arrangements and show how our caregiver arrangements are unjust and need to be rectified. The new book will establish a link between thinking from the subject position of a woman of color who asserts full claimant status, to the demands for a just society that includes justice in caregiving arrangements. Because women of color are so often the repository of needs of others, globally, women of color are not granted full claimant status in informal spaces. In interactions when women of color assert full claimant status, we are often met with various forms of resistance—anger, confusion, hostility. This experience of resistance changes how we should think about autonomy because I take seriously that women of color are autonomous.

My research overall, is an ambitious program in political philosophy that evaluates the nature of entitlements, distributive justice, freedom, and autonomy in a way that is informed by through feminist and anti-racist philosophy. In Being at Home, I continue that project by drilling down into the concept of autonomy and then also looking at the way that we're autonomous in the world as it is—in a nonideal world—where part of what everyone wants is to achieve a state of “being at home” in the world. An explication of this state of being at home is something I developed in chapter nine of Freedom to Care. It’s a state of affairs where you have access to your valued relationships and you have access to other essential goods. In the new book, I’m looking at the relationship between being at home and autonomy, which occurs against the backdrop of our society.

Our theme for UCHI’s 20th anniversary year is “The Future of Knowledge.” What would you say are some of the challenges facing the future of knowledge? And what do you think is most exciting or promising about the future of knowledge?

People’s social media habits create challenges for our habits of mind—in particular, for our ability to think independently and clearly and to maintain habits of mind that allow for intensive concentration. And this is a challenge that I think about for myself, as a professor, as a mother with two children, a teenager and a seven-year-old. I strive to protect my kids’ brains for sustained concentration that is not interrupted or filled in by the thoughts of others. We do that by limiting their access to technology more substantially than most people. However, on the other side of the equation about the goods of technology in relation to knowledge, is that social media platforms have upended gatekeeping practices in ways that are really exciting. For instance, in popular culture, there is so much more diversity in the voices that we can have access to—that we can read and listen to and watch. That this transition happened as rapidly as it did was because of technology and social media.

Publishing NOW: How to Work with an Academic Press

Publishing NOW: How to Work with an Academic Press, with Leah Pennywark, Humanities Editor at University of Minnesota Press. March 21, 2022, 1:00pm. Live. Online. Registration required.

Publishing NOW

How to Work with an Academic Press

Leah Pennywark (Humanities Editor, University of Minnesota Press)

March 21, 2022, 1:00pm

Live • Online • Registration required.

Leah Pennywark, Humanities Editor at the University of Minnesota Press, will offer tips and insights for working with an academic press. She is also offering virtual half-hour-long one-on-one meetings for prospective authors on March 22. These appointments are for UConn-afiliated faculty only. Interested parties should sign up for an appointment via Calendly.

Leah Pennywark is Humanities Editor at the University of Minnesota Press where she acquires in a wide range of disciplines, including American studies, cultural studies, literary criticism, and cinema and media studies. Her interests include gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, and emerging cultural formations. She is passionate about argument-driven work that is politically and culturally engaged. Before joining the University of Minnesota Press, Pennywark served as assistant editor at Stanford University Press, where she focused on political science, international relations, security studies, and Middle East studies. Prior to that, she served as acquisitions assistant at Purdue University Press, where she completed a PhD in American literature. She has an MA in literature from the University of Rochester and a BA in English from Rice University.

ACCESS NOTE

This event will offer automated captioning. If you require accommodation to attend this event, please contact us at uchi@uconn.edu or by phone (860) 486-9057. We can request ASL interpreting, computer-assisted real time transcription, and other accommodations offered by the Center for Students with Disabilities.

Nikole Hannah-Jones

Celebrating 20 Years of the UConn Humanities Institute with Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones in conversation with Manisha Sinha. March 30, 2022, 2:00pm, Student Union Theater.

Celebrating twenty years of the UConn Humanities Institute with Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist

Nikole Hannah-Jones

in conversation with Manisha Sinha (History, UConn)

March 30, 2022, 2:00pm. Student Union Theater

REGISTER

On March 30th at 2:00pm in the Student Union Theater, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, most famous for her work on the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, will be in conversation with UConn history professor Manisha Sinha. They will discuss Hannah-Jones’ work as an advocate for people of color in journalism and as a writer working to change the way we think about race in the United States.

This event is restricted to the UConn community. Please register with a UConn email address. All registrations without UConn email addresses will be canceled. If you are part of the UConn community but do not have a UConn email address, write to us at uchi@uconn.edu.

You must show your ticket to enter the venue.

This is a UConn Honors event.

Members of the UConn community may submit questions in advance of the event via online form. Please submit your questions by March 28, 2022. Members of the UConn community will also be able to access a livestream of the event. There will be no recording.

Cosponsored by the Office of the Provost, the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, the UConn Foundation, the Neag School of Education, the Africana Studies Institute, the Human Rights Institute, the History Department, and the Journalism Department.

ACCESS NOTE

If you require accommodations to attend this event, please notify uchi@uconn.edu by Wednesday, March 23. An ASL interpreter will be present for the duration of the event. The event will also be available via livestream.

NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES is the Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of the 1619 Project and a staff writer at The New York Times Magazine. She has spent her career investigating racial inequality and injustice, and her reporting has earned her the MacArthur Fellowship, known as the Genius grant, a Peabody Award, two George Polk Awards and the National Magazine Award three times. Hannah-Jones also earned the John Chancellor Award for Distinguished Journalism and was named Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists and the Newswomen’s Club of New York. In 2020 she was inducted into the Society of American Historians and in 2021 she was named a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. She also serves as the Knight Chair of Race and Journalism at Howard University, where she is founding the Center for Journalism & Democracy.

In 2016, Hannah-Jones co-founded the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, which seeks to increase the number of reporters and editors of color. She holds a Master of Arts in Mass Communication from the University of North Carolina and earned her BA in History and African-American studies from the University of Notre Dame.

MANISHA SINHA is the Draper Chair in American History at the University of Connecticut. She received her Ph.D from Columbia University where her dissertation was nominated for the Bancroft prize. She taught at the University of Massachusetts for over twenty years where she was awarded the Chancellor’s Medal, the highest honor bestowed on faculty. She is the author of The Counterrevolution of Slavery: Politics and Ideology in Antebellum South Carolina (University of North Carolina Press, 2000), which was named one of the ten best books on slavery in Politico in 2015 and featured in the New York Times 1619 Project. Her recent book, the multiple-award winning The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition (Yale University Press, 2016) was long listed for the National Book Award for Non Fiction. The Slave’s Cause was widely reviewed in the mainstream press and was featured as the editor’s choice in The New York Times Book Review. Professor Sinha has published and been interviewed in national and international media. She is the author and editor of several other books and articles. She is also the recipient of numerous awards including two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and two from the Mellon Foundation. In 2018, she was a visiting Professor at the University of Paris, Diderot and in 2021, she received the James W.C. Pennington award, from the University of Heidelberg, Germany. She is a member of the Board of the Society of Civil War Historians and of the Council of Advisors of the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery at the Schomburg, New York Public Library. She is a co-editor of the “Race and the Atlantic World, 1700-1900,” series of the University of Georgia Press and is on the editorial board of Slavery and Abolition. A historian of the long nineteenth century, her research interests lie specifically in the transnational histories of slavery, abolition, and feminism and the history and legacy of the Civil War and Reconstruction. She is currently writing a book on the Reconstruction of American democracy after the Civil War under contract with Liveright (WW Norton).

Fellow’s Talk: Micki McElya on Pageantry and Power in the Black Freedom Movement

2021–22 UCHI Fellow's Talk. Liberating Beauty?: Pageantry and Power in teh Black Freedom Movement. Professor of History Micki McElya. March 9, 2022, 4:00pm. Homer Babbidge Library, 4-209.

Liberating Beauty?: Pageantry and Power in the Black Freedom Movement

Micki McElya (Professor, History, UConn)

Wednesday, March 9, 2022, 4:00pm, HBL 4-209

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The event will also be livestreamed with automated captioning.

Register to attend virtually.

This talk examines the centrality of beauty pageants—of the celebratory display and competitive assessment of the appearance and deportment of Black girls and women—to the diverse range of Black politics, activist strategies, and visions for freedom and liberation in the United States from the late 1940s to the 1970s. Common to all was an investment in contesting white supremacist beauty standards, claiming the authority to define Black beauty, and harnessing its liberating possibilities. As both subjects and the objects of these investments, Black girls and women confronted an always fraught, often violent terrain of beauty’s opportunities, limitations, pleasures, and awful degradations. As an ideal, a set of practices, and as daily labor, beauty could be many things, but it was fundamentally always about race, gender, and power.

Micki McElya is professor of History and affiliated faculty with the Africana Studies Institute, American Studies Program, and the Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program. Her current book project, No More Miss America! How Protesting the 1968 Pageant Changed a Nation will be published by Avid Reader Press (Simon & Schuster) and recently earned a 2022–2023 Public Scholar award from the National Endowment for the Humanities. McElya’s last book, The Politics of Mourning: Death and Honor in Arlington National Cemetery, was a Choice Outstanding Academic Title of 2017 and a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. It was a co-winner of the 2018 John Brinckerhoff Jackson Book Prize from the Foundation for Landscape Studies, winner of the inaugural Sharon Harris Book Prize from UConn’s Humanities Institute, and finalist for the 2016 Jefferson Davis Book Award from the American Civil War Museum. She is also the author of Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America, which won a 2007 Outstanding Book Award from the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights.

Access note

If you require accommodation to attend this event, please contact us at uchi@uconn.edu or by phone (860) 486-9057. We can request ASL interpretation, computer-assisted real time transcription, and other accommodations offered by the Center for Students with Disabilities.

Why Support the Humanities? An Interview with Joyce A. Scott

A photograph of Joyce Scott, a white woman with short grey hair.Joyce A. Scott retired from Texas A&M University-Commerce as Professor of Higher Education, after serving 32 years in academic administration at four public universities, a national association, and a state university system. She holds a BA in French and English from the University of Connecticut, an MA in French from the University of Virginia, and a Ph.D. in Romance Languages from Duke University. She is an avid supporter of the UConn Humanities Institute.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. If you would like to support the work of the Institute, please see our giving page.


What first drew you to the study of literature?

I was read to from early childhood, all the time, and I was fascinated by storytelling. As I became able to read, I started taking off on my own, pursuing various adventures. Studying literature was therefore a continuation of a lifetime habit, the point being to get inside other lives and minds, to learn other cultures, or to learn about other cultures. It was a way of broadening my outlook, to travel the world without leaving home. I think one of the things that most fascinated me and kept me studying literature all the way through the doctorate was the cultural exploration. Being brought up in immediately post–World War II United States was a fairly anodyne experience, and exploring the rest of the world and other people’s perspectives and ideas was fascinating to me. So I just kept going. It was so much fun.

What makes you think it’s especially important to support the humanities now?

I was brought up in the mode of the Enlightenment and the application of reason to solve problems, to explore truth and knowledge, and that seems to have gone out the window. We have fake news. We have problems of communication, where effectively lies are repeated and repeated and repeated just to instill mistrust in the other. I think that the humanities foster effective communication, effective modes of inquiry, which we seem to be ignoring or disclaiming these days. We are manipulated by technology, by politicians and other public figures. The humanities help us to broaden our perspective and to test the allegations of this cultural moment and to explore what is truth. The recent Nobel laureate Maria Ressa talks about the integrity of facts, and what has happened in the present cultural moment is that facts have been undermined. The humanities give us a way back to understanding and knowing what is truth, what is real.

What makes you committed to supporting the work of the Humanities Institute at UConn?

As I said earlier, the whole issue of what is true and what isn’t becomes critical in these days, and much of the work of the Institute addresses the kinds of concerns that I have raised. The whole project the Future of Truth directly responds to my concerns. When I visited the Institute a couple of years back, pre-pandemic, there was a workshop with public school teachers going on, focusing on effective communication and being able to communicate the values of the humanities to students. Workshops and other public-facing events are extremely important in this particular time in alerting people to other ways of examining truth and other ways of finding truth—critical inquiry. I think we have far too little of that in our public life, and I was delighted to see that public school teachers were on campus and discussing important issues with faculty and students in the Humanities Institute. I had a very traditional, old-school education, and I remember my stepfather, who was an MD/Ph.D. microbiologist, saying to me in my junior year as an English and French major, Couldn’t you do something useful? I now see that it is useful, that the Institute is doing something valuable and, in fact, spreading the word. Communicating the value of the humanities is extremely important in this time.

20 Years of Fellows: Margo Machida

As part of our 20th anniversary celebrations, we've checked in with former fellows to gather reflections on their fellowship years, to get an update on their fellowship projects, and to see what they are working on next. Read them all here.

Margo Machida at the Honolulu Museum of Art, standing between two sculptures of faces, mounted on the wall.2010–11 Faculty Fellow Margo Machida is Professor Emerita of Art History (School of Fine Arts) and Asian and Asian American Studies (College of Liberal Arts and Sciences) at the University of Connecticut. Born and raised in Hawai`i, she is a scholar, independent curator, and cultural critic specializing in Asian American art and visual culture. Her most recent book is Unsettled Visions: Contemporary Asian American Artists and the Social Imaginary, published by Duke University Press in 2009. This book received the prestigious Cultural Studies Book Award from the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) in 2011. She also co-edited the award-winning volume Fresh Talk/Daring Gazes: Conversations on Asian American Art (University of California Press, 2003). She is the 2021 recipient of the prestigious CAA Award for Excellence in Diversity.


What was your fellowship project about?

My 2010–2011 fellowship project, “Resighting Hawai‘i: Global Flows and Island Imaginaries in Asian American and Native Hawaiian Art,” profiled work by fifteen living artists of Asian, Indigenous Hawaiian, and mixed heritages. Drawing on the extensive oral history interviews I conducted with these artists, this project investigated how their visual production negotiates complexly entwined histories, conflicts, and claims to place in the Hawaiian Islands and in the Asia Pacific region.

Would you give us an update on the project?

This fellowship research provided the basis for several subsequent publications including: “Remixing Metaphors: Negotiating Multiracial Positions in Contemporary Native Hawaiian Art,” in War Baby/Love Child: Mixed Race Asian American Art (University of Washington Press, 2013); “Trans-Pacific Sitings: The Roving Imagery of Lynne Yamamoto,” in Third Text special issue, “The Transnational Turn: East Asian Mobility” (2014); and “Pacific Itineraries and Oceanic Imaginaries in Contemporary Asian American Art,” in Asian Diasporic Visual Cultures and the Americas journal (Brill, Spring 2017).

How did your fellowship year shape your project, or shape your scholarship in general?

The fellowship period was an invaluable opportunity to exclusively focus on this research. The transcripts from these digitally recorded interviews provided the primary source material for developing a comparative thematic framework to analyze works of art emerging from Indigenous and ʻsettler’ groups in Hawaiʻi and their continental U.S. diasporas.

Would you share a favorite memory from your time as a UCHI fellow?

I enjoyed the supportive collegial atmosphere and the privilege of being able to listen to work-in-progress, especially from colleagues whose informal talks introduced me to a range of investigative strategies in other fields. Whereas my scholarship is anchored in recorded exchanges with contemporary artists, those sessions likewise conferred a keen appreciation for what could be achieved through sustained archival research.

What are you working on now (or next)?

My research with contemporary Asian American artists is ongoing, including an interest in artists from Hawaiʻi. The scope of my attention has also extended to earlier generations of Asian American modernists from the Hawaiian Islands who traveled to New York and other East Coast cities between the 1930s and 1970s. Their presence in the American art world remains a comparatively understudied subject.

Our theme for UCHI’s 20th anniversary year is “The Future of Knowledge.” What would you say are some of the challenges facing the future of knowledge? And what do you think is most exciting or promising about the future of knowledge?

The COVID pandemic continues to impact life at every level. In this profoundly disruptive and uncertain time—and especially during the 2020 closure of universities and museums—I was moved by the extraordinary generosity shown by colleagues across the United States and abroad who remained readily available to answer research questions online, and to think through complicated issues together. Our exchanges reinforced the signal importance of maintaining durable communities in the collaborative production of knowledge. Collaboration is scarcely a novel concept, but it certainly takes on new valences as the means to share resources and to sustain one another in today’s difficult times.