Author: mem17025

Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Rebecca Gould

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

I have a BA from the University of California Berkeley in Comparative and Slavic Literatures (double major). After I received my degree, I spent two years living in Tbilisi, Georgia, during when I embarked on the research that went into my first book Writers and Rebels: The Literature of Insurgency in the Caucasus (Yale University Press, 2016), which examines anticolonial poetry and prose during the tsarist and Soviet periods. My PhD dissertation (Columbia University, 2013) deals a literary genre from a much earlier period: the medieval Persian prison poem. I am very lucky to have recently joined the University of Birmingham, where, as a Professor of Islamic World and Comparative Literature, I am able to bring together my wide-ranging interests in the Islamic Studies and Comparative Literature, from the medieval period to the postcolonial present.


-What is the project you’re currently working on?

My current book project is tentatively entitled Narrating Catastrophe: Forced Migration from Colonialism to Postcoloniality. This work tells of an aspect of the colonial encounter in the Caucasus that Writers and Rebels ignores. Both this and my first book were inspired by the experience of living in Tbilisi, Georgia, from 2004-6, among Georgian intellectuals and Chechen refugees. When I engaged with the history of the peoples I was living with and learning from, I began to notice two ways in which the past was remembered. The first way, of glorifying and sanctifying anticolonial violence, became the focus of Writers and Rebels. The second approach to the past that I noticed involved memorializing narratives of forced migration from the Caucasus to Ottoman lands (during the tsarist period) and Central Asia (during the Soviet period), such that forced migration became a recurring trope within popular culture. This repeated story of forced migration that dominates the literatures of the Caucasus is the subject of Narrating Catastrophe.  The term for this story, hijra, refers to the migration of the prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina as well as to subsequent migrations, both forced and voluntary, within Islamic history.



-How did you arrive at this topic?

In Narrating Catastrophe, I explore the many meanings of forced migrations across the Islamic world, with a particular focus on the Caucasus. The more immersed I became in Caucasus narratives of displacement, the more clearly I saw that these narratives intersect with other narratives from elsewhere in the Islamic world, including the nakba (catastrophe) among Palestinians and the expulsion of Spanish Muslims during the Reconquista, which is also referred to as hijra. Although these events are obviously distinct, they are united by their narrative connection to early Islam. Needless to say, the connection I refer to is more narratival than historical, but as a scholar of Comparative Literature, it is precisely the imaginative links that extend across continents and which have persisted across centuries that I find fascinating.


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

To start with the most obvious: as a scholar of the Islamic world, I believe that the world I work on has a special contribution to make to policy debates. By viewing Islamic history through the prism of hijra—rather than through more violent idioms, such as that of jihad—I offer readers a means to engage with core Islamic narratives outside the polarizations that circulate in the media accounts that are the primary source for popular understanding of Islam. Another area in which this project stands to make an impact is on how we understand migration. Generally, migration is viewed from the perspective of the interests and norms of the host country. What would migration looked like if viewed from the perspective of the migrant? Narrating Catastrophe offers one answer to this question. Like Thomas Nail, whose recent book The Figure of the Migrant (Stanford, 2015), reveals how the migrant condition applies to all of us, my use of the hijra narrative showcases the general relevance of this concept and its attendant histories across the Islamic world. Rather than offer an historical account, I am developing a political theory around Islamic migration, based primarily on literary narratives from the Caucasus. The final area of impact is to do with the Caucasus itself. To my mind, the Caucasus is one of the most understudied, yet most fascinating regions of the world. It combines Muslim, Christian, and other religions traditions in close proximity to each other and is unsurpassed in terms of its linguistic and cultural diversity. Throughout my work, I have developed the idea of the Caucasus as a marginalised crossroads, meaning a geography that nearly always finds itself on edges of power and yet which maintains a kind of centrality to European and Islamic culture. By immersing my readers in an intertextual tradition that they surely will not have encountered before, I hope to enable them to think differently about migration and mobility, and from perspectives they have not contemplated before.

Publishing Now! – Ray Ryan

Ray Ryan, Senior Commissioning Editor of English and American Literature at Cambridge University Press, will be speaking about publishing and new shifts and changes in the industry. He is author of Ireland and Scotland: Literature and Culture, State and Nation, editor of Writing in the Irish Republic: Literature, Culture, Politics, 1949-1999, and co-editor of Ireland and Scotland:
Culture and Society, 1700-2000 and The Good of the Novel.

This talk is generously co-sponsored by UCHI, the English Department, Asian and Asian American Studies Institute, and the CLAS Dean’s Office.

You SHOULD…Read: The Adivasi Will Not Dance By Debanuj DasGupta

You must read The Adivasi Will Not Dance, a collection of ten short stories by Hansda Sowendra Shekhar, winner of the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar, 2015 (The National India Academy of Letters Award, 2015). Shekhar collected stories of Santhal tribes (scheduled tribes of India are pre-nation state indigenous communities) while working as a medical officer in a remote part of the Jharkhand state, a newly formed state in India with large Santhal population. Each story reveals the territorial interstices of Santhali life in India. The third story November is the Month of Migrations is a brutal, raw, and harsh description of how Talami (a young Santhal girl) had to exchange sexual favors with a police officer in return of two cold breads and Rs 50.00 (90 cents). Santhali community members called the story pornographic and burnt effigies of Sowendra Shekhar. In response to the protests, the Jharkhand government has banned the book. As I sat in the early September warm breeze in my Storrs-Masfield backyard and leafed through the bright turquoise blue covers, Sowendra’s writing transposed me into the forests of West-Bengal and Jharkhand (where I grew up & often traveled on winter vacations to the Santhal areas). The stories narrate struggles of Mangla Murmu the troupe-master of a performing group who would not dance for the President of India and is brutally beaten down on the ground, while another one narrates the story of Bikram-Kumang who is asked to hide his Santhali roots by his Hindu upper-caste landlord. The book will take you on a journey of indigenous communities in India, and reveals how generations of Indian tribes live with the ravages of colonization.

Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions With Laura Wright


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

I earned a BA in theatre and a BA in English at the University of Montana and completed my MA at UConn.  I am currently a PhD candidate in the English Department at the University of Connecticut and a Draper Dissertation fellow at UCHI.


What is the project you’re currently working on?

I am completing my dissertation, “Prizing Difference: PEN Awards and Multiculturalist Politics in American Fiction.” In this project, I examine the Poets, Essayists, Novelists (PEN) organization and map the contested national and international politics of book prizes. In particular, awards such as the PEN/Faulkner have determined the scope of what has become an identifiable twentieth- and twenty-first century American literary canon. Focused on Latinx, African American, Asian American, and Jewish American writers “Prizing Difference” considers multiple hierarchies of power, the material factors of publishing, and the evolving politics of “multiculturalism” in the US academy.


How did you arrive at this topic?

There were two moments that really launched my thinking on this topic. I have had a long-standing interest in canon formation (adjudicating what “counts” and what doesn’t in American Literature) and my committee asked me a question specifically on this topic in my PhD exams.  In attempting to answer the question, I struggled to define “canon.”  There were too many variables in play to settle on a stable definition that scholars, teachers, students, and readers could agree upon.  Is Toni Morrison a great African American novelist or a great American novelist?  What are the political and cultural consequences of these different designations?  Book prizes helped me negotiate this difficulty by offering a fixed list of winners that constitute a particular idea of the American novel as determined by the prize committee.


The idea that book prizes can form canons was reinforced the next time I took a trip to my public library.  In browsing the shelves, I noticed that the library has stickers that help identify the genre of a novel.  For instance, a space ship sticker helps readers readily locate science fiction while a sticker of a magnifying glass indicates detective fiction.  One of these stickers, to my surprise, used a blue ribbon to categorize books as “Prize Winners.”  This suggested that prize-winning novels might have significant commonalities between texts, forming a new genre of their own.


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

Book prizes offer a way of discerning “what counts” as American Literature historically, but also as recently as this year.  Without the vantage of a lengthy publication history or repeated encounters with a particular work in a classroom setting, book prizes help us identify significant cultural texts.  Additionally, these prizes form a critical link between the public and the university.  People (myself included) often select reading material based on the endorsements of a particular prize.  I argue that by thinking through the engagement between prizes and politics, we can gain a better understanding of our cultural values, particularly around racial identity.

Together Event

When: 9:00AM – 12:00PM

What: Initiative on Campus Dialogues “Office Hours”

Where: Humanities Institute Seminar Room, Babbidge Library, 4th Floor

Organizers: Initiative on Campus Dialogues

Interested to offer a dialogue on confronting racism in your classroom, but wish to know a little more about process, possibilities and potential pitfalls? Drop in on the Humanities Institute’s Initiative on Campus Dialogues (ICD) “office hours” where participants in ICD will be available to walk through different dialogic approaches, share their experiences discussing difficult questions, workshop strategies for running a structured conversation in the classroom, and generally do what they might to answer your questions. Those confirmed for the day include the following:

  • Hilary Bogert-Winkler (PhD Candidate, History; ICD)
  • Sian Charles-Harris (PhD Candidate, NEAG; ICD Fellow)
  • Gina Devivo-Brassaw (Associate Director for Community Outreach Programs, Services, and Initiatives)
  • Richard Frieder (ICD Fellow)
  • Brendan Kane (History; ICD)
  • Cynthia Melendez (PhD Candidate, International Studies-Latino Studies)
  • Dana Miranda (PhD Candidate, Philosophy; ICD)


When: 7:00PM – 8:45PM

What: Confronting Racism Together: A Model Dialogue

Where: Dodd Center, Konover Auditorium

Organizers: Brendan Kane, Humanities Institute; Glenn Mitoma, Dodd Center

Description:  Join UConn leaders as they take part in a public dialogue exploring their experiences with racism. Dialogue is one of the most powerful tools we have in confronting racism. But actual dialogue – as opposed to debate, deliberation or conversation – rarely occurs. In part that is because it can be challenging: the bravery it takes to speak honestly and unscripted, and the discipline to listen with empathy and be present, can be difficult in a world so crowded with stimulus and distraction.  Confronting racism, however, requires such bravery and discipline, such honesty and presence. It also needs people who through their public truth-telling can inspire others to truly dialogue over racism. Please join us as members of our community take part in this important conversation, facilitated by Valeriano Ramos of Everyday Democracy. Participants are drawn from across the University:

  • Sulin Ba (Associate Dean, School of Business)
  • Kazem Kazerounian (Dean, School of Engineering)
  • Ian McGregor (PhD Candidate; Curriculum and Instruction, NEAG)
  • Joelle Murchison (Chief Diversity Officer)
  • Mark Overmyer-Velazquez (Director, UConn Hartford Campus)
  • Jeremy Teitelbaum (Provost)
  • Irma Valverde (USG President)


You SHOULD…Confront Racism in the Digital Realm

“You Should…Confront Racism in the Digital Realm”


A teach-in moderated by Professor Anke Finger and featuring Professors Kelly Dennis, Anne Mae Duane, Bhakti Shringarpure and Ph.D. candidate Matt Guariglia.


The “You Should…” pulls from a new program UCHI started to make the humanities more personal and urgent ( and “Confront Racism” is the theme of the Metanoia this year.


Join us for a dialogue about social media activism/racism (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and online racism, online activism and connections to civil responsibility, courage, and action— basically the potential and pitfalls, in other words, of our life online. How does one recognize and take action against racism online? Are there tools or methods that have been effective? Can we use social media for cultural change?


Nov 8, noon – 2pm, UCHI Conference Room


For more on UConn’s 2017 Metanoia see: (



Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Jorell Melendez Badillo


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

I possess a BA in History and a MA in History of the Americas from the Inter American University in Puerto Rico. I was also a recipient of the Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship (2016-2017), which allowed me to make substantial progress in my project. At UCHI, I will finish writing my dissertation, currently titled Our Turn to Speak: The Creation of Puerto Rican Workers’ Intellectual Communities, 1897-1952.


What is the project you’re currently working on?

My dissertation tells the story of how a cluster of self-educated workers burst into Puerto Rico’s world of letters at the turn of the twentieth century. These workers navigated the polity that emerged from the 1898 U.S. occupation by asserting themselves as citizens, as producers of their own historical narratives, and ultimately, as learned minds. My project shifts the historiographical focus from class-based analyses towards the study of workers’ intellectual yearnings, aesthetic sensibilities, and radical desires.


By following leads, often as small as a stamp on a letter, I have traced the trajectory of workers that went from being ignored by the cultural elite to eventually become part of the national mythology. Following these traces have taken me to archives in Puerto Rico, Europe, and the United States, and allowed me to document how workers participated in the international circulation of print media, imagining themselves as part of the global labor community. However, while these workers took part in these transnational networks, labor leaders enacted exclusions locally by pushing black people, women, and non-skilled workers to the margins of the labor movement they founded and the historical archive they produced.


How did you arrive at this topic?

My dissertation grew out of the research for my first book, Voces libertarias: Orígenes del anarquismo en Puerto Rico, currently in its third edition. Tracing the circulation of anarchist ideas developed my broader interest in global subaltern circuits of knowledge. While I had initially located Puerto Rico in a global context, it became increasingly important to situate my work within a Latin American framework to fully grasp the events covered in my dissertation. This led me to explore the connections of seemingly local incidents with wider regional developments, such as nation-building processes, populist politics, and the relation of marginal intellectuals with the state.

Beyond academic influences, my interest for the topics I study comes from lived experiences. Listening to family stories can have a profound impact on one’s career choices and passions. It certainly did for me. Raised by my grandparents in a rural barriada, or working-class neighborhood, in Puerto Rico, I came of age listening to fifteen great aunts and uncles recount long shifts in tobacco factories and train rides across the island in search of work cutting sugar cane under the blistering sun. What I learned from their memories about labor struggles, exclusions, and migration shapes my worldview and provides me with a compass for the questions I ask in my own scholarly research and in my teaching.


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

“In the institutional knowledge of universities in the United States, the place of Puerto Rico is very uncertain,” wrote literary scholar Arcadio Díaz Quiõnez more than two decades ago. He continued, “Since it’s neither ‘Latin American,’ nor ‘North American,’ it ends up being erased.” Thus, my work’s major intervention is to locate Puerto Rico in the broader cartography of knowledges within US academia. More broadly, my dissertation seeks to yield light on the production of ideas of those that were not considered legitimate producers of knowledge because they lacked academic degrees or access to cultural capital. In sum, it demonstrates how those in the margins, those that were deemed culturally unfit, and those that were silenced because of their race or their gender have been crucial in shaping the ever-incomplete process of imagining the Puerto Rican nation.

You SHOULD…Read: Women at the Front: Hospital Workers in Civil War America By Thomas Lawrence Long

        Race and gender disparities. Factional hostility breaking out into violence. Struggles for adequate health care. The right to vote. Although these phrases seem “ripped from the headlines” today, in fact they represent conditions in the US a century and a half ago in which women in nursing found themselves struggling for self-representation with implications for just pension laws, racial equity, and voting rights. The book you must read in order to understand how writing and publishing media were put to use in these social and political struggles is Jane E. Schultz’s 2004 book Women at the Front: Hospital Workers in Civil War America. A professor of English at Indiana University and a fellow and life member of Clare Hall, Cambridge, Schultz turns the skills of archival historical research to understand how some of the over 20,000 Union women served in military hospitals during the Civil War. She examines the nurse narratives published during the war and in the decades afterward (several published by Hartford subscription publishing houses), analyzing the reach of these publications. By moving the domestic practice of nursing outside their homes and caring for the bodies of strangers, wartime nurses were breaking new social and professional ground for women. Within a decade of war, professional nursing education would be established in the US. It would take another three decades after the war for women’s wartime nursing service to be recognized by a federal pension act. Schultz documents, however, racial and class disparities: White middle-class women were routinely classified as “nurses” while Black and poor White women were categorized as “cooks” and “laundresses” (even though they often performed the same tasks), with disparate pensions. Because Union nurses risked their health and lives in service to the country, they also implicitly dismantled a persistent argument against woman suffrage, i.e., that only men should vote because only men could defend the nation. It would take people like Civil War health care organizer Mary Livermore to make this argument explicitly on behalf of women’s right to vote in her book My Story of the War and periodical articles.


Thomas Lawrence Long is associate professor in residence in the School of Nursing, serving on the core faculty of Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. He is the curator of the School of Nursing’s Josephine Dolan Collection of Nursing History.





Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Tracy Llanera


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

After completing my BA and MA in the Philippines, I moved to Sydney, Australia to do a Ph.D. in philosophy at Macquarie University in 2012. I wrote a thesis on the American pragmatist Richard Rorty and the idea of redemption in modernity. My degree was awarded in Apr 2016. At present, I am affiliated with Macquarie University and teach undergraduate and postgraduate courses at the Department of Philosophy and Department of Anthropology.

This Fall, I’ll be a residential fellow at the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute for the project Humility & Conviction in Public Life. After my fellowship at UCHI, I’ll be a visiting research fellow in philosophy at Keele University, United Kingdom in Winter 2018.


What is the project you’re currently working on?

I’ll be working on a project entitled “Combating Egotism: Intellectual Humility as Self-Enlargement” at UCONN. I aim to develop the concepts of egotism and self-enlargement as ways of understanding what the virtue of intellectual humility might mean in the healthy functioning of a modern liberal democracy. In particular, I’d like to fashion the idea of self-enlargement in a manner that is indebted to the pluralist conception of intellectual humility. This is an exciting turn for me since it serves as my first attempt to take my research toward the direction of virtue theory. If successful, I’d like to next work on exploring the relationship between the concept of irony and the virtue of intellectual humility.


As a separate project, I’m also working on a book entitled Outgrowing Modern Nihilism. In this work, I challenge the orthodox view that human culture should overcome the malaise of nihilism. In contrast, I argue that it should instead outgrow the problem. It’s going to be tough to defend this argument — good thing I don’t have a deadline!


How did you arrive at this topic?

Egotism and self-enlargement are important concepts in my Ph.D. thesis, a thesis that generally belongs in the area of philosophy of religion and the philosophical problems of modernity. Applying for the fellowship made me realize that these concepts could be potentially useful in social and political philosophy as well, especially if read through the lens of intellectual humility. I’m really glad that I could explore this new phase of my research at UCONN, where there are so many philosophical experts on virtue theory.


In terms of nihilism, well, I like the irony behind the fact that there is so much to talk about nothing!


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

I’ve set three practical goals for the fellowship project. First, I hope to articulate a philosophically workable concept of egotism. While egotism is Richard Rorty’s trope, the concept has room for stronger analysis from a conceptual and historical perspective. Egotism is already familiar and adaptable to different disciplines (philosophy, psychology, psychoanalysis). It has family resemblances to socially recognizable traits and conditions (e.g., narcissism, egocentrism, megalomania) which interest audiences both in the academia and the general public. The conceptualization of egotism I offer retains its fundamental link to the metaphysical frameworks of religion and science, which the language of philosophy (especially Rorty’s) can effectively articulate. Second, I try to explore how egotism could be overcome. My project recommends cultivating a deep commitment to self-enlargement in a liberal democracy, which in my view challenges deep-seated and implicit biases about what it means to pursue projects of self-authenticity and good citizenship in a liberal democracy. Third, this fellowship project develops some of my work for public engagement on egotism. In terms of engaging a broader audience, my essay “Seeking Shelter in a Terrifying Father Figure” published in The Indypendent profiles two political egotists: United States President Donald Trump and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. In the future, I hope to write more incisive pieces for better public understanding of egotism as a result of my research at UCHI.


You SHOULD….Listen…and also read by Bhakti Shringarpure

I’m almost always more comfortable laying down the law on what you should NOT be doing so I’m glad to dig deep and find my inner positivity. The should-LISTEN these days is the Politically Re-active podcast series with comedians W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu. They talk to writers, professors and activists and its all a way to make sense of and try to laugh a little at our horrendous political climate. My recent favorite was the one in which bell hooks talks about DACA, current protest culture, problems with mainstream feminism, her sex life and so much more, she’s always challenging, relevant and brilliant. In terms of reading, I’m a huge fan of queer theorist Jasbir Puar and I just read an excerpt from her upcoming book The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability. It was eye-opening because one of the issues that Puar addresses is how radical resistance movements are still pretty ableist even though there has come about a simultaneous “spectacle of disability empowerment.” I can’t wait to get my hands on the entire book. Pre-order it now, its going to become a should-READ!