Author: mem17025

You SHOULD…Watch: Now Those Days Are Gone

 

“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

Get to Know Our Fellows: 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

 

“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

Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Ellen Litman

 

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

    My project is a novel in stories, tentatively titled Love Lessons, which tells the story of a group of friends who come of age during perestroika, in the final years of the Soviet Union. As high-school and college students, they witness and, in some cases, actively participate in the political events of those years, but over time their energy and hopes for the new democratic Russia turn to weariness and despondency. In her recent book The Future is History, Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen writes of “the death of a Russian democracy that had never really come to be.” In my novel, I want to explore, on a personal level, why and how this had happened. My novel unfolds between 1990s and the present, and in the course of it, some of the characters in the novel remain in Russia while other choose to emigrate. While the two major themes of my work have been immigration and Russia, up until now I have approached them separately. In Love Lessons, I want to bridge the two worlds by connecting the modern-day Russians and the diaspora and by showing how, regardless of their location, the history has shaped their worldview and continues to influence their attitudes and choices.

 

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

    Like my characters I grew up in the Soviet Union and lived through perestroika, so the topic definitely has some personal significance. Although it’s been over twenty years since I left, I remain deeply invested in the Russian politics and culture, and it pains me to see the country revert to its totalitarian state. I think my novel is driven by the need to understand why this has been happening and why the protest movement in Russia has become virtually nonexistent in recent years. Another motivation for this book is the Modern Immigrant Narratives class I have taught the last three semesters and, more specifically, the idea of transnationalism, which allows one to step away from the “old world” vs. “new world” binary view of immigration. I find it liberating to see the immigrant experience not as a linear process, but as a way of maintaining multiple connections between the two worlds. In the past I have felt the need to justify why I was writing about Russia. There was this implicit assumption that as a writer (and as an immigrant) I was supposed to become more American, i.e., move on to more “American” topics. Not only the idea of transnationalism made it easier for me to accept that yes, I was still compelled to write about Russia, but it also challenged me to envision a new kind of immigrant novel that Love Lessons might become.

 

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

    I am so immensely grateful for being given this year at UCHI. I am looking forward to the time and space to focus on the new book. But I am also excited to learn during this upcoming year, to be inspired and motivated by the research of the other fellows and visiting scholars. In our usual academic life, it is so easy to get bogged down by the day-to-day teaching and service responsibilities and so hard to carve out the time to explore what lies beyond our immediate teaching or research topics. Finally, I’m excited to embrace the community of my fellow fellows. Writing (and research) can be such a lonely endeavor. I hope we’ll be able to help, motivate, and support one another in our respective projects.

 

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

    It seems that we’re living in particularly dark and dispiriting times. Faced with either Russian or American political news, I find it hard to remain hopeful. If anything does give me hope, though, it is humanities. To me humanities are about telling stories – stories of who we are, who we used to be; stories of where and how we live; stories of our languages, beliefs, ideas, mistakes, and successes. By telling these stories, we, scholars and writers, have a chance to change things for the better, to inspire empathy and understanding, break stereotypes, answer questions.

You SHOULD…Read: the On the Origin of Species

 

“Why should you read a 19th-century book on the already familiar concept of evolution? The most obvious reason is banal: it is one the most important books ever written, which changed the way we see the world and our place in it. But that aside, why is this a useful book for someone who works in the humanities?

 

The book is a monumental example of epistemic humility. Darwin valued facts and cared deeply about the truth. He appreciated that revolutionary ideas require strong evidence, which is why he worked on his manuscript for 20 long years, testing, discussing, and fact-checking his ideas and amassing a mountain of evidence from a variety of disciplines in his systematic quest for the truth.

 

It is also a magnificent story of intellectual courage and integrity. Darwin knew that many would be offended or disappointed by his findings, including the powerful religious establishment and his beloved wife. He regretted that his ideas would make them feel uncomfortable, but he knew that as a scholar, his paramount duty was to tell the truth as he perceived it.

 

In addition to its scientific value, the book has great literary merit. Darwin was an excellent communicator of ideas, and his elegant style makes his grand narrative vigorous as well as inspiring. This is why the last sentences of the volume are so often quoted:

 

Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

 

 

Dimitris Xygalatas
Department of Anthropology & Cognitive Science Program
Former UCHI Fellow

You SHOULD…Watch: The Great British Baking Show

 

“I read a lot of contemporary fiction, and am a scholar of public opinion and American politics.   So this may sound odd, trivial and far afield, but one of my favorite cultural obsessions is the competitive baking contest, the Great British Baking Show (now in its 9th season — only 5 seasons are available on Netflix so far:   https://www.netflix.com/title/80063224).

 

Of all the books, movies and television I love, this is one show I’ve become particularly obsessive about.   I am a long-time baker, so it is fascinating from that standpoint of course:   Some of the very best amateur bakers in Britain display their mind-bindingly creative approaches to food, and have astounding technical talents as well.   The judges are brilliant and serious:   Choosing winners and losers is a grave business to these globally-renowned baker-judges, but they do indeed realize it is about food, so they maintain the proper (i.e. witty/dry/British) sense of humor, and a high level of self-awareness.

 

Putting aside the food, the reason I’m drawn to this program is its profound civility, so desperately missing from American reality television and broadcast competitions.   Perhaps it is the British manners, but I think it is far more than that.   The program is a model of how human beings need to treat each other, with dignity and empathy.   Contestants are a diverse lot with regard to class, age, profession, race and ethnicity.   They develop genuine respect for each other, and indulge in the joys of friendly competition, without the juvenile and often venal attitude promoted in American reality programs (“I’m here to win, not to make friends” is the most common contestant line of every show,  from The Bachelor to Survivor to Top Chef).

 

Aristotle famously wrote about friendship in Ethics as the real basis for a democratic polity, and you see a mini-civil society built before your eyes on the Great British Baking Show.   There is partnership, civility, and love among contestants and judges alike, all in the context of what is most basic to us:   the visceral joy of sharing great food.   What’s not to like, in these times of a tribalistic, violent and divided America?    We’d be a better nation, and better friends and neighbors, if we’d kick back and watch a kind bunch of people demonstrate cooking-as-community with panache.   As Levi-Strauss noted, cooking is what turns nature into culture, and what a fine culture it is, somehow turned out in hour-long segments, along with many tarts, scones, biscuits and “saucy puds” (well, you’ll have to tune in to understand that…).   Bon appetit!”

 

-Susan Herbst
President
University of Connecticut

 

Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Jason 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.

Announcing the 2019 Mellon/ACLS Public Fellows Competition

 

 

Mellon/ACLS Public Fellows Program – 2019 Fellowship Competition

The American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) is pleased to announce the ninth annual competition of the Mellon/ACLS Public Fellows Program. This initiative places humanities PhDs in substantive roles in diverse nonprofit and government organizations, demonstrating that the capacities developed in the course of earning a doctoral degree in the humanities have wide application beyond the academy. The two-year fellowships carry an annual stipend of $68,000, health insurance, a relocation allowance, and up to $3,000 in professional development funds for the fellow.

In 2019, ACLS will place up to 21 PhDs as Public Fellows in the following organizations and roles:

Alliance Theatre (Atlanta, GA) – Community Engagement & Audience Development Manager

American Public Media (St. Paul, MN) – Senior Research Analyst

Center for Court Innovation (New York, NY) – Communications Project Manager

Chicago Humanities Festival (Chicago, IL) – Program Manager

Citizens’ Committee for the Children of New York (New York, NY) – Policy & Budget Analyst

Committee to Protect Journalists (New York, NY) – Research Manager

Community Change (Washington, DC) – Policy Advisor

Data & Society Research Institute (New York, NY) – Editor

The German Marshall Fund of the United States (Washington, DC) – Program Officer

Harriet Beecher Stowe Center (Hartford, CT) – Grants Manager

Library of America (New York, NY) – Outreach Programs Manager

National Conference of State Legislatures (Denver, CO) – Legislative Policy Specialist

National Low Income Housing Coalition (Washington, DC) – Research Analyst

Natural Resources Defense Council (Washington, DC) – Campaign Advocate, Latin America Project

PEN America (New York, NY) – Festival Programs Manager

Public Books (New York, NY) – Associate Editor

Rare (Arlington, VA) – Community Engagement Manager

Reinvestment Fund (Philadelphia, PA) – Policy Analyst

San Francisco Arts Commission (San Francisco, CA) – Community Impact Analyst

Seattle Office for Civil Rights (Seattle, WA) – Senior Researcher

World Justice Project (Washington, DC) – Program Manager

Applicants must have a PhD in the humanities or humanistic social sciences conferred between September 1, 2015, and June 21, 2019, and must have defended and deposited their dissertations no later than April 5, 2019. US citizenship or permanent resident status is required. The deadline is March 13, 2019, 9 pm EDT.

Applications will be accepted only through the ACLS online application system.

Applicants should not contact any of the organizations directly. Please visit www.acls.org/programs/publicfellowscomp/ for complete position descriptions, eligibility criteria, and application information. This program is supported by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

www.acls.org