Author: Siavash Samei

UCHI: A Year in Review

Thanks to the generous support of the University of Connecticut Provost’s OfficeGraduate School, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and UConn Foundation, as well as our own grants, we have had quite a productive year so far. We have been able to fund 13 residential fellowships this year, including three visiting fellows, six UConn faculties, and four UConn graduate dissertation fellows. We funded and co-sponsored various events and programs, including a lecture and book signing by celebrated author, Colson Whitehead, presentations by award-winning and celebrated scholars and activities, Annette Vee, Rebecca Traister, and Aruna D’Souza, and the rare chance to see a performance by distinguished flamenco guitar player, Oscar Herrero.

We also welcomed World Poetry Books, the only publisher in the United States dedicated solely to publishing books of international poetry in English Translation, and we kicked off our The Future of Truth initiative with a 2750,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. We work hard to cultivate creativity among scholars of the arts and humanities at UConn, but we also find inspiration in the achievements and successes of our fellows, long after they leave UCHI. 


Here is a snapshot of what we have achieved in just a few short months:


Fellows Talk: Emma Amador on Community and Politics in the Puerto Rican Diaspora

Demanding Dignity: Social Workers, Community Organizing, and Welfare Politics in the Puerto Rican Diaspora after 1948


Emma Amador, Ph.D. (History Department, University of Connecticut)

January 29, 2020 – 4 to 5PM (UCHI Conference Room: Babbidge Library, 4th Floor South)


This presentation will explore histories of organizing for social services within Puerto Rican communities in the United States. It will begin by examining the role of Puerto Rican women social workers as architects of the Migration Division of the Puerto Rican government’s Department of Labor after 1948, showing how within this state agency a generation of social workers challenged the racial and gender discrimination faced by Puerto Rican migrants seeking social services, housing, and care in the US. It will then show how this activism fostered the emergence of a new generation of social worker activists who in the 1960s and 70s moved into new roles as community organizers and civil rights activists. By focusing on Puerto Rican social workers role in shaping and challenging U.S. social welfare institutions to better address colonial and migrant citizens, this paper historicizes their ongoing struggle to demand dignity and social justice.

Emma Amador headshot, with the UCHI logo, the title of her talk, and the time and data of her presentation

If you require accommodation to attend this event, please contact us at or by phone (860) 486-9057.


Who is Emma Amador?

Emma Amador is an Assistant Professor of History and Latina/o, Caribbean, and Latin American Studies.  Her work focuses on Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans, and U.S. Latina/o/x History with an emphasis on women, gender, and race.  She received her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, an M.A. from UConn, and a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College.  Before returning to UConn she held a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship at Brown University in the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the History Department (2016-2018). She is currently completing a book manuscript, Contesting Colonialism: Puerto Ricans and the Politics of Welfare in the 20th Century that explores the history of welfare, territorial social citizenship, and struggles for social rights in Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican diaspora.  This project examines how the U.S. welfare state became a site where Puerto Ricans have fought for social justice, labor reform, and decolonization.  Her work has received support from Brown University, the SITPA Scholar Mellon Program at Duke University, the Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at CUNY, Hunter College, and the Rackham Graduate School at the University of Michigan.

UCHI Hosts Microsoft’s Nancy Baym Talk on Social Media and Human Interactions

The Relational Affordances of Platforms

By Nancy K. Baym


People have been socializing on the internet for nearly fifty years. In recent years, online social life has become increasingly concentrated in a relatively small number of commercial platforms. How can we make sense of the impacts they are having on our relational lives? How can we theorize platforms when they are constantly changing and used in so many different ways? In this talk, Nancy Baym draws on a range of her recent research on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to articulate a model for understanding platforms as the dynamic, unstable entities they are, and to explore their roles in shaping, constraining and opening up new possibilities for relationships in contexts ranging from close romantic bonds to online communities and the ties that connect musicians to their audiences. The talk further considers how these platforms commodify the relational interactions that take place through them, and how their design choices have fostered environments in which relationships become tools for profit.

Join us on Wednesday, February 5 2020, at 4PM at the UCHI Conference Room, Babbidge Library, Fourth Floor.

Co-Sponsored by UConn Department of Communication, and UCHI’s Digital Humanities and Media Studies (DHMS) and The Future of Truth (TFOT) initiatives.

Through the generous gift of her honorarium, Nancy K. Baym is supporting the Humanities Institute’s Digital Toolbox Working Group for the 2019–20 academic year.


Nancy Baym headshotNancy Baym

Senior Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research New England
Research Affiliate, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, MIT

Nancy Baym is a Senior Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research New England, where she conducts basic research into how people understand and act with new communication technologies in their relationships. A pioneer in the field of internet research, Baym wrote some of the first articles about online community in the early 1990s. With Jean Burgess, she is the author of Twitter: A Biography (forthcoming 2020, NYU). Other books include Playing to the Crowd: Musicians, Audiences, and the Intimate Work of Connection(2018, NYU), Personal Connections in the Digital Age (2010, Second Edition 2014, Polity), Internet Inquiry: Conversations About Method (co-edited with Annette Markham, 2010, Sage), and Tune In, Log On: Soaps, Fandom and Online Community (2000, Sage). She was a co-founder of the Association of Internet Researchers and served as its second president. She has been recognized with the Frederick Williams Prize for Contributions to the Study of Communication and Technology awarded by the International Communication Association, the naming of the Nancy Baym Book Award by the Association of Internet Researchers, and an Honorary Doctorate from the Faculty of Information Technology at the University of Gothenburg. Most of her papers and more information are available at

You Should…See: Shoplifters (Françoise Dussart, UConn-Anthropology)

Cover photo of the five members of the household in the movie ShopliftersYou Should take the time to watch Shoplifters by Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda who is often compared to Kurosawa, Bergman, and other great humanists of the cinema.

Shoplifters—inspired by a local news story—is the best movie I have seen in 2018–2019. And yes, I watch a lot of movies!

Shoplifters is a subtle Dickensian tale in a contemporary modern crowded Tokyo.

Shoplifters is about five members of a household: Osamu, Nobuyo, Shota, Aki a-k-a Sayaka, and Grandma who adopt a starving little girl Yuri.

Shoplifters is about the kinship bonds we develop with strangers we chose to love.

Shoplifters is about empathy, generosity, compulsive kindness and incredibly moving moments of joy.

Shoplifters is about trauma, fear of poverty and coming-of-age.

Shoplifters is about three generations of Invisible people in a cold and judgmental capitalist world.

Shoplifters is about people nursing secrets and lies which should never be revealed.

Shoplifters reveals a paradox that despite shoplifting, cheating and coning, Osamu, Nobuyo, Shota, Aki and Grandma create a happier life for little Yuri than her violent law-abiding parents.

Shoplifters is a magical film with overwhelming endings.

Oh, and You Should see Shoplifters because it requires reading subtitles…

Françoise Dussart
Professor of Anthropology & WGSS
University of Connecticut


Photo of Françoise Dussart

Who is Françoise Dussart? Françoise is a professor of anthropology and women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Uconn. Trained in France and Australia, her specialties in social anthropology include Australian Aboriginal society and culture (as well as other Fourth World Peoples), iconography and visual systems, various expressions of gender, ritual and social organization, health and citizenship. She is currently curating the very first major presentation of contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts from Australia in Canada, at the Musée de la Civilisation in Quebec City.

Alexis Boylan Lead Author of New Book on Feminism and Mad Max

University of Connecticut Humanities Institute (UCHI) Director of Academic Affairs, Alexis Boylan, is the lead author of a new book entitled Furious Feminisms: Alternative Routes on Mad Max: Fury Road (University of Minnesota Press, 2019). The book uses the feminist credentials of George Miller’s 2015 Mad Max: Fury Road film to ask “what is possible, desirable, or damaging in theorizing feminism in the contested landscape of the twenty-first century.” The authors tackle this issue from four different disciplinary angles: art history, American literature, disability studies, and sociology. Other authors of the book are Anna Mae Duane,  associate professor of English at UConn and a UCHI Class of 2016-2017 Fellow; Michael Gill, an associate professor of disability studies in the department of Cultural Foundations of Education at Syracuse University; and Barbara Gurr, associate professor in residence in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program at UConn. 


Cover the book surrounded by the headshots of the authors: Alexis Boylan, Anna Mae Duane, Michael Gill, and Barbara Gurr


Alexis Boylan Reviews Two Books on Art, Creativity, and AI

BoylanUniversity of Connecticut Humanities Institute (UCHI) Director of Academic Affairs, Alexis Boylan, is the author of a recent article in the Boston Review that examines two new books on creativity, innovation, and artificial intelligence: The Creativity Code: Art and Innovation in the Age of AI (Belknap Press) by Marcus du Sautoy and The Artist in the Machine: The World of AI_Powered Creativity (MIT Press) by Arthur I. Miller. These books “contend that AI is nothing to fear because humans are so much better at being creative than are machines.” Boylan, also an associate professor of art and art history at UConn, emphasizes both books’ failure to transcend hegemonic ideas of human artistic expression. Both books center their argument on a largely white and male definition of creativity and genius, dismissing altogether the contribution of feminist and black aesthetics, for example, to the totality of the human artistic potential and output:

Both books share a kind of a priori acceptance…, that computers and machines have already displaced a certain kind of person from labor, society, and community. That’s not a question, it is the reality that these books start from. It’s also not what they see to be the problem: the problem for the authors only arises when AI threatens those who have historically controlled capital and historical narratives, and whose ideas of creativity, genius, innovation, and evolution have reigned supreme. These fears about AI, therefore, stand in for the dread of a certain cultural elite, who have weaponized creativity in a broader neoliberal narrative about human worth—and who now fear the same will be done to them. Perhaps then we should be forced to watch AI blossom and shine; maybe we deserve to be taken over with another kind of creativity.”



UCHI Director Lynch Honored at the BOT Distinguished Professor’s Reception

The University of Connecticut Humanities Institute director, Michael Lynch, has been officially named a Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor at UConn. This award is the highest honor that UConn bestows upon those faculty who have demonstrated excellence in teaching, research, and service. Michael Lynch and the other recipients were honored during a reception hosted by the Board of Trustees earlier in December. Other recipients this year included Emmanouil N. Anagnostou – Civil and Environmental Engineering and Cathy Schlund-Vials – English and Asian/Asian American Studies.

UCHI Team Holiday Book Recommendations

Winter holidays are arguably one of the best times of the year to get cozy with a book or three, free of the hullabaloo of the academic year. Our team at the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute (UCHI) has a list of book recommendations for your holiday reading needs. We got it all: old and new, fiction, and non-fiction, novel and memoir. So get yourself some comfy clothes, pour yourself a drink, find the nearest cushiony couch, and enjoy. Happy holidays!


Cover the Recommended Books


Artificial Unintelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World (2018) by Meredith Broussard…Why? It spells out very clearly, and explains expertly (Broussard is a data journalist and former software developer), something many of us have felt at one point or another about algorithms, artificial intelligence, and computers in general: they’re terrific at certain things, terrible at a lot of very basic and very important things.

Beasts of Burden: Animal and Disability (2017) by Sunaura Taylor…Why? Her writing is smart, devastating, funny, and ultimately the hope we need for 2020.

Becoming (2018) by Michell Obama…Why? Most politicians and public figures are or seem out of touch, and many write memoirs to set up the next step in their political ambitions. Obama’s memoir is far from that; in it you will find a deeply and genuinely human story filled with successes and failures; struggles, determinations, and yes, at times strokes of luck.

Behold America: The Entangled History of “America First” and “American Dream” (2018) by Sarah Churchwell…Why? It teaches us that the fight over America’s soul is still being fought over much of the same ground and offers a disturbing history of American fascism.

Come Tell Me How You Live (1946) by Agatha Christie…Why? Because beyond the orientalist attitude that is rampant in her writing, you will find in this archaeological memoir a simple and largely true description of life in a bygone era in parts of the Middle East that are now burning in the fires of war and sectarianism. She also provides a rare and honest window into her thinking, her fears, and her endeavors to overcome a sheltered worldview.

Conspiracy Theories (2019) by Quassim Cassam…Why? Because we really need to see conspiracy theories for what they are: the weapons of political ideologies.

Feel Free (2019) by Zadie Smith…Why? Reading Smith’s essays is therapeutic and uplifting, like listening to the smartest, most thoughtful person in the room after hearing too much from others. Feeling Free brings together many of her moving, insightful thoughts on Brexit, American politics, Facebook, Key & Peele, celebrity, and more.

From Folks Who Brought You the Weekend (2003) by Priscill Murolo…Why? Because it is incumbent upon every American to know the labor history of this country. At a time when collective bargaining rights are under attack and “union” has become a four-letter word, Murolo’s accessible prose brings to life the story of America’s ongoing class struggle; one that makes us root—more than ever before—for the humanitarian demands of teachers, automakers, and academic workers across the country.

The Hidden Life of Trees (2006) by Peter Wohlleben…Why? It explores the “secret” world of trees and their intricate social networks that go largely unnoticed.

The Idiot (2017) by Elif Batuman…Why? There are lots of funny observations and reflections on language and literature, email exchanges with a love interest, and passages from a Russian textbook. This novel/memoir, set in 1995, follows the first year of college—from moving into a dorm and shopping for classes, all the way to a summer teaching English in Hungary—for Selin, a character based on Batuman herself.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2017) by Iain Reid…Why? Reid’s debut novel is an ambitious and provocative psychological thriller based on the tension between the protagonist and his girlfriend…or so it seems. The jury is still out as to whether he pulls it off or not. Just read it and judge for yourself, preferably before the Netflix adaptation comes out in 2020.

Inside Out: A Memoir (2019) by Demi Moore…Why? You might roll your eyes at a movie star memoir, but it’s a deeply serious account of how we are shaped by parents and our parent’s parents, addiction, and mental illness. But then also about our capacity to grow and change, to be open and present.

The Metaphysical Club (2002) by Louis Menand…Why? It is an unparalleled account of the emergence of the American pragmatist movement and the 19th-century environment which shaped the thinkers involved.

The Mismeasure of Man (1996) by Stephen Jay Gould…Why? Because sadly his detailed study of the genesis and evolution of scientific racism still has currency in the 21st century.

The Missing Course: Everything They Never Taught You about College Teaching (2019) by David Gooblar…Why? I never paid much heed to “active learning” and other phrases one finds in dreary teaching philosophies, but The Missing Course has persuaded me otherwise. It has a good blend of Gooblar’s own personal experience, educational research, and immediately useful examples (like “naive tasks”), all written in an evenhanded way, without all the cant.

The Nickel Boys (2019) by Colson Whitehead… Why? Because the book is brilliant, because he was amazing when he came to UConn, because it’s a book that confronts trauma and memory and legacy in important ways.

Our Numbered Days (2015) by Neil Hilborn…Why? It is a moving collection of slam poetry which offers an important modern perspective on mental illness.

The Public and Its Problems (1991) by John Dewey…Why? Because everyone needs some hope for the holidays. Dewey here offers his famous defense of the idea of the democratic public sphere— the dream of participatory democracy— against Lippman’s famous criticisms.

UCHI Assistant Director Author of a New Book on the Romantic Period

Yohei Igarashi, the Assistant Director of Digital Humanities and Media Studies at the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute (UCHI) is the author of a new book entitled The Connected Condition: Romanticism and the Dream of Communication (Stanford University Press). According to the website of the publisher, “the Romantic poet’s intense yearning to share thoughts and feelings often finds expression in a style that thwarts a connection with readers. Yohei Igarashi addresses this paradox by reimagining Romantic poetry as a response to the beginnings of the information age. Data collection, rampant connectivity, and efficient communication became powerful social norms during this period. The Connected Condition argues that poets responded to these developments by probing the underlying fantasy: the perfect transfer of thoughts, feelings, and information, along with media that might make such communication possible.” Igarashi, also an associate professor of English at UConn, has authored many articles on Romanticism and poetry, including in New Literary History, Romantic Circles, and Studies in Romanticism; the latter of which received the Keats-Shelley Association of America annual essay prize in 2015.

Headshot of Yohei Igarashi along with a title of his book: The Connected Condition: Romanticism and the Dream of Communication

You Should…Read: Shaun Tan’s “The Arrival” (Victoria Ford Smith-UConn English)

Cover the the book "The Arrival" with the title, author's name and an image featuring a man (an immigrant) with a hat and a suitcase staring down at a mouse-like creature Shaun Tan’s wordless graphic novel is peopled with creatures both realistic and fantastic and steeped in nostalgic, sepia light. However, the story it tells, of a man fleeing oppression to establish a home for his family in an unfamiliar city, is real and present. From the book’s opening spread, tiled with portraits based on Ellis Island photographs, the reader confronts the tension between human dignity and the social forces that alienate immigrants and refugees. Tan fosters empathy for his protagonist not only by depicting his past (a homeland strangled by snaking tentacles) but also by illuminating the mundane confrontations a newcomer navigates. Every encounter — an unfamiliar fruit, a new landlord, a request for directions — could unfold into connection or isolation.

You may have read The Arrival. It was published in 2006. But reading it today is a different matter. In Tan’s narrative, those fleeing violences find their new homes baffling, lonely, sometimes terrifying, but refuge is possible. Today, images of our borders — crying children enclosed in chain-link fences, asylum-seekers crammed in cages with only Mylar blankets for a bed — resemble less the hopeful city explored by Tan’s immigrant and more the haunted landscapes he desperately escapes. The Arrival will make you ache in a way that engenders action.


Victoria Ford Smith
Associate Professor of English 
University of Connecticut

Headshot of Victoria Ford SmithWho is Victoria Ford Smith? Victoria Ford Smith is an Assistant Professor and the Director of Graduate Studies in the English Department. She specializes in children’s literature; 19th- and 20th-century British literature and culture; authorship and collaboration; child agency and child-produced culture; Robert Louis Stevenson; and young adult literature. She is currently working on a book entitled How Children See: Vision and Childhood Around 1900.