Why did you start your study group?
Cathy J. Schlund-Vials: This group was initially “born” as a result of a serendipitous meeting with Harry van der Hulst (Professor, Department of Linguistics). Harry and I met at a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences fall semester “open house.” I was the faculty representative for the Asian and Asian American Studies Institute; as part of our “display,” I had a number of graphic novels authored by Asian American artists/writers. Harry was the representative for Linguistics; we chatted and realized that we were both quite interested in graphic narrative, though we came to the topic from entirely different perspectives and disciplines. This cross-disciplinary discussion led to a much more expansive vision intended to bring together in dialogic fashion a variety of UConn scholars (at the graduate and faculty levels, from multiple departments and units). Indeed, as we discussed the idea of a “comics” study group with colleagues, it quickly became apparent that a number of individuals were doing research in this area.
Fred Lee: I attended writing workshops and reading groups throughout graduate school and throughout my years on the adjunct/post-doc market. I basically consider reading and writing to be group and, in the best of cases, community activities. So my second year at UConn, I worked with Jane Gordon, who was also new, and Michael Morrell, our subfield chair, to start a political theory workshop.
Bhakti Shringarpure: I started this study group in Fall 2015 in an attempt to unite various faculty and graduate students in different departments that were working in the general area of Digital Humanities.
What has been the best outcome?
CS-V: As the study group has continued, and as the discussion as developed, what is most exciting is the degree to which it has maintained its interdisciplinary dimensions. These exchanges have given rise to more in-depth conversations involving teaching and research. Moreover, it has been rewarding to see how the initiative has grown to encompass multiple texts, sites, and imaginaries (which involve contemplations of form, culture, language acquisition, and politics).
FL: The best outcome has been starting new conversations between political thinkers at UConn, as well as conversations between UConn political theorists and political theorists abroad. In other words, the outcome is the thinking that occurs in, around, and after coming together to discuss a published work, a work-in-progress, or a public lecture. These have been the main goals from the beginning.
BS: Though UConn has had digital initiatives over the years, the efforts have been sporadic. It has been great to have like-minded academics come under the same roof to discuss, debate and explore various aspects of the digital. Digital humanities is perceived mainly as a space for digitization and archive projects, creation of platforms, and innovative use of tools. The study group emphasizes theory and history. One of the best outcomes has been that we have take time as a group to critically investigate the field through our readings.
What hopes do you have for the programming this year and ‘going public’?
FL: Folks both inside and outside of political science underestimate the intellectual differences already existing within the discipline. My hope is that scholars both here and elsewhere become more aware of the fact that UConn Political Science, where the workshop is centered, is a place for innovative, humanistic, and trans-disciplinary thinking about politics. (This is my preferred understanding of “political theory.”)
BS: Our theme this year has been "Revolution and the Digital" and I am hoping to generate a campus wide discussion on the mass movements that have been part of our recent history and the role that digital medias have played in it. The role of the digital is highly contested and there are two very belligerent camps; the ones who think that the digital is the answer to all our problems and those that believe it is of absolutely no significance and if anything, a deterrent to activism. I hope that going public on this subject will bridge this worrisome gap.
If someone was interested in starting a study group, what advice would you give?
CS-V: I would recommend “going for it” – these types of exchanges are uniquely fostered by the UCHI.
BS: I would advise them to consider new developments in their field and try to come up with the larger questions that are relevant to the field. I would also ask them to plan everything with a collaborative spirit and hopefully, with the help and advice of a like-minded and enthusiastic fellow faculty. In choosing a subject, it is important that it is fundamentally interdisciplinary and cuts across various levels of expertise and interests.
To those who might say about a study group ‘but I already have too much reading and work to do’ what might you say?
CS-V: I would argue that the work we do – as researchers, scholars, and practitioners – is often quite isolating; having such academic communities is generative, productive, and restorative.
FL: Don’t we all! I would say study groups are “continuing education” for professors, and well worth the effort.
What study group ideas would you like to offer to the community?
FL: How about a study group that encompasses all progressive intellectual tendencies—a “popular front” of sorts? An aim could be to think together about how various liberal to left orientations do and do not fit together (human rights, intersectionality, critical theory, post-colonial, and so forth).
BS: I think there are many pressing issues that need to be worked through at this time. Study groups that can harness intellectual energies on the subjects as large as incarceration in the United States, the trends towards anti-Humanities programming, and wide-ranging conversations on neoliberalism. I do believe that moving forward, there has to be a focus on pedagogical strategies when it comes to thinking about the issues I outlined above.