You Should

You Should…Pre-election Edition. Part I.

In advance of the upcoming election, we’ve asked members of the UCHI community to suggest a book, article, poem, painting, video, or piece of music that they think everyone should take a look at in this current moment.

Nasya Al-Saidy says you should watch…

Hamilton: An American Musical. This (mostly) historically accurate account of one of our Founding Fathers features a hyper-diverse cast and parallels today’s controversial political atmosphere.

Promotional poster for Hamilton

Jane Gordon says you should listen to…

The Resistance Revival Chorus and Rhiannon Giddens’ cover of Woody Guthrie’s “All You Fascists Bound To Lose.”

A black and white photo of Woodie Guthrie playing the guitar. On his guitar a sticker reads "This Machine Kills Fascists."
Woody Guthrie, 1943. Photograph by Al Aumuller. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

John Bell says you should listen to…

Aaron Copland’s 1942 orchestral composition Fanfare for the Common Man. It embodies a kind of yearning for bi-partisan or non-partisan investment in the idea of the United States as a democracy that can bring the different peoples of the country together, by means of the ideals and processes of democratic society. Copland composed this in the middle of World War II, in a very “American” sense, to praise everyday people across the United States. One can hear in it a kind of solemn celebration of our democratic goals, which are ultimately achieved by voting, the machinery of democracy. This World War II vision may seem quaint or naive at this time of deep polarization in our country, but it offers a vision of how democracy might be achieved.

A black and white photograph of Aaron Copland seated at a piano, writing on sheet music with a pencil.
Aaron Copland, 1962. CBS Television, Wikimedia Commons.


Nasya Al-Saidy is a Ph.D. candidate in the Economics department at the University of Connecticut. Her research focus is on Environmental Economics and Microeconomics. At the University of Massachusetts Boston, her thesis explored the cost-effectiveness of phytoremediation to reduce brownfield pollution in Boston’s low-income urban areas. Her current work seeks to extend and improve upon the game theoretic models used within the emissions permit market. She is currently serving as a financial coordinator for the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute and fiscal officer for the Humility and Conviction in Public Life Project. Nasya also serves as President of the Association of Graduate Economics Students and as a senator in the Graduate Student Senate.

Jane Anna Gordon is Professor of Political Science with affiliations in American Studies, El Instituto, Global Affairs, Philosophy, and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She is a specialist in political theory, with a focus on modern and contemporary political theory, Africana political thought, theories of enslavement, political theories of education, and methodologies in the social sciences. Gordon is, most recently, author of Statelessness and Contemporary Enslavement (Routledge 2020) and Creolizing Political Theory: Reading Rousseau through Frantz Fanon (Fordham University Press 2014).

John Bell is a puppeteer and theater historian who began working in puppetry with Bread and Puppet Theater in the 1970s, and continued as a company member for over a decade. He is the director of the University of Connecticut’s Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry. He studied theater history at Columbia University, and has since taught at New York University, Rhode Island School of Design, Emerson College and other institutions. He is a founding member of the Brooklyn-based theater company Great Small Works, and the author of many books and articles about puppetry, including “Puppets, Masks, and Performing Objects,” “Strings, Hands, Shadows: A Modern Puppet History,” and “ American Puppet Modernism.” His wife Trudi Cohen is also a puppeteer and member of Great Small Works. Their son Isaac is studying at Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

You Should… Read: Dr. Brittney Cooper’s Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower (Shardé M. Davis, UConn Communication)

In the words of Angela Davis, we are living in a time that we have never seen before. Americans are experiencing a myriad of emotions in response to the horrific events that are taking place in our country, from police brutality against Black bodies, racist effigies, lynchings of Black people, Covid-19 and its disproportionate effects on the health of Black and Brown people, and the lack of presidential leadership. The ugly truth is that some Americans have the privilege to be emotional about what is transpiring around us (e.g., white women throwing crying fits when confronted about a racist act). But Black women have a unique relationship with our emotions; an overt display of emotions by Black women, particularly negative emotions like sadness, anger, and doubt, is pathologized in the U.S. What I love about Cooper’s book is that she confronts this idea head-on and flips it on its head. She writes that our anger has fueled every political movement in the United States, from suffrage to Civil Rights to #MeToo. Black women’s anger is a powerful, unshakeable force that sends people from marginalized communities into the streets, the courtrooms, the classrooms, and beyond to fight for the more just world that our ancestors fought for and our descendants will fight for long after we’re gone. If you’re a Black woman, you should read this book as a form of validation and self-healing. If you’re not a Black woman, you should read this book because it necessarily contextualizes Black women’s emotions in ways that are so befitting for such a time as this.

My summary of the book won’t do it justice, so let me give you a taste of Eloquent Rage from the Cooper’s own pen:

This is a book by a grown-ass woman written for other grown-ass women. This is a book for women who expect to be taken seriously and for men who take grown women seriously. This is a book for women who know shit is fucked up. These women want to change things but don’t know where to begin.

To be clear, I’m not really into self-help books, so I don’t have one of those catchy three-step plans for changing the world. What I have is anger. Rage, actually. And that’s the place where more women should begin—with the things that make us angry.

Here’s the thing: My anger and rage haven’t always been “focused with precision.” The process, of both becoming a feminist and becoming okay with rage as a potential feminist superpower, has been messy as hell. We need to embrace our messiness more. We need to embrace the ways we are in process more. Very often Black girls don’t get the opportunity to be in process. So just know that you don’t have to have everything figured out to read and enjoy this book.

Shardé M. Davis
Assistant Professor
Department of Communication

Who is Shardé M. Davis? Shardé M. Davis is Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication and a faculty affiliate of the Africana Studies Institute and the Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention, and Policy (InCHIP) at the University of Connecticut. Her primary area of specialization is interpersonal communication, with emphases in racial and gender identity, resistance, counter hegemony, and resilience, intra/intergroup dynamics, and supportive communication. Davis, along with Joy Melody Woods, created a Twitter hashtag #BlackInTheIvory in early June 2020. The hashtag immediately went viral and brought people together to discuss racism at institutions of higher learning.

You Should..Watch: “Dark” the TV Mini Series (Siavash Samei, UCHI)

In this brave new world of self-isolation, I have come to lose track of time. Time, or rather our concepts of the passage of time, are constructs that we animate and breathe life into, out of the necessities of our mortal lives. But to quote a Tralfamadorian from Slaughterhouse-Five: “ All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is.” Making sense of time and distorting our limited understandings of it have been at the heart of many great works of literature and art. For me, the latest iteration of this feat of human imagination is the German sci-fi noir series, Dark, created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese. You should watch it, not because it is a binge worthy thriller (it most certainly is), or because it might bring a sense of reassurance in these times of uncertainty (it will not); but because it is a must-experience masterpiece.

 Dark is the, well…dark…story of the residents of a small German town; each dealing with their own personal traumas, double lives, and troubling pasts. We begin in the “present,” in 2019. But the story eventually spreads into subplots and story lines in 1921, 1953, 1986, and 2053; as various characters engage in time travel through a wormhole in a near-by cave. They travel in order to make sense of their lives, and to find answers to and perhaps prevent tragedies that befall them—murders, suicides, disappearances, and infidelities. As the “pasts” of the residents travel into the “present” and the “future,” and as the “presents” of the same characters travel into the “past” and the “future,” we come to appreciate the long-term ripple effects of human decisions and random encounters in each period across time and space.

But, more importantly for me, as the various story lines interweave through interpersonal interactions across the different time periods, we begin to lose any sense of which temporal iteration of which character is “real.” Thus, we come to lose track of a linear and directional concept of time and even question the very idea of the “self.”

Dark elegantly blends various genres into a complex narrative through which the viewer is confronted with the totality of the human experience, and grapples with issues of determinism and free will.

The series builds up in pace and complexity as it progresses. In a way, Dark “isn’t a show you watch. It’s a show you solve.”

The first two seasons of Dark are available on Netflix.

So, solve away!


Siavash Samei
Postdoctoral Fellow, Humanities Institute
University of Connecticut

Who is Siavash Samei? Siavash was born and raised in Tehran, Iran, but moved to the US in his teenage years. He earned his PhD from the UConn Anthropology Department in 2019, after which he joined the UCHI team as a postdoctoral fellow. Siavash is an archaeologist who has conducted field work throughout the Middle East, specifically in Iran and Armenia. His research examines human-animal interactions and the evolution of animal husbandry as a subsistence strategy throughout the Middle Eastern highlands at the time of the Urban Revolution in Mesopotamia (ca. 40002200 BCE). Next year Siavash will join the faculty at The College of Wooster as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Archaeology.

You Should..Listen to: The “Feel Free” Audiobook (Fiona Vernal, UConn-History)

There is only so much Netflix and Hulu one can watch and replaying Contagion and Outbreak are not the best antidote for COVID-19’s many anxieties. I suggest you find refuge in an audio-version of Feel Free, Zadie Smith’s 2018 eclectic and wide-ranging collection of essays. Banish all thought of the staid five-paragraph essays of undergraduate habitude; this collection will whisk you back to what the essay form was meant to do originally—reflect and be relevant. Even if you have not discovered White Teeth or On Beauty, you’ll get a crash course in Smith’s literary evolution from an awe-struck young writer to a mature, reflective artist. Feel Free will surprise and delight, offering ruminations on freedom, multiculturalism, aesthetics, art, dance, fiction, domesticity, middle class dreams of the British sort, optimism, family, individuality, social media, race, and narcissism. In a curious juxtaposition of characters, you’ll discover low-brow and high-brow culture, ways of seeing, ways of being, and the gulf between husbands and wives and parents and children. Where else will you find Martha Graham and John Berger; Philip Roth and Balthasar Denney; Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Vladimir Nabokov and Jay-Z; and the single-monikered Prince, Madonna, and Beyoncé?  In one of the most brilliant pieces, a bathroom becomes a lucid symbol of a father’s thwarted dream, a mother’s exile, and the sacrifices that permit their children to cross social, racial, geographic, and economic boundaries. Since you can’t have this conversation with Zadie Smith in person, listening to Feel Free is the next best option!

Fiona Vernal
Associate Professor of History
University of Connecticut

Fiona Vernal Behind a PodiumWho is Fiona Vernal? Fiona Vernal is a native of Trelawny, Jamaica and grew up in Trenton, New Jersey. She earned her MA and PhD from Yale. Since 2005 she has taught at the University of Connecticut’s Department of History. Her book, The Farmerfield Mission (Oxford, 2012) explores the relationship between African Christian converts, European missionaries, and the politics of land access, land alienation and the “civilizing” mission of African social and economic improvement in nineteenth century South Africa. She consults with the Connecticut Historical Society on oral history projects including an exhibit documenting and recording the impact of 9/11 on Connecticut victims, families, and first responders.

You Should…Read: Midnight in Chernobyl (Marisa Chrysochoou, UConn-Civil and Environmental Engineering)

Cover of the book "Midnight in Chernobyl"The role of the humanities and liberal arts education in the 21st century is a topic of intense debate. If the sciences are the foundation for inventing new technologies, the humanities are the foundation for implementing these technologies sustainably and ethically. Adam Higginbotham’s account of the Chernobyl accident is what the New York Times called “an enthralling and terrifying history” of technology gone wild in human hands. There is no better evidence of the role of politics, ethics and psychology in the making of a disaster over a period of decades. The Chernobyl accident was not a human error of the moment, nor a slip in judgment that inevitably happens to scientists and engineers when we fumble with experiments and machines on a daily basis. It was the result of an entire political system that pursued short-term wins, covered inconvenient truths, and promoted allegiance to ideology.

Does this remind you of anything in our current handling of a crisis?

And yet I am sure that there will be many climate-change deniers who read the book and sneer at the incompetence and blindness of their Soviet counterparts of 1986.

Regardless, you will also have supreme fun reading this book that is written as a Stephen King suspense novel.


Marisa Chrysochoou
Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
University of Connecticut

Maria Chrysochoou's photoWho is Marisa Chrysochoou? Marisa Chrysochoou is a professor and the head of the Civil & Environmental Engineering Department. She received her Ph.D. in 2006 from the Stevens Institute of Technology. Her research focuses on fate and transport metals in the environment, environment and surface chemistry, and treatment and reuse of industrial waste, contaminated soil, and sediments. She has also been awarded a prestigious Marie Curie International Incoming Fellowship.

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.

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.

You Should…Listen to: Regina Spektor’s Music (Sarah Willen-Anthropology)

Regina SpektorYou should listen to Regina Spektor’s music — but only if you’re ready for a brush with genius. Wild genius, that is, skyrocketing musically through the magical, heartbreaking, infuriating, absurd journey that is life. Nothing is lyrically off limits for Spektor — no topic too grand (“Laughing With”), no predicament too small (“Dance Anthem of the 80s”) to stir her imagination. A classically trained pianist  (“Après Moi”), mediocre guitarist (“That Time”), and proud immigrant to the United States — when she and her family emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1990, with support from HIAS, she was just 9 1/2 — Spektor belongs to a cadre of gifted artists (Gary Shteyngart is another) for whom American promise, Jewish otherness, Russian melancholy, and familial closeness meld in a worldview that is wise (“Samson”), joyful (“On the Radio”), and occasionally bizarre (“Pavlov’s Daughter”). Whether she’s loving on New York City (“Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)”), mourning an impossible love (“Better”), parodying Second Amendment fetishism (“Uh-Merica”), dreaming up the baby boy whose clothes she’ll someday pin funkily at the beach (“Folding Chair”), or shredding the high priests of exploitation, greed, and unctuous politics (“The Trapper and the Furrier”; “Ballad of a Politician”), Regina Spektor’s America is a place we all should visit, and linger. Oh — and I hear she wrote the theme song for “Orange is the New Black.” Is it worth watching?


Sarah Willen
Associate Professor of Anthropology
University of Connecticut


Who is Sarah Willen? Sarah Willen is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Connecticut and Director of the Research Program on Global Health and Human Rights at the university’s Human Rights Institute. She holds a PhD in Anthropology and an MPH in Global Health, both from Emory University. She is a two-time recipient of the Rudolf Virchow Prize from the Critical Anthropology of Global Health Caucus of the Society for Medical Anthropology. She is also the author of a 2019 book Fighting for Dignity: Migrant Lives at Israel’s Margins published by the University of Pennsylvania Press.


You Should…Read: Kalanithi’s “When Breath Becomes Air,” and Gawande’s “Being Mortal,” (Sara Harrington-UConn Library)

Front cover of two books If medicine is an art as much as a science, then a journey of illness through the medical world is part humanistic voyage.  Two books published in the last few years—When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (2016) and Being Mortal by Atul Gawande (2017)—call upon our deepest and truest humanity, and you should read them in tandem.  In When Breath Becomes Air physician becomes patient; in Being Mortal physician becomes fellow traveler on a paternal medical odyssey.  Each narrative is an exercise in heartache, gut punch, intellectual puzzle, moral quandary, and finally, existential ‘what if?’  My mind returned these texts over and over since I read them, inspiring me to wrestle anew with the medical journeys that I have traveled in the past and will no doubt walk in the future.  I’m a librarian, so people ask me for reading recommendations all the time, and I’m always happy to share my working shortlist.  The impact of When Breath Becomes Air and Being Mortal lingers and lasts, and you should read them for yourself.

Sara Harrington
Associate University Librarian for Academic Engagement
University of Connecticut

Who is Sara Harrington? Sara Harrington previously worked at the Ohio University Libraries and the Rutgers University Libraries. Sara holds a Ph.D. in Art History, an M.L.S., an M.Ed. in Higher Education, and a post-graduate certificate in the Curation and Management of Digital Assets. Sara works to integrate academic research libraries into university teaching, researching, and learning, building collaborations with stakeholder communities to support student and faculty success. Sara joined the UConn Library in 2018, and is enjoying getting to know New England across the course of all four of its beautiful seasons.

You Should…Read: Don Brown’s “The Unwanted-Stories of Syrian Refugees” (Harry van der Hulst-Linguistics)

Cover of the "The Unwanted" comic bookGraphic novels have for some time become an important medium for expressing trouble and human suffering in the world. Growing up in the Netherlands I became familiar with graphic novels early on. We called them ‘strips’ or ‘stripverhalen’ (‘verhalen’ means ‘stories’.) In the US, people for long called them ‘comics.’ I like reading (watching?) strips as a kid. There was a rich supply, none about superheros though. That started as an American genre in the 1930s. The strips that I read are largely unknown in the US, except for Tintin (‘Kuifje’), Asterix, and the Smurfs perhaps. For long, all these graphic narratives were thought of as stuff for kids, and perhaps not even ‘healthy’ stuff; a poor substitute for reading ‘real’ books and setting young people up for violence. (That sounds familiar doesn’t it…videogames…). Strips and comics are still a flourishing medium, but then appeared a more ‘serious’ genre, notoriously exemplified by Art Spiegelman’s Maus and works by Will Eisner, both American writers who drew and wrote stories that are clearly not aimed at children, which somewhere lead to the term ‘graphic novel.’ Recently, I read The unwanted –Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown (2018), a ‘documentary graphic novel.’ The title speaks for itself. The drawings are really good, but it is of course the subject that ‘draws’ you in. Soon, there will be a graphic novel about hundreds of children being packed into ‘detention centers’ at the border, if there isn’t one already.

Harry van der Hulst
Professor of Linguistics
University of Connecticut


van dr Hulst, Harry headshotWho is Harry van der Hulst? Harry van der Hulst is a professor of linguistics and the director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Connecticut. He received his Ph.D. from Leiden University in his native Netherlands, where he also taught linguistics before joining UConn linguistics faculty in 2000. He specializes in phonology, but has also conducted research in feature systems and segmental structure, syllable structure, word accent systems, vowel harmony, and sign language phonology, to name a few. Harry has been editor-in-chief of the international SSCI linguistics journal. He was a 2017–2018 UConn faculty fellow at the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute and he is also a Life Fellow of the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study.