Manu P. Sobti
Medieval Riverlogues: Crossing & Contestations along the Oxus Borderland
Manu Sobti shall present an extract from his forthcoming book with Brill Press entitled The Sliver of the Oxus Borderland: Medieval Cultural Encounters between the Arabs and Persians. Positioned within the context of the Arab invasions on Central Asia, he examines the medieval borderlands that witnessed passage, journey and abandonment along the Oxus or Amu Darya - the region’s most significant river. Through the course of these invasions, and within the river’s critical role as a liminal zone between two distinct cultural realms - the Arab versus the Persian - the Amu Darya served as the selectively permeable, border/boundary condition for the large Arab armies moving across Khorasan. They forded the river at two crossing points along its length, both of which have retained this significant role through time. In re-visiting these crossing points, Sobti lends voice to the river’s tumultuous history and to the seemingly ‘inconsequential’ cultural landscape on both sides, re-formulating its engaging role as the only geographic truism in Eurasia, and in marked contrast to the region’s arbitrary Soviet era, state boundaries. His research archive and fieldwork combine interpretations of critical Arab and Persian texts that document these ‘journeys’, alongside introspective fieldwork, and a plethora of re-drawn maps and animations.
Education, Entertainment, and Exploitation: Adventures in Attempting to Promote an Appreciation for the Humanities Among the General Public
In an era when a "business model" is dominant in higher education and there are increasing demands by the public and politicians to steer students towards majors that supposedly lead directly to jobs, it is vital for humanists to articulate to the general public the value of the humanities. However, the audience directly reached by most academics is limited to their own students in their classes and fellow academics who read their research. The principal way that the general public is exposed to humanities disciplines is usually through various forms of media, which are often more interested in sensationalism, entertainment, and making money than in providing accurate or responsible information. Academics who work with the media must constantly negotiate between the desire to reach and influence a larger audience and media distortion and exploitation of one's discipline. This talk will explore this tension, using as examples my own recent experiences with different methods of reaching the general public, including documentaries, TV and internet news stories, public lectures, popular books, and video courses.
Henry Drewal and Faisal Abdu'Allah
Practicing Theory: FauHaus and Sensiotics
The theory and method called sensiotics, coined in 2003 by Henry Drewal, explores how the senses are engaged in the creation and reception of the arts, and the making of culture. Sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste, and motion continually participate, though we may often be unconscious of them, in the ways we literally make sense of the world, and art. Seeing (hearing, tasting, etc.) is thinking, sensing is theorizing, because in the beginning, there was no word, only sensations.
FauHaus (F = Faisal, H = Henry, Haus = WI), a riff on the BauHaus concept of interdisciplinary arts and born out of the theory of sensiotics, is an arts laboratory that demonstrates the poetic dalliance between theory and practice. Thinking, making and dissemination are integrated and reconciled to insure the clarity and longevity of artistic ideas.
New Digital Humanities Approaches to Renaissance Studies: Manuscript Imaging and Research Outsourcing in the Florentine Archives using the Bía Platform
The Bía Platform of the Medici Archive Project offers Renaissance scholars new approaches to digital humanities research. This online platform presents high-resolution digitized manuscript documents and a searchable interface to the massive Mediceo del Principato collection at the Archivio di Stato di Firenze. The Bía platform functions as a search engine to the papers of the Medici family and their princely state of Ducal and Granducal Tuscany. This presentation will introduce scholars and graduate students to the new possibilities of digital humanities research in Renaissance studies, focusing on ways of using the Bía platform and participating in the Medici Archive Project’s new crowd sourcing approach to collaborative research.
Five Ways to Look at a Corpse: The Dead in Normandy, 1944
We prefer to think of war as producing heroes, not corpses. Perhaps for this reason, military historians have rarely focused on the dead. In the Normandy invasion of 1944, the bodies of American G.I.s were often not visible. This is because, in an effort to maintain the morale of the troops, the U.S. military quickly removed corpses from the battlefield and kept them out of sight. At the same time, however, much can be learned about the war’s meaning for its combattants by exploring how corpses were perceived by American and German soldiers, military officials, French civilians and
the American public.
Todd W. Reeser
Setting Plato Straight: Translating Ancient Sexuality in the Renaissance
As fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Humanists read, digested, and translated Plato, they found themselves faced with a fundamental problem. On the one hand, the rebirth of the Ancients implied a “fidelity” to the words and the sense of Greek texts. On the other hand, many Humanists refused to translate faithfully, and thus to propagate, the institution of pederasty or the other homoerotic elements in the Platonic corpus. This recurring tension in Christian-Humanism could not be avoided because of the blatant homoerotics in Plato, particularly in the Symposium, the Phaedrus, and the Lysis. In this talk, I present an overview of the critical questions around this tension, with a focus on translation and hermeneutics, in translations, commentaries, and literary texts from Italy, France, and Germany. This presentation is drawn from my book in progress, a comparative and comprehensive study of the reception of Platonic sexuality from the first Renaissance translations of Plato’s erotic dialogues in the early fifteenth century (by Leonardo Bruni) to Michel de Montaigne’s skeptical commentary on translation in the late sixteenth century, with many stops in between.
Ideology, Counterpublicity, and the Gay Straight Alliance
This presentation examines a controversy that arose in West Bend, WI, over the local school board’s resistance to students’ efforts to gain official recognition for a local chapter of the Gay Straight Alliance, a national network of student groups dedicated to creating welcoming environments for students of all sexual orientations and background. Faced with an application for official recognition in spring 2011, the school board initially rejected the group, then reversed its decision after lawyers for the GSA filed a discrimination suit in federal court. In my analysis, I argue that the GSA controversy pressed a tension in the ideology of school-board members between their fiscal and social conservatism. The threat of losing the lawsuit and having to pay their attorneys’ fees as well as the fees of the GSA’s attorneys challenged their fiscal conservatism, especially when two sets of attorneys advised the board that the GSA likely would prevail in court. The GSA’s composition and mission threatened the social and religious conservatism as well as the heteronormative notions of family and society held by many board members. GSA advocates and allies enacted a counterpublicity—a contesting mode of engagement—that pressed this tension, exposing its faults and calling some members of the board and community on their homophobia and discriminatory policies. Their counterpublicity engaged the prevailing ideology articulated by many board members, refiguring it and opening spaces for critical reflection. In doing so, GSA advocates achieved recognition for their members and others.
Mary Agnes Edsall
Late medieval affective piety was a style of highly emotional devotion to the humanity of Jesus, particularly in his infancy and his death, and to the joys and sorrows of the Virgin Mary. Most accounts of affective piety have located its beginnings in the twelfth century and trace it as it developed in Cistercian and Franciscan spirituality; but scholars have recently begun to question this narrative. My research takes this questioning a step further and suggests that affective speech and texts were part of Western philosophical and, then, Christian traditions from the earliest centuries on.
This presentation is part of a chapter that asks if there was any discernable “affective piety” between the fifth and the eleventh centuries. By the end of the patristic period theories of conversion and catechesis had been consolidated and affective rhetorics of Christian pedagogy had been developed. The monasteries would preserve these through the long centuries during which the western Roman Empire slowly turned into medieval Europe. Another story runs alongside this, however: the story of appeals to the emotions in the evangelization and ongoing Christianization of sub-Roman populations and of the barbarians from east of the Rhine who settled in formerly Roman colonies. Drawing on current work in the fields of psychology, history of the emotions, and medieval history, this presentation will speculate on the effects on character and emotions of the “culture of violence” of tribal Europe, effects including desensitization to violence, lack of compassion, and paranoia that fueled irascibility. In it, I will explore how earlier affective Christian rhetorics may have been adapted to persuade the people of these “cultures of violence” to take on different ways of being and feeling—beyond just offering “emotional refuges,” places where alternative ways of feeling and living were learned.
Eddie Glaude, Jr.
Democracy in Black: Identity Politics in a Post-Soul Era
In his lecture, Glaude explores how "whiteness" continues to distort American democracy, disfiguring our precious ideals into unsightly and dangerous justification for ugly practices that ultimately cast away democratic principles, and eventually, people. This distortion requires a response, specifically from those who are disproportionately affected by the unseemly machinations of whiteness in our politics. Those who suffer injury, in part because they are not white, must give voice to the distinctiveness of their experiences in order to expand democratic possibility. Black politics, at its best, has done precisely this. No matter the specific demands of the black freedom struggle throughout our history, the one constant has been a complete and unequivocal rejection of the oxymoronic idea of "white democracy." But the public expression of black suffering has become increasingly difficult today, because "white democracy" trades in the language of color-blindness and the political idea of Black America has collapsed in the face of internal differences unleashed in what can be called a post-soul era.
Galude confronts a possible paradox: that the current expression of "white democracy" requires a response in the form of black identity politics, but the political idea of Black America has collapsed in the face of fragmenting black communities, where the once powerful ideal of black solidarity crumbles under the weight of internal class and generational differences. Glaude answers the paradox with a call for a more robust form of black identity politics attuned to the differences within black communities and rooted in a grassroots democratic ethos that exposes the continued political and moral work of "whiteness" in America.
What Not to Wear: Cultus and Elegy in Rome
In the fourth book of Propertius’ poetry, we encounter a statue of Vertumnus, who explains to passersby that, given the right clothing and accessories, he can take on any number of identities and occupations, even changing from an elegiac puella (mistress or girlfriend) to a Roman man who wears the toga (Prop. 4.2.21-28).
Like Vertumnus, Ancient Rome was a performance and appearance based culture, where one enacted and revealed one’s gender and social status through outward appearance, so this appearance, clothing, and adornment, which the Romans denoted by the word cultus, remained an important part of ancient life. Because cultus reveals information about ancient Roman culture, I believe it can also act as an interpretive tool for a particularly complex and elusive genre of poetry, namely Latin elegy.
Previous scholarship on elegy has argued that this poetry comprises a “counter-cultural” genre that undermines normative gender roles in Roman society during the rule of Augustus, primarily through the figures of the male lover-poet and the puella (or even Vertumnus). However, as I argue, an investigation into the role of cultus in the poetry of Tibullus, Propertius, and Ovid resolves some persistent questions in scholarship on elegy, as they relate to the role of the puella, her identity, the effeminacy of the male lover-poet, and the metapoetic value of (primarily the puella’s) cultus. The cultus of the puella and the lover-poet acts as an interpretive lens through which we can interpret elegy’s gendered discourse and commentary on poetry, and I argue that the elegists use cultus to create and destabilize boundaries in ways that ultimately reinforce normative gender roles and male control in general, and that of the lover-poet over the puella in particular. In other words, my analysis of cultus attempts to redefine an important strand of elegiac scholarship: elegy is less “counter-cultural” and more normative than scholarship has previously argued.