What Counts as “Evidence” in Humanities Research?
"Humanities by the Numbers" was the theme for the annual conference of the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes, hosted by the Center for the Humanities in Madison in June. The status of "numbers" in humanities research sparked sharp debate—some attacking the loss of nuance and individualized specificity or uniqueness; some suggesting that numbers and counting invisibly undergird analysis that appears singular; others promoting the promise of the digital and 'big Data'; and still others probing the very concept, status, and deployment of numbers in human experience as well as humanities research.
The question of 'what counts as evidence in humanities research' broadens the issue beyond numbers per se. But some of the same debates apply, particularly as we move across the varied disciplines and interdisciplines that make up the humanities and as the humanities works collaboratively with the social sciences, sciences, and arts.
Panel Presentations (1 hour) and Open Discussion (1 hour)
From the Roman Mediterranean to India: The Early Movement of Christianity through the Afro-Eurasian World System
Can we trace the social pathways that ancient Christianity followed as it traveled from the Roman Mediterranean to India? Evidence of these pathways is laden with epistemic baggage. Likewise, numerous societies have produced their own testimonies for Christianity’s movement, but it is often hard to establish the relationship among such testimonies and thus their referential value. How might this evidence be navigated?
Nathanael Andrade is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Oregon. His past research has principally focused on topics relating to the Roman and late Roman Near East and its broader Mediterranean context. Since receiving his PhD at the University of Michigan in 2009, he has written Syrian Identity in the Greco-Roman World (Greek Culture in the Roman World; Cambridge University Press, 2013) and has conducted research as a regular member at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ (2012-2013). His research has also appeared in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies, the Journal of Early Christian Studies, and many other journals and edited collections.
Roads as Spaces of Consumption: The Making of Tibetan Highways
What are the functions of roads, both "materially" and "symbolically"? Since 1950, several highways have been built to connect Tibet with the rest of China. These roads' meanings are subject to constant construction and reinterpretation, being understood variously as heroic, monumental, liberating, mysterious, exotic, purifying, splendid, and having the ability to incite pilgrimages. This talk contributes to a broader study of "roadology," to which the speaker has been collaborating with a group of interdisciplinary scholars over the past several years.
Yongming Zhou is a Professor of Anthropology at UW-Madison. He received his Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Duke University. In 2001-2002, he was a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars. He is the author of Anti-Drug Crusades in Twentieth-Century China: Nationalism, History, and State-Building (Rowman & Littlefield, 1999) and Historicizing Online Politics: Telegraphy, the Internet, and Political Participation in China (Stanford University Press, 2006). He has also been a Mellon Fellow at the Needham Research Institute at Cambridge and a visiting fellow at the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore. He served as the president of the Midwest Conference on Asian Affairs in 2012. His latest "roadology" project focuses on the socio-cultural impacts of transnational road building on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau and in the Great Mekong Subregion, where he has conducted fieldwork since 2006. He is at work on a project entitled Chasing Happiness: The Unhappy Life of a Western Ideal in China, 1890-2010.
From Content to Context: Rethinking Relationships between Folklore and Literature in Nineteenth-Century France
What does folklore have to do with literature? The usual answer would involve shared content: writers borrowing song, stories, or motifs from traditional materials. However, the history of folklore study or discourses surrounding it—what people thought folklore was and why it mattered—can be just as important for literature, indeed for how the very notion of the literary evolves at certain historical junctures. Considering the example of nineteenth-century France, I ask how failed efforts to document or collect popular traditions actually made questions of tradition, orality, and cultural preservation all the more important for French writers of the day and what this means for our own concepts of literary history.
Jennifer Gipson is Assistant Professor of French at UW-Madison. She holds a Ph.D. in French (2011) with a Designated Emphasis in Folklore from the University of California, Berkeley. Her research focuses on literature and folklore in nineteenth-century France as well as French in the United States, especially Louisiana and the Upper Midwest. Her article "'A Strange, Ventriloquous Voice': Louisiana Creole, Whiteness, and the Racial Politics of Writing Orality" is forthcoming in the Journal of American Folklore. She is currently preparing a book-length manuscript entitled "Phantom Storytellers: A Literary History of Folklore in Nineteenth-Century France."
Contemporary Drift: Genre, Historicism, and the Problem of the Present
What do we mean when we call something—art, culture, history—"contemporary"? While scholars tend to refer to the contemporary as if it were the name for a clearly demarcated historical period, the contemporary isn't really like other historical periods—for the simple reason that, as something ongoing and open-ended, it is not yet historical. This talk considers how the not-quite-historical category of the contemporary first emerged as a framework for literary studies in the mid-twentieth century, and how it has challenged some of the basic methodological assumptions of the discipline in ways that are still being reckoned with today. What would it mean, I ask, to think of the contemporary not as a stable period but as a conceptual problem? And what it would mean to see certain forms of contemporary fiction as a vital resource for resolving that problem?
Theodore Martin is Assistant Professor of English at the UW-Milwaukee. He specializes in post-1945 American and British fiction. His work has appeared in Modern Language Quarterly and Novel: A Forum on Fiction, and is forthcoming in the edited volume Postmodern/Postwar and After (University of Iowa Press). He is currently finishing a book titled "Contemporary Drift: Genre and the Forms of the Present." He is also writing the entry on "Temporality" for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature.
Incarcerated Writers and the Justice of Incarceration
It is not only activists and public intellectuals who are concerned about the injustice of mass incarceration in the United States. Incarcerated men and women have examined the "justice" of the American criminal justice system as well, often through memoir. Incarcerated writers do intellectual work, advancing understandings of justice that run counter to the justice system incarcerating them. Further, incarcerated writers often structure their writing using religious themes, such as sin, guilt, and redemption. Reading together the religion and politics implicit in prison memoirs, I argue that a dramatic shift took place in this genre over the past half century. Expansive visions of social justice have contracted into tales of personal suffering and redemption.
Vincent Lloyd is Assistant Professor of Religion at Syracuse University. His research focuses on the intersection of religion, politics, and race, drawing on the resources of critical theory. Lloyd has written The Problem with Grace: Reconfiguring Political Theology and Black Natural Law: Beyond Secularism and Multiculturalism (forthcoming), and he has edited or co-edited the books Race and Political Theology, Sainthood and Race, and Race and Secularism in America. He edits the journal Political Theology. Lloyd has held fellowships from Emory's James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference, the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study, and the American Council of Learned Societies. He is at work on a project entitled "Religion and Mass Incarceration."
On Being Able to Sleep: Bio-politics in Counterinsurgent Wars
How does war affect every day life for those involved? I analyze the role of sleep in the United States-led counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2001, which was part of the larger U.S.-led overseas contingency operations. Nowhere more than in the capacity to sleep—the dreams and nightmares it enables, its relation to the body and to the soul, its interruptions by trauma and sometimes its failure to be interrupted by conscience, its categorization as a military logistic, and its manipulation as such—is the complexity of war's effects illuminated.
Helen M. Kinsella is an Associate Professor in the Political Science Department at UW-Madison. Her research and teaching interests include contemporary political theory, feminist theories, international law, especially international humanitarian and human rights, armed conflict, and gender and armed conflict. She is a graduate of University of Minnesota-Minneapolis and, prior to her appointment at Wisconsin, held pre and post doctoral fellowships at, respectively, Harvard University and Stanford University. Her first book, The Image Before the Weapon: A Critical History of the Distinction Between Combatant and Civilian (Cornell UP, April 2011), received the 2012 Sussex International Theory Prize (The Centre for Advanced International Theory, University of Sussex) and Honorable Mention for the 2012 Lepgold Book Prize (The Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Mortara Center for International Studies, Georgetown University).
Christ on a Donkey: Palm Sunday, Triumphal Entries, Wooden Donkeys, and Blasphemous Pageants
How did Charlemagne confuse Palm Sunday processions and triumphal entries? Why was the early Quaker leader James Nayler charged with blasphemy for riding a horse into Bristol? Was he imitating Christ or mocking Oliver Cromwell? Why were life-size processional images of Jesus on a donkey vandalized both by sixteenth-century Protestant iconoclasts and by eighteenth-century Roman Catholic archbishops? My presentation explores Palm Sunday processions and other public representations of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem as embodied sites for the celebration, display, contestation, diffusion, and mockery of religious justifications for war and other exercises of power.
Max Harris is an independent scholar and Executive Director Emeritus of the Wisconsin Humanities Council. He has taught at the University of Virginia and, as a visiting professor, at Yale University. He is the author of five books: Theater and Incarnation (1990, 2nd ed. 2005), The Dialogical Theatre (1993), Aztecs, Moors, and Christians: Festivals of Reconquest in Mexico and Spain (2000), Carnival and Other Christian Festivals: Folk Theology and Folk Performance (2003), and Sacred Folly: A New History of the Feast of Fools (2011). His work has won the Otto Gründler Book Prize, and (twice) the David Bevington Award for the Best New Book in Early Drama Studies.
The Work of Sex in the Age of Digital Reproduction: Gerard & Kelly's Kisses
The lecture analyzes how Tino Sehgal's museum installation "Kiss" establishes the normative temporal scheme of contemporary heterosexual sex, and how a series of performances by Brennan Gerard & Ryan Kelly (who work as Gerard & Kelly) comment upon and transform that scheme. Especially at issue is the role that the rhythms established by synchrony, reciprocity, and endurance play in the discourse of "good" sex gay and straight, and the role of arrhythmia in fostering queer sexual possibilities.
Elizabeth Freeman is Professor of English at the University of California, Davis. She is the author of Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories (Duke University Press, 2010) and the co-editor of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. In 2007 she edited a special issue of GLQ on "Queer Temporalities." Her first book, The Wedding Complex: Forms of Belonging in Modern American Culture was published by Duke University Press in 2002.
This lecture is co-sponsored by the Art History Department, Center for Visual Culture, Communication Arts Department, Comparative Literature and Folklore Studies Department, Digital Studies Program, English Department, Gender and Sexuality Caucus, and the Gender and Women's Studies Department.
Gendered Self in the Digital Era: Digital Photography and Auto/biographic Representation
What new things can personal digital photography tell us about gendered lives? Does digital photography provide a wider range of gendered activities and gendered images? What can we learn about women's lives and senses of self as "photographers"? How to process and make sense of digital photography collections? How to (and who gets to) determine the biographic relevance and significance of the photos? Using the personal photos I collected in China from women who lived through the Mao era, I discuss how the changing materiality of digital photography affects women's auto/biographical photo practices, the opportunities and challenges this brings to the study of women's lives, and the challenges in collecting (scanning and copying), categorizing, and analyzing the digital photographs.
Xin Huang is an Assistant Professor in Women's and Gender Studies at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Huang received her Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia in Women's and Gender Studies in 2010. Her main area of research is gender and sexuality in contemporary China, particularly the representation of gender and sexuality in oral narrative and visual forms. She has recently finished a book project entitled "The Gendered Legacy of Mao: A Study of Women's Live Stories in Contemporary China." The talk is part of a larger project entitled "The Taming of the Maoist Women: Changing Representations of Gender In China in Personal Photo Albums," which analyzes the visual/bodily manifestation of gender as recorded in personal photo albums and women’s narratives about them.