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Robert Penn Warren Center

Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities

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Programs and Events

Fall 2015

The Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities promotes interdisciplinary research and study in the humanities and social sciences and, when appropriate, the natural sciences. Members of the Vanderbilt community representing a wide variety of specializations take part in the Center’s programs, which are designed to intensify and increase interdisciplinary discussion of academic, social, and cultural issues.

Fellows Programs

2015/2016 Fellows Program. “When the Fringe Dwarfs the Center: Vernacular Islam beyond the Arab World,”co-directed by Tony K. Stewart (religious studies), David Wasserstein (Jewish studies, history), and Samira Sheikh (history) with funding from the John E. Sawyer Seminar Program at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Participants in the program are Dianna Bell (religious studies), Daniel A. Birchok (William S. Vaughn Visiting Fellow, anthropology), Julia Phillips Cohen (Jewish studies), Ashish Koul (history), Riyaz Latif (history of art), Richard McGregor (religious studies), William Murrell (history), Moses Ochonu (history), and Anand Taneja (religious studies).

2015/2016 Warren Center Graduate Student Fellows. Eight graduate students are participating in the Warren Center’s tenth dissertation completion fellowship program.  They are Faith E. Barter (English), Michell Chresfield (history), Jonathan Coley (sociology), Alexander Jacobs (history), Michelle O’Loughlin (modern languages, Queens University, Belfast), Petal Samuel (English), Sandra Skene (philosophy), and Steven Wenz (Spanish and Portuguese). Faith Barter is the American Studies Fellow, Alexander Jacobs is the George J. Graham Jr. Fellow, Steven Wenz is the Joe and Mary Harper Fellow , and Petal Samuel is the Elizabeth E. Fleming Fellow

2016/2017 Fellows Program. “Working for Equality and Justice: Theorizing from and with Lived Resistance to Economic Inequality and Injustice,” co-directed byBrooke Ackerly (political science) and Melissa Snarr (divinity). More information about the program will be released later this fall.

Special Events

Public Scholarship at Vanderbilt with presenters: Marshall Eakin (history), Joel Harrington (history), Ifeoma Nwankwo (English), Daniel Sharfstein (law), Paul Stob (communication studies), and Holly Tucker (French & Italian, Biomedical Ethics & Society). Faculty, staff, and students are invited to the first of several conversations about public scholarship at Vanderbilt University.  This initial conversation will feature brief presentations by participants in the 2014-2015 fellows program at the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, which considered issues related to “Public Scholarship in the Humanities.”  This year, participants invite the broader Vanderbilt community to explore such questions as how scholars can make their work more accessible to a general audience; how research, teaching, and civic engagement can fruitfully intersect; how the digital humanities and other forms of new media influence academic work; and how academic institutions, organizations in the private and public sectors, and individuals in the larger community can produce meaningful shared discourse.  After brief presentations from Warren Center Fellows, the meeting will turn to a broad discussion of the possibilities and challenges of pursuing public scholarship at a modern research university. September 15  at 4:10 p.m. in Sarratt Student Center 216/220. Immediately following the discussion a reception with light refreshments will be held at the Robert Penn Warren Center.

Nashville premiere of She's Beautiful When She's Angry , a documentary about the women's liberation movement from the 1960s. A discussion with the director, Mary Dore, will take place following the film. Monday, October 19 at 4:00 p.m. in Buttrick 103. 

Publishing Scholarly Books for a General Audience with panelists Joel Harrington (history, and author of The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century), Wendy Strothman (literary agent, The Strothman Agency, New York), and Virginia Smith Younce (senior editor, Penguin Press). Moderated by Daniel Sharfstein (law and history and author of The Invisible Line: A Secret History of Race in America.) Tuesday, October 20 at 12:10 p.m. in Kissam Center 210. Lunch provided. This is part of the Public Scholarship series. 

Harry C. Howard Jr. Lecture. William Adams , Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, will discuss " The Common Good and NEH at 50 " on  Tuesday October 27  at  4:10 p.m.  in the Central Library Community Room, Jean & Alexander Heard Library. A reception will follow the event. 

“Understanding Islam.” As part of its continuing partnership with Humanities Tennessee, the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities is co-sponsoring a series of speakers related to this theme at the 2015 Southern Festival of Books on October 9-11 in downtown Nashville. The topic coincides with our 2015-2016 Faculty Fellows topic “Vernacular Islam beyond the Arab World.” More information about speakers will be forthcoming.

The Humanities and Technology Camp (THATCamp). THATCamp 2015 will be held November 6-7 at the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise & Public Policy. THATCamp is an international program designed to promote interest in and to develop skills related to digital humanities. Examples of sessions might include: TEI (Text Encoding Initiative), digital archiving, video games, 3D modeling, Twitter, tools for beginners, securing funding for digital humanities projects, Omeka, and Neatline. THATCamp is hosted by the Warren Center, the Center for Second Language Studies, the Vanderbilt Institute for Digital Learning, the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise & Public Policy, and the Jean & Alexander Heard Library. Video game developer Elonka Dunin will be a participant in the program. 

Warren Center Seminars

The following is a list of seminars and reading groups for the fall semester. For more detailed information please contact the seminar coordinators or the Warren Center.

18th-/19th-Century Colloquium: The colloquium brings together faculty, graduate students, and visiting scholars to explore ground-breaking scholarship on the arts, cultures, and histories of the 18th- and 19th-centuries. While loosely focused around British culture, the group also invites scholars from other linguistic and geographic fields to share work and join in the discussion. Guest speakers for the semester include Carolyn Williams (Rutgers)on September 25, Anahid Nersessian (UCLA)on November 13, and Andrew Miller (Johns Hopkins University) on January 22, all at 2:00 p.m. at the Warren Center.Seminar coordinators: Rachel Teukolsky (English) and Scott Juengel (English)

Brazilian Studies Reading Group: In its third edition, the group will focus on two inter-related topics: Diversity and Development. Monthly meetings consist of discussions among attendees and invited speakers based upon pre-circulated papers that reflect current research related to the topic. Guests come from a variety of disciplines, including—but not limited to—history, anthropology, political science, literature, Latin American studies, international education policy and management, and African diaspora studies. To be on the mailing list and receive papers, contact one of the co-coordinators: Fernanda Bretones (, Laura Sellers (, or Steve Wenz (

Circum-Atlantic Studies Seminar: This group reads and treats scholarship that is interdisciplinary in nature, focuses on at least two of the following regions –Africa, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, and North America—and treats some aspect of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, colonialism, and/or postcolonialism. Guest speakers for the fall include Selena Sanderfer (history, Western Kentucky University)on Tuesday, September 22 at 4:10 p.m. in Buttrick 123, and Kristin Mann (history, Emory University) on October 15 at noon at the Warren Center.Seminar coordinators: Celso Castilho (history) and Jane Landers (history)

The Contemporary in Theory Seminar: Faculty and graduate students from different disciplines and methodological backgrounds will collaborate to foster innovative approaches to the contemporary.  Areas of inquiry include global capitalism, the end of ideology, the development of media and technology, and subsequent questions about the definitions and boundaries of the human.  The seminar will focus on Lydia H. Liu’s The Freudian Robot as well as a number of related works.  Participants will discuss related readings and in the spring the focus will turn to the work of invited speakers and Vanderbilt participants. Meetings will take place Fridays, September 11, October 9, and October 30, all at 11:00 a.m. at the Warren Center.  Seminar coordinators: Ben Tran (Asian Studies) and Haerin Shin (English)

Derrida’s The Beast and the Sovereign Volumes I & II: This seminar invites scholars from across the university to a reading of Jacques Derrida's final lectures, The Beast and the Sovereign, Vols. I and II.  The seminar will be approaching the concepts of sovereignty and animality through the critical lenses of political theory, law, and posthumanism. The seminar will also invite metadisciplinary reflection as participants attempt to navigate and explore the intersections of philosophy, literary studies, political theory, and the legacies of deconstruction and of Derrida himself. Registered participants will receive a copy of each volume and will be invited to contribute to the seminar by leading a discussion session. An organizational meeting is scheduled for Friday, September 4 at 11:00 a.m. at the Warren Center. Subsequent bi-monthly meetings are scheduled for Fridays, September 18, October 2, October 23, November 13, and November 20. Co-coordinators: Shelby Johnson (English), Paulo Martinez (philosophy), and Stephanie Straub (English)

Digital Humanities Discussion Group: The Digital Humanities seminar brings together colleagues from across the university who are interested in issues related to this area of study. The seminar participants will explore theories, practices, and methodologies of DH and explore ways to best support this type of work on our campus. Events this semester include a presentation on Monday, October 5 at noon by Brian Croxall (Digital Humanities Librarian, Center for Digital Scholarship, Brown University Library), Open Access Week, October 19-25 at the Jean and Alexander Heard Library, THATCamp Vanderbilt, November 6-7 at the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy, and a talk on December 8 on GIS by Gabriela Oré Menéndez (anthropology) at noon at the Warren Center. Seminar coordinators: (Lynn Ramey (French) on leave, Mona Frederick (Warren Center), and Todd Hughes (CSLS),

Environmental Humanities: This working group brings together faculty and graduate students in the humanities and creative arts, the social sciences, the natural sciences, engineering, and law to study and forge robust interdisciplinary approaches to ecological issues. Through shared readings and research as well as collaborative projects, the group will explore the conjunctions and conflicts between scientific, social, cultural, creative, philosophical, political, and legal understandings of and engagement with the environment. The seminar seeks to foster new models for how humanistic inquiry can shape ecological questions, both inside and outside of the humanities, as well as participate in public discourse about urgent environmental problems. Meetings this semester are scheduled for Tuesdays, September 8, October 6 with guest speaker Nathaniel Rich (novelist speaking on climate fiction), November 3, and December 1 at 4:00 p.m. at the Warren Center. Seminar Coordinators: Catherine Molineux (history) catherine.a.molineux and Teresa Goddu (English)

Film Theory & Visual Culture Seminar: This seminar aims to foster dialogue among faculty and graduate students across campus working in film, visual culture, art history, literature, and cultural studies interested in theories of the image, philosophies of perception, aesthetic and critical theory, media histories, and the history of vision. The group will meet monthly to discuss readings, share work, and engage the research of invited scholars. Guest speakers include Akira Lippit (School of Cinematic Arts, University of Southern California) on Friday, October 2, Karla Oeler (Film and Media Studies, Emory University) on November 6, and Nick Sousanis (University of Calgary) on Friday, December 4. All events are at noon at the Warren Center. Seminar coordinators: Jennifer Fay (cinema & media arts, English), Lutz Koepnick (German, cinema & media arts), and James McFarland (German, cinema & media arts)

Gender and Sexualities Seminar: This seminar provides an interdisciplinary forum for the development of critical perspectives on gender and sexuality. The seminar examines how gender and sexuality shape human experience within and across cultures, in different time periods, and as part of social practice.   Participants will choose the format with an aim toward balancing new scholarship by graduate students and established scholars, as well as exploring topics of particular interest to the group. The first organizational meeting is scheduled for Thursday, September 17 at noon at the Warren Center. Seminar coordinator: Katherine Crawford (women’s and gender studies)

Group for Pre-modern Cultural Studies: The purpose of the group is to serve as a forum for those with interests in pre-modern studies, including not only history but language and literature, chiefly, though not exclusively, Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, as well as music, art, and culture. The group meets monthly to discuss ongoing research by a faculty member, recent publications in the field, or the work of a visiting scholar. The first meeting of the semester will be on Thursday, September 10 with guest speaker Francesca Trivellato (history, Yale University)at 4:10 p.m. in Buttrick 123. On Tuesday, September 29, Ellen MacKay (English, Indiana University) will give a talk at noon at the Warren Center. Meetings are scheduled for Tuesday, October 13 and Tuesday, November 10 with guest speaker Richard A. Strier (English, University of Chicago) at noon at the Warren Center. Seminar coordinators: Bill Caferro (history), Samira Sheihk (, Leah Marcus (English), and Deann Armstrong (English)

Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life: This group provides opportunities for exchange among faculty members and graduate students who are interested in or who are currently involved in projects that engage public scholarship. Vanderbilt is a member of the national organization, “Imagining America,” a consortium of colleges and universities committed to public scholarship in the arts, humanities, and design. Seminar coordinator: Mona Frederick (Warren Center) and Joe Bandy (Center for Teaching, sociology)

Literature and Law Seminar: This reading group will meet to discuss current approaches, new challenges, and new possibilities that are offered to legal and literary scholars when they use insights from both fields to illuminate their work. The seminar welcomes anyone interested in the many topics now addressed in this field, including the use of obscenity laws to regulate creative work, the representation of law in literature, law as literature, the application of literary methods to legal texts, the challenges of constructing “characters” appropriate to literary and legal settings, and the revitalization of law through reference to humanistic texts and approaches. Seminar coordinators: Robert Barsky (French and Italian) and Daniel Gervais (

Literature, Medicine, and Science Seminar This group will consider how literature mediates narratives of medicine and science. Exploring the intersections of literature, medicine, and science, the seminar will trace the relationships between these intellectual cultures across disciplines. Meeting once a month, the participants will pair non-literary texts with fiction in order to trace dialogues between these traditionally disparate fields, combating the stereotype of a two-culture split between literature and medicine. Topics to be covered include narrative medicine, medicine and visual culture, (bio)ethics, narrative genetics, and speculative fiction and science, among others. An organizational meeting is scheduled for Thursday, September 10 at 10:00 a.m. Seminar participants will be encouraged to incorporate their own work into the discussion. Co-coordinators: Lauren Mitchell (English) and Wietske Smeele (English)

Material Cultures Seminar This seminar focuses on the dynamics between objects and people.  Because the study of objects is relevant to every discipline and area of study, every medium and historical period –including conceptions of the future –this seminar will appeal to faculty and graduate students across the College of Arts and Science and the university more widely.  Participants will read and discuss key theoretical texts and case studies and share their own research. Monthly meetings are scheduled for Thursdays , September 10 , October 1 , November 12 , and December 10 , all at noon at the Warren Center. Seminar coordinators: Mireille Lee (history of art and classical studies) and Richard McGregor (religion) .

Mexican Studies Seminar: The goal of this group is to raise the profile of research related to Mexico on the Vanderbilt campus and support members’ individual scholarly endeavors regarding this important nation bordering the United States. The group brings together faculty and graduate students from history, political science, literature, sociology, art, anthropology, music, and Latin American studies. At monthly meetings the group will discuss works-in-progress authored by members and invited scholars from beyond Vanderbilt. A meeting is scheduled for Thursday, November 5 with guest speaker Eric Van Young (history, University of California, San Diego) at noon at the Warren Center. Seminar coordinators: Helena Simonett (Latin American studies) and Edward Wright-Rios (history)

Music and Justice Seminar: This seminar examines the intersection of music and justice from both a historical and modern lens. Some key themes of the seminar are music as a source of inspiration and strength for social movements, music as a window into the lives of individuals and groups engaged in political or social struggle, and the production and performance of music as itself a site of labor struggle and contestation. The seminar readings and films will take the participants from the cotton fields of the antebellum South and the docks worked by longshoremen in the Pacific Northwest to Belfast’s punk scene and South Africa’s pirated Americana folk recordings. The group will listen to recordings made in churches and activist spaces across the United States, as well as listen to live music together in Nashville. The seminar will also feature a running playlist created by seminar conveners and will conclude with a collaborative playlist built by seminar participants. An organizational meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, September 8 at 1:00 p.m. at the Warren Center.  Co-coordinators: Rachel Skaggs (sociology) and Anthony C. Siracusa (history)

Science Studies Seminar: This seminar brings together members of the Vanderbilt community with interests in the humanistic and social studies of science and technology. Activities include sharing work-in-progress, reading recent publications in the field, and hosting invited speakers. Faculty members and graduate students from across the university are welcome. Meetings this semester are scheduled for Thursday, September 24, at noon at the Warren Center, Wednesdays, October 21 and November 11 at noon in Buttrick 123, and Thursday, December 3 at noon at the Warren Center. Seminar coordinators: Ole Molvig (history), and Alistair Sponsel (history)