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Robert Penn Warren Center

Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities

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Programs and Events

Spring 2016

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 by Brooke Ackerly (political science) and Melissa Snarr (divinity). 

Special Events

Warren Center 2015/2016 Faculty Fellows Lecture Series.  The current faculty fellows group of the Robert Penn Warren Center presents a lecture series: “When the Fringe Dwarfs the Center: Vernacular Islam Beyond the Arab World.”All talks will be held at 4:10 p.m. followed by a reception. Invited speakers and dates include Juan Cole (history, University of Michigan): "Iran in Syria: Ideology or Pragmatism?" on January 27th in Kissam 216; Naveeda Khan (anthropology, Johns Hopkins University) on February 3rd in Buttrick 123; Moses Ochonu , (history, Vanderbilt University): "Boko Haram and Radical Islamism in the West African Sahel: A Biography"on March 2nd in Kissam 216; Brian Larkin (anthropology and Africana studies, Barnard College) on March 16th , title and location TBA; and Faisal Devji , (history, University of Oxford): “ISIS: Sincerity and Slaughter"on April 13th in Kissam 216. Sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon John E. Sawyer Seminar and the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities.

Black Atlantic History Lecture.  Emma Christopher (history, University of Technology, Sydney) will present the Warren Center’s annual Black Atlantic History Lecture on Monday, February 8th at 4:10 p.m. with a screening of her acclaimed film They Are We, the story of a remarkable reunion of a family driven apart by the transatlantic slave trade. The Black Atlantic History Lecture is hosted by the Warren Center’s Circum-Atlantic Studies Group, the Center for Latin American Studies, and the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center in honor of Black History Month. The screening will take place at the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center, followed by a reception.

Recovering Lost Voices: Robert Penn Warren and the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. On Wednesday, February 10th at 4:00 p.m. in Sarratt Cinema, a panel discussion will take place in honor of Vanderbilt alumnus Robert Penn Warren’s 1965 publication Who Speaks for the Negro? Speakers include two civil rights activists who were interviewed by Warren for the volume, Ruth Turner Perot and Robert Moses, as well as Reverend Kelly Miller Smith, Jr., whose father was interviewed by Warren. A reception will follow. The event is co-sponsored by the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center, the Office of Inclusion Initiatives and Cultural Competence, the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, and Warren College.

At the Forefront of Freedom: The Women of Selma. The Robert Penn Warren Center, the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center, and the Ingram Commons will present apanel to discuss the central role women played in the U.S. Civil Rights Movementon Thursday, March 24th at 4:10 p.m. at the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center. Panelists include civil rights activists Jennifer Lawson, Joann Mants, and Judy Richardson, as well as Emily Crosby (history, SUNY-Geneseo) and Hasan Kwame Jeffries (history, Ohio State University). In addition to the panel, there will be a screening of the movie Selma on Wednesday, March 23rd at 7:30 p.m. in Sarratt Cinema.

Warren Center Graduate Student Fellows Lectures. This spring, each of the Warren Center’s eight graduate student fellows will present a public lecture on his or her research. All lectures take place in the conference room of the Warren Center at 4:10 p.m. and are followed by a reception. The presenters and dates are: Steven Wenz (Spanish and Portuguese), March 21; Michelle O’Loughlin (Modern Languages, Queen’s University Belfast), March 28; Alexander Jacobs (history), April 1; Faith E. Barter (English), April 5; Petal Samuel (English), April 11; Michell Chresfield (history), April 18; Jonathan Coley (sociology), April 26; and Sandra Skene (philosophy), April 28

Warren Center Seminars

The following is a list of seminars and reading groups for the spring 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 Andrew Miller (English, Johns Hopkins University)on January 22 at 1:00 p.m. at the Warren Center, Sandra McPherson (English, Ohio State University) on February 26, and Jim Epstein (history, Vanderbilt) on April 8, both 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. Meetings are set for January 13th with Earl Fitz (Spanish, Vanderbilt) at 3:00 p.m. at the Warren Center, February 19th with Alicia Monroe (African American and Diaspora Studies, Vanderbilt), and March 31st with Nara Pavão (political science, Vanderbilt), both at noon at the Warren Center. Seminar coordinators: Fernanda Bretones (, Laura Sellers (, and 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 include Jason A. Gillmer (law, Gonzaga University) on Thursday, January 21st  at 4:10 p.m. at the Warren Center and Emma Christopher (University of Technology, Sydney) on Monday, February 8th , at 4:10 p.m. at theBishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural 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. Meetings are set for Fridays, January 15th , January 29th with guest speaker Lydia Liu (East Asian Languages and Cultures and Comparative Literature, Columbia University), February 26th , and March 18th with guest Seo-Young Chu (English, Queen’s College, CUNY), all at noon 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. Bi-monthly meetings are scheduled for Fridays, January 22nd , February 5th and February 19th , March 18th and March 25th , April 8th and April 21st , all at 10:30 a.m. at the Warren Center.  Seminar 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. Guest speakers include Alison Jones Nelson (Acquisitions Editor, De Gruyter Publishers) on Tuesday, January 19th at the Center for Second Language Studies, Marion Pratt (Grants Resource Officer, Vanderbilt) on Monday, February 15th at noon at the Warren Center, and Franco Moretti (English, Stanford University) in early April (more details coming soon). Seminar coordinators: 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 are set for Tuesdays, January 12th with guest Ed Rubin (law, Vanderbilt), February 16th with Jason Moore (sociology, Binghamton University), March 15th with Joyce Chaplin (history, Harvard), and April 12th with Amanda Little (English, Vanderbilt), all at 4:10 p.m. at the Warren Center. Seminar Coordinator: 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 Johannes von Moltke (German, University of Michigan), on January 22nd at noon in Buttrick 123,  J.D. Connor (film and media studies, Yale University) on March 4th at noon at the Warren Center, and Candice Amich (English, Vanderbilt) on April 22nd  at 2:00 p.m. 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. Meetings are set for January 29th and February 26th at 3:00 p.m. in Buttrick 123, March 25th with guest Gilbert Gonzales (health policy, VUMC) and April 15th at 3:00 p.m. 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. Guest speakers include Guojun Wang (Asian studies, Vanderbilt) on Friday, March 25th and Jane O. Newman (University of California, Irvine) on Friday, April 15th both at noon at the Warren Center. Seminar coordinators: Bill Caferro (history), Samira Sheikh (, and Jesse Hock (English)

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. Meetings are scheduled for Thursdays, February 25th with Dean Lauren Benton (history, Vanderbilt), February 11th with Paul B. Miller (French, Vanderbilt), and April 14th with Georgia Cole (Refugee Studies Center, Oxford University), all at 4:00 p.m. at the Warren Center. 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. Meetings are scheduled for Thursday, January 28th at 2:00 p.m. at the Warren Center, and February 25th , March 24th , and April 21st at noon at the Warren Center. 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, January 21st, February 18th, March 17th, and April 14th 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. Guest speakers include Eric Van Young (history, University of California, San Diego) on Tuesday, January 19th at noon and public lecture at 4:10 p.m. at the Warren Center and Isaac Campos (history, University of Cincinnati) on Tuesday, March 22nd at 4:10 p.m. in Buttrick 123. Seminar coordinator: 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. Meetings are scheduled for Thursdays January 14th , February 11th with guest Charles Hughes (history, Rhodes College), March 3rd , and Tuesday, April 5th , all at 11:30 a.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 to be announced soon. Guest speakers include Thomas Andrews (history, University of Colorado, Boulder) on Tuesday, March 1st at noon at the Warren Center. Seminar coordinators: Ole Molvig (history), and Alistair Sponsel (history)