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Programs and Events

Spring 2019

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

2018/2019 Fellows Program. “The World of Print(s): Multiples and Meanings in Early Modern Europe and North America,” co-directed by Mark Hosford (art) and Kevin Murphy (history of art). Participants in the program are José A. Cárdenas Bunsen (Spanish and Portuguese), Patricia Fumerton (English, University of California, Santa Barbara), Jana Harper (art), Paul C. H. Lim (Divinity School and history), and David H. Price (religious studies), and Rebecca K. VanDiver (history of art).

2018/2019 Warren Center Graduate Student Fellows. Seven graduate students are participating in the Warren Center’s 13th dissertation completion fellowship program. They are Amaryah S. Armstrong (graduate department of religion), Emma L. Banks (anthropology), Iyaxel Cojti Ren (anthropology), Sarah M. Gorman (philosophy), Katherine R. McKenna (history), Lauren A. Mitchell (English), and Kadiri J. Vaquer Fernández (Spanish & Portuguese). Amaryah S. Armstrong is theAmerican Studies Fellow, Sarah M. Gormanis theGeorge J. Graham, Jr. Fellow, Lauren A. Mitchell is theElizabeth E. Fleming Fellow, andKadiri J. Vaquer Fernández is theJoe and Mary Harper Fellow.

Special Events

Robert Penn Warren: A Vision. Screening of documentary film followed by Q&A with the film’s director Tom Thurman. January 23, 4:10 p.m., Kissam Classroom, Second Floor. A Kentucky Educational Television production, this documentary explores the life and career of three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and Vanderbilt alumnus Robert Penn Warren. The film traces Warren's birth (1905) and upbringing in Guthrie, Kentucky, his years at Vanderbilt University, and his path as a poet, novelist, critic, and teacher. Co-sponsored by Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, American Studies, Cinema & Media Arts, Creative Writing, English Department, and the Residential Colleges.

Black Atlantic History Lecture. Monday February 4, from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Location TBD. Dr. Herman L. Bennett (history, City University of New York) will deliver the Warren Center’s annual Black Atlantic History Lecture entitled “Before the Human: Africans, Sovereigns & Slaves.” The Black Atlantic History Lecture is hosted by the Warren Center’s Circum-Atlantic Studies Seminar, the Center for Latin American Studies, and the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center in honor of Black History Month.

2018/2019 Harry C. Howard Jr. Lecture with National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman Jon Parrish Peede. April 2, 4:10 p.m., Community Room of the Vanderbilt Central Library. Chairman Peede is an alumnus of Vanderbilt University, graduating with an undergraduate degree in English in 1991. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in April 2018 as the eleventh chairman of the NEH. Peede’s previous positions include Publisher of the Virginia Quarterly Review  at the University of Virginia, Literature Grants Director at the National Endowment for the Arts, and Counselor to NEA Chairman Dana Gioia. His campus visit will also honor the 30th anniversary of the Warren Center’s founding.

Telling Stories: Modes, Media, Meanings Art Exhibit. April 10 at 4:30 p.m. at the Warren Center. The 2017/18 Faculty Fellows Program at the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities will host a reception and an unveiling of their collective large-scale book project, “Telling Stories.” In collaboration with Nashville-based book artist Britt Stadig, the ten fellows have created a large-scale artist book which not only explores the fellows’ individual research narratives, but also emphasizes the importance of the humanities and the common threads that ultimately connect all of us, no matter how disparate we seem. Check our website for additional information about the project and the artist.

Florence Dore, Novel Sounds: Southern Fiction in the Age of Rock and Roll. April 11, 4:10 p.m. Location TBD. Dore is professor of English at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Co-sponsored by the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities and The Curb Center for Art, Enterprise & Public Policy.

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. Meeting are scheduled for February 8 featuring Siraj Ahmed (English, Texas A&M), February 22, and March 15 featuring Rae Greiner (English, Indiana University), all at 2:00 p.m. Seminar coordinators: Rachel Teukolsky (English) and Scott Juengel (English).

American Studies after the American Century. During most of its eighty-year history, the field of American Studies operated against a backdrop of American global preeminence. From World War II through the Cold War to September 11, Americanists defined themselves and their work in relation to the military might, economic affluence, and cultural reach of the United States. While this relationship was frequently antagonistic and critical, it rarely questioned the status of the U.S. as a global hegemonic power. The presidential election of 2016 has fundamentally called this view into question. The corrosion of political norms, the emergence of new political movements, and the country’s retreat from long-held global commitments seem to indicate that the “American Century” has at least symbolically come to an end. What does this mean for scholars working in American Studies today? This seminar will try to formulate some answers to this question by allowing students to present work-in-progress, by reading current scholarship in the field, and by inviting faculty to engage in discussions about the field’s history and its possible futures. Meeting are scheduled for January 10, February 6, and March 20 with a Spring Colloquium on April 12 featuring Alexander Olson (history, Western Kentucky)and Jay Mechling (American studies, UC Davis),all at 12:15 p.m. Seminar coordinators: Alex Korsunsky (anthropology) and Mario Rewers (history).

Brazilian Studies. In its sixth edition, the Brazilian Studies group will focus on matters of diversity and development, reflecting on issues regarding the socio-political and economic realities of Brazil. The monthly meetings will consist of discussions among both attendees and invited speakers based upon pre-circulated papers concerning their research.  Guests come from a variety of disciplines, including (but not limited to) history, Latin American studies, sociology, anthropology, and earth and environmental sciences. Meetings are to be scheduled soon. Seminar coordinators: Maria Paula Andrade (history), Alexandre Pelegrino (history), and Jacob C. Brown (Spanish and Portuguese).

Circum-Atlantic Studies Seminar. The Circum-Atlantic Studies Seminar was launched at the Warren Center in 2001. Seminar participants and invited guests discuss work-in-progress that is interdisciplinary and focused on themes related to Atlantic slavery, colonialism, and/or post colonialism. This research links Africa, Europe, the Americas, and the Caribbean and addresses diverse constituencies on campus. In 2007, as an offshoot of the original seminar, the Warren Center also created a Black Atlantic History Lecture that invites major scholars of the Black Atlantic to campus every February to give a public lecture in honor of Black History Month. This years’ speaker is Dr. Herman Bennett (history, City University of New York) on February 4, 2019. A meeting is also set for April 17 featuring Julia Gaffield (history, Georgia State University). Seminar coordinators: Jane Landers (history) and Celso Castilho (history).

Contemporary in Theory. Composed of faculty members and graduate students, the Contemporary in Theory seminar examines contemporary issues that range from global capitalism, critical race theories, climate change, digital media and technology, and the definitions and boundaries of the human. The seminar fosters innovative approaches to the contemporary across diverse disciplines and methodological backgrounds, addressing these pressing topics through our shared intellectual and theoretical concerns, while bringing to bear our disciplines and areas of expertise. Participants collectively select, read, and lead discussions on recent, groundbreaking theoretical texts at monthly meetings. The seminar will also incorporate visiting speakers who will be invited to speak about their published work as well as works-in-progress. Meetings are scheduled for February 1, March 1, and April 19 all at 11:30 a.m. Seminar coordinators: Ben Tran (Asian studies), Alex Dubilet (political science), and Haerin Shin (English).

Critical Approaches to African Studies. This seminar brings together faculty and students from diverse fields across campus to explore cutting-edge topics relating to Africa’s past and present. Reflecting Africa’s long-standing central place in the modern world, the seminar will foreground historical and contemporary experiences of commercial, political, cultural and ecological changes across and beyond the continent. Participants will delve into subthemes such as entrepreneurialism, urban life, religious traditions, violence, and artistic expression. Through engagement with leading scholarship across a range of fields, this workshop invites participants to sharpen their analytical and theoretical approaches to African studies. Meetings are scheduled for January 9, January 23, February 27 featuring Pedro Monaville (history, NYU Abu Dhabi), March 27 featuring Stephen Miescher (history, UCSB) and R. Lane Clark (independent film maker), and April 17 all at noon. Seminar coordinators: Moses Ochonu (history), Tasha Rijke-Epstein (history), and Rebecca VanDiver (art history).

Displacement and the Human Condition. This seminar seeks to lay the groundwork for an interdisciplinary approach to topics of oppression, displacement, and statelessness that increasingly dominate certain strands of social and political philosophy, anthropology, economics, and historical analysis. Alongside these more well-trod paths of analysis, we will think through crises of displacement from literary, philosophical, aesthetic, and historical perspectives. Through the incorporation of narratives of exile, prison writings, and journalistic accounts of modern political events, the seminar also—and perhaps most importantly—emphasizes the need to interrogate and challenge our often-rigid division of academic and non-academic writing. Meeting times are January 22, February 19, March 19, and April 16 all at noon. Seminar coordinators: Sabeen Ahmed (philosophy), Jacob Abell (French and Italian), and Kyle Romero (history).  

East Europe: Critical Engagements. This interdisciplinary seminar explores questions of Eastern Europe, Russia, and Eurasia. Bringing together faculty and graduate students from diverse methodological backgrounds, the seminar explores a range of topics,including distinct East European frameworks of culture; the complexities of empire (both past and present); questions of religion, law, and political authority; socialism and post-socialism; minority rights and mass violence; and Russia’s place in defining scholarly conversations and methods of inquiry. Monthly meetings will consist of a combination of pre-circulated papers from within the group, guest speakers, and shared readings for discussion. Guest speakers include Lilya Kaganovsky (Slavic languages and literature, University of Illinois) on January 22, Allison Schachter (Jewish studies, Vanderbilt University) on March 1, and Emily Baran (history, MTSU) on April 19. A meeting will also be held on February 1. All meetings are at 1:30 p.m. Seminar coordinators: Bradley Gorski (Russian) and Emily Greble (history and East European Studies).

Film Theory and Visual Culture. This seminar aims to foster dialogue among faculty and graduate students across campus working in film, visual culture, art history, literature, media and cultural studies, as well as anyone interested in theories of the image, philosophies of perception, aesthetics and critical theory, media arts and histories (including sound), and the history of vision.Guest speakers include Samantha Barbas (school of law, SUNY-Buffalo) on January 25, John David Rhodes (European and American cinema, Cambridge University) on February 8, and Akshya Saxena (English, Vanderbilt University)on March 22 all at noon. Seminar coordinators: Jen Fay (cinema and media arts/English), Lutz Koepnik (German/cinema and media arts), and James McFarland (German/cinema and media arts).

French and Francophone Cultural Studies. The French and Francophone Studies Group brings together faculty and graduate students from across the College of Arts and Science campus to share research, assess ongoing developments in the field, and engage in cross-disciplinary conversations.  This year, we will gather around the central theme of DEATH.  This topic bridges chronological, geographical, and disciplinary divides as we hone our understanding of the ways that culture, genre, and history have shaped representations of death and dying. This groups first meeting date in January is TBD, but others are scheduled for February 7 with special guest Robert Darnton (Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor, Emeritus University Librarian, Emeritus) at 11:30 a.m., March 27 with special guest Kathryn Edwards (history, University of South Carolina) at 3:00 p.m., and April 11 at 3:00 p.m. Seminar coordinators: Lauren Clay (history) and Holly Tucker (French and Italian).

Group for Pre-modern Cultural Studies. This seminar will foster interdisciplinary and trans-regional conversations on pre-modern topics. Participants generate connections across the humanities by bringing together faculty, graduate students, and external speakers who are ordinarily separated by disciplinary and geographic boundaries. The group meets monthly to discuss ongoing research by a faculty member or graduate student, recent publications in the field, or the work of a visiting scholar. We welcome all those on campus with interests in the history, cultures, languages, and literatures of the pre-modern world. Meeting are scheduled for February 11 featuring Ashkan Bahrani (history and critical theories of religion, Vanderbilt University), March 28 featuring Samuel England (African cultural studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison), and April 11 with Megan Culbertson Bryson (Religious studies, University of Tennessee), each at 12:15 p.m. in the Warren Center.  Seminar coordinators: Elsa Filosa (French & Italian), Bryan Lowe (religious studies) and Samira Sheikh (history).

Science & Technology Studies Seminar. This interdisciplinary seminar will focus this year on waste in historical and contemporary contexts. Perhaps more than any other category of materials, waste reflects the fraught relationships between humans and the natural world. In this moment of ecological crisis, questions related to waste point to deeper concerns about our collective future, the bounds of human agency, and inequality. Through collective reading, conversations, and on-campus field trips focused on waste as a matter of concern and opportunity, the workshop will bring together theories and methods from science and technology studies, cultural anthropology, history, literature, engineering and environmental management, and historical geography to evaluate how productions and predicaments of waste have shaped everyday life over time. Meeting are scheduled for January 18, February 15, March 15 with special guest Max Liboiron (geography, Memorial University of Newfoundland), March 29 (tentative), and April 26 (tentative) at noon in the Warren Center. Seminar coordinators: Ashley Carse (HOD, Peabody College), Ole Molvig (history), and Tasha Rijke-Epstein (history).

Urban Space: Theory, Practices, Representations. This seminar utilizes tools provided by “spatial thinkers” such as Henri Lefebvre, Edward Soja, Neil Smith, and Katherine McKittrick, among others, to explore the ways in which “space is never empty: it always embodies a meaning.” It traces the “spatial turn” in the humanities and social sciences, the reconstituted emphasis on the spatialized social structures of the quotidian, and applies the ideas and concepts of this interpretive lens to the context of black urban spaces. Focusing on urban representations by poets, novelists, essayists, photographers, filmmakers, and painters, it brings together the disciplines of literature, art history, cultural geography, and cinema to frame for critical discussion interrelated and diverging interpretations of historical and contemporary urban spaces. Meetings are scheduled for January 24, February 21, March 14 featuring Richard Douglas Lloyd (sociology, Vanderbilt University), and April 18 in the Warren Center at noon. This seminar is also doing a special free screening of the 1976 Martin Scorsese film Taxi Driver on March 18 in Buttrick 103 from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. with a small reception following the screening. This and all meetings are open to the public. Seminar coordinators: Thea Autry (English) and Lucy (Soomin) Kim (English).