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Warren Center Seminars

The following is a list of seminars and reading groups that are hosted by the Robert Penn Warren Center. For more detailed information please contact the seminar coordinators or the Warren Center Director. For the most up-to-date information on upcoming seminar events, please visit the calendar.

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 and 19th Century Studies

The colloquium brings together faculty, graduate students, and visiting scholars to explore groundbreaking scholarship on the arts, cultures, and histories of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. While loosely focused around British culture, the group also invites scholars from other linguistic, artistic and geographic fields to share work and join in the discussion.

Seminar Coordinators: Scott J. Juengel (English, Cinema and Media Arts ) and Rachel Teukolsky (English)

Advocacy for the Humanities

This Warren Center seminar will bring together scholars in departments across A&S to discuss opportunities and challenges facing the humanities. The goal of the seminar is not just to facilitate discussion among interested parties, but to set a direction for humanities advocacy at Vanderbilt and beyond. Humanities scholars can and should find ways to articulate the significance of what they do, and they can and should offer institutions improved frameworks for evaluating humanistic scholarship in its myriad forms. This seminar will aim to develop directives that can be used to help public audiences recognize the value of humanistic scholarship and help university systems assess it. We are particularly interested in helping Vanderbilt think progressively about institutional reward structures relative to the humanities, in addition to other goals articulated by the seminar's participants.

Seminar Coordinators: Paul Stob (Communication Studies) and Leah Lowe (Theatre)

Circum-Atlantic Studies

This interdisciplinary seminar focuses on the themes of Atlantic slavery, colonialism, and/or post-colonialism. The seminar links Africa, Europe, the Americas, and the Caribbean, and addresses a range of constituencies on campus. Speakers have included a number of distinguished scholars and junior scholars from a wide variety of international and domestic institutions.

Seminar Coordinators: Jane Landers (History) and Daniel Genkins (History)

Contemporary in Theory

Composed of faculty 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, critical theory, and the definitions and boundaries of the human. We foster innovative approaches to the contemporary across diverse disciplines and methodological backgrounds, addressing these pressing topics mutualistically through our shared intellectual and theoretical concerns, while bringing to bear our areas and disciplines of expertise.

Seminar Coordinators: Alex Dubilet (Poltical Science, English), Jessie Hock (English), Haerin Shin (English, Cinema and Media Arts ), and Ben Tran (Asian Studies)

Designer Genes: A Look at the Promise and Perils of Genetic Technology

This seminar provides a forum to look at the various genetic technologies and research increasingly discussed in the media. Examples include the story of Henrietta Lacks, whose cells spawned decades of research and millions of dollars’ worth of profit for Johns Hopkins University, the Chinese twins who were the first genetically modified humans, and the type of genetic sequencing provided by companies like 23andMe that led to the capture of the Golden State Killer. The seminar leaders come from both the sciences and the humanities, and we invite you to join an interdisciplinary conversation that looks at these technologies as ethical in the broad sense of those things that relate to how we all relate to each other. With this goal in mind, we will look at the implications of these technologies for science, medicine, philosophy, the arts, and even genealogy and family dynamics. Please join us in discussing this important and exciting topic.

Seminar Coordinators: Takunda Matose (Philosophy) and Clayton Wandishin (Biochemistry, Cellular Reprogramming and Systems Biology)

Documented Lives

Documentation is at once mundane and threatening, bureaucratic and intimate. It is foundational to substantive citizenship and state accountability but also a powerful means of surveillance and punishment. This seminar will deal with the material, political, and ethical implications of tracing individual persons— whether through national identification systems, social welfare programs, or scholarly methods of archival and digital research.

Seminar Coordinators: Sarah Igo (History, American Studies) and Ari Joskowicz (Jewish Studies, European Studies )

East Europe: Critical Encounters

This seminar explores a range of humanistic topics concerning the region of Russia and Eastern Europe, including distinct East European frameworks of culture; the complexities of empire (both past and present); questions of religion, law, and political authority; socialism and postsocialism; minority rights and mass violence; and Russia’s place in defining scholarly conversations and methods of inquiry.

Seminar Coordinators: Emily Greble (History, East European Studies) and Bradley Gorski (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, and cultural studies, as well as anyone interested in theories of the image, philosophies of perception, aesthetics and critical theory, media histories, and the history of vision.

Seminar Coordinators: Jennifer Fay (English, Cinema and Media Arts), James McFarland (German, Cinema and Media Arts), and Lutz Koepnick (German, Cinema and Media Arts )

Graduate Students of Color Initiative

This seminar provides an interdisciplinary space to discuss the experiences of graduate students of color in the academy. We will have two primary objectives. The first is to add to the opportunities for graduate students of color to interact and find a community of others going through similar journeys. The second is to find gaps and provide additional support structures for these students. With these goals in mind, we will be working with the Robert Penn Warren Center, the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center, interested faculty, GSOCC, OBGAPS, and other organizations in and around Vanderbilt to develop programming.

Seminar Coordinators: Kellie Williford (Neuroscience, GSOCC), Travis D. Williams (Theology, OBGAPS), and Takunda Matose (Philosophy)

Group for Premodern Cultural Studies

This seminar group is committed to asking how the premodern world can be understood both within particular geographic, linguistic, and temporal contexts, and comparatively across these contexts. To this end, we engage in conversations on topics with wide appeal and aspire for intelligibility across disciplines and regions: we ask, for instance, that speakers on English literature make their topics understandable to someone working on Chinese history and vice versa.

Seminar Coordinators: William Caferro (History), Samira Sheikh (History), Jessie Hock (English), Katie McKenna (History), and Joanna Huh (English)

Islamic Studies

This seminar provides a forum for graduate students, faculty, and visiting scholars to explore the study of Islam and Muslim societies from a wide range of specialties. As a result of this multidisciplinary scope, we engage in discussions that highlight new research and approaches in Islamic studies that have broad relevance to key topics across the humanities and social sciences. 

Seminar Coordinators – Mohammed Allehbi (History) and Richard McGregor (Religious Studies)

Legal Histories

We conceive of legal history as transcending traditional doctrinal history; law inflects multiple registers of human experience, and this seminar treats it accordingly, while always seeking to historicize its claims and to locate it in space and time.

Seminar Coordinators: Emily Greble (History, East European Studies) Ari Bryan (History, Classical and Mediterranean Studies), and Daniel Sharfstein (Law), Vladislav Lilic (History)

Popular Music as Historical Text for Cultural Studies

This seminar aims to highlight the various readings that scholars can give to popular music “texts.” Following the work of Iberian studies scholar Silvia Bermúdez, the seminar organizers view songs as “as cultural texts that are to be understood as ‘texts,’ both in the sense that we are able to read [them] – to interpret [them] – just like a book and in the sense that, like everything else in culture, [they have] been constructed, ‘stitched together’ using material that has been used before.”

Seminar Coordinators: Benjamin Legg (Spanish and Portuguese) and Michelle Murray (Spanish and Portuguese)

Thinking About Thought Leaders

This seminar will explore the ideas of popular thought leaders today and examine their role in American culture. It aims to accomplish three different goals. On the most basic level, it will enable seminar participants to discuss books they are aware of but are unlikely to read. Most academics know books like Lean In (2013) or Thank You for Being Late (2016) from airport bookstores, but few scholars ever read such titles. Yet these are books that sell millions of copies and that shape the outlook of a significant part of the reading public in the United States and beyond. By ignoring such works of popular non-fiction, academics run the risk of dismissing an important source of inspiration and guidance that many Americans rely on in their personal and professional lives. Just as historians have learned to read midcentury etiquette books to trace the evolution of middlebrow culture, academics can learn much about the contemporary United States by familiarizing themselves with the ideas of its major thought leaders today. Second, the seminar aims to criticize and contextualize these ideas. The participants will ask about the historical precedents, political implications, philosophical underpinnings, and social uses of the intellectual products that thought leaders sell. More than simply an exercise in deconstructing or debunking the books under discussion, the participants will try to determine why they appeal to so many people at this point in time. In doing so, they will pay attention to both the ideas as such and to the channels by which they reach their audiences—the mechanics of fame will be as much a topic of discussion as the history of ideas. Third, the seminar will provide a venue for thinking about the larger context in which someone like Jordan Peterson was able to become a global celebrity

Seminar Coordinators: Mario Rewers (History), Victoria Hoover (English), and Terrell A. Taylor (Philosophy)