Humanities Friday Lunches, a series of salons showcasing the work of UW-Madison humanities faculty, offer an informal opportunity for conversation across disciplines. An RSVP is required to attend these events. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your full name, UW affiliation, and the lunch you are interested in.
Assistant Professor, Department of History, UW-Madison
Morale and the Politics of Citizenship in Twentieth-century Britain Friday, April 11, 2014 @ 12:00pm Fireside Lounge, University Club
Since the Second World War ‘morale’ has become a ubiquitous and potent concept through which we have come to understand the proper function of mass-democratic societies. Understood as vital for achieving victory, wartime Britain saw the first orchestrated effort to observe and manage morale. While few could explain what morale actually was, for many it seemed to explain the conduct of Britons fighting a total war. By the 1950s, morale had come to define proper managerial practice appropriate for the democratic age, and it was central to the programs that underpinned the postwar state. By that time it had acquired an air of inevitability, a-historicity, scienticity, and political neutrality. This talk, which is part of a book-length critical history of morale, will suggest that far from a-historical or politically neutral, morale was central to the government of democratic citizenship and its boundaries in twentieth-century Britain.
Daniel Ussishkin is an Assistant Professor at the Department of History, UW - Madison, where he teaches courses on modern imperial Britain, European history, and war and society. He is now completing a book manuscript on the history of the idea of 'morale' and its management in modern Britain.
AW Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow
Reflections on Fieldwork into the Future of the Book Friday, February 21, 2014 @ 12:00pm Banquet Room, University Club
This talk will report back on anthropological fieldwork into the mass digitization of books, an engineer-led effort to shepherd books into a long-awaited electronic future. Mass digitization—the industrial-scale retrospective conversion of entire libraries into digital form most often associated with Google’s Library Project—began in earnest in the early 2000s, when it sent a shock through the “traditional” book system. Delving into the intense contestation that mass digitization provoked, Murrell considers the book not, as is often the case, an old medium on the verge of obsolescence or as a technology in the midst of a transition from print to electronic forms, but rather as a dynamic field of social relation. Focusing specifically on one aspect of mass digitization—that is, the “datafication” of books—she will examine the social relations in play around books once they become “data.”
Mary Murrell received her Ph.D. in sociocultural anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2012. Her work at Berkeley was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, an NSF dissertation improvement grant, a Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities Fellowship, and an ACLS-Mellon Dissertation Fellowship. Before earning her Ph.D., Mary was an acquisitions editor at Princeton University Press, where she acquired titles in the humanities and social sciences.
Assistant Professor, Department of English, UW-Madison
Epistolary Acts in the Middle Ages Friday, February 7, 2014 @ 12:00pm Banquet Room, University Club
What makes early medieval English epistolarity unique is that it is not merely about letters per se, but about what Jordan Zweck calls epistolary acts, the moments when authors represent or embed letters within vernacular texts, attempting to adapt a Latin epistolary tradition to Germanic or Anglo-Saxon contexts and audiences. After a brief overview of her book on Anglo-Saxon epistolarity, the talk takes as its focus the relationship between messages and messengers in two texts: the Old English prose romance Apollonius of Tyre and Ælfric's Life of Abgar, in which an ailing king exchanges letters with Jesus of Nazareth. Both texts are emblematic of the ways in which Anglo-Saxon epistolarity defamiliarizes our understanding of medieval letters by relying less on form and function than on imagining the storage, transmission, materiality, and affect of communicative acts. Taking up the question of how the body of a text or messenger might escape the asynchronicity and absence inherent in communication by letter, they explore how communication networks do not just involve the movement of bodies through space, but also how contact with the container of the letter can transfer its message to those bodies, making messages legible in and through the bodies of those who carry them.
Jordan Zweck specializes in early medieval vernacular literatures, including Old English. Her current book project examines medieval documentary culture, focusing on letters from heaven in medieval England, Ireland, and Iceland. The book pays particular attention to the circulation and reception of the Sunday Letter, an early chain letter in which Christ admonishes the people to keep proper Sunday observance or face terrible punishment. Other research interests include the history of the book, the history of the English language, and medieval lay piety and pastoral care. She teaches courses on Old English, Beowulf, Chaucer, Medieval Marvels and Monstrosities, and Medieval Media Studies.
AW Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow
#JusticeForTrayvon: Digital Media Responses to the George Zimmerman Verdict Friday, January 31, 2014 @ 12:00pm Banquet Room, University Club
At approximately 10 p.m. on Saturday July 13, 2013, a Florida jury returned a not guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teen. The verdict brought race to the surface of U.S. culture, causing many commentators to compare it to previous eruptions of racial tensions such as the 1992 acquittal of LAPD officers in the beating of Rodney King and the murder of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till in 1955. Though these comparisons are apt, the Zimmerman verdict occurred in vastly different socio-cultural and technological moment – one in which many Americans see their country as “postracial” and where digital and social media have created unprecedented levels of connectivity and participation in media creation. The complicated intersection of racial politics and technology are exemplified by the response to the verdict of the independent Black media company This Week in Blackness (TWiB!). Beginning with the spontaneous broadcast of a call-in show at 1 a.m. EST, just hours after the verdict announcement and throughout the following months, TWiB! used their podcasts and their surrounding social media networks to create spaces for both catharsis and critique. They created both synchronous and asynchronous enclaves for geographically dispersed listeners to process and respond to the verdict as well as the mainstream media coverage and the political aftermath.
Sarah Florini received her Ph.D. in communication and culture from Indiana University in 2012. Her dissertation explores how the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, one of the largest contemporary Black Nationalist groups in the U.S., uses its website and its annual Black August Hip Hop Project concerts to construct and circulate counter-memories and counter-histories that offer an alternative lens through which to understand contemporary U.S. racial politics. She is currently developing a new project that will focus on the use of trans-media social networks to address racial politics and mobilize political engagement.
Assistant Professor, Department of Gender & Women's Studies, UW-Madison
Realms of Biocertification: Regulating Identities in the Modern Era Friday, November 22, 2013 @ 12:00pm Banquet Room, University Club
In this talk, Ellen Samuels explores the latter-twentieth-century phenomenon of biocertification: the production and enforcement of government certification that purports to validate a person’s biological identity and that is required to access certain rights and resources. She examines three contemporary locations of biocertification: blood quantum requirements for Native peoples of North America and Hawai’i; the bureaucratic and cultural discourses shaping definitions of disability in the United States; and sex testing in sports, particularly the 2009 controversy surrounding South African runner Caster Semenya. These examples serve to illustrate how the idea of a physical basis for race, sex, and disability far exceeds any material reality and yet has material effects on our daily lives. This talk thus exposes the paradoxes inherent in modern realms of biocertification and explores—but does not resolve—the question of whether more just alternatives exist.
Ellen Samuels is an Assistant Professor in the Departments of Gender & Women’s Studies and English and a member of the UW Disability Studies Initiative. Her critical work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Feminist Disability Studies, GLQ: Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, and MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literatures of the United States, and was awarded the Catherine Stimpson Prize for Outstanding Feminist Scholarship in 2011. Her book, Fantasies of Identification: Disability, Gender, Race, will be published by NYU Press in 2014.
Assistant Professor, UW-Madison Law School and Legal Studies Program
Poisoning in British India Friday, November 15, 2013 @ 12:00pm Banquet Room, University Club
This talk uses the history of poisoning in colonial India to explore conceptions of truth and trust in empire. Colonial authorities in British India regarded poisoning as a special problem, and one that fit into larger stereotypes of indigenous dissembling and medical quackery. Reported cases of poisoning were several times higher in India than in Britain, and the British suspected that many more cases were going undetected. Poisoning was regarded as a weapon of the weak, and was contrasted with the more noble or manly use of physical violence. Sharafi will focus on a particular anxiety among colonial authorities: the fear of fabrication in the legal process. The British believed that the planting of false evidence and creation of false charges (like perjury and forgery) were rife in India. The talk explores two particular areas in which manipulation of the system was a special focus: alleged snakebite cases and the work of a figure known as the Imperial Serologist.
Mitra Sharafi is a legal historian of South Asia. She holds law degrees from Cambridge and Oxford and a doctorate in history from Princeton. Her first book, Law and Identity in Colonial South Asia: Parsi Legal Culture, 1772-1947 is forthcoming in 2014 with Cambridge University Press. Her second book project is on medical jurisprudence (particularly poisoning) in South Asia during the 19th-20th centuries. Sharafi’s research has been funded by the Institute for Advanced Study through the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council. In addition to teaching at the UW Law School, she is a core faculty member of UW’s interdisciplinary undergraduate Legal Studies program and is affiliated with the History Department and Center for South Asia.
Michael Jay McClure
Associate Professor, Department of Art, UW-Madison
Coming Together: Wolfgang Tillmans and the End of Likeness Friday, November 8, 2013 @ 12:00pm Banquet Room, University Club
This talk will consider the work of the contemporary German-British photographer Wolfgang Tillmans. Attention will focus on how—in his individual images and in their erratic combination—Tillmans presents a circulating human subject that cannot be reduced to a representative body, type, or understood under a common name. This “coming together” of unlike bodies, I will argue, speaks to photography as a medium, while pointing toward systems of alliance and desire in which subjects and objects continually rotate. In this way, the spectator encounters work that recasts concepts of repetition and representational likeness, concepts that stand as foundational to the history of art and to the humanities writ large.
Michael Jay McClure, PhD, is an associate professor teaching the history and theory of contemporary art in the Departments of Art and Art History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center for the Humanities and the Department of English, UW-Madison
Mapping the Middle Ground: Sensational Literature and Republican Space in the Old Northwest, 1830-1860 Friday, October 4, 2013 @ 12:00pm Banquet Room, University Club
Beginning in the 1830s, a host of vibrant literary cultures began springing up in the industrializing cities of the Mississippi Valley, including Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and St. Louis. This talk examines one of the most prolific of those cultures, the “sensational” literature industry in Cincinnati, as a case study of the role of print culture in forging regional identity. Adapting a model of “cognitive mapping” from perceptual geography and critical theory, I argue that these violent, quasi-pornographic pamphlet novels stage vivid scenes of vision across the landscape that articulate a regional form of republican ideology that responded to fears about the civic effects of industrial development in the Old Northwest. Where literary critics and historians have examined Eastern “city mysteries” novels and frontier outlaw tales as ambivalent documents of the rise of the modern city and the spread of U.S. empire, this talk brings these popular genres together to tell a different story about the neglected spaces between the metropolitan center and the imperial periphery. As sensational literature grapples with the legacies of settler colonialism and capitalist development in the “middle ground,” it gives a glimpse of alternative modernities that unsettle familiar configurations of print, people, and land.
Jerome Tharaud is an A.W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center for the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he teaches American literature and culture in the English Department. He received his Ph.D. in English from the University of Chicago in 2011. His research focuses on the rise of mass print in antebellum America and its role in orienting readers within imagined spaces other than the nation, from the region to the cosmos.