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[Virtual] Scholars@Hallwalls 2020-21

New Research from 2020-21 Faculty Fellows

For 2020-21, the UB Humanities Institute enters the tenth year of the Scholars@Hallwalls lecture series. Under the constraints of the pandemic, the talks will be virtual this year. While we regret that we will not be able to gather in-person in our customary space inside Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, we are glad for the opportunity to have attendees from beyond Western New York join us for this series of engaging humanities-based lectures with lively follow-up conversation.

This year’s lineup highlights the interdisciplinary range of humanities research at UB.

Talks are on Friday afternoons at 4 pm and are free and open to the public. Based on the featured fellow’s preference, talks will either be pre-recorded videos that will be shared in advance with live Q&A via Zoom or presented live on Zoom with Q&A following the presentation. Please use the links provided below for details for each talk.

While we cannot provide the usual wine and hors d’oeuvres served at Hallwalls, we highly encourage you to join us with a beverage and snack to add to the convivial nature of these talks.

October 23 | Tamara Thornton

“Globes and the Global Imagination in Early America: Objects, Ideas, and People”

We live in an age of global communities and economies, but when and how did Americans begin to think globally? Thornton turns to globes themselves to answer this question, exploring a long-lost world when globes were rare, came in celestial and terrestrial pairs, and were used not as spherical maps, but to calculate how the experience of seasons, sunlight and darkness, and the night sky varies around the globe. Well into the 1800s, globes offered distinctive modes of imagining other places, with implications for thinking about and engaging with distant peoples.

November 13 | Randy Schiff

“Catastrophic Companionship: General Systems Theory, the General Prologue, and the Collapsing Canterbury Tales

Exploring general systems theory, Schiff argues that Canterbury Tales criticism both benefits from, and enriches, environmental studies.  Showing that Chaucer thinks systematically in fashioning his tale-telling contest, Schiff compares his pilgrimage with sub-network interaction within an ecosystem. “Quiting”—the pilgrimage’s retaliatory economic principle—creates overexciting energy that dooms the company to collapse. Studying such a vibrant, but unsustainable system helps us recognize our own social systems’ destructive feedback loops.

December 4 | Ewa Ziarek

“A Crisis of Narrative and Judgement in the Age of Big Data”

This talk rethinks the stakes of Arendt’s notion of narrative in the context of the new regime of power characteristic of Big Data. Intertwined with judgement and public sphere, narrative, according to Arendt, can be a political form of acting in the world, which facilitates a public mode of debate with others. Yet, can such a mode of narrative survive in the age of algorithmic governmentality, which replaces judgments with automatic algorithmic procedures? And what are the political consequences of such narrative crisis for democracy and the humanities themselves?  Ziarek pursues these questions by engaging with interdisciplinary groups of scholars–data scientists, philosophers, and legal as well as technology scholars–all of whom debate the new power relations characteristic of algorithmic governmentality.

February 5 | Millie Chen

“Silk Road Songbook: Notes on Making Art Under Censorship and Globalization”

Where there is limited freedom of expression, how can one creatively and collectively mourn, remember, persist, and declare? Songs have the capacity to turn sorrow and outrage into fortitude and optimism. Silk Road Songbook is a socially driven, multidisciplinary art project that weaves song into landscape, challenging censorship and Orientalist exoticism. Grass roots songs channeling local voices concerning land, sovereignty, and cultural identity are created in collaboration with artists in communities along an ancient trade route spanning Eurasia between Xi’an and Istanbul. For each place, voices are the dynamic driving force; land is the anchor.

March 5 | Jordan Fox Besek

“W.E.B. Du Bois And Interdisciplinarity: How Du Bois Fused Natural Science Into His Political Projects”

Throughout his life, W.E.B. Du Bois actively engaged the scientific racism infecting natural sciences and popular thought. Nevertheless, he also demonstrated a sophisticated and critical engagement with natural science. Debate remains, however, regarding exactly how and why Du Bois incorporated such natural scientific knowledge into his own thinking. In this presentation, Besek draws on archival research and Du Bois’ own scholarship to investigate his general approach to interdisciplinarity, addressing how and why he fused natural scientific knowledge into his social science, intertwining each with his broader intellectual and political aims.

March 26 | Karin Michelson

“Weaving a grammar of the Onʌyoteʔa·ká· (Oneida) language”

In this talk, Michelson confronts an issue faced by anyone contemplating writing a comprehensive reference grammar of a language, especially of a language with a different “genius” from better known languages. Traditionally, grammars of languages spoken by the Haudenosaunee are exhaustive catalogues of grammatical structures, akin to describing beads in a necklace. Michelson’s approach to an Oneida grammar describes it as a richly textured woven fabric, with formal elements used for diverse functions. This conception or “theory” is exemplified by the way kin relations, nationalities, personal names, tools, diseases, and other artifacts are talked about.

April 9 | John Fiege

“Speaking of the Environment: The Ecosphere Podcast”

Fiege is developing a podcast, called Ecosphere, that explores key questions at the heart of our ecological predicament: what is our physical and spiritual relationship to the rest of nature and how can we protect life on Earth? The podcast features long-form, intimate conversations with environmental thinkers, writers, artists, activists, scientists, and spiritual leaders across the planet. Positioned at a university, the project seeks to strengthen the institution of higher education as a broadly inclusive, accessible center for knowledge creation, community building, and public conversation on essential issues facing society.

April 23 | Eero Laine

“Entertaining Labor: The Sweaty Theatricality of Mascots and Costumed Characters”

Mascots and costumed characters often function as figures for communities to playfully project their interests, test limits of representation, and share in earnest and ironic admiration. They stand in for something larger—an idea, team, company, or nation. They are also, however, inhabited by an individual performer, whose body and labor are intentionally concealed, subsumed, by the fabric of the costume. This presentation examines the labor that animates mascot costumes as a form of sweaty theatricality that congeals in the characters themselves, opening theoretical and material possibilities for considering the work of performance.