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Seminars at the Robert Penn Warren Center invite faculty and graduate students to engage in rich conversations and innovative scholarship with colleagues from a wide range of disciplines.

2023-2024 Seminar Series

Co-directors: Brandon Byrd (History) and Anthony Reed (English)

The Black Worlds Seminar is about Black people and the modern world. It attends to the historical and current thought and subjective experiences of the people who have claimed Blackness as a political, social, and cultural identity. It is about Black world-making too. Once a month, our meetings will convene scholars from Vanderbilt and beyond who will share new and in-progress research on topics such as interrelated struggles for racial justice, practices of resistance, and dreams of freedom across Africa and its Diaspora. Working across disciplinary and activist modes of scholarship, these meetings will establish a common ground on which students and scholars from a variety of backgrounds can collaborate for the mutual purposes of study and struggle. Co-sponsored by the Racial Justice Grand Challenge Initiative.

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Co-directors: Matt Worsnick (History of Art and Architecture) and Ben Sawyer (History, MTSU)

East Europe and Eurasia: Critical Engagements is an interdisciplinary and inter-institutional seminar that promises to enrich the scholarship of the presenter as well as those in attendance. The seminar explores a range of humanistic topics concerning the region of Russia, Eastern Europe, and former Soviet Empire. This includes distinct East European and Eurasian 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. A typical meeting consists of an open discussion of a pre-circulated work-in-progress approached with the dual aims of providing constructive feedback and provoking discussion and collegial debate. The author, in attendance, briefly contextualizes the piece and responds to inquiries and critiques. By inviting speakers and participants from multiple disciplines and academic institutions, this seminar brings multiple voices and perspectives to the table to explore original questions across an inclusive scholarly community.

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Co-directors: Jennifer Fay (Cinema & Media Arts/English), Carmine Grimaldi (Cinema & Media Arts/English), and Lutz Koepnick (German, Russian, and East European Studies/Cinema & Media Arts)

The Film Theory and Visual Culture Seminar fosters dialogue among faculty and graduate students interested in film, visual culture, art history, literature and media studies, as well as in theories of the image, philosophies of perception, aesthetics and critical theory, media histories, and the history of vision. Each semester we host scholars, media-makers, and artists from leading film and media programs (and adjacent fields), as well as scholars from our own Vanderbilt community. See our line-up of speakers below and please join us for the conversation! To see a list of previous speakers, please click here. For more information about upcoming programming, click here.

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Co-directors: Holly Tucker (Director, RPW Center/French & Italian), Michael Bess (History), and Ole Molvig (History/CSET)

This seminar explores the implications and applications of Generative AI (algorithmically created text, audio, and imagery) for the present and future of the Humanities.  The seminar is aimed to introduce these novel AI techniques to humanities scholars, and provide hands on opportunities to discuss, experiment, and evaluate their potential impacts (for better and for worse) on the research, teaching, and outreach of the humanistic disciplines.  The seminar is co-sponsored by the A&S Grand Challenge Initiative for Artificial Intelligence, and will feature visits from experts across campus.

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Co-directors: Elizabeth Meadows (Assoc. Dir., RPW Center/English) and Chris Vanags (Program Director, Peabody College)

The Nashville Bestiary Project brings together Vanderbilt and Nashville communities to unearth wild and natural elements persisting in urban settings. Over the course of the year, we will develop a range of practices and activities that leverage the humanities, arts, and environmental sciences to explain and mitigate the impact of climate change in urban spaces. We will work with photographers to capture natural elements within urban streetscapes; learn from sound engineers to record daily cycles of birdsong; keep field notebooks that use narrative, sketches, and maps to describe the world around us; and create mixed-media representations of landscapes’ transformations over time.

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Co-directors: Julia Phillips Cohen (Jewish Studies) and Samuel Dolbee (History)

The Ottoman History Workshop explores the dynamism of the Ottoman world and its impact beyond the empire’s borders and into the present in southeast Europe, southwest Asia, north Africa, and beyond. To promote collaboration, the seminar partners with various units across campus and focuses on works-in-progress. Seminar topics this year will include American oil interests in the empire, the political ecology of charcoal and forests in Ottoman Kurdistan, the history and poetics of syphilis, and the untold story of Jewish refugees in the Ottoman domains. 

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Co-directors: Adeana McNicholl (Religious Studies), Sahaj Patel (Graduate Department of Religion), and Akshya Saxena (English) 

The Remaking South Asia Seminar examines the complex histories of bordering, migration, and religion that have shaped South Asia as a political region and scholarly area. Taking our cue from RPW’s theme of “place and memory,” we aim to foster discussions of the role of remembering—and forgetting—as political acts bound up in the histories of colonialism, casteism, religious nationalism, and sexual politics in South Asia. In the fall semester, we will host talks by Ayelet Ben-Yishai (Genres of Emergency: Forms of Crisis and Continuity in Indian Writing in English) and Mytheli Sreenivas (Reproductive Politics and the Making of Modern India). We will also screen the 2022 documentary film Joyland and have a working paper discussion with Anand Vivek Taneja. 

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Co-directors: Elizabeth Covington (GSS/English), Kristin Rose (GSS), Stacy Clifford Simplican (GSS/Political Science), and Danyelle Valentine (GSS/American Studies)

Working across disciplinary boundaries in a dynamic and inclusive scholarly community, the Rights and Resistance Seminar addresses significant cultural issues, politics, and scholarship that describe the current state and predict the future of human rights in the United States. The seminar will use literary texts as a jumping-off point to discuss human rights and resistance to power structures related to race, gender, class, sexuality, and ability.

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Co-directors: Carwil Bjork-James (Anthropology), Sara Safransky (HOD, Peabody) and Samira Sheikh (History)

The Spatial Histories Seminar aims to bring together in a capacious conversation, faculty, graduate students, staff, and visiting experts from a range of disciplines to explore representations and narrations of earth-space history, constituted by both human and non-human agents, and represented through maps, poetry, art, migration, and religion.

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Co-directors: Jay Clayton (English/CMA) and Scott J. Juengel (English)  
The Novel Seminar brings together the Vanderbilt community and visiting scholars to engage with groundbreaking scholarship on the history, theory, and politics of the novel form, from its early modern provenance to its contemporary persistence in a hyper-mediated public sphere.  Our sessions explore matters of fictional world-building and narrative form as they intersect with pressing questions in multiple fields of inquiry, from climate change to racial capitalism, sexual politics to social justice.  While largely focused on the Anglophone world, the seminar welcomes scholars working in a range of national literatures and disciplines to share work and join the discussions.   

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Co-Directors: Teresa Goddu (English), Eric Gurevitch (Asian Studies), Anna Hill (English), and Matthew Plishka (Latin American Studies)

Members of the Environmental Humanities Seminar engage in lively interdisciplinary discussions about how people think about, represent, interact with, and change/are changed by their environments. Our invited speakers, works-in-progress talks, excursions, films, and reading groups provide a forum to discuss the history and culture of ecological sensibility, environmental management, climate change, and environmental justice, among other topics. We invite those interested in the environmental humanities to bring their interests, expertise, curiosity, and questions to our community. 

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Co-Directors: Eddie Wright-Rios (History), Lara Lookabaugh (Gender & Sexuality Studies), Helen Makhdoumian (English), Lidiana de Moraes (Latin American Studies), Elvira Aballi Morell (Spanish & Portuguese), and Jesús Ruiz (American Studies)

Members of the Global Humanities Seminar center their work on the humanistic study of the implications of global movements of people, goods, and ideas. Our scholarly programming particularly focuses on dislocation, belonging, and citizenship issues. Although we ground our intellectual pursuits within disciplinary leanings – such as History, Anthropology, Modern Languages & Literatures, and Cultural Studies – the implications of our seminar are deeply transdisciplinary and take a bottom-up approach to examine matters of race, ethnicity, migration, gender & sexuality, and other pursuits. 

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Co-Directors: Letizia Modena (Italian), Peter Chesney (History of Art and Architecture), Lee Ann Custer (History of Art and Architecture), Jonathan Karp (American Studies), Ana Luiza Morais Soares (Anthropology), and Anna Tybinko (Spanish and Portuguese)

The Urban Humanities Seminar offers a forum for interdisciplinary dialogue on and collaborative approaches to the study of the past, present, and future of cities and their inhabitants, viewed through the lens of spatial justice. Situated at the intersection of humanities, urban planning and design, and civic engagement, our discussions consider how the stories that are told about cities reveal spatial relations and social inequities—and how, by examining the cultural, economic, political, gendered, and racialized memories embedded in these stories, we might collectively work toward a more just future. We invite those interested in the interplay between people and the urban environment to share ideas and projects, especially as they concern: the ability of arts and literature to reflect and shape affective and cognitive relationships to the urban environment; identity and the experience of place; issues of inclusion and exclusion in cities as they pertain to in/visibility, belonging, livability, mobility, migration and movement, place attachment and place making. 

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