News

photo of Everard Hall eating lunch in a cemetery (photo credit: Dessert, 2015, Thalassa Raasch)

Witnessing the Gravedigger

Monday, November 13, 2023
Who’s your local gravedigger? Do you know? Do you have one? The residents of Cherryfield, Maine, do—and it’s not the dirty, shadow-clad figure you’re picturing. It’s local resident Everard Hall, smiling and ball-capped in a plaid work shirt. There’s a harmonica in his pocket and dancing boots in his pickup. Everard (pronounced “EVer-ard”) is one of the few remaining gravediggers in the U.S. who dig by hand—and he does it year-round across northeastern Maine. Using picks, shovels, chains, and winches to haul out rocks, ice, hardpan, roots, clay, and sand, he insists on doing the job with care and precision. It’s not surprising that UI photography professor Thalassa Raasch feels the exact same way about documenting Everard’s work. Her in-progress collection of photos and essays, In Over My Head, documents the unexpected beauty of Everard’s work as a gravedigger and explores the profound thresholds between solitude and community, life and death.
Solange Saxby, Pamela Mulder, Christine Gill standing outside of the UI Obermann Center

Promoting Breastfeeding in Women with MS

Thursday, September 28, 2023
It’s tough to be a new mother, whoever you are, whatever your income, wherever you live. But for women with chronic health conditions, it’s exceptionally difficult. Even breastfeeding can feel like an insurmountable task, full of uncertainties about the transmission of medications in breastmilk and the physical demands of holding an infant for long periods of time.   This past summer, an Obermann Interdisciplinary Research Grant team, aided by Spelman Rockefeller funding, began studying breastfeeding in women with multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic disease of the brain and spinal cord. “There’s a huge gap of knowledge in regards to breastfeeding for women with MS,” say the grant project’s co-directors Christine Gill (Clinical Assistant Professor, Neurology), Pamela Mulder (Clinical Assistant Professor, Nursing), and Solange Saxby (Postdoctoral Research Scholar, Internal Medicine)—largely because pregnant and lactating women tend not to volunteer for research trials. It’s a serious oversight, since MS is three times more common in women than in men and is more frequently diagnosed in women of childbearing age (between 20 and 40) than in any other group. Symptoms vary among patients but commonly include fatigue, muscle weakness, tingling, numbness, vertigo, and walking difficulties due to nerve fiber damage.
Sports, Power, & Resistance: Legacies and Futures

Exploring the Intersection of Sports, Media, and Culture

Tuesday, September 12, 2023
In the ever-evolving landscape of sports, media, and culture, two distinguished University of Iowa scholars, Tom Oates (American Studies and Journalism) and Travis Vogan (Journalism and American Studies), have been instrumental in shaping critical discussions and interdisciplinary explorations. As part of their ongoing commitment to advancing the understanding of sports within broader societal contexts, the two are directing the Obermann Center’s 2023 Arts and Humanities Symposium, “Sports, Power, and Resistance: Legacies and Futures.” With a shared vision of bringing together diverse perspectives, their efforts highlight the important role of sports in contemporary culture and politics. Below is a Q&A with co-directors Thomas Oates and Travis Vogan.
Lisa Schlesinger and Layale Chaker

Exploring Trauma and Imagination: "Ruinous Gods: Suites for Sleeping Children" Opera Takes Shape

Thursday, August 17, 2023
Obermann Interdisciplinary Research Grant recipients Layale Chaker and Lisa Schlesinger (Theatre Arts) are deep in the creative process, weaving together the intricate threads of music, storytelling, and stagecraft to bring to life their ambitious opera, Ruinous Gods: Suites for Sleeping Children. The project, commissioned by Spoleto Festival USA, centers on the experiences of displaced children grappling with resignation syndrome—a rare trauma response to displacement—and seeks to carve out a space for imagination and empowerment within the realm of opera.
hands painting a toy car

Scholars Create Demo Derby as Comment on U.S. Political Discourse

Monday, August 7, 2023
A green car with the words “climate change” emblazoned on its doors slams into the back of a red car with the word “healthcare” on it, crumpling the bumper. Other cars with the terms “gun control,” “free speech,” and “abortion” repeatedly crash into each other in the muddy arena at the county fair, until one car emerges victorious. Just Crushing is an artwork taking the form of a demolition derby to embody American political discourse as a spectacle of competitive wreckage. The Interdisciplinary Research Group (IDRG) consists of Allison Rowe (Teaching & Learning), Maia Sheppard (Teaching & Learning), and Nancy Nowacek (Stevens Institute of Technology). Drawing upon the theatrics of Carnivale, the hometown grandiosity of state fairs, and the rich history of destructive art, vehicles representing critical issues in American politics will brutalize one another as the crowd cheers and jeers them on. Through its live, winner-takes-all battle, this project stands in opposition to the polarizing debates of stylized dialogue across partisan media. In this way, Just Crushing literalizes us-versus-them culture and reveals the absurd extremes to which political discourse has arrived: where every issue must fight for a public and a platform. 
Aged hand holding child hand

Exploring Healthy Aging across the Life Course

Wednesday, July 5, 2023
Health happens in families and yet many health promotion interventions are not tailored for the family as a unit. Multigenerational households (i.e., families that consist of three or more generations) have become a more prevalent family structure in the U.S. and provide essential caregiving functions. This summer, as part of their Obermann Interdisciplinary Research Grant, "Healthy Aging across the Life Course: Engaging Multigenerational Families Living with Chronic Conditions," Ebonee Johnson (College of Public Health), Duhita Mahatmya (College of Education), and Kimberly Dukes (Internal Medicine) utilized the principles and practices of community engagement to better understand health and healthy aging in multigenerational families experiencing chronic illness and disability. 
Marissa Good (left) and Selveyah Gamblin (right) at the Student Undergraduate Research Festival, April 2023 (photo by Louise Seamster)

Data Justice for Flint: Seamster Leads Effort to Build Accessible Archive with Humanities Without Walls Grand Research Challenge Project

Thursday, May 4, 2023
For seven years, the Obermann Center has been a partner in the Mellon-funded Humanities Without Walls consortium led by Professor Antoinette Burton at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Our graduate students have attended HWW’s Career Diversity Summer Workshops, and several faculty members have worked with cross-institutional Grand Research Challenge teams. This year, we are delighted that Assistant Professor Louise Seamster (Departments of Sociology & Criminology and African American Studies) was selected as the P.I. of a team focused on "The Flint Water Disaster Public Archive." The ”Flint Water Disaster Public Archive” will re-home public data that has been largely inaccessible to Flint communities—a form of data justice that is of urgent relevance to the history, present, and future of those communities. The project is a collaboration among the University of Iowa, University of Michigan–Flint, and the Flint Democracy Defense League. Below is Obermann Assistant Director Lauren Burrell Cox’s interview with Louise Seamster about the project.
FilmScene exterior

Obermann Center symposium’s ‘Frequências’ film festival explores Afro-Brazilian cinema

Sunday, April 2, 2023
The door of no return; the reinvention of belonging; Blackness in Brazil; these topics and more were the focus of this year’s Obermann Humanities Symposium. Presented in Iowa City by the Obermann Humanities Symposium & International Programs Major Project Award, the “Frequências” festival displayed lectures, cinema screenings, interventions, exhibits, and performances by contemporary Afro-Brazilian artists and scholars discussing Black diaspora.
Ariani Friedl

Building Bridges: The MOSTRA Brazilian Film Festival

Monday, March 20, 2023
Cris Lira: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how the idea for the Mostra: Brazilian Film Series has started.   Ariani Friedl: I am Brazilian, 'gaúcha' (RS), and I have been living in the United States for over 50 years.  I worked at the University of Illinois @ Chicago for over 20 years as Director of the John Nuveen Center for International Affairs.  I was a member of the Board of Directors of the International Latino Cultura Center for over 15 years and also organized the Chicago Latino Film Festival in 2006 when our Director was on a leave of absence.  I have the fortune of meeting many of our Brazilian filmmakers who attended the Latino Festival which always brings 3 - 4 Brazilian films.   The question always posed by our Brazilian filmmakers was:  "How can we better publicize and where else can we show our Brazilian cinema in the United States?" The idea of creating a festival with only Brazilian films in the Chicago area was born from this and it developed with another idea of bringing films with social conscience to be discussed in universities and other cultural and educational centers. C.L.: Could you please tell us how do you select the films to be featured in the series?  A.F.: I bring to our festival every year, different Brazilian film critics and filmmakers.  I also have collaborators in SP who attend many of our film festivals in Brazil and help me collect a list of films with relevant social content, and also films related to our culture (art, music, literature, dance...), history, environment, etc...  We compile these in a document with trailers and synopses and present them to my Curatorial Committee (composed of professors, critics, and experts in cinema) for a decision in which films we will invite to our festival.
Lauren Burrell Cox

Lauren Burrell Cox is Obermann's New Assistant Director!

Wednesday, March 8, 2023
We're happy to announce that Lauren Burrell Cox has become Obermann's new Assistant Director! She'll be working with our director, Teresa Mangum, to design, plan, promote and conduct programs and to oversee communications for the Center.