2013-14 Working Groups

Eighteenth and Nineteenth-Century Interdisciplinary Working Group - Technologies and Geographies of Cultural Transfer


This group seeks to explore both the spaces and the technologies by which cultural objects, ideas, and practices were produced, circulated, and received during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The group aims to provide a forum for reading our members’ current scholarship as well as important historical and theoretical studies, and hopes to help organize public lectures and forums related to our interests.  Members are also interested in engaging with exhibitions, theatrical productions, and other events on campus which might speak to our interests.  Finally, members hope to engage with scholars at other institutions in eastern Iowa.

If you would like to learn more about this working group, please contact the director: Eric Gidal, eric-gidal@uiowa.edu 

Indigo Ink: An Accountabiliy and Write-on-Site Group


Indigo Ink is a community-style "accountability and write-on-site" group for faculty of color at the University of Iowa. What does it mean to "write-on-site?" The term was coined by Kerry Ann Rockquemore, PhD (President and CEO of the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity) and describes people coming together to work on their particular projects for two hours, in the morning, once a week. Although people are working on their own projects, writing together in one place can provide the accountability of showing up, cultivate the sense that we are part of a community of writers, and help create positive energy and excitement that comes from being around others who are doing the same thing.

Just bring your lap top to the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies (which can be found in the Tudor house at 111 Church Street). Check in, grab a cup of tea or coffee (sometimes we even have cookies) and start working. There is a conference space to meet and work on an article, a book chapter, a grant, or any other writing project.

If you would like to learn more about this working group, please contact the director: Janette Taylor, janette-taylor@uiowa.edu 

Reading Asia Through Contemporary Philosophy


This group brings together junior scholars working on Asia and Asian diasporas to explore contemporary continental philosophy through Asia. We find ourselves in a bind: on the one hand, what seems most interesting about Asia to many major poststructuralist thinkers is its illegibility or unintelligibility; on the other hand, in order to make our own work intelligible to scholars working on Europe and North America, we need to find ways to make those thinkers speak to Asian subjects. The working group aims to create a space in which we can read theory together and work out ways of making it speak to us.

If you would like to learn more about this working group, please contact the directors: Melissa Ann-Marie Curley, melissa-a-curley@uiowa.edu or Jiyeon Kang, jiyeon-kang@uiowa.edu

Understanding Late Life Across the Disciplines


This group of artists, humanities scholars, social scientists, medical researchers, and professionals share a deep interest in the ways stories shape the experience of aging. Guided by questions and methods that drive our individual disciplines and projects, we will explore a landscape of networked stories in the form of histories, “commonsense” assertions, advertising, news, statistical claims, medical prognoses, bodily movement, and visual culture, such as photographs, films, and cartoons. Our goal is to synthesize and critique existing narratives and to make space in academic contexts and community institutions for imaginative, vibrant, alternative expressions of the second half of long lives.  More information about the Late Life Working Group can be found here.  

Photo by Ari Seth Cohen

If you would like to learn more about this working group, please contact the directors: Teresa Mangum, teresa-mangum@uiowa.edu or Andrea Charise, andrea-charise@uiowa.edu

Circulating Cultures


The Circulating Cultures Working Group, now beginning its third year, brings together faculty from a range of disciplines: African American Studies, Anthropology, Art and Art History, English, Film Studies, French, and History.  Group members share a common interest in the circulation of cultures in print, digital, oral, and audiovisual forms especially as they cross borders to create transnational disruptions and connections.  Topics for individual projects along with collective readings have included the following: the circulation of architectural forms, photography, and film; theories of material culture, literature and deep time, creolization and hybridity, capitalism and modernity; and responses to environmental crises.

If you would like to learn more about this working group, please contact the director: Mary Lou Emery, mary-emery@uiowa.edu

Comparative and Ethnic Studies


Our working group creates a space for scholars to engage in a discussion about race and ethnicity as it intersects with gender, sexualities, ability, and class in national and transnational contexts. Our goal is to cultivate an alliance among scholars who yearn to engage in a conversation beyond a particular discipline and racial-ethnic group, and to think through points of continuity between historically marginalized groups.  Focus areas for the group include contemporary social movements of Indigenous Nations Peoples and Latino/as, African and Asian diasporas, borderlands, cultural production in the US, Europe, Asia, Mexico, Africa, and Latin America, and whiteness studies.

If you would like to learn more about this working group, please contact the directors: Deborah Whaley, deborah-whaley@uiowa.edu or Tim Havens, tim-havens@uiowa.edu

The Aging Mind and Brain Initiative


The aging mind and brain is a highly multidisciplinary, multidimensional topic, spanning the life sciences, behavioral sciences, social sciences, engineering, medical sciences, human factors, biostatics, ethics, law, and others. The vision of the University of Iowa's Aging Mind and Brain Initiative (AMBI) is to create a world-class collaborative research and implementation entity aimed at research, education and outreach to enhance the lives and societal vitality of our aging population, focusing on the cognitive aspect of aging.

If you would like to know more about this working group, please contact the directors: Matthew Rizzo, matthew-rizzo@uiowa.edu or Bernd Fritzsch, bernd-fritzsch@uiowa.edu

Contemporary Literary and Film Theory Working Group


The Contemporary Literary and Film Theory Working Group explores the ways in which debates in contemporary literary theory and film theory do and do not overlap. While the disciplines of literary studies and film studies have developed in parallel since the 1970s, the theoretical debates in each discipline have a more varied trajectory. For example, the disciplines have considered the relation between print and audiovisual culture and processes globalization from quite different perspectives, even though the concept of transnationalism has been a key term in both disciplines for at least decade. Likewise, both disciplines have revaluated the relation between ethics, politics, and the arts, but have come to different conclusions regarding central aspects of the relation (including matters of subalternity and counter-hegemony). Finally, matters of digital or new media have prompted both disciplines to reconsider previous theoretical work on narrative and discourse.

If you would like to learn more about this working group, please contact the director: Kathleen Newman, kathleen-newman@uiowa.edu

The Autism Research Working Group


The Autism Research Working Group is being proposed to bring together scholars interested in Autism research. Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are classified as developmental disabilities that have varying degrees of social and communication deficits. The CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network released new prevalence data finding that 1 in 88 children have disorders on the Autism spectrum which is a 78% increase from 2002-2008.  Persons with ASDs are increasingly being integrated into community, work, and educational settings requiring new ways in which ASDs are understood, what is required to make them successful in learning environments, and how best to meet health and service needs.

If you would like to know more about this working group, please contact the directors: Melissa Lehan Mackin, melissa-lehan@uiowa.edu or Juan Pablo Hourcade, juanpablo-hourcade@uiowa.edu.

Living with the Earth: A multidisciplinary understanding of what it means to interact sustainably with a finite planet


This multi-disciplinary working group will study the intricate connections between living spaces, energy, ecology (forests, water) and socio-cultural factors that are intrinsic to the notion of “sustainable development”. The specific goals of the group are three-fold: 1) To work together to devise a set of multi-disciplinary course offerings that can be placed under the broader umbrella of the “Student Success” program at U Iowa. The course structure will reflect the subject title of the working group, i.e. enabling students to “connect the dots” (across disciplines, global processes and scales) to make informed decisions as global citizens; 2) To examine the various ways in which humans interact with the environment and impact and are impacted by it. This discussion will include considerations of historical, geographical, cultural and technological aspects; 3) To discuss the inter-disciplinary factors that underlie the massive migration of people from the rural areas to cities and mega-cities in search of livelihood. We also want to ask the larger question: Is migration to cities and the replacement of small scale agriculture better for the overall (macro-) environment. There is evidence that mega-cities, if designed well, can significantly decrease the per capita footprint (energy, land use etc.) of an equivalent population, mainly by realizing the benefits of densification. However, there is little information on the impact of the migration on the overall environment (say when sustainable but small-scale farming practices are replaced by industrial farming). The working group will analyze the sustainability of human migration to densified cities and examine the overall impact of the trend.

If you would like to learn more about this working group, please contact the directors: Uday Kumar, hs-kumar@uiowa.edu, or Meena Khandelwal, meena-khandelwal@uiowa.edua

The Scholarship of Public Engagement


As Obermann Working Group participants, we endorse principles of engaged scholarship defined as “research in any field that partners university scholarly resources with those in the public and private sectors to enrich knowledge, address and help solve critical societal issues, and contribute to the public good” (Campus Compact, 2007).  Each member identifies her research/scholarship in ways consistent with this definition.  In 2012-13, our sessions were focused on publicly engaged scholarship -- its challenges and opportunities.  Our 2013-14 plans will build from our work in Year 1 and include hosting a second campus-wide workshop (tentatively in Spring 2014) where community partners will be the focus of the workshop.

If you would like to know more about this working group, please contact the director: Carolyn Colvin, carolyn-colvin@uiowa.edu.

Economic Inequality Working Group


Over the past thirty years, income inequality has risen dramatically in the United States, nearly all of the world’s advanced democracies, and much of the developing world. The ongoing world financial crisis, along governments’ responses to it, has only highlighted the extent to which richer people have pulled away from their fellow citizens and sparked both protest movements and renewed academic interest. Recent scholarship has linked higher levels of economic inequality to a wide range of societal ills, from political disengagement to drug abuse. This research has been scattered across a number of disciplines, however, and progress toward more fully understanding the causes and consequences of inequality has been hindered by these divisions. Efforts towards identifying policies that work to reduce inequality or at least mitigate some of its worst effects has similarly suffered from disconnections between conversations that have remained primarily within disciplines. Coming together as a Working Group at the Obermann Center, we cross-fertilize our ideas, overcome the insularity of disciplinary silos, and explore the potential to pursue joint research on the topic.


If you would like to know more about this working group, please contact the director: Frederick Solt, frederick-solt@uiowa.edu

Art Cart: Saving the Legacy


The ART CART: Saving the Legacy Obermann Center Working Group is focused on developing a strong relationship within the UI and the Iowa City community interested in developing a mechanism to provide professional aging artists with direct, hands-on support and guidance to manage and preserve their life’s work. Through closely working with the National Center for Creative Aging in Washington, D.C. this project will serve as a model for faculty engagement, community outreach, service learning and community interactive initiatives in Iowa City. The working group will develop a course and syllabi or identify already existing courses that the pilot for this project might be offered under until it is further determined what sustainable form this project might take at the University of Iowa. Our main objectives are to devise ways to:

  • Assist older artists through organizing and documenting their life’s work
  • Create experiential learning opportunities for students and older artists
  • Create a project that is inter-generational, interdisciplinary, and inter-professional
  • Foster collaborative learning within the UI and local community
  • Identify potential research opportunities that might be carried on parallel to the main project.


If you would like to know more about this working group, please contact the director: Anita Jung, anita-jung@uiowa.edu

Intergenre Explorations: Crossing the Scholarship/Creative Work Divide


Building on the Obermann Center’s tradition of nurturing interdisciplinary scholarship, Intergenre Explorations has brought together faculty engaged in intergenre work. Rather than (or in addition to) crossing disciplines, intergenre work crosses from one mode of research or presentation to another. Synthesizing scholarly and creative modalities, these crossings entail palpable felt experiences traditionally banished from ‘objective’ scholarship. In our third year as a Working Group, we plan to develop projects with shared stakes that further our individual research and key into the 2014 Obermann Humanities Symposium on Affect & Inquiry and Exuberant Politics, a series bringing together together artists, filmmakers, activists and scholars.

To learn more about this group please contact the directors, Kim Marra, kim-marra@uiowa.edu, and Lisa Heineman, lisa-heineman@uiowa.edu.

University of Iowa UNESCO City of Literature Mobile Application Development Team



In October 2010, following two years of development, The University of Iowa UNESCO City of Literature Mobile Application Development Team [“UCOL”] launched "City of Lit," an app for Apple mobile devices. The app is the result of a collaborative effort by faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate researchers in the School of Art & Art History Media Social Practice and Design - Intermedia Program, the School of Library and Information Science, Computer Science, English and the Writing University. Our group includes two recent UIowa PhD alumni, now working at an educational institution and in industry.

UCOL research reflect a growing interest at The University of Iowa and nationally in public digital humanities and interdisciplinary practice. “City of Lit” highlights the University of Iowa and Iowa City’s rich literary history via traditional scholarship, multimedia, and mapping technologies. Home of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop since 1922 and designated in 2008 as one of only six “UNESCO Cities of Literature,” Iowa City has a long and proud history as a community of writers, one recognized nationally and internationally.

During 2013-2015 UCOL will continue research on:

  • Geo-caching and other game elements for the apps;
  • Design, development and production of a "Local Heroes Citizen Scholarship Self-paced Research Guide" and linked curriculum guide materials for k-12 and college students; and 
  • A linked pilot project with the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization at the Iowa City Public Library, working with volunteer local writers and citizen researchers. Three groups of two to three people each conduct research on a local writer, developing traditional and multimedia scholarship materials for inclusion on the "City of Lit" mobile web and iTune apps. We plan to produce a literary research guide for subsequent efforts.

Contact Director Jon Winet for more information, jon-winet@uiowa.edu

Crossing The Social / Biological Divide


Our focus is interrogating the relationship between the social and biological sciences, especially with respect to issues of genomics, sex, gender, race, and social inequalities. Our goals are to create a forum where scholars from a range of disciplines can exchange ideas and expertise and learn from each other. Ultimately we hope to develop a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the complex interactions between biological and social processes, how we study and educate others about these processes, and their relationship to human behavior and social inequality. The group currently consists of researchers and scholars from Anthropology, Biology, Gender, Women’s & Sexuality Studies, Nursing, Psychology, and Sociology.  

For more information about this Working Group contact Deirdre Egan, deirdre-egan@uiowa.edu.