2014-15 Working Groups

Circulating Cultures


The Circulating Cultures Working Group, now beginning its fourth year, brings together faculty from a range of disciplines: African American Studies, Anthropology, Art & 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 print crosses borders to create transnational disruptions and connections. Topics for individual projects along with collective readings have included 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: Anny Curtius, anny-curtius@uiowa.edu


Creativity and Aging: Saving the Legacy


The Creativity and Aging: Saving the Legacy Obermann Center Working Group is focused on developing a strong relationship between the University of Iowa 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

old comic

Comics Studies


The Comics Studies seeks to extend and expand the collaborative activity on comics (broadly understood to include newspaper comic strips, serialized comic books, and graphic novels) launched by UI faculty members Corey Creekmur, Ana Merino, and Rachel Williams and generously sponsored by the Obermann Center (among others) in 2011. By continuing to display a scholarly presence for comics on campus and in the Iowa City community, this group seeks to link the University of Iowa with a wide range of initiatives and colleagues elsewhere who are vitally active in building “comics studies” as a rigorous and respected scholarly field of interdisciplinary and international research. This working group wants to draw in additional relevant participants from other UI academic programs and nearby colleges, as well as local librarians and comics creators. In addition to sessions exclusively serving the selected participants in the working group, this group would also like to arrange sessions with an explicit public appeal, including presentations by and workshops with local or visiting comics artists and scholars. The working group would also like to address the unique archival questions raised by comics in a university setting: how might academic as well as public libraries that traditionally shunned or ignored comics now serve both readers and scholars seeking to employ academic libraries as resources for comics? Overall, the goal of this working group is to promote local creative and scholarly activity in response and relation to the steady international recognition of comics as a significant historical, cultural, and artistic form.


Comparative Ethnic Studies


This 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 Deborah Whaley, deborah-whaley@uiowa.edu.

Contemporary Literary & Film Theory


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 a decade. Likewise, both disciplines have reevaluated 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. The aim of this working group is to understand the disparities and overlaps in these two disciplines in hopes of coming to a larger understanding of how literature and film participate in the creation of culture.

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

18th 19th century image

Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Interdisciplinary Working Group


This year, our group seeks to explore connections between the arts and sciences during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. We aim to provide a forum for reading our members’ current scholarship as well as important historical and theoretical studies, and hope to 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 and 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

boys and radio gear

History Corps: Public Engagement in a UI Humanities Department


A group of dedicated graduate students, a faculty advisor, and collaborators from the across the University of Iowa and the City of Iowa City are working to take the student-managed oral and digital history project—known as History Corps (HC) (http://thestudio.uiowa.edu/historycorps/)—to a publicly engaged intellectual and interpretative digital project. Established in 2011 as the “UI Humanities Story Corps” and based on the simple model of an oral history exhibit, HC has expanded its pedagogical and collaborative reach (university, local, and state entities) through more complex and collaborative undertakings. (See 2008 Flood photographic essay.) Acting as a project facilitator and content management site, HC works with faculty to incorporate public history assignments into existing courses using short-form “exhibit writing” and “photographic essay” as introductory pedagogical models to familiarize instructors with new teaching tools and graduate and undergraduate students to public history methods.

To learn more about this group contact jacki-rand@uiowa.edu

Humanities for the 21st Century


This working group believes in the value of a cross-disciplinary reading group reading and discussing arguments about the changing nature of the humanities, of emerging sub-fields within the humanities (book studies, digital humanities, cultural informatics, environmental humanities, transnational humanities), and of new developments in the field, including public scholarship and re-imagining PhDs in the humanities to prepare students for diverse careers.

Some interesting starting points for discussion might be Helen Small's The Value of the Humanities and Peter Brooks and Hilary Jewett's The Humanities and Public Life. The group is organized by two co-directors, who will select further readings in collaboration with the rest of the group.

To learn more about this group contact Blaine Greteman, blaine-greteman@uiowa.edu.

fountain pen

Narrative in the Clinic and Classroom


The last twenty years have seen an explosion in the conscious use of narrative in clinical settings. These critical discussions extend from the Narrative Medicine movement, to Narrative Therapy, to James Pennebaker’s work on writing and healing. Additionally, clinicians in medicine, nursing, psychology, speech pathology, counseling, social work, grief work and hospice care are exploring narrative as a way to break down barriers between patient and clinician, strengthen therapeutic alliances that promote patient autonomy and agency, and to enhance outcomes. Beyond the clinic, narrative approaches enrich clinical education, practitioner development and clinician self-care in the increasingly stressful environments of professional training and education.

This working group will consider putting together a proposal for an Obermann Humanities Symposium or Summer Seminar to explore the intersections between narrative and clinical practice more deeply. It will also consider pedagogical alliances to offer interdisciplinary instruction to undergraduate, graduate and professional students. Furhermore, the group will explore avenues for funding interdisciplinary scholarship through such agencies as the NIH. And finally, this working group will examine the possibilities at The University of Iowa for institutionalizing the study and teaching of narrative in healthcare, either within existing programs and departments, or through the creation of new institutions.

To learn more about this group contact director Pat Dolan, patrick-dolan@uiowa.edu.

old fashioned dancers

Performance Studies


As a field, performance studies has been defined by its refusal to respect disciplinary boundaries—including its own. Productively protean, performance studies might best be considered as a field in which disciplinary agendas meet, mix, and remake one another. First emerging in the 1960s from the collaborative work of theater scholars, theater makers and anthropologists, performance studies has always engaged with and drawn not only the other arts­ such as dance, body art, film, painting, sculpture, photography, the digital and intermedial arts, but also from sociology, history, philosophy, public health, women’s and gender studies, queer studies, critical race studies, and the broader field of cultural studies.

The Performance Studies working group will bring together scholars and artists working in, around, and between all of the fields with which performance studies engages. The group's objective is to provide a monthly forum in which memebers present, read, watch, listen to, and discuss new scholarly, creative, and cultural work that not only encompasses the entire expanse of performance studies, but also pushes beyond the field’s current frontiers. This group is particularly interested in thinking through the ways in which disciplinary differences manifest in performance studies work.

To learn more about this group contact Kim Marra, kim-marra@uiowa.edu.


Scholarship of Public Engagement


Now in its third year, this working group will focus on reading about the existing research where the voices of community partners are at the center of publicly engaged scholarship. This working groups intends to co-author more collaborative pieces that bring in the voices of community partners, an aspect that is largely missing from the scholarly work on publicly engaged scholarship. 

As publicly engaged scholars, the members of this working group believe that at the center of engaged scholarship are campus-community partnerships reflecting careful partnerships and ethical principles of engagement. The group is aware that power, position, and resources may disrupt well-intended activities of public engagement. As such, the group remains sensitive to the power and position members occupy as representatives of the University. As researchers/scholars, the group's scholarship often focuses on those who are less powerful and represent groups who are different with regard to race/ethnicity, language, literacy, and class, and face dramatic health disparities and experience gaps in education. Creating sensitive campus-community partnerships require constant monitoring of ethics so that communities/local residents do not become laboratories for University research. Second, from an academic’s perspective, the members are mindful that engaged scholarship requires time and energy investments and still may not be valued in the Academy. Since Year 1, the group's discussions have focused on how members might move the Academy so that colleagues and administrators understand the value in publicly engaged efforts of teaching and scholarship. The group will continue discussions focused on creating and maintaining sensitive partnerships with community members while also exploring new visions of engaged scholarship in rural southeastern Iowa. Finally, this working group intends to continue to explore how members can mentor colleagues and graduate students interested in similar work.

To learn more about this group contact Carolyn Colvin, carolyn-colvin@uiowa.edu.

The Language of Aging


Language has a variety of functions—communicative, therapeutic, and artistic—which contribute to an individual’s health and well-being. This working group will explore the impact of aging on language, and the impact of language use on those who are aging. We will examine the interaction of two factors, first, language use by older adults and language use to and about older adults, and second, the effects of language use on quality of life in aging. The group includes faculty from diverse departments who study various forms of communication and factors that facilitate communication, with the goal of combining humanistic and health perspectives. The working group also aims to promote engagement with the community through a close collaboration with the Iowa City Senior Center. Possible outcomes arising from these interactions include: creating digital resources about language and communication changes; establishing online intergenerational forums to break down age-related barriers like stereotypes; and developing interventions designed to improve the appreciation and effectiveness of language and communication by, among, and to older adults.

Contact Jean Gordon, jean-k-gordon@uiowa.edu, for more information about this group.