2017-18 Working Groups

Circulating Cultures


The Circulating Cultures Working Group, now beginning its sixth year, brings together faculty from a range of disciplines: Anthropology, Arabic, Art & Art History, English, Film Studies, French & Francophone Studies, German, History, Spanish and Portuguese, and Swahili. 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.

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 U.S., 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 of 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


The focus of this working group is interrogating the relationship between the social and biological sciences, especially with respect to issues of genomics, sex, gender, race, and social inequalities. Its goals are to create a forum where scholars from a range of disciplines can exchange ideas and expertise and learn from each other. Ultimately, the group hopes to develop a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the complex interactions between biological and social processes, how scholars 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.

Developing Social Practice & Public Engagement as Course Content


This working group grapples with ways that trans-discipline public engagement opportunities can be created and taught as the nucleus for courses both on campus and online. This group discusses curriculum and course development that mutually explore and develop publicly engaged projects in which artists and humanities scholars work with community partners and cultural institutions to produce research and curriculums that will contribute to the public good. Through working collaboratively across the arts and humanities, social sciences and medical and physical sciences, the group strives to have diverse impacts on society, making positive contributions to the health and welfare of individuals, associations, public bodies, and businesses.

The group investigates ways to move from ideals to pragmatic applications addressing how artists, scholars, and researchers can adapt their disciplines to create new models for classroom and online instruction. Its scholars will explore concepts that challenge current ideas and constructs regarding online education. They will further discuss best practices and sustainability in creating public engagement through this wide application. Through exploiting technology and media, they will be able to instruct courses that will achieve public engagement with the broadest possible audience. 

Close-up photo of Hexagonaria percarinata, a genus of coral found in Iowa

Fossils and Farmland


This working group will focus on forming a network of university as well as statewide participants. The group will identify the concepts for the plan, then design and engage the community in STEAM outreach activities. 

In keeping with the University’s mission to “create more opportunities for community involvement,” the proposed STEAM activities will encourage involvement of many different perspectives and a variety of disciplines. For example, the Iowa City community and surrounding cornfields literally sit upon an ancient ocean. This provides a natural connection among the fields of geology, engineering, and biology.

To learn more about this group, contact Clar Baldus, clar-baldus@uiowa.edu.

Modes and Models of Facilitation


This group of staff, faculty, and community members is dedicated to looking at different models of facilitation for community dialogue around potentially difficult topics. We will identify models that we are interested in learning more about and then investigate these through reading and guest meetings with teachers/leaders of particular models.  


fountain pen

Narrative in the Clinic, the Classroom, and the Community: Listening to the Stories of Trauma; Telling Stories of Justice


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 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. Furthermore, the group will explore avenues for funding interdisciplinary scholarship through such agencies as the NIH. And finally, this working group will examine 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.

Opera Studies


The Opera Studies Working Group offers a variety of lectures and activities that are free and open to all members of the University and beyond. Please explore the group's website, https://operastudies.wordpress.com, to learn about the group's purpose and history, view archived events, and see what other resources are available with regard to opera.

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 from not only 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 brings 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 members 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.

Colorful pastel crayons with social media icons on them. Photo Credit: StartBloggingOnline.com

Personalization Algorithms and Bias in Social Media


This group aims to bring together scholars from the humanities, social sciences, and STEM sciences to explore the functioning and implications of large data generated by social networking applications. The goal is for humanists and social scientists to get a better idea of how algorithms in social media actually function, while introducing scientists to some of the emerging critiques of big data and algorithmic culture in the humanities and social sciences. 

To learn more about this working group, contact the directors: Tim Havens, timothy-havens@uiowa, or M. Zubair Shafiq, zubair-shafiq@uiowa.edu.

(Photo credit: StartBloggingOnline.com)

Clipart of camera and speech bubble

Photovoice as a Tool for Learning, Exchange, and Change


The topic of this Obermann Working Group is to work collectively with scholars from various fields, K12 practitioners, and community members to develop a study utilizing photovoice with Latinx high school populations in Iowa.

Studies point out that students’ subjective experiences in schools are critical in predicting academic outcomes. Although there is a considerable body of research that addresses the experiences of Latinx students in K12 public schools, much of this work does not represent communities undergoing recent population change, such as those within the state of Iowa. However, the available research does suggest that Latinx high school students experience marginalization within their schools, with school climate and belonging being central to those experiences.

We intend to design a project that will utilize photovoice, a qualitative methodology grounded in community-based participatory research, to illuminate the educational experiences of Latinx high school students in rural Iowa K12 schools. Further, an additional goal is to make visible the concerns and lives of Latinx students in rural Iowa. Specifically, through the study we will engage high school students from multiple rural, and predominantly Latinx communities in Iowa to elicit meaningful photographs and narratives that will inform critical dialogue about emerging issues in educational practices in diverse Iowa schools. We plan to communicate our findings to the entire community, including educators and policy-makers through: a) a photography exhibit and community forum, b) a technical report with policy recommendations that reflect the overarching themes of the qualitative findings, and c) a custom-built website that will extend the visual and content function of the community forum and provide schools with resources and impetus for change. This project will also result in submission of research, conceptual, and visual scholarly products in our respective fields of educational policy and leadership, school counseling, and graphic design.

Place-Based Inclusion


This group formed out of a concern that our geographic community, the Iowa City area, is growing more segregated for lower-income African Americans and Latinos, and that the University of Iowa community (administration, staff, faculty, students) is not sufficiently aware of, or responding to, this damaging trend.  

Over the course of the academic year, the group will have two goals: (1) to understand the barriers to, and catalysts of, inclusion, broadly construed, for lower-income African Americans and Latinos in Iowa City, and (2) to explore the responsibility and capacity of the University of Iowa, as an anchor institution, to address inclusion in its home community. The group will reach out to members of the African American and Latino communities to understand their perspectives and review data and narratives that outline the broader historical, economic, social, and cultural context. They then will examine what it means for a university to be an anchor institution within a community challenged by segregation.                                                                             

As a final product, the group will plan a gathering—a seminar or conference co-facilitated by community members and outside speakers—to develop concrete ideas for how the University of Iowa, as an anchor institution, could more effectively address barriers to inclusion both within and outside the campus boundaries. The group will also explore the possibility of a "themed semester" focused on inclusion/exclusion.  

For more information, contact Megan Gilster, megan-gilster@uiowa.edu, or Sally Scott, salwah.scott@gmail.com.

Scholarship of Public Engagement


Now in its fifth 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 its members are 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 requires constant monitoring of ethics so that communities/local residents do not become laboratories for University research.

Second, from an academic 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.

Elementary school with rainbow behind it

Social Justice in K-12 Educational Contexts


This working group will focus on social justice education in learning contexts for K–12 students (students in elementary, middle, and high schools) in the United States. Social justice has been defined as “a philosophy, an approach, and actions that embody treating all people with fairness, respect, dignity, and generosity” (Nieto, 2010). Social justice education, Nieto continues, contains the following four components: it challenges, confronts, and disrupts misconceptions, untruths, and stereotypes that lead to structural inequality and discrimination based on social and human differences; it provides all students with the resources necessary to learn to their full potential, including both material and emotional resources; it draws on the talents and strengths that students bring to their education; and it creates a learning environment that promotes critical thinking and agency for social change. It is related to concepts like multiculturalism in education, culturally responsive teaching, and culturally relevant pedagogy, where the contributions, struggles, and perspectives of diverse groups of people as well as students’ own cultures provide a path to deeper and more sustained learning and awareness for all students. 

To learn more about this working group, contact Pamela Wesely, pamela-wesely@uiowa.edu.

Translation in the Humanities


Across the humanities, translation has always been either an object or a mode of inquiry. Many U.S. scholars who work with non-English sources often incorporate passages they translate into their published work, and of course continuously do their own translations for their research and teaching. Scholars who do translation come from a wide range of disciplines, such as Classics, Philosophy, Religious Studies, History, English, Art History, various area studies, and of course, Literary Translation. However, most such scholars have little or no training in translation studies and often do their translations in a somewhat unreflective way. The purpose of this working group is to cultivate a learned and thoughtful community of scholars who do translation at the University of Iowa and that supports both the professional development of each faculty member as well as translation as an interdisciplinary field of practice and study. 

To learn more about this group, contact Aron Aji, aron-aji@uiowa.edu, or Morten Schlütter, morten-schlutter@uiowa.edu.