2018-19 Working Groups

Immigrant backpacks exhibit

Archives & Social Justice


This working group brings together faculty, doctoral students, and archival professionals to develop pedagogical modes that explore issues of social justice through the critical lens of the archives. The group will develop modes of engaged scholarship that critically engage the archives through the reading of archival materials, models of archival practice, the construction of archival collections, and other critical praxis. They will also pursue funding opportunities that will support the implementation of these pedagogical models in the undergraduate curriculum. To learn more about or join this group, e-mail lindsay-mattock@uiowa.edu

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 directors at elke-heckner@uiowa.edu and julie-hochstrasser@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.

Old portrait of Cabeza de Vaca

Imagination & Desire in a Bayou Landscape: The Story of Cabeza de Vaca


 Cabeza de Vaca was part of a Conquistador expedition to Florida in 1527 that went awry, and a long travail followed, leaving four survivors who eventually made it to Mexico City eight years later. Cabeza de Vaca comes to understand that maybe the Spanish should be partnering with indigenous people instead of enslaving them, and becomes something of an amateur anthropologist along the way, leaving a journal account of the long journey. 

This working group is interested in trying to give voice to the Moorish slave who was on the expedition and to Cabeza de Vaca's wife, Maria Marmolejo, a Sephardic Jewish convert, who was reunited with him after falling destitute when he was presumed dead. The group would like to create a work of historical fiction, as these parts of the story have no voice or literary narrative in the accounts. The group is also interested in learning about the indigenous native Americans and imagining what kinds of interactions the survivors had with them.

Rapson's current musical research has been spent investigating the influences of Moors, Sephardic Jews, Romany Gypsies, the Spanish renaissance, flamenco and New World folk traditions. He intends to assemble a large ensemble of UI colleagues and professional musicians to record the work in a studio method similar to the production of earlier albums where improvisations were turned into compositions. The mix will include "classical" and "popular" musicians working alongside each other. The resulting recording will precede the first performance and be used to rehearse the members in smaller groups before it is premiered. The text and film will be added only after the major sections of the composition is ready. There is already a rough outline of fifteen movements and their basic premise that can initiate discussion.

close-up view of Islamic manuscript page

Islamic Manuscripts


The goal of the Islamic Manuscripts working group is to improve the sparse and sometimes inaccurate catalog records for the dozen or so Islamic manuscripts in the University of Iowa's Special Collections. These manuscripts are studied each semester in graduate courses such as Asian and Islamic Papermaking, Material Analysis, and Historical Structures. The group will update the catalog records for these manuscripts with the language, calligraphic script, and date range of each, as well as information about the order of the leaves, their substrate, and their binding. They also intend to publish a paper on methodologies for creating or updating catalog entries through interdisciplinary collaboration. 

Mural depicting Latino culture

Latina/o/x Studies


This is a critical moment to engage in a more thorough interrogation of Latina/o/x Studies at the University of Iowa. This working group's co-directors are also co-directors of the proposed Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar titled “Imagining Latinidades: Articulations of National Belonging.” Currently under review, the Sawyer Seminar would bring national and international topic experts to campus in the 2019/2020 academic year. In order to prepare well for that and to keep the discussion going after the Seminar, this Obermann Working Group will facilitate focused discussion on the scope and terrain of Latina/o/x Studies.

This year, the Latina/o/x Studies working group will focus attention on two tasks. Shared readings and discussion for the first 50-75 percent of the year will be oriented around cultivating a shared understanding of the history and conceptualization of Latina/o/x Studies as an intellectual formation. The group will read key texts like Keywords for Latina/o Studies, edited by Deborah R. Vargas, Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, and Nancy Raquel Mirabal (2017) and/or The Latino/a Condition, edited by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic (2010). 

If the Sawyer Seminar is funded, the remainder of this academic year will shift focus to some of the key themes the Seminar will engage: articulation (Stuart Hall), imaginaries (Juan Flores, Charles Taylor), and citizenship/national belonging (numerous scholars). Additional participants who may be part of the Sawyer Seminar group but not part of this working group would be invited to participate in those discussions of Seminar-specific themes. If the Sawyer Seminar is not funded, then the group will begin workshopping participants’ scholarship by reading and commenting on works-in-progress.

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.  

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)

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.

Scholarship of Public Engagement


Now in its sixth 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.

Photo of desk with papers lettered with different scripts, languages

Systems of Writing & Notation


The goal of this working group is to initiate a broadly interdisciplinary, campus-wide conversation about the histories, multifarious forms, complex dynamics, and social impacts of writing systems in the broadest sense. This is important because the history of writing constitutes the “deep history” of our current digital age, which brings into sharp relief systemic tendencies that are characteristic of notation systems as such and can be better understood if seen in that context.

The group's inquiry focuses on cultural technologies of notation—from the various ways of writing different languages (logographic, alphabetic, etc.), music and math notation, semasiography, khipus, pictographs, all the way to computer programming and AI. Members will be comparing diverse types of notations and ask how they differ functionally from each other. What decisions does each system make about what it notates, and hence what it cannot notate, and how does each design shape how we interface with it, and thus our use of the notation? How do these systems affect the development of what they appear to only “write down”? How do they shape our perceptions of language, music, etc.? How does literacy change the organization of societies where it is introduced? How does literacy change our very brains? What cultural and social developments do they set in motion, and with what consequences—both intended and unintended? How does writing—differently in different cultures and histories—function as a tool for social control?

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.

Incarcerated man in a classroom, listening to teacher lecture

UI Liberal Arts Beyond Bars College in Prison Program


During Spring 2019, the UI LABB Working Group will create and develop a five-year strategic plan for the UI LABB program, outlining budget, program development, faculty recruitment and retention, and fundraising. If you would like to learn more about this working group, please contact the directors: heather-erwin@uiowa.edukathrina-litchfield@uiowa.edu