Humanities Center Director: Thomas Wilson

Interdisciplinary Collaboration projects in the Humanities, 2020-2021

Boundaries and Transgressions of a Comparative Race Project

Faculty participants: Mackenzie Cooley (History) and Mariam Durrani (Anthropology)

Empire, colonialism, and the visions of race they produced predate modern nations. Linguistically linked to Renaissance animal breeding projects, the modern language of race used in Romance languages and Anglophone countries is tied to a specific history of European imperial expansion and its devastating exploitation and oppression of indigenous communities and the institutionalization of African slavery. From the vantage point of American academia, the United States’ history of race and racism seems to teach important lessons for understanding other repressive regimes across different times and places. But how unique or comparable are racisms? Is race and racism part of a universal, emergent system of oppression that produces similar results across cultures and languages? Or, is it culturally specific, produced to the most terrible effect by the legacy of European empires in the early modern period and subsequent modernity? What might be gained by thinking about comparative structures of repression through race across the globe and what local specificities might be lost if one vision of race derived from a specific national paradigm is unilaterally applied to other regions and times?

Remaking the Rural

Faculty participants: Ruth W. Lo (Architectural History) and Priya R. Chandrasekaran (Anthropology)

“Remaking the Rural” is a series of public humanities collaboration between two courses, “Architecture and the Environment,” taught by Professor Ruth Lo and “Examining Rurality” taught by Professor Priya Chandrasekaran, in Spring 2021. Until recently, scholarship on architecture and in environmental studies has focused primarily on cities. Our courses and this event series pivots towards the rural, an often-overlooked realm whose political, socioeconomic, and environmental transformations seriously affect human lives and permeate the global landscape. This interdisciplinary collaboration aims to foster rich, cross-disciplinary discussions on changes in rural territories; these might include: agricultural practices, technology farming, petroleum infrastructure, data storage facilities, solar farms, fulfilment centers, waste disposal sites, rural populism, rural identity, peasant movements, and state-sanctioned racial projects. The main event will be a forum on the topic of milk, for which we will convene scholars, local farmers, policymakers, organization leaders, artists, and/or activists to address timely topics, including, for example, how/why white nationalism in the US is being expressed through milk consumption, terroir (esp. of cheese) and class, climate impacts of dairy farming, and the infrastructure and logistics of shipping milk. As we intend to draw speakers from New York and New England (though not solely), this collaboration will also enable students and other members of our community to study, analyze, and reflect on the area around Hamilton College. Our program will involve scholars as well as local practitioners, thus linking theory with practice. We also anticipate drawing connections with the inaugural Environmental Studies senior capstone project.

Interdisciplinary Collaboration projects in the Humanities, 2018-2019

Racial Formation and Migration

Faculty participants: Mariam Durrani (Anthropology) and Lisa Trivedi (History)

In this project, we explore the ways that contemporary public discourse on migration leads to new racial formations, and also the ways that these transformations reshape how the category of ‘White’ is assumed today. Historically, race and racialization in the United States are coded as discussions about non-White or Black bodies in White spaces. This project seeks to create a more nuanced understanding of contemporary racial formations in their emergent manifestations. Understanding how migrant populations from Central and South America, the Middle East, and Asia both challenge and reaffirm earlier racial hierarchies is critically important to the research of many faculty and to the education of our students.
As James Baldwin eloquently stated: "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced." As scholars and educators who seek to prepare our students for the 21st century, we must face how race and migration impact contemporary social and political life and, importantly, how we can create a more just and humane future for everyone.  We seek to attend to discussions that promote this common good in our society in the keeping with the promise of liberal arts education.

Imagining Race in Early Europe: from Antiquity to the Renaissance

Faculty participants: Stephanie Bahr (Literature), Katherine Terrell (Literature), Anne Feltovich (Classics), John Eldevil (History)

This series will illuminate conceptions of race and identity in Europe before the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, engaging questions like: how did early Europeans theorize what we now call ‘race’?; where and how did Europeans and non-Europeans encounter each other?; how did perceptions of race change from antiquity to the renaissance?; and how did people of color respond to, shape, and participate in European cultures, economies, and developing theories of difference?  Modern assumptions about the history of race in Europe often project onto the more distant past narratives of race that are distorted by the trans-Atlantic slave trade and white supremacy.  This series will disrupt such problematic narratives and offer the community a more vibrant and accurate picture of early theories of race and difference in Europe during antiquity, the middle ages, and renaissance.

Interdisciplinary Collaboration projects in the Humanities, 2017-2018

The Card Catalog Project seeks to deepen and broaden the relationship between the faculty and LITS at Hamilton by exploring the ways in which we gather, organize, protect, navigate, evaluate, and share information in the context of the liberal arts. From card catalogs and controlled vocabulary to Machine-Readable Cataloging and full text searching in Google -- how do these systems shape our perspectives and show us the world? The Card Catalog Project will encourage students, faculty, and staff, to consider the ways in which ancient, modern and contemporary systems of knowledge influence our lives.

The Project pursues its goals through a series of campus speakers and workshops that encourage us explore how various systems of knowledge enable us to realize the overlapping, interdependent, and exclusive knowledge practices that characterize the liberal arts. Using the card catalog (and the Library of Congress Classification system) as entry-point for discussion, faculty and staff address the campus community on the kinds of knowledge from their disciplinary position. We begin by presenting a historical overview of early cataloging continuing through to the Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress Classification systems. From here, we explore the impact of computing on the organization and access of information, covering topics such as Machine-Readable Cataloging, search algorithms, and the “filter bubble.” We hope to enable scholars of the book to appreciate the possibilities of metadata and those in quantitative fields to see how the systems of knowledge that structure their fields have ethical implications and limitations, as well as opportunities. The Card Catalog Project celebrates the Library as the center of the learning community also through two distinctive arts related workshops. The culminating event will be the presentation of the “3x5 Project” (community wide poetry project using discarded catalog cards) showcased as part of the First Year Course Conference in Burke Library. Lisa Forrest, Director, Research & Instructional Design and Lisa Trivedi, Professor of History

The Food Justice Project of Central New York: Issues of food justice are of local and national importance. Even as local and sustainable food becomes increasingly popular, large swaths of the population are left without access to these foods, isolated in so-called "food deserts." Hamilton is surrounded by farms, and our students have founded clubs devoted to Slow Food and fine dining. But ensuring community access to affordable, healthy food remains a logistical and ethical challenge. The Food Justice Project of Central New York seeks to bring together scholars and local farmers and activists–including one of our alumna, who has founded a nonprofit devoted to maintaining Utica’s community gardens–to discuss the theoretical and logistical challenges of creating a more equitable food system. Alex Plakias (Assistant Professor of Philosophy) and Julie Starr (Assistant Professor of Anthropology) will organize a number of events to address the question of food and access to it.

Interdisciplinary Collaboration projects in the Humanities, 2016-2017

Pavitra Sundar (Literature and Creative Writing) and Celeste Day Moore (History) will be convening a faculty seminar in Spring 2017 that will explore the interdisciplinary field of Sound Studies. Through shared readings, field trips, and guest speakers, faculty across the curriculum will come together to consider the cultural, aesthetic, and technological dimensions of aurality. Building on this seminar, we look forward to coordinating a public symposium on the global dimensions of sound and co-teaching an interdisciplinary course on Sound Histories. With its interdisciplinary approach and global emphasis, this Humanities seminar will not only bring together faculty, staff, and students who engage with sound from diverse perspectives, it will also dovetail with conversations happening across campus on structural and institutional hierarchies.

Tracy Cosgriff (Art History) and Andrew Rippeon (Literature and Creative Writing) will organize a series of interdisciplinary practica in the Spring of 2017 aimed at faculty and staff across the curriculum who are either already teaching with, through, or about “the book,” or who are interested in developing research and pedagogy relevant to “the book.”  The series will encourage faculty from an array of disciplines to consider how they may develop book-studies methodologies in their existing or proposed courses, and at the same time will ask faculty to consider how these methodologies drive faculty, staff, students, and even institutions to more broadly reconsider the very nature of “liberal arts.”