Collaborative Humanities

The Collaborative Humanities Initiative promotes collaborative practices that expand or transform modes of research, teaching, and learning in the humanities and across disciplines. Through dedicated events and courses, the Initiative fosters an expanded sense of intellectual community for scholars and students dedicated to thinking together across disciplines, frameworks, and locations. Read more.

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Previous Events

  • October 2, 2020

    What might a decolonial understanding of chemical exposures look like? While concepts like the Anthropocene scale environmental violence up to the planetary level — treating the chemical pollutant and the human body as the same everywhere — this talk took a non-universalizing approach to chemical violence and its relations to land and bodies. Focusing on the history of Canada’s Chemical Valley and the world’s oldest running oil refinery, this talk asked how the specificity of chemical exposures can be understood in relation to colonialism as well as Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee obligations to land on the lower Great Lakes. In so doing, it made the case for the need to rethink the assumptions of universalism and liberal humanism that undergird conventional environmental understandings.

    Michelle Murphy is Professor of History and Women and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto, Canada; Research Chair of Science and Technology Studies and Environmental Data Justice; and Director of the Technoscience Research Unit. Her current research looks at chemical pollution and environmental data in Canada’s Chemical Valley, with a focus on the world’s oldest running oil refinery which sits on the land of Aamjiwnaang First Nation. Murphy’s most recent book is The Economization of Life (Duke University Press, 2017). She is Métis from Winnipeg.

    This event was presented as part of the Initiative for Environmental Humanities at Brown as well as the Collaborative Humanities Initiative.

    More Information Collaborative Humanities Initiative, Environmental Humanities, Humanities
  • May
    12:00pm - 4:30pm

    Collaborative Public Workshop

    Virtual event on May 8 and 9, 2020

    The 2020 Collaborative Public Workshop featured twelve interventions on a variety of topics including, among others, African American and Black history, deforestation and the environment, settler colonialism, the history and theory of political emancipation, ethical and political claims of aesthetic practices, and experiences of life under duress. The speakers are graduate students in Africana Studies, American Studies, Anthropology, German Studies, Music and Multimedia Composition, Political Science, Portuguese and Brazilian Studies, and Religious Studies. Each panel included commentaries from guests Stephen Best (University of California, Berkeley) and Jeremy Gilbert (University of East London) and from Brown University faculty members Andre Willis (Religious Studies) and Patricia Ybarra (Theatre Arts and Performance Studies), as well as a Q&A period.

    Schedule, speaker bios, and presentation abstracts.

    The Collaborative Public Workshop concluded the capstone seminar of the Doctoral Certificate in Collaborative Humanities. Participants developed and workshopped a paper over the course of the semester while studying a number of collateral academic roles: they nominated and introduced a text to the seminar that was formative for their scholarly development; they served as first questioners for papers workshopped by others; and they interviewed one of their peers and prepared an introduction to his or her work. By providing training and preparation for roles that are crucial to the practice and fabric of academic life, yet are seldom the object of formal study and reflection, the course reimagined the conditions and extended the limits of an interdisciplinary and collaborative research space.

    This virtual event was co-organized and moderated by Timothy Bewes, Professor of English and Interim Director of the Cogut Institute for the Humanities, and Brian Meeks, Professor and Chair of Africana Studies at Brown University.

    More Information Collaborative Humanities Initiative, Conference, Humanities, Social Sciences
  • Topography, from topos, is the practice of describing place through language, the features of the land, the inhabitants, and the accumulation of history. Specific to locality and the perspective of the person delineating, describing, or collecting materials, topography counters the worldliness of geography while also offering a potential tool to multiply singular approaches. Over a day-long workshop, approaches to place from Indigenous and European perspectives and interrogate the frame of ‘topography’ in global contexts were examined. Working with special collections, the day included three talks and object viewing sessions that focused  on the Americas, the Middle East, South Asia, and Europe, and included descriptions of military campaigns, fortifications, settlements, urban cartographies, city views, forests and hunts, palaces, religious structures, markets, peoples, coastal views, weather, maps, and more.

    The workshop was organized by Holly Shaffer (History of Art & Architecture, Brown University), Cynthia Roman (The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University), Neil Safier (The John Carter Brown Library, Brown University), and Shahzad Bashir (Religious Studies, Brown University).

    Session 1: 10:00 am – 1:00 pm (John Carter Brown Library)

    John Lopez (Assistant Professor of Art History, University of California-Davis), “Renaissance Cartography and the Mapping of the Environmental Crisis at Viceregal Mexico City”
    When the Spanish founded Mexico City in 1524, they inherited from the Aztec an island site that flooded. After following in the footsteps of their pre-Columbian predecessor, by rebuilding the hydraulic web of causeways, dikes, and floodgates, Spanish colonial authorities sought an alternative solution to the city’s propensity to inundate. In 1607, the cartographer-turned-hydraulic engineer Enrico Martínez implemented the desagüe, an engineering project to drain the lakes that surrounded the city into the Gulf of Mexico. As part of his response to environmental crisis, Martínez produced Descripción de la comarca de México i obra del desagüe de la laguna. Martínez’s map represents a defining moment in Mexico City’s history because it is the first drawing made by a professional mapmaker in the service of flood control. Made under the guise of environmental concern and technological prowess, Descripción de la comarca de México aids understanding how flooding was a problem posed by New World nature to Renaissance cartographic analysis, where science and mathematical abstraction were mobilized to end Mexico City’s centuries-old problem of chronic flooding.

    Samira Sheikh (Associate Professor of History and Asian Studies, Vanderbilt University), “The Languages of Gujarati Maps”
    Terrestrial maps produced in Gujarat in the 18th century drew from and “translated” cartographic vocabularies available in this highly connected and trade-rich province of the Mughal empire. With the extension of the East India Company’s influence over Gujarat, local mapmakers veered towards conventions that often looked European on the surface. In response, Samira Sheikh argued that Gujarati cartography, informed by religious, maritime, scientific, and painterly conventions, was in fact the site of multiple, cross-cutting translation projects.

    Ünver Rüstem (Assistant Professor of History of Art, Johns Hopkins University), “Mapping Cosmopolitanism: An Eighteenth-Century Printed Ottoman Atlas and the Turn to Baroque”
    In 1732, İbrahim Müteferrika — founder in Istanbul of the first Turkish-language Ottoman printing press — published the Cihānnümā, an illustrated world atlas filled with copperplate maps. While in some ways replicating the art of traditional manuscripts, the Cihānnümā’s makers derived their maps from European printed atlases, even adapting the latter’s Baroque cartouches. Ünver Rüstem discussed these cartouches as sites for the emergence of a distinctly Ottoman reinterpretation of the Baroque that anticipated by several years the use of the same mode in Istanbul’s public architecture. Focusing on the plates signed by the Armenian engraver Mıgırdıç, Ünver Rüstem highlighted the special role of non-Muslim Ottomans in mapping this global style onto the empire’s visual culture.

    “Viewing Urban Cartographies” with Bertie Mandelblatt (Curator of Maps and Prints, John Carter Brown Library)

    Lunch break: 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm

    Session 2: 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm, John Hay Library

    “Viewing the Minassian Collection” with Shahzad Bashir (Aga Khan Professor of Islam and the Humanities, Brown University) and Holly Shaffer (Assistant Professor of History of Art & Architecture, Brown University), and graduate students in  Tracing Translations (HMAN 2400R)

    “Viewing the Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection” with Peter Harrington (Curator of the Military Collection, John Hay Library)

    This workshop was sponsored by the Cogut Institute for the Humanities, the John Carter Brown Library, the John Hay Library, and the Lewis Walpole Library; it was part of the programming for the Collaborative Humanities course, Tracing Translations: Artistic Migrations and Reinventions in the Early Modern World, and was part of a series on topography organized by the Lewis Walpole Library at Yale University.

    More InformationRegistration for this event is now closed. Collaborative Humanities Initiative, Early Modern World
  • Guest seminar open to Brown University members, presented as part of the collaborative humanities course “The Idea of the University” taught by Gerhard Richter and Peter Szendy. To attend this special seminar please register at this link:  (You must be logged into your Brown University email account to access the form.) Reading material will be pre-circulated to registered attendees.

    Silvia Federici is Emerita Professor of Political Philosophy and International Studies at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. In 1972 she was among the founders of the International Feminist Collective, the organization that launched the Campaign for Wages for Housework in the United States and abroad. She has also been active in the anti-globalization and the anti-death penalty movements and was a founding member of the Committee for Academic Freedom in Africa, which for more than a decade documented the struggle of African students against the austerity programs imposed by the IMF and the World Bank on their countries.

    Federici is the author of many essays on political philosophy, feminist theory, cultural studies, and education. Among her published works are The New York Wages for Housework Committee: Theory, History, Documents 1972–1977 (Duke University Press, 2017), co-edited with Arlen Austin; Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle (PM Press, 2012); and Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation (AK Press, 2004).

    More Information Collaborative Humanities Initiative, Humanities
  • Guest seminar open to Brown University members, presented as part of the collaborative humanities course “The Idea of the University” taught by Gerhard Richter and Peter Szendy. To attend this special seminar please register at this link: (You must be logged into your Brown University email account to access the form.) Reading material will be pre-circulated to registered attendees. 

    Alexander García Düttmann, an internationally renowned scholar, writer, and critic, is Professor of Philosophy and the Theory of Art at the University of the Arts in Berlin, Germany. He has also taught at the University of Essex (U.K.), Monash University (Australia), New York University, Middlesex University, Goldsmiths College (London, U.K.), and the Royal College of Art. Among his most recent books are Participation: Awareness of Semblance (Konstanz University Press, 2011); Naïve Art: An Essay on Happiness (August Verlag, 2012); What Does Art Know? For an Aesthetics of Resistance (Konstanz University Press, 2015); What Is Contemporary Art? On Political Ideology (Konstanz University Press, 2017); and Love Machine: The Origin of the Work of Art (Konstanz University Press, 2018). He is also the editor of the French edition of Jacques Derrida’s Theory and Practice, a previously unpublished seminar by Derrida on Marx (Éditions Galilée, 2017).

    More Information Collaborative Humanities Initiative, Humanities
  • This conference took up the intersections between critical race theory, affect theory, and poetics as a way of exploring how the formal innovation and experimentation engaged in by poets of color is connected in complex and myriad ways to the contexts that shape their production and reception — contexts in which structures of race play a significant role. It does so by addressing the soft boundaries that connect aesthetic expressions of racialized affect found in works by poets such as Berssenbrugge and Rankine and the various theoretical frameworks of affect theory associated with thinkers like Ahmed, Deleuze, Fanon, and Tomkins. In so doing, Feeling Its Presence staged an engagement with the powerful argument that Dorothy Wang makes in her book Thinking Its Presence on behalf of a historically sensitive mode of critical formalism attuned to the relationship between poetic form and “the larger social, historical, and political contexts that produced the poet’s subjectivity.”

    The scholars presenting their work were graduate students enrolled in the collaborative humanities seminar “Theories of Affect: Poetics of Expression Through and Beyond Identity” (HMAN 2400K) taught by Daniel Kim and Ada Smailbegovic. The conference concluded, appropriately enough, with a lecture by Dorothy Wang, Professor of American Studies at Williams College and the author of Thinking its Presence: Form, Race and Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry (Stanford University Press, 2014).


    Thursday, May 9, 2019
    8:30 AM – 9:00 AM Morning Coffee
    9:00 AM – 9:15 AM Opening Remarks
    9:15 AM – 11:00 AM Panel 1: Migrant Orientations: Dislocation, Materiality, Transfiguration

    Thomas Dai • “Vagrant Acts: The Poetics of Jenny Xie and Kai Carlson-Wee”
    MJ Cunniff • “‘Scarlet itself is matter:’ Lyric Perceptibility in Mei-mei Berssenbrugge”
    Katey Preston • “‘Gold or Gold-Coloured:’ Transfiguration in Mercedes Eng’s Prison Industrial Complex Explodes

    11:00 AM – 11:15 AM Break
    11:15 AM – 1:00 PM Panel 2: Dictee

    Ashley Dun • “The Corpus of Exile in Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Visual Texts”
    Kelsey-Yichi Ma • “Vulnerability and the Invulnerable Narrative: The Second Person in Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee
    Erin Prior • “‘Stand as a run stands:’ Identity as Epistemology in Theresa Cha’s Dictee

    1:00 PM – 2:00 PM Lunch Break
    2:00 PM – 3:45 PM Panel 3: Affective Bodies

    Noah Brooksher • “Poetics, Ethics, Contingency: The Letter of the Future, or the Future as Letter”
    Mariam Abou-Kathir • “‘The Body’s Crime of Living:’ Epic Temporality and Generational Trauma in Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds
    Amber Vistein • “Stuck in the Throat: Theorizing Oral Expressivity in Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric

     3:45 pm – 4:00 pm Break 
     4:00 pm – 5:30 pm Dorothy Wang • “English Poetry and the ‘Afterlife’ of Colonialism”
    5:30 pm – 6:30 pm Reception

    This event, presented as part of the Collaborative Humanities Initiative, was co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, the Departments of American Studies, Comparative Literature, English, and Modern Culture and Media, the Malcolm S. Forbes Center for Culture and Media Studies, and the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women.

    More Information Collaborative Humanities Initiative, Conference, Humanities
  • Apr

    April 26, 2019

    The Collaborative Public Workshop concluded a capstone seminar for the Graduate Certificate in Collaborative Humanities. The seminar, HMAN 2500: Project Development Workshop, was taught in spring 2019 by Amanda Anderson, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Humanities and English, and Tamara Chin, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and East Asian Studies.

    Over the course of the semester, participants in the seminar developed and workshopped a paper central to their core doctoral work. In addition, all participants performed a number of diverse roles: they nominated and then introduced a text that was formative for their scholarly development; they served as first questioners for papers workshopped by others; and they interviewed one of their peers and prepared a formal introduction of their work. The course provided training for roles that are crucial to the form and quality of academic and public life but that are seldom an object of study and practice in themselves.

    The conference featured talks by anthropologist Rosalind Morris (Columbia University) and political scientist Corey Robin (Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center) as well as Brown University graduate students Chris DiBona (Religious Studies), Aaron Jacobs (History), Nechama Juni (Religious Studies), Irina Kalinka (Modern Culture and Media), Pedro Lopes de Almeida (Portuguese and Brazilian Studies), Stephen Marsh (English), Caleb Murray (Religious Studies), N’Kosi Oates (Africana Studies), Urszula Rutkowska (English) and Jan Tabor (German Studies).

    Brown University faculty Melvin Rogers, Associate Professor of Political Science, and Ellen Rooney, Royce Family Professor of Teaching Excellence in English and Modern Culture and Media, served as respondents along with Rosalind Morris and Corey Robin.

    Read the full program

    This event was presented as part of the Collaborative Humanities Initiative.


    More Information Collaborative Humanities Initiative, Conference, Humanities, Social Sciences
  • October 26 and 27, 2018

    In South Asian art, the distinction between the “secular” and the “religious,” further complicated by the “spiritual,” has been fraught with contestations. In this symposium, art historians, historians, and philosophers examined the entanglement of art history’s categories and practices with the politics of the present. The symposium positioned itself at the cusp of two dominant discourses: (i) the lingering Orientalist and nationalist projections that emphasize the “religious” nature of South Asian artistic traditions as against Western secularization; (ii) the assertion of the place of art within the modern secular life of nations, which posits the transitions of objects from earlier religious to new artistic denominations.

    Speakers and Participants: Amanda Anderson, Brown University; Ariella Azoulay, Brown University; Akeel Bilgrami, Columbia University; Iftikhar Dadi, Cornell University; Finbarr Barry Flood, New York University; Tapati Guha-Thakurta, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, and Cogut Institute; Kajri Jain, University of Toronto; Santhi Kavuri-Bauer, San Francisco State University; Sonal Khullar, University of Washington, Seattle; Jinah Kim, Harvard University; Leora Maltz-Leca, Rhode Island School of Design; Saloni Mathur, UCLA; Sumathi Ramaswamy, Duke University; Tamara Sears, Rutgers University; Kavita Singh, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; Foad Torshizi, Rhode Island School of Design; Laura Weinstein, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Karin Zitzewitz, Michigan State University.

    Schedule, abstracts, speaker bios, and recorded talks.

    Co-organized by Tapati Guha-Thakurta and Vazira Zamindar, the symposium was presented by the Cogut Institute for the Humanities as part of its Collaborative Humanities Initiative and by the Center for Contemporary South Asia of the Watson Institute as part of Art History from the South.

    More Information Arts, Performance, Collaborative Humanities Initiative, Conference, History, Cultural Studies, Languages, Humanities in the World, Humanities
  • Oct 17, 8:00 pm | FREE
    Martinos Auditorium, Granoff Center for the Creative Arts

    An exploration of historical media featuring groundbreaking works, including Conlon Nancarrow’s Studies for Player Piano, György Ligeti’s Poème Symphonique (for 100 metronomes), John Cage’s Williams Mix (for eight simultaneously played independent magnetic tape machines) and Butch Rovan’s Winding Up

    Presented by Brown Arts Initiative and Cogut Institute for the Humanities.

    More Information Arts, Performance, Collaborative Humanities Initiative, Humanities
  • Students of the Collaborative Humanities Seminar led by Adi Ophir and Peter Szendy (“It’s About Time: Temporalities of Waiting in Theory, Literature, and Film,” HMAN 2400G), will present a staged collective reading of selected passages from Franz Kafka’s The Castle (trans. Anthea Bell [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009]). By working on the length, speed, and duration of the passages, as well as on the alternating of the reading voices, they will experiment with a performative approach to the analysis of temporality in the novel.

    More Information Collaborative Humanities Initiative, Humanities
  • A screening of Lars von Trier’s 2011 film Melancholia, in which two sisters find their already strained relationship challenged as a mysterious new planet threatens to collide with Earth. The film stars Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Kiefer Sutherland. Peter Szendy, David Herlihy Professor of Humanities and Comparative Literature, will give a short introduction. This screening is presented as part of the collaborative humanities seminar “It’s About Time: Temporalities of Waiting in Theory, Literature, and Film” taught by Peter Szendy and Adi Ophir. 

    More Information Arts, Performance, Collaborative Humanities Initiative, Humanities