African American Literature Working Group
Contact: Nilofar Gardezi (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The African American Literature Working Group seeks to consider a more expansive approach to the African American literary tradition beyond its literary import and contributions. We approach literature as a lens to analyze the development of the American social landscape, particularly by foregrounding the interrelationships among literary, historical, cultural and political components of American society. Our aim is to reconsider the contributions of African American literature to American culture and society by encouraging reading beyond solely literary and mono-disciplinary lines and investigating the broader influences that shape and are shaped by African American literary production.
Animal Studies Working Group
Contact: Rasheed Tazudeen (email@example.com)
The emergent discipline of Animal Studies looks to both complicate the ways in which the demarcation between human and animal worlds has been achieved, maintained, enacted, and performed throughout history and to explore the ways in which animals and the human-animal relationship have been represented in discursive formations from the premodern fable to early cinema, Modernist literature, and most recently, televisual representations of wildlife such as National Geographic’s “Crittercam.” This working group will investigate the recent turn towards de-centering the humanist assumptions upon which much Western philosophical thought since Descartes has operated and explore the ways in which it allows us to reconceive the role of animals in philosophical, cultural, and literary history.
Contemporary Poetry and Poetics Working Group
Contact: Gillian Osborne (firstname.lastname@example.org), Jane Gregory (email@example.com), and Samia Rahimtoola (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Contemporary Poetry and Poetics Working Group (CPPWG) reads poems. We read old books of poetry and new books of poetry, but mostly the newest ones. Our discussions are aimed at understanding what poets are producing now, and why their work looks (and sounds and feels) the way it does.
Eighteenth Century Studies Working Group
Contact: Charity Ketz (email@example.com)
Our main objective is to foster interdisciplinary exchange between faculty and graduate students working in the long eighteenth century. The group meets monthly to discuss works of eighteenth-century moral philosophy, social history, political economy, poetry, fiction, and literary and art criticism. We host talks by distinguished scholars from within and without the UC system and, beginning in Fall 2011, will offer a forum for graduate students from UC Berkeley to present their work in progress.
Formalism Reading Group
Contact: Stephanie Bahr (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Despite formalism’s ever increasing discursive presence and its undeniable importance in the Humanities, formalism’s connotations, commitments and methodologies remain highly contested. The Formalism Working Group engages the many pressing questions the new discourse of formalism evokes. What is the relationship between formalism and new formalism? What are the intellectual commitments of these terms? Is new formalism truly a methodology or a movement? What is the relationship between formalism and new historicism? Formalism and Marxism? How can one practice formalism and what are the implications of this practice?
The goal of the Formalism Working Group is to bring together faculty and graduate students with an interest in formalism, new formalism, and formalist methodology.
Frankfurt School Working Group
Started in 2006, this group traces the works of what came to be known as the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory, comprising a loose constellation of figures around The Institute for Social Research. Given the school’s diverse practices of transformative thought, our group, too, tries different approaches each year: one year was devoted to just one text, Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory; another to shifting through various Marxist and Lukacian influences; another to parsing one concept – reification – by turning to sociologically-inflected theorists of public sphere from Weber to Habermas to Honneth, etc.
In the coming year, we plan to continue through this trajectory, approaching it this time by studying Benjamin’s theology of place and time. Our methods differ again from the past semesters in that we will pair Benjamin's writings with relevant critical essays. Given the connotations of theology as a system of thought as well as a reflection on the Absolute, we will examine how Benjamin’s writings on history and language gesture at the category of the unsayable, on that which posits its conditions of possibility only in itself. To study Benjamin’s theology is to study his response to metaphysics as a micrological examination of the material substances that compose reality. In other words, we will unpack the forms of writing in which Benjamin chooses to articulate phenomena and consider how those particular modes of articulation (paratactic, aphoristic, brief and unfinished), or the ways in which they are re-functionalized, are themselves an implicit reflection on the nature of art and philosophy. We will, in this light, consider the larger critical debates about the Messianic and Marxist/revolutionary versions of Benjamin.
History of the Book Working Group
Contact: Lynn Huang (email@example.com)
The Townsend-sponsored History of the Book Working Group meets to discuss a wide variety of topics related to this up and coming field: reading practices, the impact of print culture on the creation and transmission of knowledge, and the materiality of the text. Not surprisingly, we believe that this is a field that both underpins the history of many different kinds of knowledge and one with a potential to interest people in a variety of disciplines. Group members are working on subjects ranging from medieval scribal culture, through the rise of lending libraries, to the evolution of reading and writing technologies. History, art, economics, media studies, pedagogy, and material sciences are just some of the fields that are represented in charting the history of books and texts.
Mediating Natures Working Group
Contact: Juliana Chow (firstname.lastname@example.org), Maude Emerson (email@example.com), and Rebecca Gaydos (firstname.lastname@example.org)
"Mediating Natures" is a Townsend Center for the Humanities reading group. Our aim is to critically explore figurations of the environment employed by literary, scientific, and socio-political discourses. By taking seriously the relation between material and fictional ecologies, we propose an interdisciplinary examination of how relations between humans and nonhumans are negotiated. We invite students and scholars from all disciplines to attend our meetings.
Medievalisms Working Group
Contact: Marcos Garcia (email@example.com)
The "medieval" forms the object, not the subject, of our study.We are dedicated to exploring the Middle Ages outside the Middle Ages. From chess to Chaucer, the Crusades to the Vikings, and the parliament to the university, the legacy of the Middle Ages can be found almost everywhere in contemporary institutions and culture. We interrogate how medievalisms are produced discursively and how the fluid referent of the “medieval” is deployed across cultures and mediums for aesthetic and ideological purposes. From pop culture to high theory, the medieval as “other” produces periodizations that lay the foundations of cultural and institutional identities.Using the Middle Ages as a nexus, we aim to foster a dialogue between classicists, medievalists, and modernists. From a fundamentally interdisciplinary standpoint, we are committed to rethinking the divisions within and between departments based on these periodizations. Our biweekly reading group focuses on medievalism in many contexts: film, literature, and theory; reenactments, performances, and festivals; religion, politics, and law; poetry, music, and visual arts; tourism, Eurocentrism, and globalization.
Nineteenth Century and Beyond Working Group
Founded in 1995, the Nineteenth-Century and Beyond British Cultural Studies Working Group provides a forum for faculty and graduate students to discuss new research on the literature and culture of the long nineteenth century. Pre-circulated papers investigate issues of aesthetics, politics, history, theory, and other current sites of academic focus. We make a concerted effort to invite speakers whose research appeals to scholars in more than one discipline. Our focus on discourse analysis and questions of representation has proven particularly well suited to interdisciplinary study.
Phenomenology Working Group
Contact: Bradford Taylor (firstname.lastname@example.org), Christopher Patrick Miller (email@example.com), and R.D. Perry (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Townsend Center Phenomenology Working Group is our effort to bring phenomenology as an intellectual tradition to bear on important questions about ontology, epistemology, and experience as they arise in various disciplines in the humanities. We have planned another full year of readings which pursue these lines of inquiry while also engaging substantially with problems of ethics, aesthetics, and socio-political life. The next two semesters of bi-weekly meetings are organized loosely around the topics of “Phenomenological Foundations for Aesthetics” and “Phenomenology of Technê and Art Practice.”
Sound Studies Working Group
Contact: Serena Le (email@example.com)
In the last decade and a half, “sound studies” has been increasingly posited as an emergent field rich for interdisciplinary collaboration. This is not a new call; the turn to sound may be more accurately termed a return (one of many) or even an outright continuity, rooted in conceptions not only of what we can no longer hear—the language and mousikê of Ancient Greece, dead voices and lost melodies—but also of all we persist in hearing.
This working group brings together a diverse community of scholars, artists, and performers interested in sound and its contexts. Topics for our twice-monthly discussions and guest speaker presentations include (but are not limited to) cross-cultural work on speech and audition, technological advances in recording and composition, and contemporary and historical approaches to literature, music, and media.
Transnational and Ethnic American Studies Working Group
Contact: Katie Fleishman (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Matt Langione (langione @berkeley.edu)
TEASWG, now in its ninth year, exists to create an interdisciplinary conversation about postcolonial and transnational methods of scholarly inquiry in American Studies. TEASWG provides a forum for addressing American literatures in the wider context of empire and globalization, but the group is also committed to examining these literatures in terms of their significance for American multicultural, comparative ethnic, indigenous, immigrant, and border studies. TEASWG meets regularly to engage critical texts through group discussion and sponsors a variety of talks by scholars in the field, as well as some co-sponsored interdisciplinary events throughout the year.