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Fellows Lectures Archive (2008-2009)

Public Blackness: Racial Practice, Print Publicity and Governmentality in the U.S., 1793 – 1828

In this lecture I investigate the practice of what I call “public blackness” in the U.S. north from 1793 – 1828 as it relates to the production of racial categories as a means of politics both in the past and in contemporary historiography. Through an historical ethnography of the enactment of public blackness as a political technology in pamphlets, newspapers and broadsides, I show how racial practice was/is a constitutive component of U.S. political culture and served as a means for the on-going production of disciplined political subjects (otherwise known as citizens).

Corey Capers is Assistant Professor of History and African American Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 2004 and was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University in 2005 before joining the UIC faculty in 2006. His research has been supported by an Irvine Memorial Dissertation Fellowship from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


Slave, Cyborg, Vampire: The Speculative Fiction of Octavia Butler

The period since the 1970s has seen an outpouring of novels that draw on genres such as fantasy, ghost story, or science fiction to revisit the history of slavery. What makes these novels particularly notable is their break from the realist narrative conventions that have governed African-American literature since its inception in the antebellum fugitive slave narratives. This paper will attempt to historicize this phenomenon, exploring the following questions: What unique understanding of the past of slavery is made available by the choice of non-realist genres? How does this understanding differ from that offered by earlier, realist novels of slavery that were published during the 1960s? Does the choice of speculative fiction involve any particular disposition toward the history and historiography of slavery? Most importantly, why does the genre of speculative fictions of slavery emerge during the late-twentieth century, and what can it tell us about black political hopes and aspirations in the post-Civil Rights period? While focusing on the work of Octavia Butler, this paper will refer to a range of speculative novels of slavery by authors including Stephen Barnes, Charles Johnson, Toni Morrison, Phyllis Alesia Perry, and Ishmael Reed.

Madhu Dubey is Professor of English and African American Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She taught at Northwestern University and Brown University before joining the UIC Faculty in 2002. Her publications include Black Women Novelists and the Nationalist Aesthetic (Indiana University Press, 1994) and Signs and Cities: Black Literary Postmodernism (University of Chicago Press, 2003) as well as numerous articles.


Robust Immoralism:Why Some (Morally) Bad Art Is So Good

This paper examines one aspect of the vexed relationship between aesthetics and morality. It argues for Immoralism, the idea that works of art can in specifiable cases be aesthetically improved by their moral flaws. To this I append the converse thesis, that works of art can in specifiable cases be aesthetically flawed because of their moral virtues. I make substantial use of examples from popular culture, the history of art, and literature.

Anne Eaton is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She received her Ph.D. in Philosophy and Art History from the University of Chicago in 2003, and taught at Bucknell University before joining the UIC faculty in 2005. She has published several articles on the intersections of aesthetics, ethics, philosophy, and feminism. Her research has been supported by a Jacob K Javits Fellowship, the Franke Institute at the University of Chicago, a Laurence Rockefeller Fellowship at Princeton University, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, among others.


Between Tradition and Revolution: Women, Communism, and Industrialization in Postwar Poland

This paper examines women’s experiences of totalitarianism in two different industrial centers in Stalinist Poland (1950-1955): the traditional working-class textile town of Zyrardów near Warsaw, and the newly-built cotton factory in Zambrów (eastern Poland). Each case exemplifies clashes between the radically new norms imposed from above and the existing local and national traditions. Despite the communist commitment to equality both cases suggest that gender difference remained a primary way of demarcating and understanding social hierarchies in postwar Poland. At the same time, women used state-sponsored gender ideology to resist state policies or to carve spaces for new freedoms, including economic independence and sexual autonomy.

Malgorzata Fidelis is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Malgorzata received her Ph.D. from the Stanford University in 2006 and joined the UIC faculty that year. She has published several articles and book chapters. Her research has been supported by a Mellon Dissertation Fellowship from Stanford University.


Dietro le quinte della scrittura: studio di taccuini pirandelliani ( The Backstage of Writing: Two Pirandello Working Notebooks)

When, in 1927, Pirandello published the third edition of his first novel L’ esclusa (whose first draft dates back to 1893), he further revised it in an effort to bring its content and style closer to his groundbreaking theatrical works of the 1920s. In my presentation, I will analyze the paratextual role of two Pirandello manuscripts, which bring testimony of the latest stages of this revision process. The two documents under consideration (which, in line with Genette, I consider pre-texts), will also function as pretexts for a broader genetic analysis of the long editorial history of L’ esclusa. I will discuss how shifts and additions to the earlier versions of the novel reflect the evolution of Pirandello’s relativistic take on social behavior and challenge to established ethical codes

Cristina Gragnani is Assistant Professor of Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She received her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2002, teaching at John Cabot University in Rome before joining the UIC faculty in 2005. She is the co-author and annotator of Taccuino de Harvard (Mondadori, 2002) as well as a number of articles and chapters.


“Antebellum Alternative Histories of the Civil War”

This presentation explores a new and previously unexamined category within American literature, one in which nineteenth-century authors imaginatively anticipated the Civil War as early as thirty years before the actual war occurred. The novels at the core of my study devise striking literary representations of alternative futures which differ dramatically from the Civil War that ultimately transpired. Although these novels were appealing and even plausible to antebellum readers, their cultural and political power has been obscured by the harsh reality of history itself. These nineteenth-century novelists/political activists not only introduce contingency into our thinking about the Civil War but also afford us an unusual opportunity to explore scenarios that significantly challenge or differently interpret the conventional wisdom of an “irrepressible conflict” between two opposing systems of free and slave labor. Several of the authors, while identifying with the South through kinship and geographic attachments, nevertheless offer incisive critiques of their own section’s political and economic weaknesses, social liabilities, and cultural deficiencies. I demonstrate that these political novelists’ literary productions, in conjunction with other writings of theirs, reveal much more complex and nuanced constellations of allegiances, ones which simultaneously allow us to disentangle their insights from their assumed sectional motives, and more particularly view their novels as practicing covert forms of resistance to conservative Southern ideology, while shielding their intimations of Southern dysfunction from Northern view. By so doing, we learn to revise our views about the conservatism of the antebellum Southern culture and to view these novels not as fantasies of triumph, but rather as “war by other means”, that is, literature as a form of guerrilla warfare.

Robin Grey is Associate Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is the author of The Complicity of Imagination: The American Renaissance, Contests of Authority, and Seventeenth-Century English Culture (Cambridge University Press, 1997) and editor and contributor for Melville and Milton: Essays and Edition of Melville’s Annotations on Milton (Duquesne University Press, 2004), as well as numerous articles and chapters. Her research has been supported by the American Council of Learned Societies and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, among others. She has also received several teaching awards.


Building Identity: Architecture and Cultural Interaction in a Medieval Mediterranean Society

In this talk, I will present the ancient Greek word methexis (participation, communion) as a new way to conceptualize group and artistic interactions, as opposed to such formulations as “hybrid” or “syncretic.” Stemming from ancient sources such as Plato and Aristotle as well modern philosophers and cultural historians, my methectic model poses the possibility of the simultaneous distinction and yet sharing of group values, relevant in multiple situations and settings. I then apply the term to the question of identity and the architecture of the thirteenth-century, post-Fourth Crusade churches of the Greek Peloponnesos, or Morea. These were built, adapted and used by a mixed Orthodox Byzantine and Latin Frankish population, and demonstrate the shifting visual meanings of architecture in this methectic culture.

Heather Grossman is Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She received her Ph.D. from University of Pennsylvania in 2004 and joined the UIC faculty in 2005. She has several articles in progress. Her research has been supported by numerous awards and fellowships, including those from the Archaeological Institute of America, the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, the Anatolian Civilizations Institute at Koç University in Istanbul, and the Program in Hellenic Studies at Princeton University.


Tri-Faith America: How Post-World War II Catholics and Jews Helped Protestant America Live Up to its Promise

During the 1940s and 1950s, many Americans needed to find a way to balance the unity demanded by two wars (one hot and one cold) and to honor the diversity inherent in the American project. Religion was the obvious vehicle for this diversity-within-unity, and the period witnessed the creation of the image of Tri-Faith America, a nation evenly balanced by Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. Living in Tri-Faith America was more of a challenge than most Americans had imagined however, and the result of the struggles of Catholics and Jews to fit into mainstream America while not belittling their faith led to the codification of state proceduralism and the separation of church and state, two ramifications we live with today. This talk will discuss the conscious creation of Tri-Faith America before turning to some peoples’ experiences living in it.

Kevin Schultz is Assistant Professor of History and Catholic Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Kevin received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in 2005, and was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture from 2005-07 before joining the UIC faculty. In addition to publishing numerous essays and chapters, he has one book forthcoming in 2009, “Exploring America’s Past: A U.S. History Primer” (Wadsworth Learning), and one book in progress, “The First Multiculturalists: Catholics and Jews in Postwar America”. His research has been supported by a Jacob K Javits Fellowship, among others.