Director’s Corner Feb 10, 2016

2015-16 is an exciting year for the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook University (HISB). Our theme, Race Matters:  Understanding a Global Crisis, has produced an exciting schedule of speakers, conferences and symposia on issues of importance to us all.  In the fall of 2015, HISB co-cosponsored a conference on the late Stuart Hall with Columbia and Barnard, making for a dynamic discussion that pushed at the limits of Hall’s thinking to take it in new directions. Scholars from Art, Film, Literature and History, as well as Sociology and Media Culture converged to talk about the ways in which Hall’s work had brokered their own, both coming up in the academy and as established researchers and scholars. October brought two truly ground-breaking events to our spaces:  ‘From the Color Line to The Carceral State:  Prisons, Policing and Surveillance in the 20th and 21st centuries’ and ‘Beyond Equiano:  Varieties of Blackness in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Ocean Worlds.’  ‘The Carceral State’ brought together seven of the nation’s leading scholars to examine the historical roots and present-day consequences of mass incarceration; speakers such as Robert Chase (the organizer and fellow History Dept Faculty member) and Kelly Hernandez  (UCLA) have since appeared in the public media to talk about this crisis. The two-day symposium ’Varieties of Blackness’ brought together a number of historians and literary critics to explore the roles of African peoples, practices and representations within the global circuits created by Euro-American trade and colonization, 1500-1800. Coming after ‘The Carceral State,’ it helped us understand the long roots of racializing regimes, the consequences of which continue to make themselves felt. This semester we are also continuing our exploration of the concept and politics of Indigeneity in present-day and historical settings. Audra Simpson from Columbia will give a lecture on March 10 entitled “We are Not Red Indians” (We Might all Be Red Indians): Anticolonial Sovereignty Across the Borders of Time, Place and Sentiment; and on April 15, Shinnecock and African-American leaders and scholars will meet to discuss the History of Whaling on Long Island. Long a preserve of these two communities, their historic roles in the whaling community and the ecology of Long Island will be at the center of discussions. Thanks to Jennifer Anderson from History for organizing this symposium!

This year we have the singular pleasure of hosting the feminist writer and scholar Dr. Naomi Wolf. Her seminar series “The Public Intellectual,” not to mention her individual coaching sessions, have helped shepherd the work of a number of SBU scholars into the public sphere and media. We have also been honored to host three Faculty Fellows over Fall ’15:  Donna Rilling (History), Andrew Newman (English) and Liz Montegary (Cultural Studies) whose presence and conversations enlivened our group discussions. The Fellows just gave the first of a series of seminars on their own research on ‘Landscape’—approached from a variety of critical and queer perspectives—that worked through ideas of landscape from Washington Irving and Rip Van Winkle to 19th century Philadelphia urban expansion and 21st century Provincetown tourism. We are also pleased to be able to host, thanks to funding from the New York Council on the Humanities, two Public Humanities Fellows graduate students who are organizing events and outreach on two different fronts: Alison Locke is creating a Shakespeare Word Bank for non-native English speakers; and Alena Veller is working on constructing a 9/11 memorial in conjunction with survivors of the disaster.  So many intellectuals, so little time! We embrace the chaos.

Three more things to draw to your attention. The first is the series of lectures and workshops being organized by the Humanities for the Environment group, based in English, History and Sustainability, which broach a number of topics that all seem to include avoiding climate apocalypse. Watch for their acronym, HFE, on posters and the Calendar to keep up with the activities of this committed and dynamic group.

The second is the formation of the Humanities Undergraduate Club, which had its first meeting Feb. 9, and will meet again March 9 at 12 noon, in our seminar space. This undergraduate group includes both science and humanities majors who are interested in interfacing their studies with Public Humanities issues and events, while also offering opportunities to get to know other Humanities Majors and Minors who may, or may not, be headed for law and medical schools! We are currently sponsoring a competition for a new name and logo for the club. Please come on March 9!

The third is that our theme next year is Histories of the Future—a focus that will continue with both our Race Matters and QFT* themes, but which will also branch out in new directions to include Shakespeare’s Time, Romanticism’s Future, Queer Futurities, and the Caribbean Cosmopolis. We are avidly seeking input from our constituencies on campus about what other kinds of events we can put on. One we’ve been talking about is a ‘Theory Slam’—a kind of un-conference, in which panelists will each speak for five minutes about a topic or issue of importance to their work. Please send us your suggestions and ideas!

In closing, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what was perhaps the most momentous development of our year, the return of Adrienne Unger as Program Coordinator at HISB. The power before and behind the throne, she describes her job as ‘making everyone look good’ and this she does with grace and aplomb. Thank you, Adrienne, for your hard work and stellar organizational skills. I also want to thank Gabrielle Valle, our work-study student, as well as our indispensable GAs, Victoria Febrer, Tanya Robinson and Jordan Helin, who undertake the many tasks of publicity, video recording, and otherwise helping to run our Institute. They rock!

We all look forward to seeing you at HISB events!

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