2023-24 Seminars

The Center for Humanistic Inquiry offers up to $2,500 to support seminars for humanities-oriented research at Amherst. Seminars include between four and fifteen participants and meet periodically throughout the school year. Activities include writing workshops, reading groups, and guest lectures.

Black Art

Black art exists and flourishes in a context riven by contradiction and possibility. Even as Black art, aesthetics, and styles dominate mainstream culture, structural and personal racism in White America, “elite” arts and cultural organizations devalue and exploit Black arts and artists. This research seminar elevates the work of Black artists and Black art across the visual and performing arts as we understand the conditions of Black creative possibility in and beyond American life. Through this intellectual/scholarly and creative space, we will co-curate and organize an interdisciplinary, intersectional, and intergenerational space for knowledge sharing and community-building among Black artists.

Organized by Jallicia Jolly (Black Studies) and Raffeal Sears (Theater and Dance)

Crossing Cabinets: Collecting and Disseminating Across Material Boundaries

How do the boundaries we set for cabinets and collections affect our ability to effectively use them for research, teaching, and public outreach? Should books be next to books? Fossils next to fossils? 19th century objects next to synchronous objects? Works on the history of collecting have shown that “unexpected” or “forgotten” mosaics of objects—from different times and of disparate kinds— have underpinned some of the most significant developments in science and culture. This group investigates how to further support the specialized institutions built for preservation of such objects whilst generating the juxtapositional plasticity needed to create novel stories, or recreate forgotten ones.

Organized by Ali Mirza (History, CHI Fellow 23-25)

Free Speech and Academic Freedom

Freedom of speech is in many eras a taken for granted aspect of American life. In those eras, controversy tends to focus on issues like whether something counts as speech. But ours is an era in which freedom of speech cannot be taken for granted. Controversies around speech and its meaning abound. This seminar examines the meaning and value of speech and free speech under contemporary conditions.

Organized by Austin Sarat (Political Science and Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought)

Organizing for Relationality: Indigenous Knowledge in Academic Libraries, Archives, and Museums

This seminar will focus on studying and applying Indigenous methodologies to the preservation, dissemination, and curation of Indigenous information. The seminar’s series of conversations will build a community of practice at Amherst and provide a humanistic theoretical base to support our long-term decolonizing work in archives, libraries, and museums. As academic librarians, archivists, curators, and educators, we are responsible for enacting ethical and relational practices in our work with Indigenous students, colleagues, and community members. However, as we were trained and educated in colonial institutions, we have not been introduced to, nor deeply engaged with, Indigenous knowledge frameworks.

Organized by Brandon Castle, Katherine Caughlin, Alana Kumbier, Sara Smith (Frost Library)

Reading and Teaching Utopia

Our goal for this interdisciplinary research seminar is to bring together faculty members who have taught classes on utopia(s) or who engage with aspects of utopian thought in their pedagogy and research. As multiple crises engulf our planet, from the climate emergency to persistent social and racial inequalities and the undermining of democratic institutions, the utopian impulse in its many forms— literary, artistic, architectural, philosophical, religious and technological—can provide an antidote to apocalyptic visions of the future. As we read utopian texts and consider utopian projects of the past, our hope is to find productive and imaginative ways to engage with key issues of our times.

Organized by Laure Katsaros (French) and Karen Koehler (Art and the History of Art)

Thinking Humanistically about STEM

Bringing together scholars from a variety of disciplines–including Black studies, anthropology, history, SWAGS, Latinx and Latin American Studies, philosophy, sociology, and art—the proposed seminar will: 1) provide a forum for an interdisciplinary group of researchers to build a network for the study of humanistic and social scientific studies of science, medicine, and technology on campus; and 2) create a space for sustained interactions to think about ways to advance and augment social scientific and humanistic explorations of science, medicine, and technology on the Amherst College campus.

Organized by Katrina Karkazis (Sexuality, Women's and Gender Studies)

Thinking Democratically

How do the humanities and humanistic social sciences understand what it means to think democratically? How have those understandings changed over time? How do they vary from culture to culture? How does thinking democratically equip people to seek social justice? This reading/study group will examine these questions.

Organized by Austin Sarat (Political Science and Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought)