Humanities Studio Annual Theme

2022-23 Theme: Human||Nature


Over the course of the 2022–23 academic year, we will explore the theme Human||Nature from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, grounded in the fields and methods of the humanities. Discourse will take place in our Studio seminar — comprised of six faculty fellows, six undergraduate fellows, and two post-doc fellows — and more broadly through our Human||Nature public speakers series.

Possible research questions & communal discussions might include:

  • Is there a “human nature”? What is the nature of “human nature”?
  • What are the possible relationships between the human and the natural?
  • What are the properties of human-nature interfaces, boundaries, borders?
  • How might we narrate the invention of nature and the intervention of the human?
  • Is “culture” the third term bridging “human” and “nature”?

Fellows' projects might explore:

  • Post- and pre-human natures
  • Thing theory vis-à-vis affect theory
  • “Human” gender and “natural” sex
  • Subterranean histories of the unnatural and supernatural
  • The colonization of nature by the human
  • Holocene => Anthropocene => “Anthrobscene” (Karen Tei Yamashita)

These and many other topics and questions will help us shape our yearlong discussion and programming.


Pomona College rising seniors planning to graduate in Spring 2023, and writing a senior thesis with a humanities-oriented topic (no matter your home department): We invite you to apply for one of the Humanities Studio Undergraduate Fellowships. Learn more about the Fellowship, and about next year’s theme here. Applications are due by Friday, April 8, 2022.


2021-22 Theme: "Movement(s)"


Over the course of the 2021–22 academic year, we explored the theme Movement(s) from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, grounded in the fields and methods of the humanities. Discourse took place in our Studio seminar — comprised of six faculty fellows, six undergraduate fellows, and two post-doc fellows — and more broadly through our Movement(s) public speakers series.

Some topical approaches included:

  • Intellectual movements
  • Artistic movements
  • Musical movements
  • Historical movements (the Civil Rights movement)
  • Social movements (antiracism, Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, MAGA)
  • Youth movement
  • Stock movements
  • Wave and particle motion
  • Stillness
  • Bodies in motion
  • (E)motion
  • Progress
  • Migration
  • Immigration
  • Emigration
  • Cinema’s 24 frames/sec
  • The Muybridge Horse
  • Animation
  • Kineticism

Among the questions we considered:

  • What does it mean to be a movement?
  • What does it mean to move?
  • What moves us?
  • What is the life cycle of a movement?
  • Why do some movements succeed while others fail?
  • How does movement/do movements shape the human experience?
  • How do we identify, observe, and measure movement(s)?
  • How does movement move through your discipline—as an embodied practice, a concept, a thematic focus, a metaphor, or in some other way?

These and many other topics and questions helped us shape our yearlong discussion.


2020-21 Theme: "Indigeneities"

For the 2020–21 academic year, the Humanities Studio at Pomona College explored the
theme Indigeneities from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. What lessons and values can
the humanities learn from the field of indigenous studies? What are the stakes of belonging,
of home? What are the various ways of being from a place (and not); of being native (and
not); of belonging (and not)?
Associated topics included:
  • Indigenous ways of knowing; indigenous research, methods, and protocols
  • Indigenous environmental consciousness
  • Indigeneity as an analytics of political resistance
  • The deep roots of Pomona College’s Southern California location and its connections to indigenous cultures
  • Home/homelands/tribal lands/“imaginary homelands” (Rushdie)/“imagined communities” (Benedict Anderson)
  • Borders, borderlands, border lines, the “frontier” (Borderlands/La Frontera [Anzaldua])
  • (Im-)migration, expatriation, repatriation
  • Narratives of arrival, “discovery,” displacement, and settler colonialism
  • Cultural appropriation
  • The politics of translation
  • The encroachment of the built environment
  • Indigeneity v. nativism v. nationalism v. enthno-nationalism
  • The literary work of genealogy
The Humanities Studio at Pomona College acknowledges its presence on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Gabrielino/Tongva peoples.

2019–20 Theme: "Post/Truth"


“What is truth?” Pontius Pilate, c. 33 CE

“Truth isn’t truth.” Rudolph Giuliani, August 19, 2018

It was the Oxford English Dictionary’s “word of the year” for 2016, Year Zero of the current U.S. Presidential Administration: post-truth or, as we’re styling it (for maximum flexibility and slipperiness and suggestiveness), post/truth. Tracing its current meaning back to 1992, the OED defines it this way: “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping political debate or public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

In its second year, The Humanities Studio at Pomona College explored, through its Speakers Series, Fellows Seminar, and other campus programming, the various facets of our current post/truth (un-) reality. Members of the press are now denounced as “enemies of the people”; outright fabrications are described as “alternative facts”; Facebook, the world’s third most popular web site with more than 1.4 billion users, is flooded with fake news created in eastern European boiler rooms. Applications like FakeApp populate Reddit message boards like /r/deepfakes with forged-identity revenge porn; standards of evidence, across wide swaths of our public life, have been gutted. Indeed, the very truth status of the fact is under fire: science denial of many kinds, including climate denial and the anti-vaxxer movement, flourishes. And let’s not even start on all the varieties of confirmation bias fed by our news silos, including birtherism, Infowars, pizzagate, the deep state, false flag operations, crisis actors….

The Humanities Studio explored the post/truth phenomenon from a wide variety of disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives. Humanities Studio Undergraduate and Faculty Fellows, together with the Studio Director, Postdoctoral Fellows, and a group of visiting speakers, writers, and thinkers, took a long, hard look at post/truth—both truth and its denial and occlusions—to assess the hopes for restoring rational discourse about the most urgent problems facing us today.


2018–19 Theme: “Fail Better”


In a Phi Beta Kappa Presidential Address, “Fail Better,” late Pomona College English professor Arden Reed spoke of our tendency to sugarcoat experience, a pre­disposition “so ingrained that it’s hard to clear mental or emotional space that tolerates or accommodates failure.” A phrase famously uttered by Ed Harris in the 1995 movie Apollo 13 has become one of our era’s most ubiquitous and fatuous platitudes: “Failure is not an option.” Coming soon to a motivational poster near you.

Professor Reed, on the other hand, insisted that failure is not optional. He took the title for his address from Samuel Beckett’s late prose text, Worstword Ho (1983): “All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” At the time of his death in 1989 Beckett had been failing spectacularly, dazzlingly, for more than five decades—a body of work in which, according to the Nobel Prize committee, “the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation.” In the 1949 “Three Dialogues” (with Georges Duthuit), Beckett had embraced failure as both his artistic credo and highest aspiration: “To be an artist is to fail, as no other dare fail … failure is his world….”

Failure is all around us, Reed insisted; what’s more (and more surprising), he suggested that “failures bind us to each other, make us into the human species that we are. Failure matters not because it prompts us to persevere or find a silver lining, but because it is the natural state of things. Failure is woven into the fabric of our existence—the underside of success, the yin to its yang. Eventually we all will fail; by embracing failure, we can learn about the true existential parameters of our existence."

The program for the inaugural year of the Humanities Studio at Pomona College was dedicated to the memory of Arthur M. and Fanny M. Dole Professor of English Arden Reed. His career of nearly four decades at Pomona College as a devoted teacher and passionate, restless, boundary-crossing scholar was anything but a failure. But we honored his memory by applying ourselves to the twin concepts of failure and its kissing cousin, error—seeking better to understand the uses of failure and the impor­tance of error in the ecosystem of scholarly discovery. Together with the Studio Director, Faculty and Postdoctoral Fellows, and a group of visiting speakers, writers, and thinkers, Humanities Studio Undergraduate Fellows took a deep dive into failure, to bring back the treasures only it has to offer.