The Humanities Studio at Pomona College, launched in September 2018, enriches the humanities experience of Pomona students, faculty, staff, and our surrounding communities through workshops, a fellowship program, and a speakers series organized around an annual theme. The theme for the 2020-21 year is "Indigeneities."
Gustavus Stadler In Conversation
Thursday, April 29, 2021 | 4:30 p.m. PT | The Humanities Studio Zoom Lounge
Please join the Humanities Studio in welcoming Woody Guthrie biographer Gustavus Stadler to present “What is ‘This Land’?: A Song, a Phrase, and Their Histories” in the sixth episode of our 2020-21 Indigeneities Speakers Series.
In this talk, Stadler looks at the decades-long controversy concerning indigenous erasure and Woody Guthrie’s most famous song, “This Land is Your Land,” in the context of intimacy, whiteness, and the body. Stadler notes writer and musician Mali Obomsawin’s identification of the song as a passively reinforced “blind spot” on the US left in particular, and discusses how the song erases the true history of this continent, the fundamental violence and brutality of settler colonialism that made it possible for people of European ancestry to live here. Citing examples from Rebecca Nagle’s podcast on the Sharp v. Murphy case, to Gary Clark Jr.’s searing 2019 single about anti-Black racism, to the name of a now defunct progressive Tulsa literary and political journal, Stadler offers his thoughts on the phrase’s persistence and the work various people want it to do both politically and epistemologically.
Stadler is the author of Woody Guthrie: An Intimate Life and Troubling Minds: The Cultural Politics of Genius in the U.S. 1840-1890. His essays on U.S. literature, left politics, music, and sound culture have appeared in Al Jazeera, Public Books, avidly.com, Social Text, American Literature, and many other venues. He is currently beginning work on a book about Cafe Society, New York's first fully integrated nightclub, and collaborating on a film adaptation of his Guthrie book. He is Professor of English at Haverford College.
The event, co-sponsored by the Department of Music, is free and open to the public.
Novelist Tommy Orange in Conversation
February 11, 2021
About 200 members and friends of the Pomona College community joined us in welcoming novelist and Pulitzer Prize finalist Tommy Orange in the fifth episode in our 2020-21 Indigeneities Speakers Series.
Orange is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel There There, a multi-generational, relentlessly paced story about a side of America few of us have ever seen: the lives of urban Native Americans. There There was one of The New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of the Year in 2019, and won the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize and the Pen/Hemingway Award. There There was also longlisted for the National Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Orange graduated from the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts, and was a 2014 MacDowell Fellow and a 2016 Writing by Writers Fellow. He is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. He was born and raised in Oakland, California.
U. Michigan Prof. of Environment & Sustainability Kyle Whyte presents "Against Crisis Epistemology"
November 5, 2020
The Humanities Studio welcomed Kyle Whyte, professor of environment and sustainability at the University of Michigan, to present "Against Crisis Epistemology: Challenging Presumptions of Time in Climate Justice Advocacy," an examination of how humans perceive crisis and the relationship of those perceptions to certain Indigenous ways of knowing. It was the fourth episode in our 2020-21 Indigeneities Speakers Series.
People who perpetrate colonialism often defend their actions as necessary responses to real or perceived crises. Epistemologies of crisis involve knowing the world in such a way that a certain present is experienced as new. In this talk, Whyte will discuss newness in terms of the presumptions of unprecedentedness and urgency. According to Whyte, these presumptions often depend on an unquestioned linear conception of time. In contradistinction to an epistemology of crisis, he suggests that one interpretation of certain Indigenous intellectual traditions emphasizes what he calls an epistemology of coordination. Different from crisis, coordination refers to ways of knowing the world that emphasize the importance of moral bonds—or kinship relationships—for generating the (responsible) capacity to respond to constant change. Epistemologies of coordination are conducive to responding to expected and drastic changes without validating harm or violence.
Kyle Whyte is Professor of Environment and Sustainability and George Willis Pack Professor at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability, serving as a faculty member of the environmental justice specialization. Previously, Whyte was Professor and Timnick Chair in the Department of Philosophy and Department of Community Sustainability at Michigan State University. Whyte’s research addresses moral and political issues concerning climate policy and Indigenous peoples, the ethics of cooperative relationships between Indigenous peoples and science organizations, and problems of Indigenous justice in public and academic discussions of food sovereignty, environmental justice, and the anthropocene. He is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and has partnered with numerous Tribes, First Nations and inter-Indigenous organizations in the Great Lakes region and beyond on climate change planning, education and policy. He is involved in a number of projects and organizations that advance Indigenous research methodologies, including the Climate and Traditional Knowledges Workgroup, Sustainable Development Institute of the College of Menominee Nation, Tribal Climate Camp, and Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga. He has served as an author on reports by the U.S. Global Change Research Program and is a former member of the U.S. Federal Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science and the Michigan Environmental Justice Work Group. Whyte’s work has received the Bunyan Bryant Award for Academic Excellence from Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice and MSU's Distinguished Partnership and Engaged Scholarship awards, and grants from the National Science Foundation.
Tongva Tribal Elder Julia Bogany presents "Journey of the Tongva"
October 22, 2020
The Humanities Studio was honored to welcome Tongva tribal elder Julia Bogany to present “Journey of the Tongva” in the third episode of our Indigeneities Speakers Series. Join Ms. Bogany for “a journey with the Tongva, from where we started to where we are today.”
Julia Bogany is a member of the Tongva tribe, is on the Tongva Tribal Council, and is the Tongva Cultural Consultant. She has helped to reawaken and revive Tongva language, arts, and culture through teaching classes and workshops and assembling a Tongva dictionary.
Ms. Bogany has worked for over thirty years for the American Indian community, providing cultural trainings and workshops in the Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Riverside areas as well as in Sacramento for the California Rural Indian Health Board. She is vice president of the Keepers of Indigenous Ways, a non-profit group of the Tongva; president of Residential Motivators, her own non-profit consulting firm; a community health worker for the California Indian Education Association; president of Kuruvanga Springs; a representative for California tribes on Route 66; a member of the California Native American College Board; and the Pitzer College Elder in Residence. She teaches native culture and history and women's issues at Pitzer, Scripps, Pomona and Harvey Mudd Colleges and the Claremont School of Theology. In the summer, she assists with the Native Youth to College program. Ms. Bogany is active in the Children Court L.A. Round Table, runs co-ed and women's circles, and consults with teachers and school boards on how to revise their curriculum to reflect an accurate history of California and California tribes.
In 2010, Ms. Bogany received the Heritage Award from the Aquarium of the Pacific at their sixth annual Native American festival, Moompetam. She has been nominated for Coastal Commission for the State of California and is a Stake Holder Consultant of 200 parks in Los Angeles County.
"Where Have All the Good Fires Gone? An Indigenous Perspective on the Fire Relationship"
October 15, 2020
The Humanities Studio presented “Where Have All the Good Fires Gone? An Indigenous Perspective on the Fire Relationship,” a conversation between Michael Connolly Miskwish (Kumeyaay) and Pomona College's own Char Miller.
We’re often told that today’s Southern California residents have a lot to learn about living in this wildfire-prone landscape from the area’s Native Nations. What exactly are those lessons? In this discussion, Miskwish (San Diego State lecturer in American Indian Studies) and Miller (Pomona College Professor of Environmental Analysis) considered historical fire usage by California tribes; the Kumeyaah’s reintroduction of managed fire on its Campo; and the carrying capacity of this fire-prone terrain, among many other related topics.
Michael Connolly Miskwish is a citizen of the Campo Kumeyaay Nation. He has authored many papers on tribal economics, Kumeyaay history and resource management. He has three published books on Kumeyaay history and cosmology. He has curated exhibits on Kumeyaay culture and history for the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and the Museum of Man in San Diego, California. In 2006 he was the recipient of the John Montgomery Education Award by the Congress of History of San Diego and Imperial Counties and, in 2017, was inducted into the Kumeyaay Kuseyaay Association. Michael’s formal education includes a Master of Arts in Economics from San Diego State University, a Bachelor of Science in Manufacturing Engineering from National University and an Associate of Arts in Kumeyaay Studies from Cuyamaca/Kumeyaay Community College. He is an adjunct faculty in American Indian Studies at San Diego State University. He served 17 years in elected office for the Campo Kumeyaay Nation. He currently consults with tribal governments and governmental agencies on topics of economics, resource management, taxation and education. He continues to write and lecture on Kumeyaay history and culture.
Char Miller teaches classes on U.S. environmental history, water in the U.S. West, and public lands management, like those on urbanization and the interplay between the natural and built landscapes, as part of Pomona College's Environmental Analysis and History programs and the Claremont Colleges' Environmental Analysis major. An active and award-winning scholar, Miller's most recent books include Hetch Hetchy: A History in Documents (2020), Theodore Roosevelt: Naturalist in the Arena (2020); Elers Koch’s memoir, Forty Years a Forester; The Nature of Hope: Environmental Justice, Grassroots Organizing and Political Change (2019); Ogallala: Water for a Dry Land (2018); San Antonio: A Tricentennial History (2018); and Where There’s Smoke: The Environmental Science, Policy, and Politics of Marijuana (2018). He is senior fellow of the Pinchot Institute for Conservation, a Fellow of the Forest History Society, and a consulting historian for more than a dozen documentaries. He has worked closely with museums in Los Angeles and San Antonio to develop exhibits and educational materials.
U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo Reads Native Nations Poetry
September 24, 2020
The Humanities Studio welcomed Joy Harjo, 2019-2021 United States Poet Laureate, to present a reading of Native Nations poetry in the second episode in our 2020-21 "Indigeneities" Speakers Series.
Harjo read from her edited volume, When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through, which gathers the work of more than 160 poets representing nearly 100 indigenous nations in the first historically comprehensive Native poetry anthology. She also read from her own work and shared the process of putting this landmark collection together.
Joy Harjo’s nine books of poetry include An American Sunrise, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems, and She Had Some Horses. Harjo’s memoir Crazy Brave won several awards, including the PEN USA Literary Award for Creative Non-Fiction and the American Book Award. She is the recipient of the Ruth Lilly Prize from the Poetry Foundation for Lifetime Achievement, the 2015 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets for proven mastery in the art of poetry, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America, and the United States Artist Fellowship. In 2014 she was inducted into the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame. A renowned musician, Harjo performs with her saxophone nationally and internationally, solo and with her band, the Arrow Dynamics. She has five award-winning CDs of music including the award-winning album Red Dreams, A Trail Beyond Tears and Winding Through the Milky Way, which won a Native American Music Award for Best Female Artist of the Year in 2009. Harjo’s latest is a book of poetry from Norton, An American Sunrise. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The event, co-sponsored by the Departments of English and Religious Studies and the Gender & Women's Studies Program, was free and open to the public.
Kēhaulani Vaughn on Trans-Indigenous Relations
September 10, 2020
The Humanities Studio welcomed Kēhaulani Vaughn, Indigenous scholar and practitioner, to present "Beyond Performativity: Trans-Indigenous Recognition and Indigenous Futures" as the inaugural address in our "Indigeneities" Speakers Series.
Land acknowledgements have become an important practice in event organizing both in social justice circles and educational institutions. What are the goals of such practices and have they become a repetitive script that is devoid of relationships and responsibilities with and to Native Nations? Are they more or less, a liberal form of settler normativity? How can we think differently about land acknowledgement? As more Indigenous communities become displaced through settler colonialism there is a greater need to regenerate relationships to land and people that moves beyond the discourse of acknowledgement to ensure Indigenous futurities.
This talk offered an example of recognition that is grounded in Indigenous relationalities. Vaughn highlighted a trans-Indigenous recognition between diasporic Native Hawaiians and the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, the Acjachemen Nation. Trans-Indigenous recognitions is a process for diasporic Indigenous communities to acknowledge both the land and the people that currently host them. Additionally, it emphasizes an intrinsic responsibility to the Indigenous caretakers of land that moves beyond settler recognition politics. Through this case study, Vaughn provided an example of relationalities with Indigenous people that moves beyond a liberal discourse of land acknowledgement.
Kēhaulani Vaughn (Kanaka Maoli) is an assistant professor in the Department of Education, Culture, and Society and the Pacific Islands Studies Initiative at the University of Utah. Currently, she is a National Academies of Science Engineering and Medicine Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow. Her book manuscript, Trans Indigeneity: The Politics of California Indian and Native Hawaiian Relations, is about the trans-Indigenous recognitions between Native Hawaiians living in the U.S. and California Indian tribes. An interdisciplinary ethnographic project, Trans Indigeneity utilizes a Native Feminist praxis to forge new methodological, theoretical, and political directions for Indigenous recognition-based politics. As a scholar-practitioner, her teaching and research interests are in Pacific Island Studies, Indigenous epistemologies, education, and decolonial practices and pedagogies.
This event, co-sponsored by the Pacific Basin Institute at Pomona College, was free and open to the public.
In light of the global coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, with heavy hearts we were forced to cancel the final two events in our 2019-20 Post/Truth Speakers Series. We will post here any plans to reschedule events with Chuck Klosterman and Lewis Hyde in the future. Please stay safe and healthy, friends. You are important (essential!) to us. —Kevin & Gretchen
Chuck Klosterman: Thinking About the Past As If It Were Present
April 1, 2020
Lewis Hyde: Truth as a Liquid
April 16, 2020
Tavia Nyong'o: Non-Binary Blackness
March 5, 2020
The Humanities Studio welcomed Tavia Nyong'o, Professor of American Studies at Yale University, to present on "Non-Binary Blackness" as part of our "post/truth" Speakers Series.
In this talk, Nyong'o asked: Can we redress historical injury through our contemporary fictions and counter-narratives? What might it take to do justice to queer, transgender, and/or gender non-conforming figures from our past? This discussion will draw on black feminist critiques of gender, ontology, and the human to pursue a speculative fabulation of blackness as it exceeds standard historical narration and linear time.
Nyong'o is the author of The Amalgamation Waltz: Race, Performance, and the Ruses of Memory (2009) and Afro-Fabulations: The Queer Drama of Black Life (2018). He teaches black performance theory, queer and affect studies, and diaspora aesthetics. He is Professor of African American Studies, American Studies, and Theater & Performance Studies at Yale University.
"Fake News" Colloquium
February 14–15, 2020
Students, alumni, parents, faculty, staff and the community joined us for two days of events addressing the crisis of authority facing the news media.
Friday, February 14
9–10:30 a.m. | "A Brief History of Fake News": Keynote with Joel Simon P'22 (Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists) | Hahn Hall, Room 101
10:30 a.m.–Noon | "What is Fake News?": Roundtable Discussion moderated by Robyn Norwood (Communications, Pomona College) with Trevor Hunnicutt ’10 (reporter, Reuters News), Anjali Kamat ’00 (investigative journalist, WNYC/New York Public Radio), Susan Schneck Sawyers P'20 (former producer, Bloomberg Radio's BloombergEDU), and Marc Rod ’20 (managing editor, The Student Life) | Hahn Hall, Room 101
Noon–3 p.m. | "The Truth is...": Share what "The Truth" means to you in this roving sociological art exhibit brought to us by the Cause Collective. Since 2011, this exhibit has traveled the world with an aim to "represent and celebrate the world's diverse people, cultures, and locations and capture as many definitions, representations, confessions, and thoughts on 'The Truth' as possible." What is your truth? Tell us about it at the Truth Booth. Submissions will be available to view on the Truth Booth website. | Carnegie Building, North Lawn
Saturday, February 15
11 a.m.–Noon | "Very Bad People: Journalism, Identity, and the Trump Era's New Enemies Within": Keynote with Jeff Sharlet (professor of journalism at Dartmouth College, author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power) | Millikan Laboratory, Argue Auditorium (Room 1051)
3–5 p.m. | Screening of the Netflix Series The Family followed by Q&A with series creator Jeff Sharlet | Millikan Laboratory, Argue Auditorium (Room 1051)
A. Van Jordan: Poetry Reading & Book Signing
February 12, 2020
We welcomed acclaimed poet A. Van Jordan, author of four volumes of poetry including The Cineaste, to read from his poetry and sign copies of his books.
A. Van Jordan is the author of four collections of poetry: Rise (2001), which won the PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Award; M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A (2005), which was listed as one the Best Books of 2005 by The London Times; Quantum Lyrics (2007); and The Cineaste (2013), which has been awarded a Whiting Writers Award, an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and a Pushcart Prize. Jordan is also a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a United States Artists Fellowship, and a Lannan Literary Award in Poetry. He has taught at a number of institutions including Prince Georges Community College; the University of North Carolina at Greensboro; the University of Texas at Austin, where he was tenured as an Associate Professor; Rutgers University-Newark, where he served as the Henry Rutgers Presidential Professor; and at the University of Michigan, where he currently serves as the Robert Hayden Collegiate Professor of English Language & Literature.
The event was co-sponsored by the Office of the President.
Nalo Hopkinson: Fiction or Lies?
January 30, 2020
Novelist Nalo Hopkinson, professor of creative writing at UC Riverside, visited the Humanities Studio to present “Fiction, or Lies?” as part of our “post/truth” Speakers Series.
Hopkinson is the author of Brown Girl in the Ring, The Salt Roads, Falling in Love with Hominids, and half a dozen other fantasy and science fiction novels, short story collections, and chapbooks. She is fascinated by the ability of fantasy literature to create narratives that re-imagine, even re-invent, the past — especially when grounded in real world marginalized/oppressed subjectivities.
In this talk, Hopkinson considered the use of revisionist historical fiction, especially in a fantastical mode. Is it merely a futile exercise in wishful thinking? And does it have any connection to science fiction's project of considering the future?
The talk was co-sponsored by the Department of English and by the Gender and Women's Studies Program.
Catherine Gallagher: Counterfactual Characters
December 5, 2019
Catherine Gallagher, professor emerita of English at UC Berkeley and author of Telling It Like It Wasn't: The Counterfactual Imagination in History and Fiction, just us for the last "post/truth" Speakers Series event of fall semester.
In her talk "Counterfactual Characters," Gallagher explored the kinship between the concept of character found in most modern historical and fictional narratives and the counterfactual mode of thought. When constructing characters, writers routinely both imagine what individuals lived through and (in order to emphasize the significance of certain actions and episodes) indicate other things that might have happened instead. Full-blown counterfactual works, though, are devoted solely to the narration of the alternatives, to the lives that were not led but might have been. Although we might think that this multiplication of other possible destinies should weaken the individuality and continuity of characterization, it instead tends to reinforce character’s narrative centrality and ontological priority. The character-centrism of counterfactual narratives can help illuminate emerging forms of the protagonist, literary and historical.
Gallagher held the Ida May and William J. Eggers Chair in English at UC Berkeley until her retirement in 2013. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and she has received NEH, ACLS, and Guggenheim fellowships, as well as residential fellowships at the Institute for Advanced Study, the National Humanities Center, the Stanford Humanities Center, and the American Academy in Berlin. She was a founding member of the editor board of the journal Representations and served as its co-editor for ten years, helping to popularize a form of literary studies that was called “new historicism” in the 1980s; it aimed simultaneously to understand literary works through their historical context and to understand cultural and intellectual history through an attention to literary form. Her latest book, Telling It Like It Wasn’t: The Counterfactual Imagination in History and Literature, was published by Chicago University Press last year and won the American Philosophical Society’s Jacques Barzun Prize for the year’s best book in cultural history.
Russell Muirhead: Conspiracy (without the) Theory
November 21, 2019
Political scientist Russell Muirhead, the third speaker in our "post/truth" Speakers Series, joined us to present “Conspiracy (without the) Theory" — a talk about how the new conspiracism enveloping American politics threatens democratic institutions.
According to Muirhead, conspiracy theory has been around as long as democracy. What we see today — take Pizzagate or QAnon — is something different. The blizzard of conspiratorial charges can be disorienting and the effect on politics delegitimating. This talk aimed to help us understand — and resist — this assault on democratic institutions.
Muirhead teaches courses on political theory and American constitutional democracy at Dartmouth College. He is the co-author of A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy. He has also published books on partisanship and the moral meaning of work.
The talk was co-sponsored by the Departments of English and Politics.
"Weird Science" Colloquium featuring Joe Palca ’74
November 8, 2019
Students, faculty, staff, and members of the Claremont community gathered for “Weird Science” — a day-long colloquium on the history and varieties of science denial, including alchemy, mesmerism, climate-science denial, and vaccine hesitancy. The colloquium was a special edition of the Studio's 2019-20 "post/truth" Speakers Series.
Colloquium sessions began at 10 a.m. in Hahn Hall, Room 101, and were capped off with a keynote address from Joe Palca, NPR Science Correspondent and Pomona College alumnus from the class of 1974.
10 a.m. — Welcome with Robert Gaines (Geology; Interim Dean of the College, Pomona)
10:30 a.m. — Credulity, Dis-Knowledge, and the Margins of Science with Katherine Eggert (U. Colorado, speaking on Alchemy) and Emily Ogden (U. Virginia, speaking on Mesmerism)
Noon — Break for lunch
1:30 p.m. — Vaccine Hesitancy with Alison Buttenheim (U. Pennsylvania) and Hilary Schor (U. Southern California)
3:15 p.m. — Climate-Change Denial with Marc Los Huertos (Environmental Analysis, Pomona) and Adam Pearson (Psychology, Pomona)
5 p.m. — "Do Facts Matter?" with Joe Palca ’74 (NPR Science Correspondent)
Screening of "Motherless Brooklyn" with Jonathan Lethem
Wednesday, October 30, 2019
Students, faculty, staff, and fans of literature and film joined us for a special, pre-release screening of the Edward Norton film Motherless Brooklyn followed by Q&A with Pomona professor Jonathan Lethem, author of the book from which the film was adapted. The screening was free and open to the public, though tickets were required and Pomona College students will be given first access.
Toni Morrison Tribute
October 16, 2019
Pomona College invited the community to a celebration of the life of writer, teacher, and icon Toni Morrison. The celebration included a memorial in the Millikan Laboratory Courtyard followed by a screening of the documentary film Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am in Rose Hills Theatre.
Lee McIntyre On Writing
October 4, 2019
Lee McIntyre, research fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University and the author of Post-Truth, sat for a staged interview and Q&A exploring his career arc, his writing process, advice for young writers, and tips for reaching a broad audience with sophisticated material, including “defending science from denial, fraud, and pseudoscience” (the subtitle of his most recent book, The Scientific Attitude).
Lee McIntyre: Defending Truth
October 3, 2019
In his book Post-Truth, Lee McIntyre — philosopher (and parent of a recent Pomona grad!) addresses a few foundational questions about the concept: Are we living in a post-truth world, where "alternative facts" replace actual facts and feelings have more weight than evidence? If so, how did we get here? And what can we do about it?
McIntyre's book sets the stage for a year of rich conversation, and he joined us on October 3 to present his defense of truth, "From Post-Truth to the Scientific Attitude."
As part of an ongoing campaign of fact and truth denial in this "post-truth" era, McIntyre asserted in this talk, science is under attack. On topics such as vaccines, evolution, and climate change, the forces of ideology, cognitive bias, media confusion, and outright ignorance have conspired to spread disinformation and legitimize doubt about even the most well-settled empirical questions. This contrasts sharply with the attitude taken by scientists, which is based on respect for evidence and the flexibility of mind to change one's beliefs based on new evidence. McIntyre suggested that by embracing the scientific attitude, we may discover not only what is most essential about science, but how to fight back against science deniers, pseudoscientists, and others who do not understand that uncertainty and doubt are a strength rather than a weakness of empirical reasoning.
McIntyre is a research fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University and lecturer in ethics at Harvard Extension School. He has taught philosophy at Colgate University, Boston University, Tufts Experimental College and Simmons College. He is the author of Post-Truth and The Scientific Attitude: Defending Science from Denial, Fraud, and Pseudoscience. His popular essays have appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, The Boston Globe, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Scientific American, The Humanist, and The Times Higher Education Supplement.
The event was co-sponsored by the Department of Philosophy and the Johnson Fund.
Banu Subramaniam: Science & Hindu Nationalism
September 26, 2019
The Humanities Studio welcomed feminist and biologist Banu Subramaniam to kick off our annual speakers series — this year tracing the theme "post/truth" — with her talk "Making Postcolonial Biologies: Tales from an 'Other' Enlightenment."
In this talk, Subramaniam explored how science and religion come together in contemporary Hindu nationalism to create a very particular and powerful biopolitical imaginary. Religious nationalists have selectively, and strategically, used rhetoric from both science and Hinduism, modernity and orthodoxy, western and eastern thought, she argued, to build a powerful but potentially dangerous vision of a Hindu nation. With aspirations for a global and modern Hinduism, scientific and religious practices in contemporary India are inextricably interconnected and result in fluid processes and practices of both institutions. The case of India reminds us about both the transnational stakes of science as well as the local instantiations that challenge enlightenment narratives of reason and unreason. Ultimately to understand contemporary technoscience in India, do we need new epistemological and methodological tools, and story-making practices to make visible the many phantasmagoric natural and cultural worlds within?
Banu Subramaniam is Professor of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Trained as a plant evolutionary biologist, her work engages the feminist studies of science in the practices of experimental biology. She is author of Holy Science: The Biopolitics or Hindu Nationalism and Ghost Stories for Darwin: The Science of Variation and the Politics of Diversity and coeditor of Feminist Science Studies: A New Generation and Making Threats: Biofears and Environmental Anxieties. Her current work focuses on decolonizing botany.
The event was co-sponsored by the Department of Religious Studies.
Christina Sharpe: "Wake. Seed. Soil."
April 18, 2019
Christina Sharpe, professor of humanities at York University, visited Pomona to present “Wake. Seed. Soil.” — the final lecture in our yearlong “Fail Better” Speakers Series.
In this talk, Sharpe thought about wakes, about plantations and memorials, about soil, seeds, and ash. In order to do this, she turned to, among other things, two films, several images, The Whitney Plantation in Edgard, Louisiana, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, and the Legacy Museum from Slavery to Mass Incarceration in Montgomery, Alabama.
Sharpe is known as one of the most important contemporary scholars in Black Diaspora thought and cultures. She is the author of Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects and In the Wake: On Blackness and Being.
The event was co-sponsored by the American Studies Program, the Gender and Women’s Studies Program, the International Relations Program, and the Departments of English and History.
Q&A with Hua Hsu: On Writing
April 4, 2019
Hua Hsu is an associate professor of American Studies at Vassar College. He’s also a critic at The New Yorker, where he writes most often about hip hop. How does one guy get to have two such cool jobs? Hsu sat for an on-stage interview in the Humanities Studio, discussing his writing practice and his career as an academic and a popular writer and sharing insights with students about the balancing act of working simultaneously in the academic and popular realms.
Hua Hsu: "Cultural Criticism & Its Metaphors of Smallness"
April 4, 2019
Hua Hsu, associate professor of English and director of American Studies at Vassar College, presented “Of Fleas, Pests, and Termites: Cultural Criticism and its Metaphors of Smallness” — the penultimate lecture in our 2018-19 “Fail Better” Speakers Series.
To the cultural critic, failure has always seemed inevitable. There’s a romance to lost causes, to championing the obscure artist or the overshadowed author. But what happens when popular culture no longer orbits a stable center — when there’s no longer a boring monoculture to build your identity against, and our tastes and desires grow fragmented beyond imagination? What does it mean to seek out the lost and forgotten in this moment of historical amnesia? Hua Hsu, a critic at The New Yorker, sketched out an alternative lineage of culture and criticism that prizes the minuscule, the underground, and the stubborn — as well as his own obsession with a “pest” he found in the archives.
Hsu is the author of A Floating Chinaman: Fantasy and Failure across the Pacific.
Film Screening: "The Disaster Artist" and Q&A with Greg Sestero
March 27, 2019
The theme for the Humanities Studio's annual year of programming is "Fail Better." Tommy Wiseau’s auteurist masterpiece The Room (2003), “the greatest bad movie of all time,” is an irresistible topic given that theme. Never one to leave well enough (or bad enough) alone, in 2017 James Franco—trying to “fail better”?—made a film about the making of The Room. That film is called The Disaster Artist.
In partnership with Intercollegiate Media Studies at Pitzer College, the Humanities Studio hosted a screening of The Disaster Artist, a meditation on failure, friendship, and redemption, followed by a Q&A with Greg Sestero — “Mark” from The Room (“Oh hi, Mark”), and author of the memoir that inspired Franco’s film.
Humanities Toolkit: Writing for the Public
March 25, 2019
Jon Baskin, founding editor of The Point; Evan Kindley, senior humanities editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB); Francesca Capossela ’18, contributor to LARB; and Casey Goodwin ’19, intern at The Point, joined us for a panel discussion of the ins and outs of writing for the public, and how to make the leap from narrowly academic to broadly public writing.
Rostam Performs Debut Solo Album "Half-Light"
March 13, 2019
Rostam (formerly of acclaimed indie band Vampire Weekend) visited Pomona College to perform from his debut solo album, Half-Light.
A Grammy Award-winning songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer, Rostam produced Vampire Weekend's self-titled debut while he was a student at Columbia University. That album, along with Contra and Modern Vampires in the City, became gold records for the band with Rostam as producer. Rostam announced his departure from Vampire Weekend in early 2016. His solo debut Half-Light is a kaleidoscopic work featuring 15 songs written, produced and performed by Rostam in his Los Angeles home studio.
The event was part of the College's Art of a Revolution series, co-sponsored by the Department of History, to celebrate Persian New Year and commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the Iranian Revolution.
Workshop with Scott A. Sandage: "Raiders of the Lost Archives"
March 8, 2019
American cultural historian Scott A. Sandage conducted a primary-source workshop exclusively for Pomona College students, focusing on some of the archival sources for his book Born Losers: A History of Failure in America. The discussion touched on matters of contextualizing and interpreting manuscript sources, in addition to where and how Sandage found his sources on failure. His methodology is derived from Clifford Geertz’s practice of “thick description,” in which context and layers of meaning are culled from ancillary sources that surround the primary source.
Scott A. Sandage: "Loser! How Trump's Favorite Insult Became Our Hugest Fear"
March 7, 2019
A cultural historian and the author of Born Losers: A History of Failure in America, Scott A. Sandage presented an illustrated lecture about how an eighteenth-century business term—loser—became a personal fear and a public insult. Why does “Loser!” wield such power to hurt and to provoke, whether on the school bus or in the White House? Tracing fundamental changes in the meanings of failure in a culture framed around success, Sandage reflected on his own failures—and invited guests to reconsider our own.
Sandage joined us from Carnegie Mellon University. He is a consultant to the Smithsonian Institution, the National Archives, and the National Park Service. His writing has appeared in The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Celebration of Nowruz (the vernal equinox and Persian New Year)
March 7, 2019
The Oldenborg Center and the Department of History presented a celebration of Persian New Year (Nowruz), featuring Persian cuisine, classical Persian poetry presented by students of the College's Persian language program, and a live set of Persian classical music performed by the Taak Ensemble. The celebration was part of the Art of a Revolution Series, celebrating Persian New Year and commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the Iranian Revolution.
Humanities Toolkit: Writing for Trade Publishers & Careers in Publishing
March 6, 2019
Students interested in careers in publishing gathered advice about next steps for making that dream a reality and learned how trade publishing differs from scholarly publishing from trade-press editor (and Pomona alum!) Stephanie Stein and literary agent Elise Capron.
Film Screening: "No Land's Song"
March 5, 2019
Professor Anthony Shay introduced this screening of the film No Land’s Song – a documentary about a young composer who organizes a concert for females solo singers in Iran after the 1979 regime forbids women to sing publicly as soloists. The event was part of the Art of a Revolution Series, celebrating Persian New Year and commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the Iranian Revolution.
Film Screening: "Close-Up"
February 28, 2019
Professor Arash Khazeni introduced this screening of the film Close-Up – named by a Sight & Sound poll as one of the "Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time." The event was part of the Art of a Revolution Series, celebrating Persian New Year and commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the Iranian Revolution.
Film Screening: "The White Meadows"
February 27, 2019
Professor Jonathan Lethem introduced this screening of the film The White Meadows – hailed as a masterpiece of the Iranian New Wave movement of cinema. The event was part of the Art of a Revolution Series, celebrating Persian New Year and commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the Iranian Revolution.
Workshop with Austin Walker: Failure, Team-Based Problem Solving & the Imagination
February 15, 2019
When “failure” exists at a societal level, there is no such thing as a quick fix. Every rusty gear interlocks with another, and soon, the entire machine shudders. How do we arrive at holistic solutions? Which problems are prioritized and which are left to the side? To explore this idea, Walker led Pomona College students in a simple, team-based roleplaying game set in the sci-fi future of our own solar system.
Austin Walker: "Failure as an Engine for Meaning-Making"
February 14, 2019
Austin Walker, editor-in-chief of Waypoint, VICE magazine's channel for gaming culture, and a writer on the intersection of games, culture, labor, and community, spoke about the benefits of failure in the gaming world.
“You pull back your bow string and let loose the arrow. It sails through the air, until it shatters, useless against the scaled sheen of the dragon’s hide. What do you do?” In our daily lives, scenarios like these are empty fantasy, but for those familiar with Dungeons and Dragons and other roleplaying games, a sequence like this is not only normal, but potent. With every new bit of narration and each roll of the dice, players weave together heroic stories of success and failure—and it is the latter, not the former, that provides a catalyst for future action, necessary context for characterization, and a clear marker of plot stakes.
Yet only in the last decade have the creators of these games begun to actively leverage the power of failure as a storytelling device, moving away from competitive models of play and towards exercises in collaborative fiction. Unsurprisingly, this shift comes alongside a broadening of “the roleplaying game” as a category, as independent, alternative, and small-press games have emerged to challenge the hegemonic vision of play presented by Dungeons and Dragons. Now, queer creators, designers of color, and other marginalized game makers are creating their own fantasy sandboxes, and they’re contesting the boundaries of “failure” along the way.
Drawing on the work contemporary game designers like Avery Alder and Brendan Conway, along with the critical work of Judith Halberstam and Walter Benjamin, Walker explored the function of failure in storytelling—whether those stories are about slaying dragons, developing one’s own identity, or building a sustainable community in a hostile world.
Humanities Toolkit: Working with Scholarly Publishers
February 13, 2019
Aspiring (published) writers learned how to work with a university press to find an appropriate home for their scholarly books. Dr. Ray Ryan, Senior Commissioning Editor at Cambridge University Press, addressed the process of querying editors, pitching your project, writing a proposal and cover letter—as well as responding to readers reports, and what to expect in a contract.
Drury Sherrod: "How Narratives Shape Jury Verdicts"
February 12, 2019
Drury Sherrod is the author of a social psychology textbook and more than thirty articles on psychology, jury behavior, attribution theory, and the effects of environmental stress on human behavior.
Workshop with Geeta Dayal: Exploring Strategies for Creative Thinking
February 1, 2019
Music writer Geeta Dayal hosted a workshop on using creative systems like Brian Eno’s “Oblique Strategies” to stimulate students' own creativity.
Geeta Dayal: "Brian Eno, the Oblique Strategies, and Building Tools for Creativity"
January 31, 2019
Music writer Geeta Dayal discussed systems and strategies of creativity devised in the 20th century—including pioneering musician Brian Eno's "Oblique Strategies"—and how they might help us today.
The Oblique Strategies, a card deck of “over 100 worthwhile dilemmas,” was originally released by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt in 1975. The Strategies have had impressive cultural traction in the four decades since. Many of Eno’s high-profile friends and collaborators—from David Bowie to The Edge to David Byrne—have used the cards to get around creative impasses and make music in new ways.
Many artists used special decks of cards or card-like systems in the 20th century, but few of them crossed over into popular culture with as much success as the Oblique Strategies. Fluxus had their “Fluxboxes” or “Fluxkits” in the 1960s. In 1969, Marshall McLuhan released a series of aphorisms, printed on regular poker cards, known as the “Distant Early Warning” cards. John Cage famously used the I Ching, the ancient Chinese divination system based on 64 hexagrams—not a straightforward card deck, per se, but a complex system that he deployed in many different ways.
Dayal is a prolific writer, covering electronic music for magazines such as Bookforum, Wired, The Guardian, Rolling Stone, the Wire, The New York Times, and the Village Voice. She is the author of Brian Eno: Another Green World in the 33 1/3 series.
Q&A with Brian Keating: Popular Science Writing
December 7, 2018
In a special session for aspiring writers at Pomona, astrophysicist and inventor Brian Keating shared his insights and tips about how (and why) one might engage in popular science writing.
Brian Keating: "Losing the Nobel Prize"
December 6, 2018
Brian Keating, cosmologist and inventor, spoke about his book Losing the Nobel Prize: A Cosmological Memoir. In the book, Keating shares the inside story of the experiment that brought him to the cusp of Nobel glory, and of the mesmerizing discovery and the scientific drama that ensued. He provocatively argues that the Nobel Prize, instead of advancing scientific progress, may actually hamper it, encouraging speed and greed while punishing collaboration and bold innovation. In a thoughtful reappraisal of the wishes of Alfred Nobel, Keating offers practical solutions for reforming the prize, providing a vision of a scientific future in which cosmologists may, finally, be able to see all the way back to the very beginning.
Keating is a professor of physics at the Center for Astrophysics & Space Sciences (CASS) in the Department of Physics at the University of California, San Diego. He is a public speaker, inventor, and an expert in the study of the universe’s oldest light, using it to learn about the origin and evolution of the universe. He is a pioneer in the search for the earliest physical evidence of the inflationary epoch, the theorized period of expansion of space in the early universe directly after the Big Bang.
The event was co-sponsored by the Pomona College Department of Physics.
Humanities Toolkit: Applying to Graduate Programs in the Humanities
November 26, 2018
Part of the Humanities Toolkit series, we welcomed three UCLA graduate advisors (Charlene Villaseñor Black, Art History; Muriel McClendon, History; and Christopher Mott, English) for a practical roundtable dealing with such topics as making the decision to go to graduate school; selecting the right graduate school; the importance of contacting potential faculty advisors; crafting a personal statement, statement of purpose and/or diversity statement; selecting and polishing a writing sample; approaching letter writers; and funding one's graduate education.
Sarah Lewis: "Creativity, the Gift of Failure and the Search for Mastery"
November 15, 2018
Sarah Lewis, assistant professor of art and architecture and African and African-American studies at Harvard University and author of The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure and the Search for Mastery, spoke about where new innovations, new ideas, spring from and offered her perspective on what enables creative endeavors. What really drives iconic, transformational change on both a personal and an organizational level? From Nobel Prize–winning discoveries to new inventions to works of art, many of our creative triumphs are not achievements but are conversions, corrections after failed attempts.
Drawing on figures such as Frederick Douglass, Angela Duckworth, J. K. Rowling, and others, Lewis revealed the importance of play, grit, surrender, often ignored ideas, and the necessary experiments and follow-up attempts that lead to true breakthroughs. The path to success, Lewis noted, is often more surprising than we expect.
The event was presented in partnership with the Departments of History and Art History and the American Studies Program.
Q&A with Bill Keller ’70: Writing & Pitching an Op-Ed
November 13, 2018
Bill Keller, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former executive editor of The New York Times, spoke with aspiring faculty, staff, and student editorial writers about what makes for a compelling and timely op-ed and how to get editors to read a pitch.
Keller, a Pomona alumnus from the class of 1970, is Editor-in-Chief at The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering the U.S. criminal justice system. A winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for his reporting from Moscow, Keller served as executive editor of The New York Times from 2003 to 2011, where he was an Op-Ed columnist from 2001 to 2003 and again from 2011 to 2014. He is an emeritus member of the Pomona College Board of Trustees.
Reading & Discussion with James Miller: Can Democracy Work?
November 8, 2018
Today, democracy is the world's only broadly accepted political system, and yet it has become synonymous with disappointment and crisis. How did it come to this? In his book Can Democracy Work? A Short History of a Radical Idea from Ancient Athens to Our World, Pomona alumnus James Miller offered a lively, surprising, and urgent history of the democratic idea from its first stirrings to the present.
Miller is a professor of politics and liberal studies at the New School for Social Research. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Examined Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche; Flowers in the Dustbin: The Rise of Rock and Roll, 1947-1977; and Democracy in the Streets: From Port Huron to the Siege of Chicago.
The event was co-sponsored by the Department of Politics.
Workshop with Kenneth Lonergan: Writing for Stage and Screen
November 2, 2018
Student actors performed the opening of Lonergan's Lobby Hero, followed by a talkback with the director (Emma Silverman), actors, and playwright Kenneth Lonergan.
Kenneth Lonergan in Conversation with Jonathan Lethem
November 1, 2018
The Humanities Studio welcomed award-winning film director, playwright and screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan to Claremont as the third guest in our Studio Speakers Series. Screenings of two acclaimed Lonergan films, Margaret and Manchester by the Sea, were followed by a conversation and Q&A session with Lonergan hosted by Jonathan Lethem.
Lonergan is perhaps best known for his 2016 film Manchester by the Sea, which he wrote and directed, and for which he won the Academy and BAFTA awards for best original screenplay. He wrote and directed You Can Count on Me (2000) and Margaret (2011), and has written or co-written a number of other screenplays including Analyze This (1999) and Gangs of New York (2002). He has also written frequently for the stage, including The Waverly Gallery (2000), which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and Lobby Hero (2001).
Jonathan Lethem is the Roy Edward Disney ‘51 Professor of Creative Writing and Professor of English at Pomona College and the author of eleven novels including, most recently, The Feral Detective.
The event was presented in partnership with the Departments of Philosophy and History and the American Studies Program.
Film Screening: DJ Spooky's Rebirth of a Nation
October 12, 2018
The Humanities Studio and Paul D. Miller a.k.a. DJ Spooky presented a screening of Miller's Rebirth of a Nation — a film project the artist describes as a "remix" of D. W. Griffith's infamous 1915 film Birth of a Nation. The film was commissioned in 2004 as the artist's first large-scale multimedia performance piece and has been performed in venues around the world. The DVD version of the performance, presented at this screening, was released in 2008.
Of Miller's work, collaborator Yoko Ono said, “DJ Spooky cannot be called just a DJ. He is a very accomplished composer. But these days, DJs are the ones who are bringing fresh sounds to the music world. In fact, they are creating a new spatial music. They are the space transformers of the universe.”
Q&A with Jennifer Fay: On Writing
October 12, 2018
Natasha Anis ’19 spoke with film scholar Jennifer Fay about her creative process and tips for aspiring writers of all kinds.
Jennifer Fay: "Virtuosic Failure & Environmental Design: Buster Keaton"
October 11, 2018
Following a screening of the Buster Keaton film Steamboat Bill Jr., supported by a live set by DJ Spooky, film scholar Jennifer Fay considered Keaton’s “climatography” as a fable for our contemporary environmental crisis.
Fay is associate professor of film and English at Vanderbilt University and director of Vanderbilt's program in Cinema and Media Arts. She is the author of Theaters of Occupation: Hollywood and the Reeducation of Postwar Germany and co-author of Film Noir: Hard-Boiled Modernity and the Cultures of Globalization. Her most recent book, Inhospitable World: Cinema in the Time of the Anthropocene, was published in March 2018.
DJ Spooky a.k.a. Paul D. Miller is the executive editor of ORIGIN Magazine and is a composer, multimedia artist, editor and author. He has produced and composed work for Yoko Ono, Thurston Moore, and scores of artists and award-winning films, in addition to writing award-winning books, holding an artist's residency at Stanford University, and creating the mega-popular DJ MIXER iPad app.
September 24–28, 2018
A week of performances and presentations regarding the work, influence, and life of American composer and thinker John Cage (1912–1992), Pomona Class of 1932.
Q&A with Greil Marcus: On Writing
September 14, 2018
Ros Faulker ’19 spoke with noted music critic, author and editor Greil Marcus about his creative process and tips for aspiring writers of all kinds.
Greil Marcus: "How Failure Makes History"
September 13, 2018
An editor and critic over the past five decades for Rolling Stone, Creem and the Village Voice, Greil Marcus is the author of Mystery Train: Images of American in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music; Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century; Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads; and nearly two dozen other books. Bruce Springsteen said that Mystery Train “gets as close to the heart and soul of America and American music as the best of rock ‘n’ roll”; about his work, the New Yorker wrote “Greil Marcus developed an ability to discern an art movement, or an entire country, lurking inside a song.”
Marcus spoke on “How Failure Makes History,” followed by a book signing.
The event was co-sponsored by the American Studies Program, the Department of History, and the Joseph Horsfall Johnson Public Event Fund.