During the Center for the Humanities Lecture Series, nine scholars explored the theme of “Dirt” throughout the fall 2020 semester. The theme explored the material ecologies and symbolic currencies of filth, waste, toxicity, and contamination alongside ideas of purity, hygiene, and cleanliness to address and reframe a range of contemporary environmental and cultural urgencies.
Through various topics, the scholars discussed uses and abuses of dirt and its various political, religious, sexual, ethnic, racial, and ecological significations.
The topics and speakers included:
“Projected Resonances: Intersections of Sound, Performance, and Tourism Underground at Mammoth Cave” by Paula Matthusen, associate professor of music; “Getting Our Hands Dirty: Manual Labor Schools, Abolition, and the Empire of Benevolence” by Khalil Johnson, assistant professor of African American studies; “Trashy Encounters: Modernity, the Great Pacific Garbage Gyre, and Indigenous Futures” by Yu-ting Huang, assistant professor of East Asian studies; “Anthropogenic Forms in Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being” by Amy Tang, Douglas J. and Midge Bowen Bennet Associate Professor of English and American Studies; “Lust Area” by Greg Goldberg, associate professor and chair of sociology; and “Queer Erotic Archives in Franco’s Spain (1954-1979)” by Javier Fernandez Galeano, Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow.
Other speakers included “Detention Operations” by Angela Naimou of Clemson University; “Soil, The Black Archives” by Marisa Solomon of Barnard College and Columbia University; and “Histories of Dirt in Lagos” by Stephanie Newell of Yale University.
The series was hosted by Natasha Korda, professor of English and director of the Center for the Humanities.
The spring 2021 Center for the Humanities theme is ephemera.
Natasha Korda, professor of English and director of the Center for the Humanities, explained how the theme “examines the material ecologies and symbolic currencies of soil, filth, waste, and contamination to reframe a range of contemporary environmental and cultural issues bearing on bodies and borders.” Korda also acknowledged that the land on which Wesleyan’s Center for the Humanities stands once belonged to the indigenous Wangunk Indian tribe.
On Oct. 19, Amy Tang, Douglas J. and Midge Bowen Bennet Associate Professor of English and American Studies, presented a talk titled “Anthropogenic Forms in Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being.” “[The novel] vibrantly juxtaposes multiple timescales specifically working between the scale of the human and the scale of the planet. Moreover, Ozeki’s novel highlights the narrative’s own temporal plurality as a way of locating ourselves within the geological epochs of the Anthropocene.”
On Oct. 26, Yu-ting Huang, assistant professor of East Asian studies, presented a talk titled “Trashy Encounters: Modernity, the Great Pacific Garbage Gyre, and Indigenous Futures.”
On Nov. 9, Khalil Johnson, assistant professor of African American studies, spoke about “Getting Our Hands Dirty: Manual Labor Schools, Abolition, and the Empire of Benevolence.” Johnson noted that in the 1800s, liberal arts colleges and Protestant theological seminaries across the United States had integrated manual labor into their educational programs. At Andover Seminary in Massachusetts, students labored together 15 minutes before meals, and at Oneida Institute in New York (pictured at left), students were required to labor three hours per day. “Initially, requiring students to labor in farms or workshops served purely practical purposes. Manual labor provided physical exercise that improved general health and well-being, and in contributing labor toward the maintenance of institutions, growing foodstuffs, or producing commodities, students got to offset the cost of their tuition.”
On Oct. 5, Greg Goldberg, associate professor and chair of sociology, presented a talk titled “Lust Area,” which focused on progressive support for all-gender public bathrooms in contrast to progressive silence surrounding the surveillance and policing of men who have sex with men in public bathrooms (also called “cruising”). Goldberg argued: “some of the contemporary support for all-gender bathrooms on the Left is motivated, probably unconsciously, by a discomfort with the homoerotics of the bathroom, and more specifically with the possibility of cruising. All-gender bathrooms can alleviate this discomfort insofar as they foreclose opportunities for cruising, whether through designs that eliminate opportunities for discrete exposure and contact, or by the installation or conversion of single-user bathrooms.”
On Nov. 23, Paula Matthusen, associate professor of music, presented “Projected Resonances: Intersections of Sound, Performance, and Tourism Underground at Mammoth Cave.” With Projected Resonances, Matthusen explored the acoustic space in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave and its intertwined histories of musical performance and tourism.
On Sept. 14, Javier Fernandez Galeano, Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, presented “Queer Erotic Archives in Franco’s Spain (1954–1979).” Galeano explained that under Francisco Franco’s regime (1939–1975) in Spain, the authorities incinerated heterosexual pornography while they preserved, curated, and restored queer pornography. The study of the confiscated materials “suggests that queer and trans communities embodied in their photographs a reading of their own desires that differed from the authorities’ views,” he said.