A biweekly publication for faculty and staff

Humanities Center Turns World Upside Down

April 1, 2014

The UC Merced Center for the Humanities has turned the world upside down.

The center, which received a $2 million gift in 2012 to expand its activities, selected “The World Upside Down: Topsy-Turvy” as its first two-year-long research theme, which serves as a guiding plan for its offerings in the 2013 and 2014 academic years. A new theme will be selected for the 2015 and 2016 academic years.

For its first “Distinguished Lecture in the Humanities,” the center is bringing Yale University Professor James Scott to campus. He will talk at 4:30 p.m. April 8 in the Leo and Dottie Kolligian Library, Room 355. The event is free and open to the public.

“James Scott is an exciting scholar who has spent many years thinking about the way our everyday interactions are shaped by power,” said Susan Amussen, a professor and the center’s director. “In this talk, he is expanding his focus to think about the origins of civilization, and it promises to be both lively and intellectually challenging.”

Scott is a professor of political science and anthropology and also serves as the director of the Agrarian Studies Program. His talk is titled “How We, Homo Sapiens, Came to be Domesticated: An Account of the Late-Neolithic Multi-species Resettlement Camp.”

It will look at how we ended up living in great concentrations of people, domesticated plants and animals, in social formations that were less healthy and amenable to the creation of states by which we are all now governed.

However, that’s the just one of the many events the center has supported since the school year began. It has held a biweekly seminar series and cosponsored the Black Arts Movement conference, which included academic presentations and performances. It has also funding seven research fellows: three faculty members, two graduate students and two postdoctoral students.

Omotayo Jolaosho, one of the postdoctoral fellows, is studying how performance — through songs and dance — disrupts and creates political power. She went to South Africa, recording more than 100 hours of video footage and songs.

“I look at freedom songs and protest songs but also trying to understand performance as integrated expression that comes through the body. Music isn’t separated from dance,” said Jolaosho, who earned her Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Rutgers University.

Eli Jelly-Schapiro, the other postdoctoral fellow, is working on his book manuscript, which seeks to embed the cultural and political forms of the war on terror within the long history of modernity, through readings of contemporary fiction and theory. He received his Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale University.

The research conducted by all the fellows will be showcased in Spring 2015.

Other upcoming events supported by the center include:

• The Marcus Shelby Quartet: Harriet Tubman and the Blues — Teacher and musician Marcus Shelby will tell the story of Harriet Tubman, a woman who rose out of humble beginnings, escaped slavery and dedicated her life to challenging the grave injustices of her day. The event begins at 8 p.m. April 14 in the Lakireddy Auditorium. It’s free and open to the public.

• Thirty Years of Mass Incarceration: Where Do We Go from Here? — The day-long symposium looks at the past, present and future of mass incarceration. The 1984 Crime Control Act, which established mandatory minimum sentences, was the first in a series of laws passed in the 1980s and 1990s that created mass incarceration: the number of people behind bars increased 450 percent. The event is from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 16 in the California Room.

• Second annual Graduate Students Conference — Professor Rachel Klein from UC San Diego will deliver the keynote talk, "The Metropolitan Museum on Trial: Cypriot Antiquities and the Transformation of Culture in the Late Nineteenth Century United States" at 6:30 p.m. April 19 at the Merced Theater. Klein's talk is free and open to the public.