What does it mean to be free, to imagine freedom? Conversely, why are logics of control and capture adopted? How and to what ends is it possible to resist these strictures? How is the body implicated in freedom and in capture?

By enlisting the power of the humanities to translate experience, promote critical reflection, and offer fresh perspectives on challenging issues, Freedom and Captivity aims to incubate, amplify, and expand creative breakthroughs in these questions and in the relationship between freedom and captivity. Freedom and Captivity engages these larger ideas through three specific sub-themes: “Carcerality,” “Imagination and the Contained Body,” and “Freedoms.”

While we welcome broad interpretations of the theme, our investment in freedom and captivity begins with two of the most pressing issues of our era: mass incarceration and displacement. These conditions are central to understanding the material and prescient stakes of freedom and captivity. While distinct, both incarceration and displacement draw together notions of subjectivity, embodiment, and space, asking us to consider the importance of space, geography, and the body in notions of freedom and capture. Why do we believe that the freedom of some depends on the captivity of others? “Carcerality” centers these pressing issues, which span social, political, economic, ecological, and geopolitical considerations, asking us to challenge the social constructs and material conditions of global captivity.


Catherine Besteman

Catherine Besteman

Catherine Besteman, Francis F. Bartlett and Ruth K. Bartlett Professor of Anthropology, has taught Anthropology at Colby since 1994. Her research focuses on racism, immigration/mobility, inequality, violence, incarceration, art, and social transformation, topics she has studied in South Africa, Somalia, and the U.S. A past President of the Association of Political and Legal Anthropologists and a 2012 Guggenheim Fellow, she has published nine books, the most recent of which is Militarized Global Apartheid (2020). In conjunction with the Colby Arts and Humanities theme, she is also coordinating the statewide Freedom and Captivity project, a collaborative public humanities initiative to explore and promote abolitionist visions for Maine. The statewide initiative includes exhibitions, a podcast, webinars, performances, workshops inside prisons, and an online exhibition juried from a national open call. Learn more at FreedomAndCaptivity.org.

Chandra Bhimull

Chandra Bhimull

Chandra D. Bhimull is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and African American Studies. She earned her doctorate in Anthropology and History from the University of Michigan. As someone who supports transdisciplinary curiosity and play, her teaching and scholarship are committed to the emancipation of imagination. Her research is about flight and race, specifically airline travel and black struggle. Lately, she is writing about insignificance and interpolation, and continuing her ethnographic and archival study of miles, points, and status.

Gwyneth Shanks​

Gwyneth Shanks

Gwyneth Shanks is an Assistant Professor at Colby College. Prior to that, she held curatorial positions at the Whitney Museum of American Art through the Independent Study Program and at the Walker Art Center. Her research considers how performance can propose strategies for revealing and dismantling colonial and racialized histories of representation in contemporary art. At Colby, she teaches courses that introduce students to performance studies, explore art institutions, and contextualize contemporary art and performance through race, gender, labor, and sexuality.


Abolition for the 21st Century

Solitary Confinement

Monday, November 8 | 7:00 PM Webinar

A conversation between philosopher Lisa Guenther (Queens University) and artist jackie sumell.

Abolition for the 21st Century

Gender, Feminism and Abolition

Monday, November 15 | 7:00 PM Workshop

A workshop with journalist Victoria Law. Victoria is an American anarchist activist, prison abolitionist, writer, freelance editor, and photographer.

Abolition for the 21st Century

Performance of Felon

Monday, December 6 | 7:00 PM Webinar

A performance of Felon by Reginald Dwayne Betts. 

Course Work


Slavery and Freedom in American Art

Fall 2021 Humanities Theme/Lab Course
Four-credit hours. Sheehan.

This humanities lab engages with the work of historical and contemporary visual artists who have pictured the enslavement and/or freedom of people of African descent in the Atlantic world. Students consider images that Americans used as arguments for or against chattel slavery; representations of Black freedom and citizenship; and African American artists’ efforts to reimagine the violence of slavery, make visible its modern afterlife, and celebrate Black resistance and agency. Students will work collaboratively with one another and experts in the field to reinterpret artworks at the Colby Museum through writing and oral presentations.


Freedom and Captivity: Documentary Storytelling

Fall 2021 Humanities Theme/Lab Course
Four-credit hours. Besteman.

This ‘inside out’ humanities lab course is open to Colby students and women incarcerated at the Southern Maine Women’s Reentry Center. The students will collaborate on a set of documentary projects that explore the themes of ‘freedom’ and ‘captivity’ in relation to place and place-making, inside and outside of a carceral environment. The class will participate in the Monday evening Freedom and Captivity webinar series, from which we will pull questions to explore through collaborative documentary projects developed in the second class meeting each week. Students will engage in critical self-reflection of their own experience with these themes and connect them to roles and systems in which they participate. The final project will include a culminating, collective portfolio of creative work developed over the course of the semester.

Language, Thought, and Writing: Community Literacy and Migration


Language, Thought, and Writing: Community Literacy and Migration

Freedom and Captivity Affiliated Course
Four credit hours. Taff.

Where are we and what are we doing here? How did we get here and how do we know what we know? What’s next and who needs to hear our stories? These three sets of questions will guide our exploration of personal essays, literary texts, scholarly criticism, images, and more as we seek to gain literacy—not only the ability to read and write but also to engage cultural knowledge—about Colby College and Waterville, about the communities from which we come, and about the concept of migration. We will examine our arrival in the Colby College community through reflective, analytical, narrative, and research-based writing, peer editing, and other literacy-focused activities. We will place our own stories in relation to those of writers from the past and the present, including Margaret Cavendish, bell hooks, and Mohsin Hamid. Our goal will be to develop a successful college-level writing practice while gaining a textured understanding of what it takes to migrate, what kinds of knowledge we bring with us when we do, and how humans gain literacy and become creators of new knowledge when we join new communities.

African American Literature​


African American Literature

Freedom and Captivity Affiliated Course
Four credit hours. Plasencia

This course introduces you to early African American literature as an inscription of fugitive existence—or as Fred Moten calls it, “stolen life.” Our goal is to sketch this story of unruly writing from 1773 to 1900 by considering how black citizens usurped and (re)-formed dominant literary genres and political institutions in order to carve out a space of freedom within a hostile nation. We’ll read sermons, political tracts, spiritual autobiographies, testimonials of enslavement, and newspapers to ascertain how people of African descent theorized anti-blackness as a way of life, and, in response, fashioned other forms of being-in-the-world.

Literature and Medicine: Body, Addiction, and the World


Literature and Medicine: Body, Addiction, and the World

Freedom and Captivity Affiliated Course
Four-credit hours. Gao.

This course introduces students to accounts of substance use and addiction from the nineteenth century through the present day. We will examine canonical and contemporary literary texts, medical writings, visual representations, and films alongside topics such as liberalism, enslavement, inequality, imperial expansion, consumerism, “digital drugs,” and the pathologization of addiction. We will consider our readings in light of the following questions: What role do substance use and addiction play in constructing the modern self and society? What can representations of addiction teach us about our relationship with the external world? How does addiction act as a metaphor, a narrative device, or even a political sign? How do gender, class, and race affect narratives of addiction? How do accounts of addiction interact with philosophical texts, medical treatises, and imperial and colonial discourses? In addition to writing critical essays, students will evaluate smartphone addiction treatment apps and devise an encyclopedia entry to a topic relevant to this course.


Donning the Mask IN THE WAKE: The Persona Poem

Fall 2021 Theme Course
Four-credit hours. White.

This course brings new meaning to the popular phrase and hashtag “Stay Woke.” We will look at poetic works that use persona, personification, and/or dramatic monologue as the dominant literary device to construct long poems and book-length narratives that re-imagine and reanimate historical figures and events that have had material and sociopolitical consequences for the Black community. Christina Sharpe’s wake theory will inform the reading of these poetry collections. Through discussion, critical reflective writing, and poetic re-enactments we will examine how contemporary Black poets “don the mask” to comment on our historical times and challenge us morally.

Shadows of the Past: Remembering Vichy France and the Shoah​


Shadows of the Past: Remembering Vichy France and the Shoah

Freedom and Captivity Affiliated Course
Four credit hours. Brunetaux.

How to represent the Holocaust through aesthetic forms without trivializing its horrors? How to translate into words the excruciating void, silence, and pain felt after the return from the camps? How has France grappled with its responsibility in the roundups and deportations of Jews during WWII and memorialized this shameful past? This course will explore how French writers and filmmakers have found creative ways to work through past traumas and convey the unthinkable through words and images. Emphasis on creative and critical thinking, literary and film analysis. Prerequisite: French 231 and at least one other 200-level course.

Introduction to Italian Literary Studies: Poets, Lovers, and Revolutionaries​


Introduction to Italian Literary Studies: Poets, Lovers, and Revolutionaries

Freedom and Captivity Affiliated Course
Four credit hours. Rizzo.

In this discussion-intensive course, we will explore the most enduring topics of Italian culture: the nature of love, the role of the artist in society, and the experience of time and death. Students will learn about different artistic genres (lyric poetry, short story, novel, film, contemporary song) and hone analytic skills and writing (rhetorical figures, form-content, stylistics). Students will become familiar with key periods of Italian culture and famous authors (Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarch, Leopardi, Montale, Ungaretti, Ginzburg, Calvino). Taught in Italian.


A Pastoral Cookbook: Classic Recipes and New Cooking Techniques

Fall 2021 Humanities Theme/Lab Course
Four-Credit hours. Cannamela.

Explores the idea of the pastoral as a “comfort food recipe” rooted in the classical tradition, whose simple ingredients have inspired sophisticated “cooking techniques” and contemporary reinventions. Students will creatively engage with the pastoral as a material and imaginative site. Throughout the course, they will visit small local farms and co-author a pastoral cookbook in which recipes and stories from the farms are connected with literary and visual texts explored in the course.

Plautus Captivi​


Plautus Captivi

Freedom and Captivity Affiliated Course
Four-credit hours. Miller

We will read Plautus’ play Captivi from start to finish in the original Latin, focusing on grammatical, stylistic, and historical concerns. While Captivi is a comedy, it addresses serious themes such as freedom, enslavement, and the human consequences of war. We will explore these themes not only by closely reading Plautus’ text, but also by examining other textual and material evidence from antiquity and, ultimately, performing our own translations of chosen scenes.


Philosophical Encounters: Philosophies of Freedom and Captivity

Fall 2021 Theme Course
Four-credit hours. Moland.

Philosophers since Socrates have grappled with what it means to be free and what implications our definition of freedom has for understanding justice. Contemporary philosophers use these definitions to articulate ethical questions concerning the crisis of mass incarceration in the United States. We will explore both historical philosophies of freedom and philosophical writing about incarceration today, including the death penalty, juvenile detention, and solitary confinement. We will also learn about the lived experience of incarcerated people in Maine. Includes “philosophical encounters” with scholars and activists.


American Cult: New Religious Movements from Salem to QAnon​


American Cult: New Religious Movements from Salem to QAnon

Freedom and Captivity Affiliated Course
Four credit hours. Harper

is a cult? What is a religion? Is there a difference? How do each intersect with more supposedly secular phenomena, such as communal movements or online groups organized around conspiracy theories? This course studies new religious movements (popularly called cults) in the United States. We will consider several historical movements (e.g., the Millerites and early Latter-Day Saints) and move to contemporary examples (e.g., Heavens Gate, QAnon), always attending to the issues of charismatic leadership, conversion, and belief maintenance, as well as the lived practices and experiences of members and ex-members of such groups.

Reel Russia​


Reel Russia

Freedom and Captivity Affiliated Course
Four credit hours, Ansdell

Following the collapse of the USSR in 1991, former Soviet republics officially gained freedom from the oppressive communist regime. However, the process of searching for post-Soviet identity has proved lengthy and traumatic, especially for Russia that has struggled with both tsarist Russian and Soviet imperial mentality, the long tradition of authoritarianism, and its conflicted position vis-a-vis the democratic West. This writing-intensive course examines the mechanisms and dynamics of subverting, dismantling, and recycling Soviet mythical structures as a part of new national myth-building that accompanies the dramatic social, economic, ideological, and demographic changes in post-Communist Russia. Students will combine intellectual inquiry into changing visual representations of social structures, ethnic relations, and gender roles in Russia with the development of analytical skills and vocabulary necessary to think and write critically about film.

Black Lives Matter in the Hispanic World​


Black Lives Matter in the Hispanic World

Freedom and Captivity Affiliated Course
Four credit hours. Styles.

Africans and Afro-descendants have formed a part of the Hispanic World since before the arrival of the first slaves to North America in 1619, but the existence of Black people has not been fully recognized. Literary and historical analysis will explore the various ways Africans and their descendants have always been cultural citizens of Spain and Spanish America. Texts to be studied include auto/biographical writings by and about a Black nun, slave narratives, and contemporary prose. Continuities between racial discourses in the past and the present, and Black agency throughout time, demonstrate the various ways Black life has always mattered even when it has gone unnoticed.

Black Lives Matter in the Hispanic World​


The Afro-Américas: Race, Power, and Subjectivity

Freedom and Captivity Affiliated Course
Four credit hours. Flores.

Explores literature, film, and cultural productions by Afro-descendant subjects in the Americas. Focusing on Latin American and U.S. Afro-Latinx populations, this course underscores the interconnected nature of Afro-descendant populations in the region and examines how Afro-descendant peoples constantly negotiate hegemonic cultural norms overtly and subversively. Using an intersectional approach, students will explore who is included and excluded in a national rhetoric, how race is constructed or rejected, who speaks or does not speak in history, and how gender is negotiated or silenced in national narratives. Prerequisite: A 200-level Spanish literature, culture, or film course.

Writing with Sound: Music and Literature in Contemporary Latin America​


Writing with Sound: Music and Literature in Contemporary Latin America

Freedom and Captivity Affiliated Course
Four credit hours. Hankin

Can literature make music? Does writing have rhythm? This advanced seminar in Spanish explores the cross-pollination or intermediality between music, sound, and literature in modern and contemporary Latin America. Broadly defined, intermediality refers to artistic works that cross between or reside in the interstices of seemingly separate media. We focus on sites where musicians find recourse in literature and writers find recourse in music to examine the social and political implications of sound and listening. We will pay particular attention to how histories of slavery and colonization influence the practice of writing across media. The themes of freedom and captivity are explored within this diasporic framework, as well as with respect to traditional generic boundaries.


Fall Theater Production: Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde

Fall 2021 Humanities Theme/Lab Course
Four-credit hours. Brown.

In this course, we will research and stage a production of Moisés Kaufman’s Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde. Written in 1997, this play explores Oscar Wilde’s three trials regarding his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas and other men. Kaufman created the play from extensive research that drew directly from trial transcripts, archival newspaper accounts, and books by and about Wilde. In staging this play, we will interrogate how histories of surveillance and persecution live on in contemporary legal formations and relate to struggles for LGBTQ+ rights to this day.

Past Themes


Boundaries and Margins

Boundaries highlight or fix limits for people, places, objects, and events. But beyond this, boundaries mark relational sites where meaning, value, and belonging are made, reworked, and contested.

Should we approach boundaries as restrictive forces that constrict us within walls, borders, and lines, be they real or metaphorical, or as creative forces that overlap, move, and encourage us to rupture our own definitions of limits? Boundaries produce and attempt to manage marginal areas. They allow for a liminal space, a space “in-between” that is transitory, transient, unexpected and uncertain to erupt. This theme will allow us to interrogate the margins, those spaces in which subversive, often oppressed, knowledges and life ways take shape. If boundaries attempt to codify and construct worlds, what new worlds can emerge through the pursuit of this theme’s inquiry?

Theme Sponsors
AB Brown, Theater and Dance
Audrey Brunetaux, French and Francophone Studies



Energy and its limits shape our lives, connecting artistic and technological innovations, local communities and oppressive structures of power, political activism and affective fatigue, histories of environmental change and societal collapse, and the origin of life and entropic fate of the universe.

This theme will bring together the arts, humanities, and social and natural sciences to investigate the space between energy and exhaustion as a metaphorical realm and lived reality. Together we will explore the endless potentiality of energy and limiting effects of exhaustion as they impact aesthetic innovation, literary imagination, political anxieties, environmental limits, and activist movements—all touching upon our shared past, current political realities, and collective futures.

Theme Sponsors
Dale Kocevski, Physics and Astronomy
Chris Walker, English and Environmental Humanities


The Presence of the Past

The Presence of the Past is everywhere: in our daily lives and activities, our natural, engineered, and social environments, our political commitments, our biasses and prejudices, our religious and spiritual convictions, our scientific and technological accomplishments and ambitions, and more.

What happens when competing versions of the past come into conflict? How is knowledge about the past produced? How do structures of power and prestige operating in the present shape our current knowledge of the across the disciplines?

Theme Sponsors
Elizabeth D. Leonard, History
Megan Cook, English



Energy and its limits shape our lives, connecting artistic and technological innovations, local communities and oppressive structures of power, political activism and affective fatigue, histories of environmental change and societal collapse, and the origin of life and entropic fate of the universe.

Origins encourages a detailed and critical reflection of the social, historical, political, and cultural contexts that inform our understanding of who we are as humans, where we come from, and the trajectory we choose to follow in an increasingly interconnected global landscape.

Theme Sponsors
Shalini Le Gall, Museum of Art
Gianluca Rizzo, Studies
Arnout van der Meer, History