Past Themes - Center for the Arts and Humanities

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.

2020-2021

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

2019-2020

Energy/Exhaustion

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

2018-2019

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

2018-2017

Origins

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, Italian Literature and Language
Arnout van der Meer, History