Seven new humanities faculty: their courses and their passions for teaching
Among the new faculty members who arrived at Yale this fall are seven humanities scholars in the Departments of African American Studies; Anthropology; English; Ethnicity, Race & Migration; Film & Media Studies; History; History of Science and Medicine; Theater Studies; and Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies.
Concerns of race, class, and gender weave through all of faculty members’ scholarship and classroom instruction, energizing their disciplines — and by extension their students and the university as a whole — with challenging, fresh perspectives.
Here is a look at these new teacher-scholars.
African American Studies, Film & Media Studies
“I always try to get students to grasp this one fundamental thing: Nothing is ever as simple as it seems; there’s always something else going on.” said Rizvana Bradley, assistant professor in the Departments of African American Studies and Film & Media Studies.
Bradley received her Ph.D. from Duke, and after teaching at Emory University, was a visiting fellow in the University College London’s Department of the History of Art. While in London, she also produced an event on black film history for the British Film Institute.
She holds appointments at Yale in both the Departments of African American Studies and Film & Media Studies, but her work is decidedly interdisciplinary; Bradley focuses on the wider black diaspora with respect to expansive definition of “media.” Her expertise extends into contemporary art and art history, as well as experimental art films. This semester, she takes up Hazel Carby’s course on “The Wire” and is offering a new course titled “Cinema of the Black Diaspora.”
“Cinema of the Black Diaspora” will survey “the key film texts of the black avant-garde canon, and will ask students to think about black subjectivity as complex and nuanced with respect to the global historical emergence of black diasporas,” said Bradley. The course will pose the question “Does the Black cinematic aesthetic exist?” and examine the interplay between the development of cinema for black populations, as well as the contradictory cultural formations of black diasporic communities — which, Bradley added, “have always been in flux.”
Bradley will update “The Wire” and organize that course around the concept of the post-Ferguson carceral state, discussing race and gender as they relate to policing, the massive American prison-industrial complex, and the criminalization of black, brown, and trans bodies. Many have made the claim that “The Wire” is “the best show ever to have been on television,” and former President Obama even cited it as his favorite television program, but Bradley will put the tough question to students in this course: “In final analysis, does ‘The Wire’ exhibit anti-black representational tendencies, and is it an anti-black show?”
History, History of Science and Medicine
“I love challenging students’ assumptions,” asserted Deborah Coen, professor in the Department of History and in History of Science & Medicine. “My field is ideal for that. I often get science students coming into my classroom who believe very strongly that their laboratory work is not tainted by cultural forces or assumptions about social relations. I like to get them to think more critically and to give them the skills to know where to look to find the points where culture enters the laboratory. On the other hand, I really like working with students from the humanities who might have a bit of trepidation around the sciences, and enjoy helping them appreciate the sciences through a historical lens.”
Coen comes to Yale from Barnard College and Columbia University, and is a historian of science and of modern Europe. Next year, she will be on leave from teaching in order to study the physical and social science of climate change under a Mellon New Directions Fellowship. To date, her research has focused both on questions of “how scientists cope with uncertainty” and on tracking the history of “the production of environmental knowledge,” she said. This semester, she is teaching an undergraduate seminar called “Gender and Science” and a graduate seminar on Science, Environment, and Empire.
“Gender and Science” begins in the era of the Scientific Revolution, and Coen starts with the questions: Why do we call it a revolution? What was the revolutionary potential? What did women see in the sciences in this period? “Gender and Science” then moves node by node between “pivotal moments in history where science either had the opportunity to reinforce existing stereotypes of gender and race – to be a conservative force – or to challenge them, maybe even overturn them, and serve as a liberating force,” explained the historian. Coen said she is excited to share Donna Haraway’s “Primate Visions,” a “witty, provocative” and seminal feminist science studies text, with the class. By the end, students will have learned “how to analyze the gender politics of science.” And for humanities majors who want to take it – not to worry, she said: “No science background is necessary.”
Anthropology, African American Studies
“Teaching, for me, is always a collective endeavor,” said Aimee Cox, assistant professor in the Departments of African American Studies and Anthropology. “I am very much interested and inspired by dialogue. I always see the engagement in a classroom, even in a big lecture, as a conversation, which is very exciting.”
Cox trained as a cultural anthropologist at the University of Michigan, and has worked with young women in both Detroit and Newark in her ethnographic studies. In Detroit, she worked on programming for women in the community through BlackLight, an organization for performance and creative expression. Cox expanded this program to Newark when she relocated there to work in the Department of African American Studies at Rutgers. Her research focuses on “identity-formation and how individuals and collectives transform space, how people find pockets of possibility in circumstances where there really is not a lot of space to be self-actualized,” she said. This semester she is teaching “Performance Ethnography” and “Black Girls in the American City.”
“Black Girls in the American City” is a first-year seminar, of which Cox said: “It’s exciting to me that this kind of class helps first-years shift from the place of just receiving information in the classroom to the classroom as a space where they have to think out loud, speculate, be incorrect sometimes, and not be afraid to have those conversations where we are thinking together and working together through topics.” It’s a brand-new course for her, and she said she finds it “thrilling” to assemble a curriculum from the work she and her contemporaries in the academy have done in this emerging field of “black girl studies” — so new, she notes, that her own research is a significant part of the vanguard. “Performance Ethnography” will attempt to “rethink the way we understand ethnography,” explained Cox. “There are a variety of ways people think of performance ethnography, but I’m imagining this as a smaller, workshop-style course — almost like a laboratory — where we can create our own definition.” She said she hopes this will lead to students in the class wanting to bring their work, or someone else’s, to life through many different types of performance.
“I’ve had some wonderful English teachers over the years, from elementary school through to my Ph.D.,” said Naomi Levine, assistant professor in the Department of English. “They were so good at conveying what interested them about the material and making that interest contagious. That’s what I love about teaching: showing students why it’s worth caring and getting excited about texts that they may not immediately find accessible. My goal is to make my own enthusiasm contagious.”
Levine, who hails from Canada where she studied for her B.A. and M.A., received her Ph.D. in English literature from Rutgers. She works primarily on the intellectual history of poetic form, focusing on “the relationship between Victorian poetry and 19th-century literary history writing,” she said, and is “especially interested in 19th-century ideas about the origin of rhyme.” She will teach two undergraduate seminars this semester: “The Art of Losing,” a first-year seminar, and “Love and Desire in the 19th Century.”
“The Art of Losing” is a seminar on the elegy, a poetic genre Levine said she finds “endlessly fascinating.” Levine said she is most excited about taking the class to explore several New Haven resources, including the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Grove Street Cemetery — where, she added, “we’ll go once we’ve read some Victorian ghost stories to get us in the mood.” “Love and Desire in the 19th Century” is about Victorian literature and aesthetics and allows the class to consider “the ways that Victorian writers used the histories of literature and art to think in fresh ways about love,” she said. Levine will take this class to use the Yale art galleries, too. “At the Yale Center for British Art, we’ll look at drawings and paintings by Pre-Raphaelite poets whose poems we’re reading,” said Levine. “I’ve taught with images before, but always through reproductions. It will be great to stand in front of the real thing.”
“I come from a really long line of teachers. Teaching has been in my blood since the very beginning,” reflected Elise Morrison, assistant professor in the Department of Theater Studies. “My mission teaching here at Yale is to bring to prominence the importance of theater and performance within this particular academic environment.”
Morrison previously has worked as a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Interdisciplinary Performance Studies at Yale, but she returns now as the first tenure-track faculty member who is appointed solely to theater studies (others have joint appointments with other departments), for which she will serve as the director of undergraduate studies. Her research “focuses on artists who strategically employ technologies of surveillance to create performances that pose new and different ways of interacting with and understanding apparatuses of surveillance,” said Morrison. This semester she will take up the instruction of the required course for theater studies majors, “Survey of Theater and Drama,” and also will teach the seminar “Feminist Theater & Performance.”
The latter will be a history of feminist theater, and Morrison intends to have her students re-conceptualize the typical periodization of feminism through this class. “A great article illuminated my thinking about the metaphor of ‘waves of feminism,’” said Morrison. “It explained that we should consider the waves not as those of the ocean that crash and then recede but rather as radio waves, waves with different frequencies such that we can tune into many different, concurrent ones.” She wants her students to also consider, by that same metaphor, which waves has been largely muted in contemporary feminism — which, she commented is, “largely to do with issues of race and class.” In the “Survey of Theater and Drama” class, Morrison said she hopes to have students answer questions such as: “Why is there a Nigerian adaptation of ‘Oedipus’?” They will read such a play, called “The Gods Are Not to Blame,” that was penned by a Yale School of Drama playwright in the 1970s. She said she wants the class to think about the continuity and relevance of historical theater works, and thus the relevance of serious theater studies and theory to the rest of the interdisciplinary humanities.
Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
“I grew up moving around a lot, between all different countries,” explained Eda Pepi, assistant professor in the Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies program. “As a result, I had both the incredible pleasure and the extremely beneficial discomfort of immersing myself in different cultures, which introduced me to what could be called ‘the concept of boundary-making.’ It is this deep interest in boundaries — and by extension, whom they include or exclude — that I bring to my research and hope to impress on my students as well.”
A feminist anthropologist by training, Pepi comes to Yale from Stanford. Her work focuses primarily on the Middle East. She has conducted research in several countries in the Middle East and Africa, where she looks at how “the intimate sphere — marriage, family life — becomes a target of state intervention. For example, women’s reproductive and marital choices become a way for states to police their borders.” This semester, she is teaching “Bodies & Pleasures, Sex & Genders” and “Gender & Citizenship in the Middle East.”
In “Bodies & Pleasures,” the class will “take embodiment seriously,” said Pepi. Students will unpack the categories of “sex” and “gender” from the standpoint of the body, both in pleasure and in pain, she explained. To this end, she’s looking forward to bringing this class to the art galleries during their unit on representation, with an eye on “the colonial legacies of aesthetic standards and fetishization of certain bodies,” she said. “Gender & Citizenship in the Middle East” is “a direct response to our current migration crises but from the perspective of gender-based and racial/ethnic-based citizenship,” said Pepi. She will ask the class to consider mixed-nationality families, where not everyone in the family has the same immigration status, and how marriage can legally reproduce exclusion. She said she is most excited to introduce students to the feminist and critical race studies interventions in our understandings of the social contract that students may only have experienced through Rousseau and Locke; the “sexual contract” and the “racial contract” reveal, according to Pepi, “the so-called minor selves who are excluded by traditional social contract theory.”
American Studies, Ethnicity, Race & Migration, and Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies
“I learned to teach from teaching in very poor high schools, and because of that I’m very aware that students aren’t just students,” said Ana Ramos-Zayas, professor in the Departments of American Studies, Ethnicity, Race & Migration, and Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies. “Every person brings their own world into the classroom. I try to find ways for my classes to profit off of that.” When asked why she teaches, Ramos-Zayas added, “I’m one of the few people who loves what they do. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
For Ramos-Zayas, teaching at Yale is a homecoming of sorts; she received her B.A. from Yale before going on to teach at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and the City University of New York. Recently, her studies have turned towards Ipanema, Brazil, and El Condado, and Puerto Rico, where she is working through the question of “how whiteness is produced in Latin America,” she said. Her research has always focused on inequality, she notes, and for her, it is necessary to understand the lives and cultures of the wealthy as much as it is essential to understand the worlds of the poor and those others on the margins. This fall she teaches the seminars “Privilege in the Americas” and “Latinx Ethnography.”
“Privilege in the Americas” tasks the class with the question: “Can inequality be dismantled?” In the first half of the course, Ramos-Zayas will have students try to understand what studying “up,” and examining elites and power means. In the second half, she will work with the class to answer the question: “What can we do collectively and respectively in our journeys in life to reduce inequality?” “Latinx Ethnography” is going to be both analytical and hands-on. Ramos-Zayas will excavate past studies and representations of Latinx populations, which she says have mostly been presented as “affectively flat.” Students will then complete final projects with different methodologies and media, “I really care that students’ interests are represented in the final product, so there will be flexibility to choose final topics,” said Ramos-Zayas.