Friday, November 1, 2013

Contact Ecologies

Please join us for our next big MEMSI event, a day-long symposium with a keynote by Timothy Morton and presentations by Bruce Holsinger, Anne Harris, Kellie Robertson, and Steve Mentz. Although this event is free and open to the public, we need accurate numbers and ask you to please RSVP here

Contact Ecologies
Friday, November 15, 2013
Marvin Center 310
800 21st St. NW
Washington, DC 20052
11:00am - 5:30pm


11:00 – 12:30: Bruce Holsinger and Anne Harris 
Session Chair: Haylie Swenson, GWU

“Ecologies of the Archive”
Bruce Holsinger is professor of English at the University of Virginia.  His books include: Music, Body, and Desire in Medieval Culture: Hildegard of Bingen to Chaucer (Stanford 2001), The Premodern Condition: Medievalism and the Making of Theory (Chicago 2005), Neomedievalism, Neoconservatism, and the War on Terror (Prickly Paradigm/Chicago, 2007), and the forthcoming The Work of God: Liturgical Culture and Vernacular Writing in Britain, 550-1550 (Chicago).  His first novel, A Burnable Book, will be published by HarperCollins (UK) and William Morrow (US) in 2014. He is currently finishing up a book called Archive of the Animal: Science, Sacrifice, and the Parchment Inheritance, which explores the parchment record of the Western tradition.

“Eco-Echo: Acoustic Ecology and Crusader Contact”
Anne Harris received her PhD from the University of Chicago with a dissertation about stained glass in medieval and modern popular culture. She is now professor of Art History at DePauw University where she teaches courses on gender, race, class, sexuality and ecology in medieval art. She writes about the reception and perception of medieval art with an emphasis on its materiality and presence. Publications on stained glass, the Roman de la Rose, actual and virtual pilgrimage, and medieval devotional images made of alabaster, wood, and ivory continue to shape questions about the experience of medieval art. She blogs at and writes for the Material Collective at

12:30 – 2:00: Lunch 

2:00 – 3:30: Kellie Robertson and Steve Mentz
Session Chair: Lowell Duckert, West Virginia University

"Nature versus Ecology"
Kellie Robertson teaches at the University of Maryland. She is the author of The Laborer’s Two Bodies: Labor and the ‘Work’ of the Text in Medieval Britain, 1350-1500 and co-editor (with Michael Uebel) of a collection of essays entitled The Middle Ages at Work: Practicing Labor in Late Medieval England. Her current book project, Nature Speaks: Medieval Literature and Aristotelian Natural Philosophy, examines late medieval poetry in the context of its physics, arguing that both domains struggled over how to represent nature in the wake of Aristotelian science.

“Epochal Contacts”
Steve Mentz is Professor of English at St John's University in New York City. His work on the ecological and oceanic humanities includes the book At the Bottom of Shakespeare's Ocean (2009), many journal articles, and a gallery exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library, "Lost at Sea: The Ocean in the English Imagination, 1550-1750" (2010). He also writes about narrative romance, media technologies, and the poetics of swimming. His most recent publication is the co-edited volume, *The Age of Thomas Nashe: Texts, Books, and Trespasses of Authorship in Early Modern England* (2013), and he is currently completing a book on shipwreck and ecological globalization from Shakespeare to Defoe.

4:00 – 5:30: Timothy Morton

Timothy Morton is Rita Shea Guffey Chair of English at Rice University. He is the author of Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Minnesota UP, 2013), Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality (Open Humanities Press, 2013), The Ecological Thought (Harvard UP, 2010), Ecology without Nature (Harvard UP, 2007), seven other books and ninety essays on philosophy, ecology, literature, food and music. He blogs regularly at

Please email Haylie Swenson ( with any questions, and we hope to see you there!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Eileen Joy @ GWU

If you are interested in Digital Humanities and the future of publishing (especially electronic and open access publishing), please note that on Thursday November 14 Eileen Joy of punctum books and the BABEL Working Group will present "Freedom, Responsibility, E-Publishing, and Building New Cultural-Intellectual Publics." The talk is co-sponsored by the Digital Humanities Institute, GW MEMSI and the Gelman Library. 

Joy will speak at 2 PM in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Labor History Research Center (Gelman Library room 702). The talk is followed by coffee and cookies. Free and welcomes all who wish to attend. RSVP to

You can read more about punctum here:

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Canon Anew

The Canon Anew
Friday, October 25
Rome Hall 771
801 22nd St NW
Free and open to the public

"The Canon Anew" is an event featuring GW English's own Ayanna Thompson and Cord Whitaker of the University of New Hampshire.  Michael Bérubé will begin his residency with the GW English Department by responding to their presentations. More about Michael Bérubé's residency can be found here 

The canon wars were resolved in part by incorporating more authors and works within what is taught in literature departments as well as expanding the focus of journals and book series (and inventing many new forums). Surprisingly, however, two long revered figures continue to loom over "post-canonical" English literature, Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare. Both have professional societies, journals, and a significant publishing industry behind them. Both have become something of an anomaly in progressive English departments: single author courses in an age that has mainly given up on narratives of Great Men and singular genius. This forum asks in what new ways we can approach über-canonical literature and authors, acknowledging the problems of such traditional and intense focus as well as the investigating the opportunities such endeavors yield.

Revenge in the Renaissance: or, Can We Swallow the Historicized with the Scientific?
Recent studies by neuroscientists have demonstrated that exacting revenge, and even anticipating exacting revenge, stimulates the dorsal striatum, the portion of the brain “that rats will work furiously to stimulate electrically” because it is the region “involved in enjoyment or satisfaction” such as experiencing “pleasant tastes.” If revenge is always sweet, if humans are wired to experience revenge as satisfying, do historicized readings of Shakespeare’s revenge tragedies have any validity? Scientific findings, after all, are treated as close to universals as anything else is in our age: these findings are treated by many as gospels. So how do (or should) we position scientific findings within our historicized readings of Shakespeare’s plays?

Ayanna Thompson is Professor of English at George Washington University. She specializes in Renaissance drama and focuses on issues of race and performance. She is the author of Passing Strange: Shakespeare, Race, and Contemporary America (Oxford University Press, 2011) and Performing Race and Torture on the Early Modern Stage (Routledge, 2008), and she is the editor of Weyward Macbeth: Intersections of Race and Performance (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010) (co-edited with Scott Newstok) and Colorblind Shakespeare: New Perspectives on Race and Performance (Routledge, 2006). Professor Thompson is a Trustee of the Shakespeare Association of America.

Black, White, and In Between: Medieval Race, the Spirit, and Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale

Can race solve some of medieval literary criticism’s most intractable problems? In this talk I contend that it can. I will use race as a critical tool to unpack and explain how and why Chaucer’s adulterous Alisoun, characterized by her body all bedecked in black and white, goes unpunished while all the men in her life suffer harsh consequences for behavior similar to hers. I hope to show that studying medieval race is a powerful approach that offers new conclusions about the Miller’s Tale and other canonical medieval texts, and at the same time enlightens its reader about the functions of physical, religious, geographic, and cultural difference in the medieval European world.   

Cord J. Whitaker is Dr. Robert A. Chase & Anne Parker Chase Faculty Scholar Assistant Professor in the English Department at the University of New Hampshire. As the recipient of the Andrew W. Mellon and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundations’ Early Career Enhancement Fellowship and the UNH Center for the Humanities’ Faculty Fellowship, he is currently writing a book entitled Black Metaphors: Race, Religion, and Rhetoric in the Literature of Late Medieval EnglandWhitaker is also editing a special issue of postmedieval titled “Making Race Matter in the Middle Ages.”

Michael Bérubé is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Literature and Director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of seven books to date, including Public Access:  Literary Theory and American Cultural Politics (Verso, 1994); Life As We Know It:  A Father, A Family, and an Exceptional Child (Pantheon, 1996; paper, Vintage, 1998); and What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts?  Classroom Politics and “ Bias” in Higher Education (W. W. Norton, 2006). Life As We Know It was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year for 1996 and was chosen as one of the best books of the year (on a list of seven) by Maureen Corrigan of National Public Radio. He is also the editor of The Aesthetics of Cultural Studies (Blackwell, 2004) and, with Cary Nelson, of Higher Education Under Fire: Politics, Economics, and the Crisis of the Humanities (Routledge, 1995). He is the immediate past president of the Modern Language Association.

Donwload the poster for the event here

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

2013-2014 Events

Happy September! We hope you join us at these events during the Fall 2013 and Spring 2014 semesters. More will be added, so watch this space, subscribe to our email list by emailing Haylie Swenson, and like us on Facebook.

THIS Friday, September 6
Mike Witmore
GW Digital Humanities Institute Inaugural Lecture

Addressing the Text: Reflections on Shakespeare, Digital Access, and Libraries

Time and Location: 3 pm on Friday September 6 in Post Hall on the Mount Vernon Campus. Followed by a reception. 

The talk will explore the ways in which large scale digitization projects have created new access problems while solving old ones; it will also show some underlying similarities between the physical codex and the digital surrogates that we are now creating for printed books: both are "massively addressable objects," simply at a different scale. The plays of Shakespeare are only one place where this convergence can be explored; they will serve as a point of departure in this talk.

Dr. Michael Witmore is Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library and author, most recently, of Shakespearean Metaphysics and Landscapes of the Passing Strange: Reflections from Shakespeare (with Rosamond Purcell). 
He is part of the Mellon funded digital research initiative Visualizing English Print, 1470-1800 and maintains a blog on digital approaches to literary studies at Wine Dark Sea.

Free shuttle to Mount Vernon Campus: full information here.
More information on the event available here

Friday, October 25
The Canon Anew
3 PM
Rome Hall 771
801 22nd St NW
Explores new ways of approaching übercanonical literature in a post-canonical age.
Friday, November 15
Contact Ecologies
An all-day symposium with a keynote by Timothy Morton and presentations by Steve Mentz, Kellie Robertson, Bruce Holsinger, and Anne Harris.

AND, stay tuned for more information on these spring events
  • March 27-28: Julian Yates (University of Delaware) will visit. Details to follow
  • A Digital Humanities Institute symposium on "Global Shakespeare" (date TBA)
  • A symposium on "From History to Science in the Early Modern Atlantic World" (date TBA) 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Mike Witmore: Addressing the Text (GW Digital Humanities Institute Inaugural Lecture)

The George Washington University is pleased to announce the launch of a new cross-disciplinary initiative in Digital Humanities. In honor of the launch, Dr. Michael Witmore, Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, will offer an inaugural lecture on data-mining and literary analysis.

We would like to inform everyone of the first official GW MEMSI event of the 2013-2014 academic year and the inaugural Digital Humanities lecture!

This exciting event is co-sponsored by GW MEMSI, the Dean's Scholars in Shakespeare program, the Department of English, the Department of History, Gelman Library, and the new GW Digital Humanities Institute, which is co-founded and co-directed by Alexa Huang and Jonathan Hsy. We are proud to welcome Dr. Michael Witmore, Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library; his work on data-mining and literary analysis will provide an entry point into a discussion of some of the possibilities -- and potential limitations -- of large scale digitization projects (flyer and complete info below). This event is free and open to the public.

One significant factor building up to the establishment of the Digital Humanities Institute was the success of the interdisciplinary Digital Humanities Symposium held at GW in January of this year. The GW Digital Humanities Institute is a hub of research, teaching, and outreach activities around digital and new media. It is founded upon the core belief that the arts and humanities actively transform and are transformed by digital cultures.


Addressing the Text: Reflections on Shakespeare, Digital Access, and Libraries
Time and Location: 3 pm on Friday September 6 in Post Hall on the Mount Vernon Campus. Followed by a reception. 

The talk will explore the ways in which large scale digitization projects have created new access problems while solving old ones; it will also show some underlying similarities between the physical codex and the digital surrogates that we are now creating for printed books: both are "massively addressable objects," simply at a different scale. The plays of Shakespeare are only one place where this convergence can be explored; they will serve as a point of departure in this talk.

Dr. Michael Witmore is Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library and author, most recently, of Shakespearean Metaphysics and Landscapes of the Passing Strange: Reflections from Shakespeare (with Rosamond Purcell). He is part of the Mellon funded digital research initiative Visualizing English Print, 1470-1800 and maintains a blog on digital approaches to literary studies at Wine Dark Sea.

Free shuttle to Mount Vernon Campus: full information here.

The flyer for the event can be downloaded here.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Fall 2013 Events

We are still putting our fall and spring calendar together, but here are three dates for your calendar:

SEPT 6: Mike Witmore, GW MEMSI / Dean's Scholars in Shakespeare annual lecture

OCT 25: The Canon Anew, with Cord Whitaker (UNH) on Chaucer, and Ayanna Thompson (now of GW!) on Shakespeare

NOV 15: Contact Ecologies, a symposium with a keynote by Timothy Morton and presentations by Steve Mentz, Kellie Robertson, Bruce Holsinger, and Anne Harris

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What We Do

The GW Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute was founded in 2008 and has quickly grown to include nineteen faculty in seven departments. Our mission is to bring fresh critical perspectives to the study of the literature and culture of early Europe within a global perspective, connecting the past to the present. Appropriate to our location in DC, we emphasize the international character of the period: the connections that entangled Britain and France with the North Sea, Ireland, the Mediterranean and the New World. We have an abiding respect for well known authors such as Shakespeare, but we research and teach them alongside the texts that they read and within the wider worlds they traveled: narratives of China, India, Jerusalem, the Americas; adventures on the seas and along pilgrimage routes; stories of magic, possibility, loss, trauma and transformation. We never conduct this work in isolation. We are committed to ensuring that our work is available to all, from undergraduates in introductory courses to the graduate students who will someday write field-changing books and teach the next generation of students. Every lecture, symposium, and other event we sponsor is free and open to all who wish to attend. Many are co-sponsored with other humanities units. We support the research of our award-winning faculty, who have been extraordinarily successful in obtaining the grants and fellowships that boost our international ranking. We believe strongly that a keen and critical engagement with history can help to bring about a more just future.

Thank you for a wonderful five years. We look forward to sharing the next five with you!

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Reflection: Re-collecting some emerging ideas from the Ecologies of the Inhuman Symposium

Perhaps it’s my longing for summer weather that moves me in this way, but when I think about how to offer a reflection on the recent Ecologies of the Inhuman Symposium, I remember a different kind of reflecting. I imagine myself on a boat staring into the water. It’s an experience I recollect from past boat rides on a lazy river in northern Michigan. I gaze into calm ripples, sun overhead and down below - warmth and light reflecting back, touching me. I can see myself shimmering below myself, a face on a moving surface. Reflecting is a transformative collaboration - bending light-liquid on (sur)faces. But as I write this, I’m not on a boat and I am not looking into the water.  I must turn my attention to another kind of reflecting. Transformative and collaborative in its own way, this reflecting is a re-collecting and re-membering.  And, as James Smith, Steve Mentz, and Eileen Joy all noted, it is also a bit watery; there is a flow, a floating, even a foundering involved in reflecting on our inhuman enmeshments.

Each of the ten presenters who participated in the symposium offered dazzling reflections on what it means to be a part of vast ecologies where other things exist with and not for humans. How can we think about song, for example, as something that makes an instrument of a human body - a provocative question posed by Alan Montroso. Ian Bogost, during the discussion portion of the symposium, challenged us to think beyond human-centric metaphysics and seriously consider alternatives - toast ontology and chair ontology. Thinking such inclusivity, such shared agency, can be unsettling. What becomes of the human in inhuman ecologies?

It takes creativity and even bravery to contemplate our more than human entanglements within what Valerie Allen called a “nin-human” world.  It can feel, as Steve Mentz explained, like we are going down with the ship, sinking in oceans of ontologies. Again, I imagine myself in a boat cast upon the water, though this time when I look into the moving surface, it does not offer up a shimmering face - maybe no face at all. It is all motion, all turning and churning.  And the water does not stay outside the boat - it splashes, pours, invades, engulfs. And I do not stay inside the boat. Adding splashing to splashes, my movements are barely perceptible to the watery-world. It’s a harrowing scene to imagine but this is not the shipwreck Mentz envisions.  Instead, his shipwreck - our shipwreck - is how we already live in an inhuman world, already engulfed, always submerged in more than human realities. The overall sense of the symposium was not despairing but hopeful, wonder-ful, daring.  

As I re-collect - bring together again - with notes, memories, and audio files, what emerges for me is a sense of the importance of creative and collaborative modes of thinking about and imagining diverse ecologies. Anne Harris challenged us to consider poems, prayers and songs as modes of doing carpentry – ways of exploring our always more than human entanglements, and so I’ve decided to craft a shipwreck song. It is a re-membering and reimagining of a disorienting, recreating kind of immersion, a re-collection of images and ideas that surfaced during each of the ten presentations and the question and answer period that followed.  Tangled together and not in exacting order…

Shipwreck song.
Brief trips to the surface.

Shivering woman, tattered clothes, very near a green man and lamborghini-bull in asshole-orange going down with the ship.

Antony rallies, parasite-song through dead lips. Flood-force, two-face.

Revolving-revolution, time-tide coming in again: the re/creation of tree-tree, more tree than Deleuze and Guattari.

Fathom-full form-ing, an ontology of toast.

Text/urized measurements, cut-maker. Man-keel, keeling-over.

Not despair but something like ecstasy. A shipwreck song-sung prayer: we are cloud-like, up-depths with down-air.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

"For a Muse of Fire," a 449th Shakespeare's Birthday Celebration

Join the GW Dean's Scholars in Shakespeare on Monday April 22 at 7:30 pm for "For a Muse of Fire," a 449th Shakespeare's Birthday Celebration featuring Helen Hayes Award recipients and actors Rick Foucheux and Naomi Jacobson. The fun, performance demo event will be in Post Hall on the Mount Vernon campus. The event is hosted by Professor Alan Wade.

Click HERE to see a larger version of this flyer.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

"Hakluyt's Witnesses," a lecture by Nandini Das

Join us on Friday, April 12, for "Hakluyt's Witnesses," a lecture by Dr. Nandini Das.

Nandini Das is Professor of English Literature at the University of
Liverpool, UK. She received her first degree from Jadavpur University
(India), won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, and was awarded her PhD
from the University of Cambridge. Her recent publications include an
essays on Renaissance prose fiction, Shakespeare, Richard Hakluyt and
early modern travel. She is volume editor of Elizabethan Levant Trade
and South Asia in the forthcoming edition of Richard Hakluyt’s The
Principal Navigations, to be published by Oxford University Press, and
is currently working on Common Places, a book on Renaissance travel
and cultural memory.

Hakluyt’s Witnesses
Why does one go about capturing the experience of travel through words, and how? Philip Sidney in his Defence of Poetry had claimed that ‘it is not gnosis but praxis must be the fruit’ of literature, rhetorically moving the reader from ‘well-knowing’ to ‘well-doing’. What then was the status of travel-writing, where text constantly threatened to substitute for action, and action undermined text’s efforts to record its essential nature with any degree of accuracy? This talk will explore Richard Hakluyt’s attempts to tackle those questions in his monumental Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation (1589 and 1598-1600), which had significant implications both for English travel writing and for English prose.

This event will be held on the campus of The George Washington University, Rome Hall, suite 204. 
The lecture will begin at 3:00 pm and will be followed by a reception at 4:30. 

This event is free and open to the public.  Hope to see you there!