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Work-in-Progress Presentations

Work-in-Progress Talks give research fellows at the Tanner Humanities Center opportunity to present the latest work on their current research and to receive feedback in a casual setting from faculty, staff, students, and community. Open to the public but seating is limited, light lunch provided.

Talks are held every spring in the Jewel Box, Room 143 Carolyn Tanner Irish Humanities BLDG - CTIHB (MAP) Please 801-581-7989 for ADA accommodation.

40 minute talk plus 20 minute Q&A. Talks begin promptly at Noon.


Stay tuned for Spring 2025 schedule 

Previous Talks

Eric Herschthal,  Assistant Professor, Department of History
January 25, 2024 
TITLE:"Carbon Conscripts: Slavery and the Origins of Climate Change"

"Carbon Conscripts" explores the role racial slavery played in the origins of climate change.  In recent years, interdisciplinary scholars working across the humanities have suggested that slave plantations may have been an early driver of human-induced climate change.  Yet the notion has remained a theoretical conjecture rather than an empirically-tested idea.  Drawing on a collaboration with climate scientists, "Carbon Conscripts" models the carbon emissions of the major slave-grown crops in Anglo-American Atlantic World from the seventeenth through nineteenth century and compares them to emissions from the major non-slave grown commodities of the period.  The study ultimately shows that, with some key exceptions, slave-grown commodities dramatically expanded the carbon footprint of the British and American empires long before the transition to fossil fuels, crystalizing a form of racial capitalism that continues to fuel carbon emissions globally today.

Darcie DeAngelo,  Assistant Professor, Department of Sociocultural Anthropology, University of Oklahoma, Annie Clark Tanner Fellow in Environmental Humanities and Environmental Justice 
February 1, 2024
"For the Love of Rats"

We humans don’t love rats, generally speaking. Ten thousand years ago, after modes of production shifted from prehistoric foraging to more settled types of agriculture, pests coevolved with humans. Over a quarter of the world’s human population still derive their livelihoods from farming as a fulltime occupation while the rest of us depend on this agriculture for subsistence. So do the pests. But that might be overly economically deterministic. Consider the rats themselves. Rats look like pests. Their habits and bodies feed into their stereotypes. They hang out in sewers. Their eyes glow in the dark. They have teeth that chitter and… that tail. Imagine my surprise, then, when I met a group of humans who loved rats. These humans loved rats. I have conducted research on rats for half a decade. My research on rats led me to stories from across the world about human encounters with rats as well as why and how they proliferate so well. From vectors to prey, from enemies to models, to finally beloved, in this lecture I discuss some of the surprising encounters between humans and rats across space and time. Being a rat cannot be understood without understanding being a human, just as being a human cannot be understood without understanding being a rat.

Nadja Durbach, Professor, Department of History
February 8, 2024
"From Slaves to Enslaved People: Slave Registration and the Emergence of Identity Documentation in the British World, 1812-34"

The abolition of the slave trade in 1807 led to an illegal traffic in slaves in Britain’s Caribbean and Indian Ocean colonies. Britain’s government attempted to curb this by mandating the registration of the “lawfully enslaved” in every slave-holding colony. Because copies of these registers were kept in a central office in London, they were one of few ways in which an individual could be vouched for across the British empire. Predating birth certificates, slave registration was thus among the first modern forms of identity documentation. In documenting some combination of name, color, employment, age, stature, country of origin, distinguishing marks, and kinship relations these government records participated in codifying how identity was coming to be understood in the early nineteenth-century British world. Despite government claims that this practice safeguarded their property, however, planters fiercely resisted slave registration. This was not only because they saw this measure as unwarranted interference in colonial society. It was also because the registration process went well beyond a population accounting. The requirement to record each individual on a separate line with discrete data, compelled planters to acknowledge that the enslaved were unique persons even while registering them as chattel.

Jenny Andrus, Professor, Department of Writing and Rhetoric Studies
February 15, 2024
"'Under His Thumb:' Storytelling about Staying in Violent Intimate Relationships"

There is a debate in discourse analysis about the proper way to generate narratives for research. There are those who elicit narratives in interviews, producing longer, developed narratives that have likely been practiced in earlier storytelling events (Labov and Waltsky). Then, there are scholars who argue that narrative analysis should focus on narratives occurring in interaction (De Fina and Georgakopoulou). Additionally, narrative analysis must consider the relationship between the local context of storytelling and the macro context of sociocultural mores.

This paper refuses to take sides in this debate. Instead, I use a Labovian-style discourse analysis to show that narratives produced in interviews also reference social ideologies and identities as they create stories that reflect the storyteller’s goals and engage local and macro audiences. This is particularly true in narratives about Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). In narratives about IPV that emerge in interviews, the narratives are interactional and specific to the storytelling event. Further, stories emerge about what victims/survivors know about socioculturally structured identities, ideologies, and stereotypes about women who stay in violent relationships. In this paper, I identify narrative strategies that engage social discourses, while I also show how the storytelling responds to and complicates held beliefs about IPV that are circulating in sociocultural discourses.

C. Thi Nguyen, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy
February 22, 2024
Title: "The Social Function of Scoring Systems"

We find scoring systems aplenty in both games and institutional life – in all the rankings and metrics which surround us. Why are scores so common, and what does it mean that we are so often entangled in scoring systems that we don’t entirely control? A score is a quantitative evaluation that renders a singular verdict. Scores have a typical function: they to encourage convergence on a singular evaluation. They are not transparent engines; they transform our values. Scoring can exert systematic pressures on our social processes of evaluations. They work to suppress pluralism about value, and to discourage evaluations in vague terms, and they encourage evaluation in mechanically repeatable terms. In doing so, scores can also serve to settle key choice points in collective reasoning processes – which explains, in part, the centrality of metrics in institutional deliberation.

Charlotte Hansen Terry, PhD Candidate, Department of History, University of California, Davis
February 29, 2024
"To Make Saints: Mormon Adoptions and Familial Belonging in the Pacific"

White Mormon missionaries first arrived in Hawai‘i in 1850 and started the practice of adopting or sponsoring Pacific Islanders and bringing them to the North American West within a few years. Mormon participation in English schools is what led to many of these migrations, and some children then went to Utah and the larger Mormon cultural region to attend school. This paper explores these cross-racial adoptions and how adoption was understood across different communities. The adoption of Pacific Islander children complicated Mormon attempts to expand the boundaries of belonging as adoptions exacerbated tensions with the United States and Pacific nations by the 1890s. This talk is part of a larger project that explores Mormon missionization efforts during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and responses to these efforts by Pacific Islanders and their governments, U.S. imperial agents, and other missionary organizations. It traces how white Mormon missionaries and Pacific Islanders considered their affiliations with one another, and also their attempts to define and expand racial, religious, familial, and national belonging.

Matty Glasgow,PhD Candidate, Department of English
March 12, 2024
"They, or Restoration: An Essay" 

The Bear River is many and multiple: the primary tributary to a drying ancient lake, a site of state-sanctioned genocide, boundless molecules who have known many paths and many ends, a symbol for our ursine kin who once lumbered in great numbers along their shores. A river, too, is kin. Their flow not only maintains life, but is, in themselves, alive. Their memory insists on histories, both social and environmental, which offer truth in the mud and muck of mythologies of the American West and climate change denial. Can the river bear us? Can we bear them? This lyric essay considers the multiplicity and more-than-human agency of the Bear River, the work being done to restore ecosystems along their path, and if whiteness grounded in colonial extraction will ever allow for such restorative kinship. If we ask a river about their own restoration, they might respond: of whom, for whom, to when, and why? 

Nicole Clawson, PhD Candidate, Department of Writing and Rhetoric Studies
March 28, 2024
"'We’re just people. We’re not these crazy guys with guns:' Rhetorical Narratives and Officer Identity Performance"

Narratives can create a shared worldview and provide resources that teach members of a society how to behave. As it does elsewhere, storytelling plays an important role in the work of police officers and in forming and maintaining police culture. Quotidian narratives shape police culture and give rise to officer identities. In this talk, I present a concept called “flexible and evolving identity.” I hold that identity not only emerges in-the-moment but evolves over time. The narratives I analyze consider emergent identities that operate outside traditional officer behavior (i.e., racist, machismo, suspicious, etc.), rhetorically positioning officers as “human.” Being “human” is used to create connection and camaraderie with the public. The stories told by these officers are not “just stories”; they do real rhetorical work to reshape and reframe police culture. Using this analysis, I show that officer identity and police discourse are rhetorically flexible and open to evolution. As more idiosyncratic identities and non-traditional policing narratives are shared, police discourse and culture metamorphosizes. 

C.J. Alvarez, Associate Professor Mexican American and Latina-o Studies, University of Texas at Austin 
April 4, 2024
"Desert Time"

There is a vast desert in the heart of North America, the biggest of its kind on the continent. This dryland is called the Chihuahuan Desert, at least by some. Most people though, in either the United States or Mexico, do not call it by any name and would be hard put to find it on a map. It is an ancient place in the midst of time-illiterate societies, a highly specialized ecosystem populated largely by people stricken with environmental amnesia. This talk is about the history of the desert which is, depending on how you measure, over 8,000 years old. There is no academic discipline, calendrical system, or common vocabulary available to describe this length of time, the lifespan of the desert. This talk proposes, with trepidation and humility, several ways of organizing desert time in the absence of any intrinsically meaningful schema and in the face of a human-centered worldview that too often dominates our imaginations and impoverishes our feel for the world outside our species.

Hua Zhu, Assistant Professor, Department of Writing & Rhetoric Studies
April 9, 2024
"From Resistance to Interconnectivity: Enacting the Rhetoric of Yin"

This lecture proposes the rhetoric of yin 因 as a specific way of power subversion. In early Chinese rhetoric, yin means “to go with local circumstances.” It specifically features a paradoxical act of reforming dominant discourses while performing a level of conformity to the discourses. To recover the rhetoric of yin, I recontextualize Guiguzi, a treatise in the Warring States period of China, and further trace ancient traveling consultants’ practice of yin in the situation of advising nobles. Consultants’ practice of yin invites rhetoricians to consider how one might break through the paradigm of speaking against power and speaking outside power, underlying which is an oppositional and ethnocentric logic that sustains the systematic production of the Other. As a shrewd and responsive rhetoric, yin reorients power subversion from antithetic resistance to interconnectivity, or a relating-yet-separating relationship where there is no center to imagine from but subjects and rhetorics of various kinds can co-exist and become interdependent.


Joy Pierce  Associate Professor, Department of Writing and Rhetoric Studies
Tuesday, January 24
TITLE:Digital Divides and Inclusion: What’s in a Name?”

Taylor Brorby  The Annie Clark Tanner Teaching & Research Fellow in Environmental Humanities
Tuesday, February 7
TITLE:"The Pancreas and the Potluck: Diabetes, Climate Change, and the Art of Personal Narrative"

Rachel Dentinger  Adjunct Assistant Professor Department of Philosophy, Assistant Professor, Department of History
Thursday, February 9
TITLE:Wastes or Weapons? Conflicting theories of plant chemicals in 1960s biology” 

Spencer Ivy  Graduate Student, Department of Philosophy
Thursday February 16 
TITLE: “Expertise isn’t flying! It’s falling with style” 

Kent Ono  Professor, Department of Communication
Thursday, March 23
TITLE: “Racial Epistemologies” 

Ben Spackman  Mormon Studies Graduate Research Fellow
Thursday, March 30
TITLE: “Expertise, Exegesis, and Ecclesiology: The Intellectual Roots of Latter-day Saint Creation/Evolution Conflict in the Twentieth Century” 

Vanessa Brutsche    Associate Professor, Department of World Languages & Cultures
Thursday, April 6 
TITLE: “Jean Cayrol: from the Camp to the City” 

Lawrence Culver     Associate Professor, Department of History Utah State University
Tuesday, April 11
TITLE: “Manifest Disaster: Climate and the Making of America” 

Lida Sarafrazarpatapeh    Graduate Student, Department of Philosophy
Thursday, April 13
TITLE: “Ethical Considerations Regarding the Health Needs of Muslim Women in Biomedical Research”

Jackie Sheean   Assistant Professor, Department of World Languages & Cultures
Thursday, April 20
TITLE:On the Periphery of (the) Capital: Urban Planning and Delinquent Cinema during the Francisco Franco Dictatorship” 

Thursday, January 27th: Charnell Peters, Communication
“The (New) Science of Race: Communicating and Constructing Blackness Through Genetic Ancestry Testing”
Tuesday, February 1st: 1st - Julie Ault, History
“Solidarity and Socialist Riches: East German Diplomacy, Environment, and Technology, 1949-1989”
Thursday, February 10th: Sean Collins, English
“The Life of Significant Soil: Nature, Politics, and the Modernist Environmental Imagination”
Thursday, February 17th: Lezlie Frye, Gender Studies
“Domesticating Disability: Post-Civil Rights Racial Disenfranchisement and the Birth of the Disabled Citizen”
Thursday, February 24th: Danielle Endres, Communication
“Emergent Engagements with Energy Democracy in Puerto Rico”
Thursday, March 3rd: Richard Figueroa, Philosophy
“Persistence through Change: On Preserving Evolvability as a Strategy for Biological Conservation”
Thursday, March 17th: Nkenna Onwuzuruoha, English
“Fighting Words with Fists: The Paradoxes of the ‘Gater Incident’ at San Francisco State College, 1967-1969”
Tuesday, March 22nd: Helene Shugart, Communication
“Destigmata: Normalizing Narratives of Mental Illness”
Thursday, March 24th : Cynthia Stark, Philosophy
“Misplaced Blame”
Tuesday, April 5th: Janan Graham-Russell, Religious Studies, Harvard University
"They Call Me Dyaspora: Ethnoracial Identity and Social-Religious Capital Among Haitian Mormons in Utah and Massachusetss"
Thursday, April 7th: Jim Campbell, Department of History, Stanford University
“Freedom Now: The Mississippi Freedom Movement in American History and Memory”
Tuesday, April 12th: Katharina Gerstenberger, World Languages
“Disturbed Places and Troubled Times: Bikini, Chernobyl, Fukushima”

ANDREW FRANTA, Department of English
“Romanticism and the History of the Future”
NATALIA WASHINGTON, Department of Philosophy,
“Taxonomy is Taxidermy: Thinking Clearly About Diagnostic Kinds”
TAYLOR JOHNSON, Department of Communication
“Decolonizing Publicity: Indigenous Resistance and Public Participation in Environmental Decision-Making in the Bears Ears National Monument Controversy”
HANNAH JUNG, Department of History, Brandeis University
“The Transformation of Secrets: Family, Religion, and the Resilience of Mormon Polygamy

Thursday, February 20th: Melissa Parks, Graduate Research Fellow, Department of Communication
"Manufacturing Resilience: Eugenicist-Environmentalism and the Redwood Genome Project"

Thursday, February 27th: Catherine Mayes, Associate Professor, School of Music
"No Room at the Inn: Class, Gender, and Vernacular Music in Enlightenment Vienna"

Tuesday, March 3rd: Sasha Coles, Graduate Research Fellow in Latter-Day Saints Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
"Silk Worlds, Women's Work, and the Making of Mormon Identity, 1852-1910s"

Due to University policy regarding COVID-19, the following WIPs were cancelled:

Tuesday, March 24th: Andrew Hayes, Honors College Fellow, Department of Philosophy
"The Problem of Self-Knowledge: Agency and First-Person Opacity"

Tuesday, March 31st: Brandon Clark, Graduate Research Fellow, Department of History
"Environmental History of the Colonial Americas"

Tuesday, April 7th: Cori Winrock, Graduate Research Fellow, Department of English
"Digital Text-iles: Stitching Hybridity"

Tuesday, April 14th: Maureen Mathison, Associate Professor, Department of Writing and Rhetoric Studies
"The Rhetoric of Controversy within Science"

01/29 - Heather Houser, English, The University of Texas at Austin, "A Slant on the Aerial through Eco-Media"

02/5 - Ryan Nelson, Philosophy, University of Utah, "A Critique of Neurodiversity"

02/19 - Ginger Smoak, Honors College, University of Utah, "Public Consumption of The 'Privates': Reading the Medieval Body as Text and Mapping Anatomy"

02/26 - Gretchen HendersonEnglish, Georgetown University, "Life in the Tar Seeps"

03/5 - Dima Hurlbut, History, Boston University, "Unmaking a Peculiar People: The Expansion of Mormonism in Post-Colonial Southeastern Nigera"

03/19 - Angela Smith, English and Gender Studies, University of Utah, "Acting Up: Down Syndrome and the Limits of Disabilty Performance"

3/26 - Adam Giannelli, English, University of Utah, "Stutterfied: Poems and Prose on Stuttering"

04/2 - Maya Kobe-Rundio, Communication, University of Utah, "In Our Element: Outdoor Recreation as a Tool for Female Empowerment and Community Builiding"

04/9 - Kevin DeLuca, Communication, University of Utah, "The Wild Public Screens of China: Activism on Social Media Networks"

04/16 - Rachel Griffin, Communication, University of Utah, "Still I Rise: Early 21st Century Black Feminist Rhetors"

February 06, 12pm
Captive Fame: Animality, Celebrity, and the Victorian Zoo
by Jessica Straley, Virgil C. Aldrich Faculty Fellow
Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Utah

The London Zoo recently named their newest addition, a baby okapi, Meghan in honor of the latest royal couple. The Como Park Zoo in St. Paul invited the public to vote after the birth of a gorilla, now called Nyati by popular consensus. Zoos rely on celebrity animals to attract visitors and use the lure of “zooborns” to disseminate information about endangered species. But does celebrity translate into pedagogy? What does going to the zoo or engaging with prominent zoo residents via social media actually teach us about wild animals or environmental degradation? 

These questions have hounded zoos since their inception in the nineteenth century. For scholars, the zoo fails to impart scientific instruction because it substitutes entertainment for education and because its real subject is not nature but empire, but the trouble is more deeply embedded in the zoo’s foundation. This paper explores the first zoo, London’s Zoological Gardens (est. 1826), and the first zoo celebrity, the hippopotamus Obaysch (b. 1849), to interrogate the pedagogical origins of the zoo, the rise of the celebrity animal, and the ways in which the textual circulation of the zoo “star” (through guidebooks, newspapers, sensationalized biographies, and children’s books) worked both in tandem and in tension with the physical bodies of caged beasts to define the “animal.”

February 13, 12pm
Russian Subjects, Humoral Bodies, and Knowledge Networks
by Matt Romaniello, Tanner Humanities Center Visiting Faculty Research Fellow
Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Hawai'i at Manoa

In 1788 Dr. Matthew Guthrie, a Scottish doctor in Russian service, wrote with some concern that while several physicians “of late years pointed out the influence of hot climates on the human body, and its diseases; but few seem to have investigated the effects of cold.” Based on his career in Russia, he suggested that the country provided ample grounds for study, with “the severity of the climate, and the dirty unwholesome mode of living of the common people of this empire, want of proper ventilation, &c.” Fears of Russia’s environment, its food, and the lifestyles of its diverse population were not only raised by physicians like Guthrie but also appear in the correspondence and publication of merchants, diplomats, and visitors to the empire.

In the eighteenth century, Guthrie and his colleagues created a typology of the people of the Russian Empire to both serve the interests of the Russian state and advance the march of science in the Enlightenment. European and Asian scholars traveled through Russia during this period of ferment in biology and ethnography, describing the people, landscape, and customs of the empire, but the differences they catalogued were inscribed ultimately on the bodies of Russian subjects.  This talk will analyze the origins of imperial typology and consider its dissemination across Europe through formal and informal networks, and consider the ways in which this classification schema guided Russia’s colonial project into the modern era.

February 20, 12pm
Apparitions of the Priesthood: Spectral Authority in Contemporary Mormon Fundamentalism
by Cristina Rosetti, Mormon Studies Graduate Research Fellow, Religious Studies, University of California-Riverside

Spirits are disruptive forces that re-enter time and space to complicate narratives and offer visions of alternative futures. While Mormonism has a long history of individuals interacting with deceased ancestors on the other side of the veil, LDS leadership enforces a line between acceptable spirit communication and spectral encounters that lead to Apostasy. Fundamentalist groups and individuals seeking spiritual authority outside of traditional LDS channels are usually marked as the latter. This paper analyzes one fundamentalist groups’ interactions with the deceased as a source of authority and places them within the broader framework of Mormon succession narratives. In doing so, this research articulates a method of deriving Priesthood authority that, while often deemed unconventional, is nevertheless very Mormon.

February 27, 12pm
“Vampiric Reading”: Dracula and Readerly Desire
by Sunggyung Jo, Tanner Humanities Center Graduate Research Fellow
Department of English, University of Utah

In Bram Stoker’s famous novel Dracula, the character Jonathan Harker finds Dracula’s massive library and observes Dracula, withdrawn from view, reading attentively, alone at night: “I found the Count lying on the sofa, reading, of all things in the world, an English Bradshaw’s Guide” (29).

In this talk, I discuss acts of reading in Dracula, and offer “vampiric reading” as a particular aesthetic model or style of reading. “Vampiric reading” denotes one’s love of reading texts, a “love” that then elicits others to indulge in more and shared reading – much like the actual vampirism in the novel, in its literal sense of the vampire’s blood-sucking and blood transfusion between characters; as well as in the text’s erotic intensity, increased and circulated via the vampiric transactions. While characters in Dracula write and share their texts within their community, they – including Dracula himself – are all obsessive readers. 

Indeed, these characters’ readerly activities model our own ways of reading texts. Novels can mirror our mental activities in transforming texts into the shapes of our own desires. Like the characters, we, too, tarnish the surfaces of texts in our passionate reading of them, using those texts to reflect our own secret desires and dreams.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018, 12pm
Danielle Olden, Department of History, University of Utah 

"Racial Uncertainties: Mexican Americans, School Desegregation, and the Making of Race in Post-Civil Rights America"


Last Updated: 5/28/24