How Do Collectives Come to Believe Collectively?

Dr. Priscilla Wald discusses our society’s “mythistories”
By Saralyn McKinnon-Crowley

Last week’s Faculty Fellows Seminar was led by our Distinguished Visiting Lecturer Priscilla Wald, R. Florence Brinkley Professor of English at Duke University. The seminar followed Dr. Wald’s Wednesday evening lecture, “Cells, Genes, Stories: HeLa’s Journey from Labs to Literature,” in which she discussed the cultural

Cell Culture of HeLa Cells
Culture of HeLa Cells

narratives around the immortal HeLa cell line developed from the cervical cancer cells of Henrietta Lacks. Dr. Wald sees the narratives about Henrietta Lacks and the HeLa cell line—particularly the racist language of contamination used to describe the cells themselves—as what she calls a “mythistory,” a mythic belief or story shared by a collective that produces conventional narratives and sets of belief beneath the level of conscious thought. Dr. Wald came to her current project by way of a central question running through her research: how do collectives come to believe collectively?

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The Technology of Living and Dying

By Saralyn McKinnon-Crowley

Last week’s Faculty Fellows Seminar in “Health, Well-Being, Healing” focused on questions of dying and, specifically, how new life-prolonging technologies compel one to rethink what it means to die. Dr. John Robertson of the School of Law presented his current research on Left Ventricular Assistance Devices (LVADs) and the later poetry and prose of John Updike. Dr. Robertson is especially interested in Updike’s short story “The Full Glass”—written shortly before Updike’s own death in 2009—about aging and decline. Updike’s protagonist reflects on a small detail of his daily life, filling his bedtime glass of water, to think about the end of life without directly confronting the experience of dying. Dr. Robertson’s work-in-progress on this material is entitled “Writers at the End—John Updike’s ‘The Full Glass,’” which he hopes to publish in the journal Literature and Medicine. Although “The Full Glass” does not address machines or surgical implants (such as LVADs), Updike’s writing reflects on the quality of life from the perspective of an elderly man.

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The Discovery of Hunger in America

By Clare Callahan
Robert Kennedy F. Kennedy touring the Mississippi Delta
Robert F. Kennedy touring the Mississippi Delta

In 1967, Bobby Kennedy toured the Mississippi Delta and, as the story goes, “discovered” hunger in America. This is where Dr. Laurie Green’s new book project—“The Discovery of Hunger in America: The Politics of Race, Hunger, and Poverty, 1967-1977″—begins. Dr. Green’s rich and complex study looks at the politics of hunger, specifically how hunger became integrated with racial discourse, during this ten year period. Last week’s Faculty Fellows Seminar on “Health, Well-Being, Healing,” focused on an important thread in Dr. Green’s work-in-progress: the testimony by liberal doctors at the 1967 hearings held in Jackson, Mississippi by the Senate Subcommittee on Employment, Manpower, and Poverty. These hearings followed from Bobby Kennedy’s tour of the Mississippi Delta, the publicity around which triggered a burst of attention to hunger and malnutrition in the U.S. Addressing the impact of hunger not only on the physical body but also on brain development and mental health, Dr. Green is particularly interested in how these doctors’ testimony influenced a discourse on race and social behavior at the time. That many of the individuals who had testified at the 1967 hearings in Jackson were also voting rights activists and labor activists, many of whom had lost work as a result of the mechanization of the cotton industry, led Dr. Green to realize that the question of health was fundamental to her work on civil rights and the struggle for freedom.

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On Sonic Sovereignty

By Saralyn McKinnon-Crowley

At last week’s Faculty Fellows Seminar, Dr. Dustin Tahmahkera (Mexican American and Latina/o Studies) discussed his work-in-progress, “Sounds Indigenous” or “Becoming Sound.” Dr. Tahmahkera employs “sound” in its dual meaning, as both auditory stimulus and as wellness or health. His project asks three questions:

  • What are the roles of sounds in indigenous and American cultural histories and identity formations, historically and today?
  • How do we listen to ways of sounding indigenous?
  • How can sound heal and impact the well-being of individuals, communities, and the land?

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