Participant, Committee on African Studies
Q. Your research agenda summed up in one sentence:
My research focuses on western African history (Senegal, Mali, Guinea) during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and includes questions of African Diaspora and transnational history.
Q. Broadly speaking, what is the key aim of your research?
To center the significant contributions of continental African history both to the “early modern” period and to contemporary realities; and to push the conversation beyond standard approaches to the Atlantic slave trade and colonialism in Africa.
Q. What is your current project?
“The Texture of Change: Cloth, Commerce and History in Western Africa, 1700-1850.” In it, I explore how people across space and time deployed textiles and dress to claim individual or group status. I argue that choices made within a set of ecological, political and economic constraints structured networks connecting the Atlantic and Indian Ocean perimeters in the pre-modern era.
Q: Why study textiles, in particular?
Textiles were a major industry within the entire West African region going back centuries. They also were the biggest “global” industry of the period I study. At the heart of what became the Industrial Revolution.
Q. Any new developments in your work?
Recently, I received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities to complete my first book. I have been invited to give a talk about my research this fall as part of the Distinguished Africanist Lecture series at the University of Chicago this fall.
Q. When friends and family ask what you love about your work, how do you answer?
I tell them that I get to spend time learning deeply about people, places and processes that have shaped our contemporary lives in ways large and small. Then I get to share what I’ve learned with other scholars, students and different audiences all over the world. How awesome! (Don’t mention all the long hours, though!)
Q. A favorite podcast:
Q.What have you learned from teaching?
That less can be more. Capturing a student’s genuine interest and giving them tools to take ownership of a particular topic or set of questions makes for much better learning than lots of lecture slides and tons of reading. Mix it up. Try new things. Once you earn their buy-in, amazing things are possible.
Q: If you could change one thing about the academy:
I would like to see an academy where scholars were generally more reflective about their enormous privileges (yes, you’ve earned them, but then what?), more conscious about the (non-verbal) messages they send to students and society, more generous toward their colleagues, and more deliberate about paying it all forward.
Q. Something people might be amazed to know about you:
I got my love of reading from generations in my family. I inherited a large library of books and music from my grandfather who was an autodidact because he had to be. I am the first in our family to (have the opportunity) to earn a doctorate and work as a scholar.
In Focus is a new interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.
Participant, Mellon Advancing Intercultural Studies, Contested Histories Seminar
Rank: Assistant Professor
# of years at UCR: Entering 4th year at UCR but 3rd year on campus because during my first year I was on leave for a Postdoc at University of Michigan
Top three texts I would take to a desert island: This is a difficult one…I’d say I would take my phone and internet connection
Favorite thing: Philippine brand dried mangoes
Q. Your research agenda summed up in one sentence:
I study culture, borders, and empires.
Q. Is there a specific question that arises in the intersection of these topics?
The question of territoriality – what is it? What does it look like in practice and on-the-ground? How has it changed over time?
Q. You have a new book out- congratulations!
Yes, thanks! I recently published my first book, Global Borderlands: Fantasy, Violence and Empire in Subic Bay, Philippines (Stanford University Press), and received an AAUW Postdoctoral American Fellowship to work on my second project during 2019-2020. Read UCR News article about Reyes’ book >>
Q. Why ‘borders’ in particular? What sparked your interest?
My initial interest was sparked by my grandmother’s migration story through marriage to a US serviceman. Her nostalgia of the former base in the Philippines clashed with my undergrad classes on empire. I was also fascinated by what sociologists call the socio-cultural boundary-making within the Filipino American community as my grandmother was ostracized, in part because marriage migration can have a stigma of sex work attached to it.
When I went to Subic Bay, Philippines, home to a former US naval base, the differences between inside what was now a special economic zone and outside further intrigued me and the first time I saw a military ship docked, I remembered my grandmother’s awe.
So the borderlands I’m interested in are what I call global borderlands – legally ambiguous places (like overseas military bases, special economic zones, embassies, cruise ships and the like) where rules of life differ within their walls and which are symbolically seen as either arms of empire or as ways to be a part of a modern, cosmopolitan community. It’s this tension that I’m fascinated by.
Q. What are you working on now?
My current project is on reputation of places, how it is differently racialized and gendered by authors and audiences. I’m particularly interested in state attempts to shape place reputation and how that compares to narratives of places on-the-ground.
Q. What do you love about your work?
Everything! I love being able to research what I want, teach interesting subjects to bright students and engage in service work I find fulfilling.
Q. What is your top ‘take away’ from teaching?
The most valuable lesson that teaching has taught me is that the classroom is a partnership between myself, the TAs, and each student. We all learn from one another. Each and every student has something to contribute and I find UCR students to be inspiring.
Q: Given that you love your work, if you could change one thing about the academy….
It would be for the academy to be more inclusive. I dedicate my service time to DEI issues (whether on the UCR Senate’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, writing advice columns, or establishing new awards for grad students, publicly engaged work and teaching).
I’ve been listening to the podcast “Stay Tuned with Preet” which is hosted by Preet Bharara, a former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. It’s an informative take on contemporary U.S. politics under the Trump administration and he and his guests break down what various indictments, reports, and other legal matters mean in lay terms (e.g., like the Mueller Report).
Q. Any interesting facts about you that might surprise people?
I have aphantasia, which means I have zero visual processing and don’t have a “mind’s eye.” I always thought comments like “day dreaming” or how characters looked different on screen than how they imagined when reading books were metaphors! It amazes me that other people can visualize things. I’m also a true crime buff and spend whatever free time I have (which isn’t a lot with a 5 year old and a 1 year old!) reading about unsolved mysteries.
In Focus is a new interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.
Congratulations to the following UCR faculty and students for being awarded a UCHRI grant for the year 2019-20!
Alisa Bierria, Ethnic Studies
Feminist Anti-Carceral Research Initiative
✪ Engaging Humanities Grant
Michelle Dizon, Media and Cultural Studies
✪ Engaging Humanities Grant
Dana Simmons, History
Humanities Careers in Science History, Policy, and Communication (H-SCHIP)
✪ Grad Professionalization Workshop Grant
Samuel Fullerton, History
Sex and the English Revolution
✪ Dissertation Award
Chelsea Silva, English
Bedwritten: Middle English Medicine and the Ailing Author
✪ Dissertation Award
On behalf of everyone at the Center, we want to thank you for your continued participation and support!
In addition to celebrating the Center’s 30th Anniversary, we’re celebrating another successful year of humanities-oriented programs at UCR. Over the last academic year, Center-sponsored events reached over 800 people through…
- More than 15 conferences & workshops
- Over 20 community events
- 12 faculty-led projects hosting over 50 guest speakers
- 11 faculty book talks including Emory Elliott Award winner: Close Encounters with Humankind by Sang-Hee Lee
- 27 graduate dissertation research grants
- PLUS co-sponsorship of events across campus!
What was the most memorable part of the year for you? We would love to hear your feedback!
Stay tuned for Film for Thought, a free summer documentary series!
Congratulations to the following UCR faculty for being awarded a UCHRI grant for the year 2019-20!
Department of History
Imagine Lagos: Speculative Cartography and the Making of a 19th Century African City
✪ Junior Faculty Manuscript Workshop
Department of History
At the Frontlines of a Forgotten War: Violence, Gender, and Conflict in the Early South
✪ Mid-Career Faculty Manuscript Workshops
Department of History
Hungry, Thinking with Animals
✪ Mid-Career Faculty Manuscript Workshops
Department of Theatre, Film and Digital Production
Legacies of Commedia dell’Arte: “Others” and the production of theatre from early-modern Italy through modern-day California
✪ Conference Grant
The Global Nineteenth-Century Working Group at the Center for Ideas and Society invites applications for Graduate Student Fellows in 2019-20. The Fellowship includes participation in two events:
1) A one-day, interdisciplinary workshop, loosely organized around the sub-themes of “Architectures,” “Devotional Practices” and “Empires” in the long nineteenth century, to take place on Friday, September 27, 2019. At this event, three local and three invited faculty will share works-in-progress. Graduate fellows will read these works in advance and participate fully in the discussions, lunch, and informal conversations with the faculty.
2) At a second event, to be scheduled in Spring 2020, the graduate fellows will present their own pre-circulated works in progress.
Faculty Project Coordinators
French and Comparative Literature
Applications should be sent by Friday, May 3 to Katharine Henshaw (
Laila Lalami, a creative writing professor and author of several books, is the winner of the 2019 Simpson/Joyce Carol Oates Literary Prize.
She was one of five finalists announced last month, selected from authors nominated by publishers, critics, agents, authors, and other author representatives.
Lalami, who received a $50,000 prize, said she was thrilled to receive the award and honored to be in the company of the other finalists. “This award is a wonderful gift of time, which I will use to work on my next project, a book of nonfiction about the relationship between the citizen and the state, exploring the ways in which it can be undermined by race, gender, and national origin,” she said. “This is a book I have been writing for a while, but it feels especially pressing at this particular moment in American history.”
The Simpson Literary Prize has been awarded annually since 2017 by the Simpson Project, a collaboration of the Laffayette Library and Learning Center Foundation and UC Berkeley’s English Department.
Joseph Di Prisco, chair of the Simpson Literary Project, said Lalami stood out with her “magnificently accomplished works of fiction” as well as her stylish and powerful essays and opinion pieces. “Ms. Lalami brilliantly guides us through the labyrinth of the past, and she illuminates the shadowy stories of our lives here and now, wherever and whoever we are,” he said.
UC Riverside Creative Writing Professor Laila Lalami is one of six finalists for the 2019 Simpson Literary Prize, which honors mid-career fiction authors.
Lalami is the author of multiple award-winning novels, including her most recent book, “The Moor’s Account.” Her new novel, “The Other Americans,” will be published later this month.
The $50,000 Simpson Literary Prize has been awarded annually since 2017 by the Simpson Project, a collaboration of the Lafayette Library and Learning Center Foundation and UC Berkeley’s English department.
The finalists, announced March 6, were selected from authors nominated by publishers, critics, agents, authors, and other author representatives. The prize winner will be announced in April.
Lalami said she was delighted to be named a finalist.
“It’s an honor to be included on this prestigious list with Rachel Kushner, Valeria Luiselli, Sigrid Nunez, Anne Raeff, and Amor Towles,” she said.
Lalami’s “The Moor’s Account” was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and has won several awards including the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award for Fiction, the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, and the Arab American Book Award for Fiction.
Dana Simmons has devoted her life to teaching. She is an associate professor in the department of history and has been teaching at UC Riverside for 13 years.
“With very little, if any, compensation, Dana has been tireless in her efforts to advance the careers of women faculty,” said Goldberry Long, UCR professor of creative writing. “She’s truly the colleague we all hope for, one who wants all colleagues to be successful. She works on their behalf without any apparent desire for recognition or praise. Words fail me; she’s just wonderful.”
Simmons is a co-convener of the CHASS Women’s Mid-Career Research Initiative (CMCRI). The initiative’s goal is to provide a support network for female faculty and faculty of color, to collaboratively and collectively move towards career advancement at the mid-career level. The initiative offers writing retreats, workshops, panels, and assistance in goal settings for the faculty in research and writing.
The CMCRI was formed by UCR CHASS professors Erica Edwards, Jennifer Hughes and Michelle Raheja in 2011 with support from the UCR Center for Ideas and Society (CIS). CIS has also played a huge part in providing support, funding and providing a place where faculty can continuously learn from each other, and for them to demonstrate their love for their work.
“The reward is being able to share the daily triumphs and challenges of my colleagues and to know that the folks out there are watching out for each other,” Simmons said. “I see them as models for my work.”
Simmons was recently nominated by 30 women faculty for the Rachel Fuchs Memorial Award for excellence in mentorship and service to women and the LGBTQ community.
Simmons will be taking a sabbatical leave during spring quarter to complete her book, focusing on the history of the science and politics of hunger and food insecurity.
Warm wishes from everyone at the Center for Ideas & Society! This coming year in 2019, the Center will be celebrating its 30th Anniversary. As we move forward into the new year, we will look back at the Center’s history and impact over the last 30 years. Stay tuned!
About the Book
What can fossilized teeth tell us about the life expectancy of our ancient ancestors? How did farming play a problematic role in the history of human evolution? How can simple geometric comparisons of skull and pelvic fossils suggest a possible origin to our social nature? And what do we truly have in common with the Neanderthals? In this captivating international bestseller, Close Encounters with Humankind, Korea’s first paleoanthropologist, Sang-Hee Lee, explores some of our greatest evolutionary questions from new and unexpected angles. This book is the perfect read for anyone curious about where we came from and what it took to get us here. As we mine the evolutionary path to the present, Lee helps us to determine where we are heading and tackles one of our most pressing scientific questions―does humanity continue to evolve?
The book was awarded the W.W. Howells Book Award by the Biological Anthropology Section of the American Anthropological Association. The award is given to honor a book that represents “the highest standard of scholarship and readability,” and informs “a wider audience of the significance of physical or biological anthropology in the social and biological sciences, and demonstrate a biocultural perspective.” It is now in five languages (Korean, English, Spanish, Traditional Chinese, and Japanese). Next year (2019) the Greek, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, and Russian editions will be out.
UCR News Article on upcoming Hot off the Presses speaker, Jade S. Sasser and her new book: “On Infertile Ground: Population Control and Women’s Rights in the Era of Climate Change.”
Over the past 100 years, the popularity of population control in the United States has ebbed and flowed. Once considered a responsible way to safeguard the planet and ensure its future viability, population control was later revealed as a coercive tool used to limit the reproductive freedom of low-income and minority groups.
Jade S. Sasser, an assistant professor of gender and sexuality studies at the University of California, Riverside, has spent nearly a decade studying the history of population politics and how they’re interpreted today. According to her, population control is far from a thing of the past; instead, some of its core messages have been repackaged to appeal to a younger generation of American activists.
The resulting narrative links population trends to environmentalism and sexual agency, positioning “empowered” women as key crusaders in the fight against climate change. If women are encouraged and given the materials to control and limit their reproduction, or so the thinking goes, both they and the planet will reap the benefits.
But there’s a problem, Sasser said. Certain women remain disproportionately targeted by such a narrative, the bulk of them poor women living in the Global South, or countries in Africa, Latin America, and developing Asia.
Sasser’s firsthand experiences with young women in the Global South — and their American activist counterparts — form the backbone of her new book, “On Infertile Ground: Population Control and Women’s Rights in the Era of Climate Change” (NYU Press). Described by its author as a “cautionary tale,” the book takes a critical look at the positioning of population growth as a source of climate crisis.
UC Riverside Professor Rachelle Cruz accepted an American Book Award on Sunday, Oct. 28, an honor that the Inland literary community says is a milestone not just for her but also for the region.
Cruz’s poetry collection, “God’s Will for Monsters,” was among 15 winners that the Before Columbus Foundation chose to recognize for “outstanding literary achievement from the entire spectrum of America’s diverse literary community.”
The book centers around a shape-shifting figure from Filipino folklore called an aswang, which Cruz uses to explore intimate topics like secrets, shame and what it means to be a “witch.”
The child of Filipino parents, she strove for a nuanced look at the traditional culture and how Catholic teachings had changed and marginalized it.
Similarly, she hopes her work will reverse misconceptions about the Inland region, which she said has long had excellent writers but isn’t recognized for its talent.
“Close Encounters with Humankind” is not your typical textbook. Every chapter starts with a question. Questions can be about the birth of fatherhood, or farming, or our changing brains.
“A lot of the textbooks talk about the beginning that happened billions of years ago,” Lee said, “but this book starts with a question each chapter. Each chapter is an exploration.” The questions challenge the traditional progression of evolution and provide intriguing insights into the human origins through Lee’s research. Her conclusions and discoveries will keep readers absorbed and ultimately question whether humanity will continue to evolve.
Lee wants her readers to perceive that we are always evolving and changing. “I want my readers to recognize that our today is made up of an infinite number of todays from the past. If readers can be familiar with the legacy of the depth of time, we hold in ourselves and to be even more curious. That is what I would hope for.”
Lee’s book is the recipient of the 2019 W.W. Howells Book Award and has been published in Korean, English, Spanish, and Chinese. The book is also scheduled to be published in four more languages next year. In the future, Lee would also like to explore more about women in human evolution.
In a bold acknowledgment of the University of California, Riverside’s humanities programs, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded $1 million to the university’s Center for Ideas and Society.
The award, which comes on the eve of the Center for Ideas and Society’s 30th anniversary in 2019, is the largest the center has ever received. It will support a series of fellowships for faculty members pursuing humanities and humanities-related scholarship, said UCR’s Georgia Warnke, center director and distinguished professor of political science.
“This award reflects confidence in UCR’s humanities faculty broadly understood and a welcome desire to sustain interdisciplinary and humanistically oriented scholarship,” Warnke added. “It’s truly transformative for the university.”
The grant reinforces UCR’s commitment to further enhancing its profile in the humanities and related fields at a time when funding and programming for such fields are under threat at public universities across the country.
Catherine Gudis is Director of the Public History Program at UCR and teaches classes in public history and 20th century U.S. history, building on her twin interests in modern consumer culture and cultural and urban constructions of race, space, and place. She received her B.A. in Philosophy from Smith College and Ph.D. in American Studies (with distinction) from Yale University, where she also won the Yale Teaching Prize. Professor Gudis is the author of Buyways: Billboards, Automobiles, and the American Cultural Landscape (Routledge, 2004), which traces the relationship between automobility, advertising, and the commercialization of the urban environment. She has contributed to and edited Cultures of Commerce: Representations of Business Culture in the United States (coedited with Elspeth Brown and Marina Moskowitz, Palgrave/MacMillan, 2006) and museum books on art and culture, including Lions and Eagles and Bulls: Early American Inn & Tavern Signs (Princeton, 2001), Ray Johnson: Correspondences (coedited with Donna DeSalvo, Flammarion, 2000), Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s (Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art, 1990), Oehlen Williams (Wexner Center, Ohio State, 1999), and A Forest of Signs: Art in the Age of Representation (MIT, 1989).
Catharina Santasilia (UC Riverside, Ph.D. Candidate, Anthropology) has been featured in Medium’s latest issue. Santasilia was a participant in the Rise of Civilization in Mesoamerica Conference back in February 2018.
Forget the hat and whip made famous by Indiana Jones. For a preteen Catharina E. Santasilia, her love of archaeology started with Daniel Day-Lewis.
It was the actor’s star-making performance in “The Last of the Mohicans” that inspired the Denmark-born Santasilia’s lifelong interest in indigenous peoples and the things they left behind.
“I’ve always been curious,” said 34-year-old Santasilia, who goes by “Cat,” and is an international doctoral student in UC Riverside’s Department of Anthropology. “But two things happened after I watched ‘The Last of the Mohicans.’ I, like many girls, fell in love with Daniel Day-Lewis, and I developed a fascination with the Americas, which is one of the reasons why I wanted so badly to come to the United States.”
Her fascination — cultivated over six summers in Belize studying ancient Maya sites — came to a head in 2015, in downtown Riverside, of all places. Tucked inside a storage room at the Riverside Metropolitan Museum, Santasilia made a discovery that would alter the course of her nascent archaeology career: a collection of nondescript boxes, bequeathed to the museum in 2003 by the descendants of a local archaeologist, which contained never-before-displayed remnants of a 3,000-year-old Mesoamerican society.
As the academic year draws to a close, we want to THANK YOU for your participation and support!
We’re celebrating another successful year of humanities-oriented programs at UCR. Over the last 12 months, the Center sponsored…
- 5 conferences & workshops reaching over 360 people
- 8 community events with over 450 participants
- 9 faculty-led projects hosting 27 guest speakers
- 8 faculty book talks including Emory Elliott Award winner: “Miss Burma” by Charmaine Craig
- 24 graduate dissertation research grants
- PLUS co-sponsorship of events across campus on topics such as nuclear disasters, media expertise, the Rohingya crisis, Native American pedagogy, careers for Ph.D. students, healing the Earth and much more!
We have more great programming on the way—
Film for Thought, a free summer documentary series!!
Congratulations to Jody Benjamin (History), recipient of a UCHRI Junior Faculty Manuscript Workshop award for his project: The Texture of Change: Cloth, Commerce and History in Western Africa, 1700–1850.
Additional kudos for two UCR graduate students who have received Graduate Student Dissertation Support Grants from UCHRI:
Mackenzie Gregg: Plagues that Fascinate: Literary Leprosy and Queer Affect in the Victorian Fin de Siècle
Hannah Manshel: The Freedom of a Broken Law
Congratulations to CIS Senior Fellow Stephen Sohn (English), recipient of a 2018 NEH Summer Stipend for his project: The Korean War (1950-53) in Poetry by Korean Americans. NEH Summer Stipends support individuals pursuing advanced research that is of value to humanities scholars, general audiences, or both. The fellowship sponsors continuous full-time work on a humanities project for a period of two consecutive months.
Stephen Sohn, a former University of California President’s Postdoctoral fellow (2006-2007), has edited or co-edited a number of different works and special issues, including Transnational Asian American Literature: Sites and Transits (Temple University Press, 2006); Studies in the Literary Imagination (SLI, Vol. 37.1, Spring 2004) on Asian American Literature; MELUS (Winter 2008) on the topic of “Alien/Asian”; and Modern Fiction Studies on the topic of “Theorizing Asian American Fiction” (2010). Read More
Loubna Qutami (Ethnic Studies) has been awarded a UC Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship at UC Berkeley. Congratulations! Loubna, a recent recipient of a CIS Humanities Graduate Student Research award, will complete her dissertation and graduate in June. She has completed a Masters of Arts degree in the College of Ethnic Studies: Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative at San Francisco State University. Her Master’s Thesis Transnational Belonging: Palestinian Youth Searching for Home interrogates the imagined and real boundaries impacting transnational Palestinian youth movements and belonging to homeland. Her MA thesis challenges the bonds of text on nationalism, Diaspora, displacement, erasure, refugee-hood, exile and placelessness by situating the topics in a critical race and resistance lens and using activist ethnographic methods. Read More
If you’ve ever wondered what it means to be human, what our purpose is in the world, and why things happen the way they do, you’re not alone. That’s the mission of the Center for Ideas and Society at the University of California, Riverside — to encourage and nurture humanities-related inquiry and discussion.
“The academic disciplines referred to as ‘the humanities’ are often seen as either indulgences or extras in a university setting, which is more likely to be associated with research and innovation in science and technology,” said Georgia Warnke, director of the Center. “Yet the humanities remind us of the point of these endeavors.
“Why try to cure disease unless we think healthy human life has meaning, and where should we seriously explore what that meaning is except in such fields as philosophy, literature and studies of the creative arts?”
An unprecedented four-day symposium hosted by the University of California, Riverside will spotlight Native American artists whose work explores aspects of the contemporary Native American experience.
Held Nov. 1-4, “Neo Native: Toward New Mythologies” further brings to life the Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts’ 40-work exhibition of the same name, which opened in June at the Alta Loma-based gallery.
The exhibition, curated by Navajo painter Tony Abeyta, includes pieces from 11 contemporary artists with Native American tribal affiliations, including ceramicists, painters, photographers, printmakers, and sculptors.
The Midwest Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference (MIGC) is an annual event held at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee that supports the sharing and collaboration of national and international graduate student research across disciplines.
Urban development. Access to information technologies. Voting districts. Drone warfare. The asymmetrical identifies a lack of equivalence that is increasingly characteristic of contemporary economic, material, political, and visual relations. Asymmetry is often at the surface of history: where sustained and repeated practices of inequality manifest as image. The asymmetrical is also an aesthetic that registers imbalance and refuses a call to order. The 2018 Midwest Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference (MIGC) asks how asymmetry and the asymmetrical can be used to interpret sites of conflict and complicate traditional ideas of equivalence, balance, and organization.
Emerging scholars in the humanities, arts, and humanistic sciences are invited to present work that broadens our current understanding of asymmetry and how it engages with culture, theory, and society. What are critical examples of asymmetrical development? How does the asymmetrical work in literature, the visual arts, and performance? What theoretical frameworks inform our understandings of the asymmetrical? How does asymmetry draw attention to patterns of inequality? When should we strive for asymmetry?
Deadline to apply is December 1, 2017