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Humanities Viewpoints
A Podcast from the Wake Forest University Humanities Institute
Category: Society & Culture
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by Aimee Mepham
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December 12, 2014 07:57 AM PST

Happy Holidays, listeners!

Today on the podcast, we’re taking a look at Christmas traditions. Decorating the Christmas tree, sending cards, and buying presents. Some of you may be planning (or fretting over) some of these activities at the moment, but where do these traditions come from? My guest, Dr. Melissa Shields Jenkins, explains that many of the traditions we take for granted during the Christmas season are rooted in the Victorian period. During the 19th Century, a kind of re-creation of Christmas took place, and the texts and images created during this period helped to not only shape the seasonal customs but also to inspire reflection upon the meanings of this holiday.

Melissa Shields Jenkins is an assistant professor in the English department at Wake Forest University. She is also a Wake Forest University alum, receiving her BA in 2001 before receiving her PhD from Harvard University. She specializes in 19th century British literature and culture, the history of the novel, and gender studies. In 2014, she published a book called Fatherhood, Authority, and British Reading Culture, and is currently working on a book-length project called Habits of Sympathy in Victorian Britain. Originally from Charlotte, NC, she now lives in Winston-Salem with her husband Jaime, daughter Jaclyn, and two rescue dogs.

I hope you enjoy our conversation and her readings of some great Victorian literature.

December 04, 2014 12:22 PM PST

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or ISIS, also known as ISIL, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or just the Islamic State, started as an al Qaeda splinter group. Its aim is to create an Islamic state across Sunni areas of Iraq and Syria and is known for killing dozens of people at a time and carrying out public executions. The group currently controls hundreds of square miles in Iraq and Syria. On June 29, 2014, ISIS announced the creation of a caliphate, claiming to erase all state borders and declaring leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi the authority over the world’s estimated 1.5 billion Muslims.

While you have likely been following news coverage of ISIS, you may not know the history of the caliphate in the Middle East. Today on Humanities Viewpoints, Dr. Charles Wilkins, Associate Professor of History at Wake Forest University, outlines the history of the caliphate in the Middle East, providing historical and cultural context that illustrates how al-Baghdadi’s claim as caliph is a distorted misrepresentation of this history.

Charles Wilkins joined the Wake Forest faculty in 2006 as Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern history. He is the author of Forging Urban Solidarities: Ottoman Aleppo, 1640-1700. His research is concerned with the social history of the Ottoman Empire in the Early Modern Period (1500-1800). His specific research interests include Ottoman empire-building in the Arab provinces, war and society, the family, and Islamic legal practices. Before coming to Wake Forest in 2006, Wilkins taught Middle Eastern history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Colorado College. He graduated from Duke University in 1988 and, after serving in the US Army, received his masters degree in Islamic History at Ohio State University and doctoral degree in History and Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University (2006). He is currently working on a book project entitled, “Early Modern Empires and the Ottoman Incorporation of Syria, 1516-1760.”

November 05, 2014 11:08 AM PST

Diwali has become a national festival that is celebrated throughout India and other parts of South Asia by many different faiths including Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs. The main festival night of Diwali coincides with the darkest, new moon night of the Hindu calendar (between mid-October and mid-November in the Gregorian calendar), and this year the darkest night was October 23rd.

In this episode, Dr. Tanisha Ramachandran, Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Religion at Wake Forest University, talks about the history and cultural significance of the Diwali festival including how the celebration varies by region and religious tradition.

Tanisha Ramachandran earned her Ph.D from Concordia University, Montreal, Canada. She is currently working on a monograph tentatively titled, Idolized Representations which deals with issues of colonialism and the transmission and commoditization of Hindu imagery in the Euro-American world. Prior to joining Wake Forest University, she taught in the Department of Religion and the Simone de Beauvoir Institute at Concordia University. She has published in various journals including The Journal of Religion and Culture and Canadian Women’s Studies/ les cahiers de la Femme and has given numerous talks on issues pertaining to race, sexuality, religion and feminism. Her other areas of interest include the racialization of Islam in the North American media, Hindu Nationalism, Hindu and Buddhist art and Women in South Asian Religions.

During our conversation, Dr. Ramachandran also mentions the Diwali/Eid Celebration that will be held on Wake Forest University’s campus on Saturday, November 8th from 4-6pm on Manchester Plaza (rain location: Benson 401), sponsored by the South Asian Student Association. Come enjoy great food, music, and community!

October 31, 2014 10:19 AM PDT

Halloween, thought to be rooted in the Gaelic harvest festival Samhain, is seen as a time for ghosts, ghouls, and all things terrifying. Contemporary celebrations of Halloween often include trick-or-treating, costume parties, visiting haunted houses, watching horror films, and of course, telling scary ghost stories. But some of these activities are not limited to October 31st. Horror movies fill movie theatres all year round, and vampires and zombies are pervasive in popular culture.

Where does this enjoyment in scaring ourselves come from? Dr. Elizabeth Way, Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Wake Forest University, talks with me about Gothic literature and how the elements of this genre have influenced the literature and popular culture of today.

Dr. Way specializes in British Romanticism and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and teaches courses in British and world literature, the Gothic, and science fiction. She holds graduate degrees in English from the University of Georgia and the University of Durham in England, where she spent a year as a Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholar; she also holds a graduate certificate in Women's and Gender Studies from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. Elizabeth has published on Mary Seacole, contributed book reviews for Gothic Studies and Romanticism, and is serving as the invited editor for the forthcoming entry on Seacole in Nineteenth Century Literature Criticism. Her current book project, Romantic Compositions: A Poetics of Home and Exile in Women’s Writing, 1789-1832, is a formalist and cultural study of how gender and genre inflect portrayals of home and exile in texts by Romantic women writers.

October 01, 2014 02:24 PM PDT

When I say the word Oktoberfest, you might immediately think of oompah bands, lederhosen, and, of course, beer. But what is the history of this event, and how might our vision of this celebration be influenced by an American appropriation of the festival?

My guest today, Dr. Grant McAllister, Associate Professor of German and Chair of the German & Russian Department at Wake Forest University, discusses the historical roots of Oktoberfest, the ways in which it has changed and been Americanized and how that may have influenced the way it is celebrated in Germany today.

Dr. McAllister received his PhD in 2001 from the University of Utah and began teaching at Wake Forest shortly thereafter.

His primary research interests focus on eighteenth and nineteenth century literature, with specific emphasis on Heinrich von Kleist, early Romantic aesthetic and philosophical theory, and questions of gender and the formation of the subject. He has written and presented papers on Romanticism, Kleist, Lessing and Lola Rennt. He is currently working on an article on Luise Gottsched and has started his next book project on transcribing and analyzing 18th century Moravian odes and birthday poems.

September 29, 2014 03:23 PM PDT

My guest today, Dr. Annalise Glauz-Todrank, talks about the history of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the meaning of their connection, as well as her approach to teaching their history in her courses.

Annalise Glauz-Todrank is Assistant Professor in the Department of Religion at Wake Forest University. She is a historian of religions and critical race theorist who studies Jews and Judaism in a variety of modern contexts. Currently, she is completing a manuscript entitled Jewish Identity between “Religion” and “Race” in Shaare Tefila Congregation v. Cobb, in which she examines the 1987 U.S. Supreme Court case that provided race-based civil rights protection to Jews for the first time. She has recent publications in Critical Research on Religion, Religion Compass, and an edited volume entitled Who Is a Jew?

I hope you enjoy our conversation.

September 17, 2014 01:55 PM PDT

My guest is Ryan Shirey, Director of the Writing Center and Assistant Teaching Professor in the Writing Program at Wake Forest University as well as a scholar of Scottish literature. He has written and presented on a number of topics related to Scottish literature, most recently contributing a chapter on John Buchan’s use of dialect Scots in his poetry for the edited collection: /John Buchan and the Idea of Modernity/. He has another chapter forthcoming for the Association for Scottish Literary Studies companion to the work of Scottish novelist Lewis Grassic Gibbon.

He offers his thoughts on the upcoming referendum for Scottish independence that will take place on Thursday, September 18th. The Scottish Referendum Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament in November 2013, following an agreement between the Scottish and the United Kingdom governments. Voters can answer only Yes or No to the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” The independence proposal requires a simple majority to pass, and all residents in Scotland over the age of 16 can vote.

During our conversation, Dr. Shirey discusses the complex history of the relationship between Scotland and England. He particularly illustrates the interesting perspective that Scottish literature provides for examining the possibility of Scottish independence, with a particular focus on how Scottish writers represent issues of nationalism and of Scottish political and cultural identity in their fiction and poetry.

August 26, 2014 01:12 PM PDT

Humanities Viewpoints is a podcast featuring a conversation between host and Wake Forest University Humanities Institute Program Coordinator, Aimee Mepham, and a WFU faculty member working in the humanities. The conversations focus on a timely subject - a current event, holiday, cultural experience - and how this subject connects to the faculty member's field, teaching, and expertise. The conversations are broadcast to a wide audience.

The first episode, "Labor Day," features guest faculty member Michele Gillespie, WFU Presidential Endowed Professor of Southern History.

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