Humanities Research Clusters

The most exciting topics in the humanities don’t always fit neatly into one academic department or discipline. Humanities Research Clusters are a way for students from different specialties to talk about big, multifaceted ideas in a productive and student-led environment. While each cluster will be led by one or more students with a humanities focus, members of the cluster should work from a wide variety of disciplines.

The Humanities Research Clusters are open to undergraduates and graduate students. They provide for an open discussion of current topics in evolving and understudied interdisciplinary fields. Each approved research cluster will receive up to $1,000 of annual funding from the university for meetings, materials, and guest speakers. Cluster members will also have access to the Humanities Collaboratory, a new flexible hybrid learning space on campus.

2020-2021 Humanities Research Clusters

Cluster events are open to all Hopkins students, faculty, and staff, so please stop by any of the following opening events that catch your interest! All opening events will be held in the Humanities Collaboratory in 350 Wyman Hall. If you are interested in finding out more about the clusters, contact their founders through the email addresses linked below.

Terror in the Modern World
Founder: Devin Green

Opening Event: Tuesday, October 22, 5:30 PM

As we pass the 18th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the impact of global terror has undeniably altered the course of human existence. The fear borne by violent extremism gave the FBI an opportunity, one which enabled them to expand domestic surveillance and lay the groundwork for a surveillance state. Nations across the globe have followed suit in their utilization of “subversive” elements, like terrorists, to justify their own domestic surveillance programs. Freedom is being globally redefined and the human right to privacy is fading further into the background.

“Terror in the Modern World” is a series which aims to explore the redefinition of terrorism, the ethical ramifications of domestic surveillance, and the nuances of this changing field. There is a misconception that those who do no wrong have nothing to fear from the ever-present eyes of the government in a surveillance state. This notion is wholly incorrect and opens underrepresented populations up to dangerous possibilities. Student activists, ethnic minorities, and political minorities are all highly vulnerable to civil rights abuses manifested through the use of surveillance. To understand these phenomena, we will examine philosophical works, first-hand testimonies, and the global abuses of domestic surveillance.

The Paradox of Nature and Image in a Technological World
Founder: Amadea Smith
Opening Event: Thursday, October 24th, 4:00 PM

This cluster welcomes intellectual inquiry into the idea of the natural as it relates to changes in technological capabilities in representation and engagement. Has nature itself become more accessible, valued, and real with historical and current advancements in technology such as photography, digital imaging, satellite-based mapping, and media? Or has it been, in some regard, altered, misrepresented, lost? To what extent do we consider ourselves, as humans, to be a part of the nature we seek to image and understand?

We will examine the ultimate paradox, by which the technological capabilities that enable us to better study and instantly image nature stem from the very same dramatic global economic growth and advancements that are resulting in the rapid degradation of the environment.

Migration and Diaspora
Founder: Kiana Boroumand
Opening Event: Friday, October 25th, 5:00 PM

This research cluster focuses on issues of migration and deportation, particularly as they are experienced and portrayed among diasporic populations. While the topic may seem broad, the project aspires to be a multi-generational research cluster, each year informed and driven by its team-members‚ backgrounds and interests. This inaugural year, it focuses on Latinx deportation and forced migration. Latinx people make up nearly 20 percent of the US population.  In cities like Los Angeles, they are the plurality. Understanding immigration, forced migration, and deportation of Latinxs is vital to our understanding of contemporary American citizenship and comparative American cultures. It is also a matter of deep political significance, and will surely be a major campaign issue during this coming year’s election.

Postcolonial Ecocriticism
Founder: Marlo Starr
Opening Event: Thursday, October 31st, 4:00 PM

The “Postcolonial Ecocriticism” Research Cluster considers how Indigenous and postcolonial peoples navigate legacies of colonialism in the face of global climate change. Though a response to climate crisis requires a united human effort, the impacts of climate change are unevenly experienced by local populations. This cluster invites scholars to explore diverse relationships between people and environments, including (but not limited to) representations of shrinking and irradiated islands, militarized ocean currents, and mass migration and displacement. Additionally, this interdisciplinary cluster seeks to bridge the traditionally human-centered field of postcolonial studies with ecocriticism’s focus on conservation and animal rights by turning to Indigenous and local responses to environmental degradation.

The Global Afterlives of Taoism and Zen Buddhism
Founder: Elvin Meng
Opening Event: Monday, October 28th, 4:30 PM

This cluster founds itself upon the originary documents of Taoism and Zen Buddhism, and investigates their global afterlifes in philosophy, culture, and literature. We will draw upon the rich and vibrant intellectual traditions in East Asia as well as the traditions‚ more recent offsprings in the West. Our emphasis will be at once literary, philosophical, and historical, and we will be open to the plethora of reimaginations and reinterpretations of the classical scriptures across space and time, in addition to the orthodox interpretations and practices that constitute these traditions ‚ proper. Instead of viewing Zen Buddhism and Taoism as rigid categories of classical thought, we will instead try to understand them as kernels of artistic and philosophical inspiration that take on radically different shapes and forms at various moments in history: from the aesthetic of the exiled artist to the foundation of hegemonic institutions, from supporters of Japanese militarism to the exotic symbol of harmony and peace, these evasive intellectual traditions resist simple characterizations and will, hopefully, continue to surprise us in this exploration.

Starting a Research Cluster

Applications for new clusters for the 2020-2021 academic year will open this spring.

Application requirements:

  • The founder of each cluster should be an undergraduate or graduate JHU student with a humanities focus.
  • Each cluster will need support either from a faculty mentor or directly from the director of undergraduate research, Dr. Natalie Strobach.
  • Each cluster must provide a statement of what humanities-related topic it will explore, which will hopefully have interdisciplinary appeal.
  • Each cluster must provide a tentative plan for how the budget would be used to promote discussion of your topic; this can include expenses such as guest speakers, texts for the group, luncheons for discussion, etc.

Research Cluster Topics

Students interested in starting a cluster should focus on a topic that is close to their own field of study but can be approached within (and outside) many different fields of the humanities. For example, a “cultural death” cluster might include scholarship from sociology, literature, anthropology, biology, and elsewhere.

Examples include:

  • Animal Studies or Explorations in the Nonhuman
  • Space Studies
  • Environmental Impact
  • Migration
  • Queer Studies
  • Technoscience and Media
  • Deportation Studies
  • Collaborative Works in Music and Creative Endeavors
  • Cultural Death
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Food Culture
  • Crime and Punishment
  • Diaspora
  • Urban Poverty and the City
  • Democracy
  • Sound Studies